Siren Song

My Shack in the Woods

I knew it was coming. I prepared myself for the upheaval. Then it happened. And I felt myself tumbling down the coldest kind of rabbit hole.

And the tumbling has not stopped.

All seminarians at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon are required to complete one basic unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at an approved hospital site. Since approved hospitals are only in Edmonton and Calgary, all smaller town students have to relocate for three months to fulfill this requirement. As a single person supporting myself, I would have to quit my job and throw myself on the mercy of God for money.

The tantalizing bright side is that my parents have a wee one-room cabin on their 80-acre, off-grid, forested property where I can now live rent-free for the next year while I finish my class requirements before heading off to an internship.

No running water.

Wood heat only.

Small bit of electricity from a tiny solar panel (and even then, only as needed).

On Easter weekend, I packed up everything I had from my little basement suite I had lived in for eleven years, stored ninety percent of it in a small trailer, and moved into that cabin. Of course I would pick the day that northern Alberta would have its first massive spring snow storm. I’m not talking dusty flakes. I’m talking huge, wet, sticky flakes falling by the billions per second. Slogging through the weather, friends and family helped me move out, clean up the place, and settle in to the new place. And I awoke to a winter wonderland on the first morning in the cabin, listening to the snap and crackle of fire in the woodstove.

Two weeks later, I was laid off from my job on the Friday, packed up my gear on the Saturday, moved to Edmonton on the Sunday, and started my hospital work on the Monday. Even now I have trouble catching my breath.

In Jeremiah 6, the author writes “…stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for ancient paths…” 

Ancient paths…

Ancient paths…

Ask for ancient paths…

While I can’t run from this moment now, here in Edmonton, I can’t help but be wistful for those little dark paths leading to what easily became my hermitage during my two brief weeks in the cabin. I count the days when I can return to that place. I’ll fall asleep to the sound of frog song, laughing bard owls, and the wind in the trees. The dancing of light and shadow from the fire against the wood-paneled wall will soothe any battered spirit. I will walk out the front door and follow the beckoning of enormous spruce trees deeper into the forest. Or I’ll simply sit around the small mossy fire pit and breathe.

Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can you smell it? Can you smell the spruce resin making the air fresh again? The wood smoke of a simple, but healing home? The sweat after hauling in firewood or drinking water? Heck, can you even smell the little outhouse?

For a whole year I will have my own shack, and who knows who I will meet down there in the woods all alone?

Does it not make the soul sing?

Yes. It does.

But what happens when the very beautiful wonder that makes the spirit sing becomes its own siren?

What happens when I love this place, this thing, this space, this poem, this word, this person, this idea, this feeling too much?

Am I following this song so blindly that I’m unknowingly following it to a strange mystical death?

Even in moving to a communal student house in Edmonton, I find it difficult to be with other people around the clock. People in my classes and groups everyday, residents on my hospital units everyday, and housemates in my dwelling everyday. After living alone for nineteen years (the past eleven years in a very old, dark basement suite), and then weeks geographically isolated from other people, how do I now fit into God’s peopled world again? Some moments I feel like all the oxygen in the world is gone and I’m being smothered. Other moments are not so bad, especially when I’m sitting and listening to a ninety year old woman tell me her life’s story.

But the question remains: what happens to us when what resonates with us so strongly, so powerfully draws us into uncharted depths that threaten to swallow us whole?

A tiny cabin in the woods is going to be a healing balm for me, this is true. But the lure of remaining in that hermitage is going to be so strong that I fear I won’t be able to resist it. It won’t be an easy life. Getting up early to start a fire when it’s icy cold isn’t my idea of a nice wakeup call. Yet I have met God in so many ways already – ways as yet unnamed.

Must I go back into the world of other human beings?

If I must, how do I fit in?

How do I share air, space, words, life? I really don’t think I know how.

It won’t be an easy transition (another transition), but my sense is that it will be holy. I am called by God to listen to what makes my being sing, but I am also cautioned. If I am consumed by these glorious wonders, only God will be able to call me back. Maybe that’s as it should be.

For now, I look forward to falling asleep to the sound of frog song.


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