This essay stems from an earlier trip to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico; a place I have long loved and enjoyed. Feel free to visit them – www.ghostranch.org.
I heard from the earth – it said this:
“What are you doing for me?”
I am in New Mexico, at my favorite spot I’ve ever known – Ghost Ranch. My muse resides here. God pulls me here so I can hear that muse. The connection to the Spirit is strong and clear, like I feel nowhere else.
Here is what I mean by a clear connection. Did you ever live in a place where shortwave radio was the only option for listening? We spent two years in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and we greatly enjoyed the Voice of America broadcasts every morning. Imagine spinning the dial on an analog shortwave radio band. Our shortwave had 6 bands to select from. It had a dial that slowly spun through frequencies, and a switch that selected the range of frequencies. Imagine you have spun the dial through 5 bands. Only a few times did you hear a muted, static-filled voice chattering away in a staccato foreign language. Upon trying to fine tune that channel, the signal faded or maybe only the hissing got louder.
On the last band, already midway through and despairing of contact, you reach a crystal-clear, loud, english-speaking voice that is talking about exactly what is on your heart at that moment. The topic is not important; the coincidence of FINDING a voice saying what you NEED is the important part. When I set foot on the Ranch, after the details of camper setup, dinner arrangements, and logistics are all completed, that connection (like a radio station) tunes in. I really don’t have to do anything other than walk, sit, listen, look around. It may sound far too dramatic, but I say to you that the Ranch is a thin place in the fabric between God and the world. I am not the first to say this:
- Belden C. Lane, in writing about the Protestant Reformers, says, “Nature’s untamed beauty awakens in my own Reformed heart an atavistic need to praise, to shout back glory. I sense this in… the desert terrain of Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico, where Georgia O’Keeffe touched a primeval mystery in the land… These are thin places, where dread and wonder converge in an apprehension of the holy.”
- Mindie Burgoyne, who leads tours to Ireland’s mystical sites, defines a “thin place” as “where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin.”
- “Truth abides in thin places; naked, raw, hard to face truth. Yet the comfort, safety, and strength to face that truth also abides there. Thin places captivate our imagination, yet diminish our existence. We become very small, yet we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive. They human spirit is awakened and will grow if the mind and body will allow it” Mindie Burgoyne.
The elusive Muse who inspires me to write, who clears my mind of chaff so I can SEE what to write, and who grants me the authority to BE the storyteller, resides there. Our reunion is a thing of joy. I feel a calming in me (I DO have things to say still… I DO have more to share) when my travels take me there. Once I walked along the sandstone cliffs and heard (even, perhaps, understood) the ravens calling – ‘do you remember? do you remember where we came from?’ Their “we” meant all of us. It reminded me of the thrush in “The Hobbit” when they got close to the back door of Smaug’s lair. It communicated with the dwarves and Bilbo, trying to tell them the secret to opening the door. OUR way of speaking had moved on, but they remember the days when we all spoke together.
I have come to understand that the times that God speaks to a person may be few and far between. It behooves me (you, too?) to hear Him well, heed His words, and burn my calories in consonance with that message. I remember a time on a youth retreat where God found us. We stood with 15 or 20 youth in a cold moonlight. Simply praying and feeling His spirit. Tristyn shouted, “I love you God!” We all felt a little warmer after that (and I believe a deep connection remains between all who stood there that night). Of course, God never “finds” us; it is US who must shut up long enough to rediscover Him. I know that.
The writing seminar I attended at Ghost Ranch taught me things about how to form stories and how to tell stories. The most important thing it taught me was that I was allowed to claim my space in the center of the room as the storyteller. To a boy from a small town in Nebraska (which, in my head, I will always be), that sounds awfully egotistical. The truth is that each of us gets a chance to tell our story, and only I (and you, too?) can tell my (your) story the way it needs to be told. Movies, novels, biographies, histories – all told by the ‘teller of tales’, the ‘raconteur’, the ‘court jester’. And during the good ones we hang on every word.
My answer to the earth is this: “I am trying. That is all I can do. Every day I get up and try again. I do not know what the finished product is, will be, or looks like, but I am trying.”
Find for yourself, then, that thin place. Hear what there is to hear. And try.
After all, when we sit together, as at a campfire, in a place of safety yet surrounded by wild, we are comforted by friendship. Tell your story; we’ve got plenty of time.