It’s a beautiful, sunny, promising-to-get-very-warm early Easter Sunday at the very end of March in Colorado. The air has that watery, almost milky quality as I look out over the fields on my way home from the grocery. I had to dance my way through a cloud of ecstatic fuzzy, yellow-ochre colored bees swarming the Easter flower display smack in front of the doors, next to all the grocery carts.
There were lilies and tulips and hyacinth and daffodils, among others. It smelled wonderful to me, and even more obviously to the bees, who had discovered this treasure trove of flowers in an otherwise totally barren landscape of acres of parking lot, cars, and humans frantic to get in the store and get last minute food. Thanks to the bees, not very many people even glanced twice at the flower display with intent to buy.
I was intending to go to church this Sunday to see if I can find a spiritual community that even remotely fits my beliefs without glaring contradictions, like the subservient place of women in the church. Instead I went to a twelve step meeting to pick up the collection for my friend who is the treasurer and couldn’t be there today. Twelve-step lets you find a God of your understanding, but some part of me is yearning for that sense of belonging that long ago I found in the church of my upbringing.
I liked the granite walls and oaken pews of that church. I liked the stained glass windows and the voices of the choir as they stood in their beautiful robes and sang. My friend’s father was in the choir. He sang Tenor and was often in shows on Broadway. I liked the fact I knew the man singing the beautiful solos. The brass pipes of the organ filled the altar alcove below the huge multi-colored window that was the back end of the church. These things were as meaningful and comforting as any dogma I might have heard preached.
At Christmas this atmosphere was enhanced by the smell of the evergreen wreaths which hung from the heavy, dark wooden ceiling beams and the flicker of hundreds of candles that lined the aisle from the entrance of the sanctuary to the altar. It was a familiar place, full of families whose children I mostly knew. At Easter the altar was lined with hundreds of fragrant white lilies donated in remembrance of loved ones, both dead and alive. The choir and minister wore white; the congregation was clean, well-dressed, and colorful.
I talked to my shrink once about how much I liked that style of church and the sanctity it created for me. When I was in my early thirties I went back to the church, hoping to find that place again in my heart that I thought of as God-space.
“You’re not looking for God,” my shrink snorted with disdain. “You’re looking for your father.”
“Typical shrink,” I thought. “He’s really missed the boat.”
Yes, my father had died a few years before and I still missed him, but I knew I was looking for so much more.
Unlike my mother, whose gods were money and social status, my father had some real faith. We never really talked about “God” as such, but he moved through the world, lived a certain level of union with “All that Is,” that was and is the root of my own spirituality. He is probably why I have always been attracted to Native American spiritual traditions, and their earth-based, grounded realities.
My father was a commercial landscape architect. We lived on the northern edge of New York City where even fifty or sixty years ago there wasn’t much “wild” space left at all. When I was quite young, he would take me out to the eastern end of Long Island to the plant nurseries and tree farms to “help” him select plant material for his commercial jobs. All that open space has gone to summer homes for the mostly rich and famous now, but at that time was truly rural.
I loved putting the red marker tags on trees and bushes. I inhaled deeply the smell of the dirt and the tinge of salt in the air from the nearby ocean. At one farm I got to feed the mules still used to plow and haul loads around in wagons. My father took me sometimes to see a job when it was still just a foundation of a new building going in, and then took me back when it was done; a glass and steel box glinting in the sun surrounded by a park of flowers and grass and trees. To me it was magical, full of mystery. Even long after I understood his job and how that transformation of the landscape took place, it still felt magic.
I live in Colorado now, a state as full of rugged and wild natural beauty as anywhere I could choose to live. I’ve been to visit most of its most beautiful spaces and I have indeed become less of an urbanite than the first forty years of my life would indicate. If I am to be truly honest here, however, I consider myself more of a nature watcher than one who actually gets out into the real wilderness.
Living on a few acres of land and tending a couple of horses, driving all over the state to rodeos in teeny tiny towns out in the flatlands east of the mountains taught me a bit about a more rural life. The moon rising orange on the plains to the east and setting along the sharp crags of the Rocky Mountain’s “fourteeners,” moves my very soul. Here you can still see the Milky Way on a clear night, crossing an indigo sky. These things are “nature” to me.
I will always be, at least on some level, an urbanite and a New Yorker. Like the trees my father used to dig up and move to a new location to grow and thrive, it took a while for me to recover from the “shock” of leaving one home environment, and learning to adapt to a new home in Colorado. My spiritual search is taking me many new places these days, too.
I find myself envying those bees flying around the display of Easter flowers. There is no delicate, sweet scent reaching far across a tarred and barren landscape to call me home. All I have at the moment is a “still, small voice” gently tugging, tugging, tugging at my heart. Though gentle, it is a far stronger call in the end than a sweet scent. I’ve just got to keep moving.