Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Deer in the Fence

I was driving out of Malvern Retreat Center about two weeks ago, from a meeting that took me into the twilight time of the day, when a massive buck came leaping across the fields that buffer Malvern Prep's campus from the road. It was a powerful, agile creature, bounding like Mercury over the grass, and straight for my car. I was spellbound for a moment, then looking to my right, I saw traffic approaching. I honked my horn and they slowed. To the left, more cars were coming; they too saw the deer and soon a window was open for this beautiful creature to slip through. And slip it did.

At first it brought to mind the old Far Side cartoon "Nature Scenes We Rarely See" - where a beautiful buck is leaping over a fallen log with his antlers an inch from another tree branch (and we imagine the awkward pain of the next two seconds when the two meet). The grounds of the Retreat Center were surrounded by a high, green, chain link fence. The deer cut to the right away from my car and smacked right into the fence. Deer are color blind, I'm told, so perhaps the green of the fence blended in with the deep green woods of freedom beyond them.


We all watched from our cars as its beautiful body crumpled to the grassy shoulder. Then to our amazement, it jumped again, and again... and again, each time launching itself back into the fence with no success. I found myself cheering him on... "Look over here! You're so close! Freedom is just 20 feet away!" Finally, after what seemed like a dozen attempts, the deer 's own body weight managed to tear away the bottom of the fence and it slowly edged through it backwards, unravelling its antlers from the chain links in a slow and painful twisting movement. Once free of the fence, it simply turned and jumped again, this time into the clear air and off into the deep woods.


It was a couple of days later that the image came back to me. I was thinking of a friend who was in the midst of a real crisis, and I felt again like I was sitting in my safe and secure car, observing something of great power, beauty and freedom suddenly caught up in anxiety, pain and confusion. All I could do was watch, wait, listen.... and point to the freedom just 20 feet away. I was removed, could see more clearly, could see the range of colors that offer through contrast a greater clarity. Even though the path to freedom and to open fields seemed so close, I could only pray and point to it. We can no more force others to choose (a contradiction) than I could have picked up that deer and set him onto the open path. That move would have damaged us both.

How quickly life can turn us into those tangled knots, dark places, and seemingly unsurmountable walls. And we leap again and again into the knot, into the darkness, into the mess of it all for we cannot see beyond it. But I know we're made for open fields; we are meant to be free. Even in the midst of what seems insurmountable, inescapable, even life-threatening, there is hope. And we can find it, sometimes by passing through the pain and darkness, sometimes around it. But the deer could not see this, reason it out, step back, breathe, or pray in the middle of its crisis. It couldn't make an act of faith that this struggle would work out either. But we can step back, pray, sit with the Mystery.... listen. And we should in every and all circumstances as we make our way through this world.

What fence of fear or confusion or dread has locked you in? What boundaries are you seeking to go beyond? What comfort zone is He calling you out of and beyond? And which side of that fence offers you true freedom?

To find the mystery there must be patience, interior purification, silence, waiting....
-Pope John Paul II

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