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MORNING PRAYER, EVENING PRAYER.
September 25, 2003
 
I was late to morning prayer -- for which I had chosen the time to begin -- and Jim was already sitting on the porch with his prayer book. I think he had probably had time to say the whole office, but he was willing to begin it again in company. And so we began, our voices blending and then answering one another, almost in a whisper.

The risen sun lit the mountaintops in the distance, silvering the clouds beneath their peaks; it was as if they were islands in a sea of brilliant white. "It was pink just before you came out," Jim said. We couldn't take our eyes off the spectacle of such beauty. I remembered that I believe that God made the earth and the sky, and I remembered why. Seventy percent of Americans believe that God did this in the six days described in Genesis. I guess I'm among the other thirty -- I don't know how God did it, but His prints are all over it. Six days. Sixty billion years. Effectual words or a big bang -- either is fine with me.

Nature had been up for hours. Birds came and went from the porch railing to the trees. The dog loped by on her way to somewhere. Bees were already at work on some tall purple phlox. On the slopes of the mountains in the near distance, there was already some slight turning of leaves, a few bright brushstrokes of gold.

It was easy to feel the love of God in that beautiful place. It was as if all that beauty were a gift to us. But of course, it was around before any of us were even a gleam in God's eye. Nature is new every morning, but its cycles are ancient, independent of all our anxieties, oblivious to our plans. Once in awhile, we get in its way: then it gives itself an impatient shake, and some of us are flung away in an instant. Sometimes, we understand our place in its large and complicated life, and its life hums through us in a way that helps us not mind the fact that we are temporary. I those moments, our souls are pierced with a peace not of our own making.

Later I would fly back to New York, where it seems that what people do is determinative of everything. I would grab my suitcase and stride rapidly through the airport, passing as many other travellers as I could, as quickly as I could. I would make my crowded train, and we would hurtle down the track in the sunlight of the late afternoon.

Along the way, there would be messages, if you knew were to look. Here, too, the first leaves were turning gold. A great egret stood in the marsh like an ivory statue, intent on the water's surface for the ripple of a fish, ignoring the gulls that swooped down and dived for food a few yards away. The plumes of marsh grass waved in the slightest of winds.

The mountains stop you in your tracks. You know your smallness and the brevity of your tenure here on the earth. Unavoidable, eternal beauty is everywhere. Back up here, you have to look. But the same peace pierces your heart when a tall white bird fishes in the water against a backdrop of marsh grass and railroad tracks. They were here first, and they are still here. We have not chased them all away. Deo gratias.

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I was high up in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Take a look -- www.theswag.com.
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