When you read Church of the Wild, you will get to meet Mary. This is her resting outside the window just oh ... seven feet from my desk. (Yes, i'm gloating just a little!) Mary has just had her third set of twins since I've lived here. She comes here to rest, hide from the rambunctious fawns, and graze. Okay so I help with an apple or two.
Her quiet resting is a balm for me, a reminder that even the most anxious prey animals, alert to every sound and unusual movement, spend most of their lives resting and eating in a slow and intentional manner. This is something I am trying to learn. Her decision to allow me the privilege of her presence and trust has shifted my focus, my spirituality, and my own sense of calling and self. She reflects back to me a story of sacred connection. She reminds me that I belong to a story greater than my own small life.
Here is an excerpt from my book about Mary:
Belden Lane, in The Great Conversation, remarks that “only in risking ourselves to wind and fire, cave and tree, birdsong and wolf-cry can we grasp the language of glory whispered through it all.” He’s describing a fully embodied and personal contact, which “demand[s] our falling in love—crazy, self-abandoning love—in giving ourselves to wild things.”
Wild animals choose to be seen by you, not the other way around. Mary chose me. The first time I saw her, I had an apple and held out a slice to her, as a gesture of offering. I was surprised and thrilled when she walked straight up to me and took it from my hand, something she never did again.
I’m not as good at contemplation as Mary is. But she asks nothing less of me. Can I sit here with her, present and open and calm, even as she is? Mindful of the birds, the squirrels, the air. Without agenda or doing. Just being. Once I surrender, the contemplative presence is much easier and more natural than the meditation and prayer practices I struggled to get right throughout my life. I can feel my shoulders release, and I take a long breath, allowing the grace of this moment to sink in.
Mary is the matriarch in this neighborhood. She chases everyone else away. Even her own children. The doe fawns stay with mama until they become yearlings. The little bucks are chased off before the year ends to join the men in the surrounding woods somewhere. I generally only see them again in the fall, during rut season. The little nubby antlered yearlings practice annoying the females by following them around incessantly. But the little does get to stay with mama until the new fawns are born.
Only one of Mary's fawns from 2020 survived. I named her Marta, a take on Martha. Get it? Mary and Martha? Her fawns from the year before were named Maggie, for Mary Magdelene, and Jessie for, well, you know, Jesus. It seemed like they needed holy names. They do reveal the Sacred to me. The presence of Christ.
All last summer, while I was writing Church of the Wild, Mary brought Marta here to rest in my garden, which I can see looking straight up from my laptop out my window. Every day, they would saunter into the yard. Mary would stop and look at me with a sort of bland expectation, "Well? Where's the apples?" and Marta would scamper -- I kid you not...SCAMPER -- back to the little place in the garden where the weeds are high and she feels safe and protected. Mary would eventually leave and continue grazing in the neighborhood and return for Marta after a few hours. Ahh! Heart melt! I called myself the FawnSitter, which makes me very proud. I should use that as my medicine name or something.
There is a long back story preparing me for this privilege of FawnSitting. It's in the book. But what's important is the psycho-spiritual significance of these cross species friendships. I admit that I'm a sucker for The Dodo kind of videos you see on Instagram and Facebook about friendships with and between wild animals. Or the Academy award winning documentary by Craig Foster about his Octopus Teacher he fell in love with in the bay outside his house. These stories are not actually outliers. But because the dominant culture has forgotten our deep connection in the web of inter-being (as Thich Nhat Hanh says), we think they are anomalies. Actually, I've found that all we need to do is slow down and open our hearts to the invitation into relationship. And the guides will come, just like Joseph Campbell's hero's journey says they will.
As part of my work with Seminary of the Wild and the Wild Church Network, I get to talk to lots of people about their own experiences of deep, even intimate connection with particular beings. Again and again, the language is pregnant with reverence. I've found that most people have a story -- about a tree, a particular bend in the shoreline, a bird, a snake, an owl, a snowstorm, a bear -- where the presence of the Holy was not only experienced but invited them into deeper relationship with the Oneness, the Whole, the Christ.
I just launched this blog, but I'd love to hear your stories too. My vision has been for several years to create a way to share our stories, to "normalize" this inter-connection that is physical and emotional and social and spiritual and share them through a wild mycelial network. The more we can share our stories, the more seriously we can take them, the more we can recognize them as valuable and meaningful and...well...sacred.
Send me your stories (use the button at the top of this Blog page). I want to hear and would like to share them someday with other like-hearted, kindred souls soon.