Updated: Feb 6
sermon from a chime interfaith service on 4/18/21
sometimes, in seeking one self-defined or preconceived type of spiritual experience, we can find ourselves blinded to other bounties. if i may, i’d love to share a personal story with you of a time when the universe gifted me with such a bounty, and i hope my story inspires you to be a seeker through many new sets of eyes—to appreciate the shine of experience through each of the gem’s facets.
in 2016, i had a complete thyroidectomy, meaning that the little bow-tie shaped organ at the front of my throat, one that’s partially in charge of metabolism, was surgically sent the way of the dodo—its job replaced by one tiny pink pill each morning. my thyroid had been quite sick for quite some time, leaving me in a fog of fatigue and lethargy. life, for nearly two decades, had been like swimming through molasses while wearing ankle weights. it was a place of never-enough-sleep, of never enough motivation, of never enough fire. of course, i didn’t realize the extent of the dampering until the “little organ that couldn’t” was suddenly gone. after my surgery i remember thinking, “OH. THIS is what it feels like to human!” i’d never known any different, but suddenly my eyes were open, and the molasses was being washed away with a fire hose. i was reborn, re-energized, and revitalized. i needed to go—i wanted to move—the universe was calling me to….. HIKE? uh oh.
two decades of lethargy had left me, so i thought, and to my great dismay, in precisely the wrong body to follow this new calling. but dwelling as i do on occupied and unceded pequawket land at the foot of the valley of the mountain agiocochook, (AH zhee o KAH zhook) the home of the great spirit, called by colonizers "mount washington," i’m in a hiker’s paradise. my surrounds beg to be sauntered---and suddenly, through the lifting fog, i’d felt the call to go.
the only problem, so my limited view presented me, was the vehicle. my sluggish thyroid had built me a beautiful, soft bounty of flesh that now, with my new endeavors, strained my knees, my lungs, and my heart to breaking point. setting out on a 3-mile hike took everything that i had, and a 5-mile mountain had me considering—is this ACTUALLY unwise? am i going to have a heart attack out here alone? i can hardly breathe. my blood is POUNDING in my ears. i am SO SLOW. i’m a FAILURE at hiking.
and then in a low moment, halfway up a mountain, heart pounding out of my chest, breath having absconded to some unknown location, knees aching and feet burning, i sat. i sat to consider my sad state—to wallow in my utter decrepitude.
and from my seated location, I saw this:
perfect. present. impossibly tiny. the kind of thing i never in a million years would have noticed while plowing full force up a hill in an effort to hit some sort of “hiker’s pace”. i would have missed it—or worse, stepped on it—if not for the forced break.
from my rock seat, i took a moment to look around me—to look at everything I’d been ignoring or relegating to the periphery in order to carve out this experience of hiking as something fast, efficient, and athletic. in this hike and others, from the vantage point of the breath-catching break, i saw tiny fungi, rare flowers, spiked ice crystals pushing up through the sandy trail floor, iridescent beetles, fractal mosses...
what I’d been gifted was the opportunity, through my time outside and my need for frequent and extended respite, to bear witness to amazingly delicate and almost painfully beautiful world of northeast new england mountain microflora and fauna.
with nothing more than my “always several versions out-dated” iphone camera, i became a collector of these perfect tiny worlds. a perfect dewdrop here. a micro mushroom there. after this gift from the universe, this gift of noticing, hiking became something entirely different. it was still an athletic endeavor, AND it was an opportunity to bear witness, on so many levels, to the true beauty of my surroundings. breaks to catch breath were also opportunities to greet salamanders. a need to relieve the pounding of my heart was also an invitation to watch the sun shine off of ice crystals pushing up like the first flowers of spring. i became a collector of beauty—a beauty which might have remained completely unknown to me if not for the universe forcing me to stop. i hadn’t failed in my calling, i’d simply needed to readjust and widen my goal and the framework upon which I’d built the experience.
hiking remains to me today, almost 6 years later, the most spiritual of experiences. the biggest difference came in my refiguring of self from “crusher of hiking times” to “collector of beautiful tiny things”. in embracing the messiness of my true hiking self, in embracing the AND, my eyes were opened to treasures beyond my wildest imagining.
i now invite you, in a minute of silence, to consider a time when you were granted an unlikely gift that unlocked a new dimension of your spiritual self.
and no matter upon which plane you roam, happy hiking!
opportunity for reflection in the comments below: what might you have missed in your life if the universe hadn't forced you to slow down?
abby hall luca
the hearth chaplain