Editor’s Note: Missioner-in-training Allison Dethlefs reflects on the week she and her classmates spent in Ossining, NY, for the annual Collaborative Formation Gathering (CFG), a joint training with Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Society of African Missions.
The scenery in Ossining was absolutely breathtaking. While I loved meeting the missioners from other programs and growing closer to my FMS classmates, if I had to name where I most felt God’s presence in this experience, it would have to be in the fantastic, fiery fall creation that surrounded us.
Trees of every variety covered the Maryknoll campus, clothing it in an unimaginable array of colors—crimson, scarlet, fire-orange, gold, pale yellow, magenta, plum, and a smattering of greens—literally an artist’s paradise. There were forest paths to wander, carpeted in blankets of fallen leaves, sunsets over the rolling hills, and one day a torrential downpour that left me completely in-awe-speechless.
It was as though every time I stepped outside, in everything that I saw, God was there.
I lay in a deep pile of fallen leaves in the middle of the forest and breathed in the pure scent of fall.
And it smelled like God.
I watched a family of deer leap gracefully through the trees, one momentarily still, watching me, before it turned on its white tail and bounded after the others.
And she looked like God.
I padded through a glowing meadow at sunset, feeling the cool dampness of the grass and leaves under the soles of my bare feet.
And if felt like God.
I spun in the middle of a grassy field and laughed aloud, mouth open wide, tongue out, eyes all but screwed shut, as my upturned face was pelted with giant raindrops that streamed down from the heavens.
And they tasted like God.
I closed my eyes and listened as the wind picked up and the volume of treetop conversations rose from a murmur to a roar while multicolored patches of the sky swirled down around me to the forest floor.
And it sounded like God.
And I recited again and again my favorite prayer by E. E. Cummings, dwelling on the lines:
“how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?”
Glorying in the wonders of God’s creation that week made me feel intimately connected to our Franciscan charism and to St. Francis’s love of nature and all of creation. It reminded me of how much beauty there is to be found in our world if only we take the time to stop for a moment and look.
Of course, it’s not every day that we shall step outside and into an autumn paradise. But that does not mean that God’s presence and beauty are not to be found, be it under the grayest sky, in the most barren landscape, or during the most devastating tragedy.
I needed that reminder—the reminder that no matter where I am, no matter how I feel, and no matter what is happening in my life, God is there waiting for me to open my eyes and ears, mind and heart to witness his glory unfolding around me.