I meet God often at a creek 10 minutes from my house in Nashville. It is the only place in the world I consistently meet God, as though we have a standing appointment for whenever we both choose, any day of the week, any time of the day. I call it my creek, though of course it is not. But it feels that way after countless hours of reading by it, sitting in it, walking through it and staring out at it. And meeting God.
By God I mean, well, God Himself, but for those who don’t believe in that creek-dwelling omnipotent Person, I can explain the feeling of meeting God at my creek as something like the difference between witnessing beauty and joining in with it. Becoming part of it. The gray heron that makes a habit of flying surprisingly low overhead, the occasional duck or deer, the breeze that causes leaves to swirl and float down like maroon snow in autumn - it seems that I don’t just see these things at my creek, I participate in being Nature with them. Like they decide to open a door usually locked to human beings, and for a moment, I am the exception with an invitation inside.
The fact that my numinous creek is 10 minutes from my house in Nashville is significant because, look, Nashville is home, but Nashville does not have much to boast about by way of beauty. Sure, there are trees, and they change into lovely colors in the fall, a few parks of below-average to average maintenance, and some manicured golf courses of which one has to be rich to avail oneself. But mostly, Nashville is a city like any other, adorned with dirty streets and too many parking garages. People come here for the line dancing and the omnidirectional country music blaring from bars on Broadway. And I guess those beer wagon thingies where you exercise and get wasted simultaneously.
No one flocks to Nashville panting after an aesthetic experience.
They flock elsewhere, as I have, to the caldera in Santorini where I’ve sipped a truly perfect cappuccino and watched the sunset dazzle from it’s most famous stage in Oia. Or to Iceland, where I’ve sat on a cliff face with puffins in the distance, stared at a black sand beach dotted by glaciers and waterfalls and neon green mountains, almost heavy-handed in its allure. I’ve chased rainbows throughout the North Coast of Ireland so defined I felt they were drawn with felt pens before my eyes, driven up the 101 in California from LA to Novato, and swam in a butterfly infested cove of Caribbean ice-blue waters in Haiti every morning for months. Shoot, I was born in Wyoming, and if the show Yellowstone has taught the world anything, it’s that we all should’ve moved to the West when it was any measure of affordable.
I have sat in awe. And I have been moved. And I have taken the photos and exclaimed the words and caught the breaths in my chest. Yet I have rarely met God.
Recently, I found myself drinking coffee and wading in the ocean at sunrise in Miami. One of about five or six early risers that morning, it was silent but for the waves, with a view as striking as you can imagine. I felt the familiar pain of being at odds with unfathomable pulchritude. A stranger on the periphery of an intimacy as yet unknown to me. The earth performing signs and wonders, me conscious of my own brain trying like a thirsty dog to lap up every molecule and finding that my tongue could not make contact with the water in the bowl right in front of my face. A distant viewing of something I felt in my bones I needed to grasp because what if I never see it again. What if I never see anything like it again. It crossed my mind that I was having the experience of a tourist. Distinctly not belonging.
And I thought about my creek.
If one were to look at a photo of my creek side by side with the sunrise under which my skin was being painted pink and gold in that moment, I admit that my creek would not hold much of a candle. So why is it that my soul comes alive and my cells settle into a kind of peace and stillness I only ever strive after elsewhere?
In that ocean under that Miami sunrise, a phrase of explanation plopped into my mind like a skipping stone: the pressure of enjoyment. I don’t go to my creek with any taking in mind. I don’t go as a tourist. I don’t even go necessarily with the expectation of God showing up for our appointment. I just go because it is 10 minutes from my house and that is the place I go and because it is mine even though it is of course not. And there God is. Hello again.
Isn’t this the way with striving? I clutch and clutch and it all slips through my fingers like the wind. I open my palms, and find that I hold the whole world.