An interlude is a piece of music performed during the intermission at a theater. One of my favorite writers incorporated them into one of his series and I am shamelessly stealing that idea from him. I have a couple of experiences that don’t fit perfectly into the whole “Name of God” thing but they are very intimate parts of my spirituality. I’ve only invited a handful of people into these stories.
I hopped from boulder to boulder, out into the Bohai Gulf, until I was alone on the last rock that jutted out into the water. The small waves splashed against it and I sat down, the warm sun and cool rock a contrast for my skin to enjoy. I opened a book that had been given to me by the Headmaster of our school and read:
Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.
I looked up at the vast gulf which, beyond the horizon, gave way to the expanse of the Pacific which, halfway around the world, crashed against the faraway land of my home country. As I gazed out on those endless waters, I felt like God said to me, “journey with me into the land of the prophet.”
I wanted that. More than anything. I wanted to be with God. I wanted his love to be real. I wanted to know his peace so well that, when I spoke of it, it wasn’t something I merely had read about and was supposed to believe. I wanted my words to come from a place of experience.
I accepted God’s invitation on that day, on a nameless boulder on the coast of China.
I cleared a space in the woods for my ceremony and, at that moment, Shwahh walked by. I was on an overnight camping trip him, Aminah, and Paul. What they didn’t know is that I was here for some desperately needed affirmation.
I had read Wild At Heart a few months prior and John Eldredge spoke of spirituality in a way I hadn’t heard an Evangelical speak of it before. He talked about things like initiation. I started googling it and researching it, which lead me to rites of passage.
I had never been initiated into manhood (very few of the men or women in America have been) and thought that maybe this would be the thing that would get rid of the not-quite-right feeling that always lived inside of me. Maybe this is what would get rid of the desires to express myself in feminine ways.
When Shwahh walked past me, I realized I needed somewhere more private and intimate. I turned away from the trail and walked into the woods. Deep into the woods. I walked until everything around me was covered in leaves and I was squeezing my way between the thick underbrush. The open space I eventually found myself in felt old.
I cleared away the leaves beneath a tree that had a wound at its base, leaving an “A” shaped opening. I wrote a list of the childish things that I was leaving behind. Included on that list was wearing women’s clothing. I was a man, damnit, and I was leaving the feminine. I looked over the list and felt a deep sense of loss. It contained things that I loved and drew my identity from. I then laid the list down in the space at the bottom of the tree and set it on fire. I watched as the paper turned from white to black and began to fall apart. It was supposed to be symbolic of childish things being left behind so that I could step into a new, more mature way of living. A floating ember set some leaves on fire and I frantically stamped them out, just barely preventing a forest fire.
I knelt back down in that space, before the ash, and asked God to proclaim me a man. I didn’t hear anything but I had asked God to initiate me, just like he had initiated John Eldredge, and I wasn’t leaving without God’s initiation.
Growing somewhat frustrated, I stood and moved on to another part of my collage of various rites of passage I had read about. I grabbed my knife and held it up to the tree. The carving I was about to make was symbolic of the permanence of my transition into manhood. I was going to write I AM A MAN on the tree so that it could stand as a testament to what happened on that day.
I scratched through the bark, exposing the wood, permanently scarring the tree. I wanted a scar just as permanent on my soul. I wanted God to tell me that I belonged. I wanted him to peel away my insecurities and tell me that I was enough. I wanted him to tell me that I wasn’t weak and frail but strong and unbreakable.
I got through the words “I AM” when I heard a noise behind me. I turned and felt the adrenaline dump into my bloodstream when I saw a snake slithering a few feet away. I kicked a stick into my open hand and faced the snake, standing my ground. The snake turned its head and faced me, sticking its tongue out a couple of times. We both stared at each other for a very stretched out moment before the snake slithered away. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was one the verge of tears.
I didn’t finish my carving. I packed up everything I had brought with me and went back to our campsite, not speaking a word of what had happened to Paul, Shwahh, or Aminah. I showed Carrie my journal entry when I got home and I told her about the experience but I could tell the depth of what happened in the woods wasn’t coming across in my words. I could tell that I didn’t even understand the depth of what had happened.
Our Native American brothers and sisters have a phrase for my experience in the woods: Strong Medicine. I wouldn’t learn that phrase for another few years… or the significance of the serpent.
I often wonder if there is still a tree standing in the Big Thicket National Preserve with two words scarring its trunk that only God and his animals see:
Read the next part: A god named Calling!