I want to tell you a little story of something that happened to me many years ago in the woods. I was thinking about this event in my life as a parable for my spiritual life. Maybe yours too.
I used to hunt. On this occasion I was hunting deer. At the time we lived in upstate New York in the Adirondack mountains. We lived in a church basement, using the Sunday school rooms as our living quarters with a male and female bathroom and the church kitchen for our facilities. We only had our first child, Joshua, at the time. It was a very remote church far back in the woods, miles away from our neighbors, tucked away on a secluded lake. It was late fall.
I took my canoe and paddled to a distant peninsula that had a ridge running down it. I figured it would be the perfect place to perch myself and wait until dusk when the deer typically start moving. My rife was a .270 pump action Browning with a high-powered scope mounted on its top. I had a thermos of hot sweetened tea and some snacks to sustain me during my three or four hour hunt.
When I reached the peninsula I dragged my canoe up onto land and tied it to a fallen tree, then poked my way up through the brush up onto the top of the ridge. I found a good place to sit on the ridge, overlooking a wide valley of trees that had enough space between them that I could detect movement, organized my things around me so I wouldn’t have to hardly move, readied my rifle to fire, and waited. I arrived quietly and waited quietly. Not a sound.
I was used to waiting while hunting. You just sit there, possibly and probably for hours, waiting for the slightest movement to indicate the presence of a deer. I arrived there at around 2pm, and I saw nothing for a few hours.
Finally, when the sun had already gone down and darkness was setting in, I heard a rustling in front of me. I clicked off the safety and raised my binoculars to look. Nothing. But I definitely heard something. And it was very close. I lowered my binoculars and raised my rifle. I scoped the forest looking for any sign of movement. Nothing.
Then, and my stomach dropped when I saw it, right in front of me… about twenty feet… a small deer was rising from in front of a windfall of broken limbs and bush. He slowly scrambled to his feet and shook himself. He looked around but didn’t see me. After I got over my initial fright, I raised the rifle and sighted it on his front shoulder right where his heart would be. But he was so close the scope was useless. I just looked at the beautiful animal. He started to move. Slowly. I noticed he was walking with a slight limp. Something was wrong with one of its hind legs. He walked to a small outcropping of green grass and nibbled for a while.
I wouldn’t shoot it. I couldn’t kill it.
This was a strangely mystical moment for me. I smiled. How beautiful a creature! And here we both were, in the wild, alone, with no one else around.
I kind of chuckled to myself. Here we were, the hunter, the hunt, and the hunted. And yet I felt a deep unity between us. Suddenly, I realized that in fact we were one. On a profoundly fundamental level, there is an essential unity that joins us. There was no me or he, no hunter and no hunted. I had been actively and aggressively hunting for hours, and this animal presented itself to me completely unaware of my active attempts to find it. Did the hunter find the hunted? Or did the hunted find the hunter? Who, in fact, was the hunter? Who was found?
He was me.
With deep love in my heart, I watched this lovely, limping deer meander slowly among the bushes and trees, completely unaware of my presence while I was completely aware of his. I watched him for about thirty minutes until he disappeared over the next ridge. When it was finally dark, I gathered up my things in my backpack and found my way back to my canoe to head back home.
In May of 2009, almost 30 years later, after years of aggressively hunting for peace of mind, I had a dream from which I awakened with that very peace of mind I so craved. It simply presented itself. Just like that deer popped up right in front of me, so did this peace of mind. Did my hunting procure it? Did I, the finder, find it? Or did it find me? Did my hunting have anything to do with it? Or was it a gift almost accidental?
I’ve always agreed with the scripture that says that it is not by effort. Yet what about simply being there? It took effort to be in the right place at the right time? No, my effort didn’t fell it.
It was a gift. And the gift was this: that we were together the whole time, unaware, waiting, and then the surprise.
My love to you all.