Sunday, 20 November 2016

Lessons from the Forest, Part I

Since moving to Keswick, Glen and I have discovered the York Regional Forest. We both like to take Finley for long walks along the trails. It's beautiful and very restorative, especially at this time of year. The autumn is always a very spiritual time of year for me. There is something powerful about the transition from the fruitfulness of harvest to the long death-like sleep of winter. The smell of leaf litter on the ground, the wind rustling the bare branches, the crunch of dry leaves underfoot. There is a thinness to this time of year where I feel more open to spiritual insights. This year is no exception and the forest has offered me some important teachings. Or more to the point, Finley in the forest offered me a teaching.

On these walks in the forest, Finley likes to chase the ball, as well as to wander off trail. He also seems to know where he is going. Perhaps it's because Glen had taken him on a particular route or he could smell the way back to the car, but on one occasion I had my trail map out and was set to go one way but he was pretty insistent going another. I smartly followed and we ended up where I thought my route would take me. If I had gone my way I would have added a good half hour to our trek.

As I walked along it struck how important it is to follow your animal guide. Which got me thinking how important it is to follow your spirit guide. One thing I have yet to share on this blog is that in my ministry I spent many years living and working among Indigenous people, especially among the Cree and Oji-Cree. It was in those years that I began participating in traditional ceremonies and absorbed their spiritual teachings into my own. At one point I was given a spirit name which connects to the eagle. This spoke to me because it fits with my personality. I am a long range vision person, although some may say I'm a bit of a dreamer. In ministry I often have a clear sense of direction, of where we need to move as a community of faith. This is not always a good thing because I generally want to get there sooner rather than later. Patience is not my strong suit. As much as the eagle connects to my approach in life and ministry, that grandfather is not my guiding spirit. No. It is grandmother mouse.

When I first realized she was my guide I was disappointed. "But my name refers to the eagle," I argued to myself. "That may be, but the eagle is not your guide. Listen to mouse's wisdom." And she is very wise. One of the gifts of grandmother mouse is that unlike the eagle who looks far into the distance, the mouse only sees what is around her. She is focused on the moment and pays attention to what is close at hand. She also nests, tending to relationships and ensuring her family is strong. 

Over these last few weeks in a new faith community I have of course been channeling the eagle. I am dreaming big, seeing all kinds of possibilities for us. But the eagle is not my guide. I need to pay attention to the mouse. And she is reminding me to slow down. I need to be attentive to relationships, to listen to the needs of the people that Spirit has placed on my path. I need to take time to discover their gifts, listen to their hopes, grow a spirit of trust with each other. Together we will dream big and follow a vision into the future. But at this minute I need to learn about who they are right now more than who they will be. 

Thank you grandmother mouse, and Finley, for an important teaching.    


  1. It feels inappropriate to say "the devil is in the details", but that's where I tend to trip up if I am not cautious!

    On the other hand though, an abundance of caution leads to fear and stagnation.

    Somewhere between the eagle and the mouse, there has to be a sweet spot, right?

  2. Definitely. My trouble is my tendency to forget the wisdom of the mouse.