Kneeling at the Altar

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His tiny hands rummaged through the ground and picked up the seed. Holding it before him, my oldest exclaimed with the joy of discovery, “Hey, Look!”

“It’s a buckeye seed,” my dad answered enthusiastically. “Remember what seeds do?”

In his little boy voice he echoed back, “They drop in the ground and turn into a new tree!”

My dad had begun the education on our way in the car. For the forty-five minutes it took to get from Brownsboro Road to pull through the gates, “Grandpa” did his best to describe in young-boy terms the formation of North America and the molecular wonder of creation. Staring out the window, my newly-turned four-year-old seemed both young and old at the same time. A filled-out boy frame with the ability to listen while still sitting in a car seat and distracted by bull-dozers by the side of the road.

It was November and we were finally fulfilling my dad’s birthday present – an afternoon hike to Bernheim Forest.

Bounding out of the car, we made our way into the trail headquarters for the much needed “potty-break” and wandering through the small gift shop (selecting in advance the toy he wanted after the hike). Dad examined the options and picked our path.

We had barely made it out of the trail shop when we were already stopped. “Hey, look,” my dad exclaimed. We crouched down and examined the leaves on the ground and then looked up to identify the tree from which they came.

Every few steps, we stopped. Either boy, grandpa or grandson, would shout out, “Hey, look!” Bending our knees to the ground, we would investigate. We ruffled through leaves and picked up berries. We picked seeds from the path and placed some in our pockets.

Just when we were back on track, it would come again – “Hey, look!” “Hey, look!”

As we slowly made our way around the path in the forest, I felt myself standing in the place where time both runs backwards, stands still, and leaps forward all at once.

…Flash-backs to trail hikes with my dad when he, no doubt, did the same with me with my brother and I. I recalled those early camping days, the first backpacking experiences, and the hug we shared on the summit on Kilimanjaro.

…Visions of the future when I will litter our basement with camping supplies before I take the boys out with the Nalgenes, water filtration systems, camp stoves, freeze-dried meals, and courage to take an adventure.

The winds of time blowing me back and forth until another “Hey, look,” would place me back on my feet, grounding me in the present. I watched my dad be “Grandpa” to my son. I felt the lump form in my throat. I remembered how I was no longer a child but rather a parent to my own. I tasted the reality that as time passes, everything becomes more fragile and more precious.

With every passing minute, the significance of the day seemed to mount and slow down the passing of time. I allowed myself to experience it minute by minute. No rushing, no plotting, just being.

With every, “Hey, look,” I knelt to the ground and I bowed before the altar of God’s creation, of my father’s love for the world, and of the mysterious passing on of life from one generation to the next. In the kneeling, the awe of a four-year-old and his grandpa melted the heart of this mother and this daughter.

One day when our oldest is grown and we are unable to walk the path with him, may he pause in the midst of the forest, kneel down, and give thanks.

For nature and all its beauty
For life and all its mystery
For his grandpa and his infectious sense of wonder

“Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

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