“The Song of the Ice”
When Linda Underhill, author of The Unequal Hours, gave her Lenten presentation for us in 2008, she spoke of “the song of the ice” she heard as she walked the Allegany hills one winter. There are two basic ways people approach writing, she said as we gathered in the midst of an ice storm here that night. One is to announce to the world what you have to say. The other is to listen first to what it may say to you. Her suggestion was to listen first, and then write. (Jesus taught similarly, in Matthew 10:27.)
As we move through our season of ice this year, we have said goodbye to a wise teacher in Linda on her passing. On her return visit during Lent last year, Linda drew from a chapter in her new book, The Way of the Woods, on “Impermanence.” As she spoke at our A-framed, high-ceilinged church of the after-effects of a fire generated by a lightning strike at “Cathedral Pines” forest in Connecticut, I was reminded of a number of dramatic events our community of faith had also recently experienced.
After the fire, there were those who thought the under-growth of the forest should be cleared out, to attempt returning to what they remembered it being. There were others who felt nothing should be done, but be left alone. Perhaps there were those who left altogether, seeking easier paths to walk elsewhere. In all events, the woods were not the same as they were before, and neither were the people. The question there, as elsewhere in life, is not “whether change will come to us,” but how we respond to it.
In the midst of anxious debates over what to do (or not to do) about it all, Linda’s husband Bill looked down while on a family walk through their beloved, if now visibly wounded, “cathedral-in-the-woods,” and noted new life come into the midst of old — not only of the oak which came forth naturally, but of the pine many longed to see again too.
The forest there may never return to the “pine cathedral” it was imagined to be before, but it is worth traversing nonetheless, admixed now of old and new with paths cut through still-tangled brush. Those willing to enter find life given anew, if beyond their ability to determine.
I would not try to name the “lightning strikes” experienced, together and separately, since the ice storm of 2008, say. But hearing Linda speak last March of witnessing new growth in half-burned-out forests led me to give thanks for being yet able to walk in this half-stunned, half-visible world. God, “our strength and our song,” has not forgotten us on our way (Exodus 15:2).
To pray, to sing, to listen first and yes, then speak something of God’s word into the world — this is what we are gathered in this part of “God’s forest” to do. We break bread as we’ve been given to do; tell the stories of Jesus that they may live on; and give of ourselves that God’s love be known.
This is what “renewal” is about. This is why we come to God’s cathedral. This is why we venture forth our song, “speaking forth in daylight what is whispered in our ear at night.” Thank God for the woods of life in which to walk, and for those who teach us to listen for the whisper of the ice.
Peace and good,
Pastor Bill Jones (March 2011)