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‘Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes – the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.’ Elizabeth Browning.
We met Warren, on the foreshore of the beautiful Mann River in the highlands of New South Wales. He was camping alone for a few days, searching for some silence and solitude. From the beginning we were cautious not to intrude upon Warren’s space and as his story unfolded, it was obvious why.
As a forensic policeman, Warren investigated a lot of ugly stuff. Armed robberies, suicides, fatal car accidents, drug-induced violence and murders were part of his normal working week. He was constantly in and out of court giving evidence for an assorted array of trials. And then there was the traveling. Though based in Grafton, Warren was called to investigate incidents as far away as Tamworth, Inverell or south to Port Macquarie.
“There are two circles of people” Warren explained to us. “One circle is full of those who live normal lives and can stay out of trouble, the other circle of people are constantly breaking the law and seem to be forever in trouble with the police.” Most of the time the two circles never meet.
Warren spent a lot of time, encountering people in the second circle. His cry was to get away and find a place where he could normalize his thoughts and be reminded that the world is full of beauty and goodness, rather than chaos and violence. Mann River was Warren’s place to make sense of his world and detach himself from the shattered lives of others that filled his week. Mann River reminded Warren that life away from the second circle is peaceful, harmonious and full of people who are kind, caring and selfless. Mann River was the place that filled Warren’s life with beauty, inspiration and the strength to go back and begin again. Mann River was Warren’s place of refuge.
Warren’s self-care strategy to get out in the bush as often as possible and leave behind his demanding job, meant that his work had not shaped his identity.
“There are so many negative and depressed police in my line of work” Warren admitted. “So many who have allowed the darkness of the people they meet and the situations they encounter to penetrate their personalities and shape who they are becoming. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
We may not be forensic police investigating horrific cases of human tragedy, but we too can allow the demands and frustrations of our work to shape who are becoming. Life can get messy and if we stay too long connected to the disorder and dysfunction, we can take on the same characteristics. We all need time away – often in some cases – to be shaped by something more powerful and divinely orchestrated that our jobs and work environments.
We all need time away to be reminded of the beautiful world around us. Warren’s cry is our cry too. A cry to gaze upon that which settles us on the inside, that stills our restlessness and makes us whole people again who have become fragmented by busy, overactive lives. Inside we cry out for a reconnection with the beauty, simplicity and order of Creation that brings healing to our frantic and off-balanced lives. We cannot afford to ignore this cry. To avoid the call to stillness will only complicate and fragment our lives even further. Far better to embrace the call, which, ultimately, is a gift to us and to the world.
Can we dislodge ourselves from our work long enough to see that the earth is truly crammed with the wonders and beauty of heaven? Every common thing is no longer mundane but afire with the majesty of the Creator’s hand. Only those who stop, take off their shoes in reverence and linger long enough to be filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude will be changed and transformed. The rest will miss the majesty of Creation’s gift to us and be satisfied with the commonalities of eating blackberries. What is our heart’s cry just now? Where will we find our place of refuge?