It was very cloudy this Christmas eve of  ’09, some wind, looking like rain soon a-coming. The clouds looked pregnant, heavy and dark; just the way I like them. The ground wet, I could feel the damp cold in my feet, emerging through my shoes and socks, as I slowly made my away around the road. After a time I left the road to walk towards a small grove of pine trees that were planted over 20 years ago and are now quite tall and beautiful. The grove has been thinned out once, but will not be completely harvested, since it will be left standing as a noise buffer from the road nearby.

I walked into the grove and liked how much room there is to allow for further growth of the trees left behind. Slick grass beneath my feet, as I walked the path that went through it, slowly, simply enjoying the dark wet cold; a typical winter’s evening in Georgia. Well it is if we have a wet winter. The last few years were experienced as a drought, so I am thankful for the wetness. I always feel grounded in this kind of weather, so peaceful, quiet, no bright sun to burn, or to cause my eyes to squint. No, just quiet, calm darkness. Its seems that I don’t need a great deal of light, in fact too much actually tires me out and makes me feel a bit scattered. Not that I don’t like sunny days, but if I had my choice, it would be dark cloudy ones that would be the most common.

In the midst of this little grove, there is a very old tree. It looks like it could be nearing the end of its life span, for it looks weathered in the best sense of the word. Long gnarled limbs reaching up to the sky, almost like a soul in supplication, seeking light and the grace to simply go on. Yet also strong, with deep roots in the earth; it is not going anywhere without a fight. It is very beautiful to me, this old thing with its own kind of beauty. I always feel a little sad when seeing it, this aged friend, for when it passes it will be the last old tree in the grove, all the rest of the trees being less than 30 years old.

As I was leaving the woods, I noticed another old tree that I also loved, but now dead, pushed over by a big storm a couple of years ago. Its limbs are still beautiful in death, slowly being returned to the earth. I caressed one of the huge limbs thinking of how transitory everything is; even the strongest will one day fall. Yet I noticed new sprouts growing up and hopefully in a few decades someone else will be able to enjoy the strength and beauty of the tree. By then, I will myself be just a part of history of this place, probably forgotten. Which is fine with me, being known or famous is highly overrated I would think. What is famous is an image projected outward to the public and what is perceived is just another projection, both mingle, yet the real person is hidden, private, known only to God.

Near the bell tower I noticed a small flock of birds flying around, then settling in and taking off again, restless perhaps; I know the feeling. I would think seeing lots of birds fly together is another one of my favorite things, right up there with walking near the ocean and yes, dark heavy clouds and rain. Around and around they flew, how I envy birds their flight, I feel so heavy and earth bound when I see them soar so elegantly in harmony. I have had lucid dreams where I would decide to fly and they were ecstatic experiences for me, flying up, looping around, diving and going back up again; just like dancing. Yeah, for me dancing, when you step onto the rhythm chain, is like flying. The body floats, the heart zooms and there is only laughter in the heart.

So I felt really rooted, connected to the earth all the way down, like I was drinking in life, something I can’t experience on sunny days. Sun filled days have their own experiences, just as powerful I guess but not as fulfilling. One other thing, the soft patter of rain on leaves is another sound that I can’t get enough of, it is like drinking water straight through the heart. Perhaps that is why I love the dark; it is a heart thing, something I feel I am often out of touch with. It can seem like an iron fortress at times and I don’t have the key to unlock it. Perhaps in the end, it is the grace of nature that holds that key, at least some of the times. At others it is music and literature and the smiles and love from those around me.

I wonder if our true nature is utter simplicity buried under layers of complexity; perhaps another mystery to what ‘being made in the image of’ means. Perhaps the waiting is also an indication of the deepest meaning of advent, and the birth a fulfillment of the promise that is perhaps longed for by all.

For a child is born to us!

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.