Experiences from the inside


   “The seat of the soul is where the outer and inner world meet” [1]

Last summer, I traveled down the Aberjona River by canoe.   Loaned to us by a friend, we packed within its hull a few belongings and began our journey in shallow waters just north of the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes.   A well-made vessel of solid wood, the canoe silently carried us while the banks on either side became denser with grass, brush and small pine.

We had only traveled a few minutes when a mother deer and her fawn came into focus.   She stood with her young off the bank to our right, surrounded by tall grasses but within a space of the surrounding vegetation.  Looking at us, they stood perfectly still.  Transfixed, we placed our oars in the water to stop midstream and held our breath.

Author, Belden Lane, speaks of such fleeting experiences as moments of non-separation, where we see everything with sudden familiarity and intimacy – from the inside.   He writes, “In the Jewish scriptures, the deepest realities of existence are always concrete, earth-related and wild.  One might best think of the soul, then, as the place where the body and the rest of the vibrant world converge…when we discover a vital connection with the ordinary details of everyday experience.” [3]

In the wake of this time of social distancing, it is easy to lose sight of this vital connection.  Assuming the connections we must have are those in close proximity to loved ones, friends and neighbors, we forget that the soul’s longing is deeply embedded in the seemingly most ordinary.   The illumination of morning’s light filtering through our window.   The texture of the African Violet leaves, soft to the touch.   The sound of our own breath reminding us, that indeed, we remain very much alive in this world.

Imagine if we are not as isolated as we presume?   What if the divine source actually dwells within, rather than being a distant and intangible entity?   For if what the monastic traditions have been insisting for centuries is true, then “this flesh we inhabit is actually a necessary vehicle by which everything in creation connects.” [4]   Could it be then that our physical bodies and the deepening of our souls are not separate realities but were created to be intrinsically, wondrously and vitally connected?

Writes chaplain, Lisa Steele-Maley, who speaks to this longing for connection:

What love and peace will hold us aloft?   What belonging will sooth our isolation?

What bridges will we build as we spend more time in our homes and communities?

 As we reflect on the impact that our lives have had on the lives of others:

Will we claim our participation in the web of life?  

Will we claim that the deepening of our souls may have ensured our survival?

Will we remember that one day we will be the ancestors in someone else’s story?

 As we recognize the depth of responsibility to the interconnected human family:

 Will we also take note of our interconnection with all living beings?  

Will we be reminded of our interconnection with the living, pulsing earth?  

Will we affirm that we are, in fact, one? [5]

[1] Novalis, 18th-century author, poet, mystic and philosopher

[2] Wildlife image by Meta Aller

[3] Belden C. Lane, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg. 8

[4] ibid. Pg. 13

[5] Lisa Steele-Maley, lisa.steelemaley, adapted


Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

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