Two weeks ago, I had the chance to spend two days with some dear soul sisters of mine, a foursome affectionately dubbed the Juicy Crones. We had rented a cozy cabin in the woods near Mt. Hood, a place that holds an almost mystic significance for me, as it was the place my parents first met and wooed one another. When my friends heard this, they immediately determined that we needed to make a pilgrimage to Timberline Lodge where this momentous event in my life had occurred. I had never been there before, so it seemed like a great opportunity to see a slice of family history firsthand. And off we went!
Upon arrival, I was immediately captivated by the view, a stunning panorama of undulating green hills and mountains dominated by Mt. Jefferson off in the distance. Even more breathtaking was the massive bulk of Mt. Hood rising up immediately behind the lodge. But as soon as I caught a glimpse Timberline Lodge, I felt drawn to it, as if by some unseen force – drawn to its imposing stone entrance, drawn up the twin staircases to a stone patio outside the second floor entrance, drawn into the heart of the lobby where a massive fireplace pulled my eyes up to the ceiling far above which was supported by huge cedar beams. At some point, I realized that I had begun to cry. I had entered into a thin space where past and present met, and I was living into my own story, a story that began long before I was born. I felt my late mother’s presence powerfully and imagined my parents walking these same floorboards and sitting on the chairs of a lounge that looked out to the mountain looming above. I could hear both the music emitting from discreetly hidden speakers as well as the music of yesteryear. Among the contemporary visitors wandering the large central room, I could see the ghosts of a bygone age, dancing and laughing as they swirled around me. I felt rooted in something deep and real, a connection to my history, to the parents who made me who I am.
In the same way that my personal story began long before I was born, our spiritual story began long before we consciously entered into relationship with the Divine. In Psalm 139, we are told that God knit us together in our mother’s wombs, that God knew us before we ever came to be. This story is one of loving and personal relationship, but it is also a story of a people seeking to find their way to God. I believe that when we embed ourselves in this recognition of the macro story of who we are as God’s children, we enter into a thin space where past and present merge and give us a sense of deep belonging, a connectedness with a story that is greater than ourselves. Timberline Lodge was the thin space for my personal family history, and I believe that worship and spiritual practice can be the thin space for believers who seek to remember who they are, reconnect with their heritage and live into the story that draws us ever closer to the Divine narrator of that story.
Despite an almost universal longing to delve into our spiritual roots, time for things like Sunday worship and regular prayer and spiritual practice is hard to find. It is so easy to succumb to today’s culture of busy-ness, to put spiritual matters on the back burner and tell yourself, “I’ll get to church next week” or “Maybe I can pray while I’m stopped in rush hour traffic!” Then there’s the oft-quoted, “I can worship God just as deeply in the woods as I could in church.” I’ve probably expressed that thought myself from time to time, and it’s certainly true that God often seems closer when we are immersed in the beauty of God’s creation. However, that should not be the total extent of our communion with God. Since humankind’s earliest beginning, we are a people hard-wired to live in community. My experience at Timberline Lodge was made deeper by the presence of my soul sisters. Faith communities not only enrich our lives, they ask something of us in return. Faith without community can easily become a self-serving head trip that separates us from a deep connection to the story of who we are and where we’ve been as a people.
The history of spiritual struggle has something relevant to say to those of us who are seeking to make our way through these troubled times. We don’t have to go it alone with our self-doubts and our questions about God and the spiritual journey. We have companions along the way, both from the stories of the past and the seekers who share the path with us today. They are all around us, weaving in and out in a mystical dance between the past and present. By attending worship, engaging in prayer practices, or journeying with a spiritual director, you can become more aware of the thin places where you can connect with an epic story of what was and is and shall be. You are part of a story that is unfolding still and that leads to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Hear the music. Join the dance.