A Circle of Trees

I was reading Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, and the images she painted drew me outside of the book to nature. David and I were at a local park, passing time between leaving his brother at school and the start of his Mom’s Day Out class at 8:30. There was a slight breeze blowing, and a thin covering of clouds shielded us from the sun’s intense heat. My eyes lingered on a path that circled the park. An elderly man had been walking laps since before our arrival. He was striding by just then, and I looked beyond him to the trees beside his path.

Calling David to walk beside me, his tiny soft hand resting comfortably in mine, I headed off into the woods. There’s a pond hidden just over the hill. We used to have our girls’ small group meetings at a covered picnic shelter nearby. This morning, David and I tried out a path we’d never been down, quickly finding ourselves at a dead end. We turned back, holding a toddler-level conversation about shoes and hiking. Once over the pond’s wooden bridge, I let David stop to throw rocks into the water. Feeling somewhat childlike in the cool air, walking with a three-year-old, I threw a few myself.

Moving on, our path veered again. I remembered a small clearing a friend and I had discovered while walking her dogs. David was curious when we left the gravel-covered trail and ventured into the small field of grass and weeds. I told him that I just wanted to sit for a minute, and he said he would sit with me. My son and I settled on the ground, and I lay back, resting my head on my purse. David lay back too, and he told me how Chicken Little thought the sky was falling. Then, he left me behind to gather dried leaves and talk to himself.

I stared at the blank sky above me and realized I was lying in a circle of trees. My mind rushed back to my earlier reading material – Kidd’s story of dancing in a circle of trees. I stood and spun around until I was dizzy. Enchanted by his turned-whimsical mother, David twirled as well. “Let’s dance,” I told him. So we did. Jumps and bows and pirouettes. I leapt and dashed across the grass. David laughed and joined me.

Finally exiting the woods, David ran ahead and stepped onto a concrete border that outlines the play area with its equipment, picnic tables, and flowerbeds. He insisted I also walk on the concrete.

Stepping onto the gray rock, it flashed through my mind that this was another circle. I had gone from a circle of trees to a circle of cement. How different the two places felt…

The first, a natural sanctuary created by God, inspired freedom of movement. It drew my eyes upward and my soul outward. There, I danced. I laughed. I smiled.

The second circle, manmade, surrounded structure of all kinds. I was walking around it, one foot in front of the other, balancing physically. My eyes were steady in front of me, lest I should fall and injure myself, and my soul was not inspired to do much of anything, except maybe flee back to the first circle – where it had danced.

As I left the park with David, my heart was filled with a new knowledge. My faith, my religion, My God… these are natural circles. They are off the well-trodden path. They require me to journey through the woods in search of something I cannot even explain. They bring me moments of joy and freedom. They sound like David’s laughter, the chirping of birds and wind through the leaves.

The religious institution, however, is the concrete border around my life. It mandates where my steps will go, calls me to balance myself outwardly and offers those around me a picture of perfect symmetry.

As I sit now, in the center of a labyrinth, I look out past the world we know to the Kingdom of God, and I do not see any concrete circles. I see only God and beauty and dancing. I hear joy and laughter.

I want to live for the circle of trees.


*originally published on Middle Places


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