The Simple Country Pastor blog has been quiet for a while now. First, there was the whirlwind of beginning to transition to a new call. Then, there was the annual rush of planning for the upcoming seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas. During some years, this period was punctuated with catastrophes that required extensive pastoral care work.

Now I am catching my breath before launching into the activities planned for the days and weeks ahead. Ironically, I have been more balanced in my work lately than anytime in my recent memory.

Fall is also the time that I head outdoors. I spent much of my childhood wandering the woods and splashing around in whatever water I could find. One of my fondest memories is going fishing with my dad for the first time. I was young, maybe in the third or fourth grade. The rowboat on the local pond was a thrill. The cane pole was a challenge to manuver. And, the bucket which held the fat bluegills we caught was hard for me to leave alone. As a college student, I went to a college that was 600 miles away in a fairly remote area. It provided more than adequate opportunities for someone who was more interested in being outside than whatever was inside, in the classroom. My wife says I majored in hunting and fishing, only minoring in Civil Engineering Technology.

After getting a real job, getting married, my attention turned toward these things. Then seminary, a congregation, and children pushed these other activities even further toward the edges of life.

Two years ago, with children off on their own pursuits, and a wife who is extremely flexible, I picked up these old hobbies. I started doing them again for one simple reason: to have a reason to get away for a few hours and turn off my blackberry.

Yesterday morning I realized that there is another reason. I put myself in my treestand on a ridge before first light. As the sun came up it licked the brilliant leaves of the hardwoods. The crisp air actually felt good and brought back many memories of similar mornings. The chickadees and downy woodpeckers were busy for so early an hour. A grey squirrel scolded me from a nearby limb. I had planned on hunting until about 8 am, changing my clothes and heading into the church for my usual office hours. Then at 7:30, I noticed a white flash in a small grassy opening in the hardwoods. The deer were over 100 yards away, so a shot from my bow was out of the question. I watched them for over 45 minutes browse this field, run into the woods, and slide back out for some more browse. When they were gone I climbed down and eventually made it into the office. There was a certain lightness in my step despite getting up at 4:30 am.

During these mornings I’ve started offering my morning prayers, Lauds, from the stand. The first day I did it, I surprised myself at how much I had memorized. I was reminded that being outdoors (for me at least) can move you to worship. It isn’t worship of course and I’ve never believed people who say they can worship God better on a trout stream than in church. But I can tell you that there is a weight that got lifted, eased off my shoulders, and was gone by the time I silently repeated to myself: “May the Lord bless us, keep away all evil, and lead us to eternal life.”

I do not know how you find God’s presence outside the doors of the sanctuary, or where Celtic spirituality refers to as ‘thin places.’ ‘Thin places’ are those places or events in life where the dividing line between the holy and the ordinary is very thin… to the point that the ordinary becomes holy and the holy becomes ordinary. I know where mine are and I intend to get back there as soon as I can.

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