Gracious Expressions of God

August 26, 2017

KY deer

During my D. Min. residency in 2016, I went hiking one evening on the Kentucky River Palisades Trail.    I saw only two other hikers during the time I was on the trail, and by the latter half of it I was the only one in the woods.  Near the trail in the middle of the woods, I sat on a large flat stone and spent time reflecting on the discussions we had in our class relating to Henri Nouwen’s life and the love of God.  I was led to consider God’s love for me in particularly and reflected and prayed on the stone for about 30 minutes enjoying the company of the Lord.  God’s seemed to truly manifest his presence there with me in the cathedral of the trees.

When I arose to continue the hike, I looked behind me and saw the deer pictured above.  It stood about 15-20 yards from me watching me seeming unafraid but quite curious.  My immediate response was to thank God for blessing me with this surprise.  It was an amazing experience as the deer came several yards closer and then walked in a wider circle around me to the other side of the trail where it continued to watch me.  The encounter with the Lord and the deer was a highlight for me and not one I would soon forget.

When I arrived back at Asbury for the beginning of my second D. Min. residency, I was eager to return to this trail and keen to see more deer or perhaps the same deer.  I also hoped to have a similar time of communion with the Lord.  I visited the trail the first weekend.  I took the same route through the trees and rocks descending to the KY river and then back up the hill.  This time, however, it rained throughout the hike, and poured down on the latter half of the hike.  I had a rain jacket, but it was not the most pleasant of situations, even though, once again it was only me in the vast woods.  I saw a couple young deer run off away from me during the hike.  By then, I had picked up my step to make it back to the car.

With my head down, striding toward the end of the trail, I caught a glimpse of a small mound of rocks about five feet to the right of the trail.  It struck me as strange because it was in the middle of open dirt / mud without rocks or trees.  I wondered to myself why anyone would make a mound of rocks there.  When I considered the wider expanse of the area, it dawned on me that this was the spot I sat and prayed during my previous hike.  I saw the rock I sat on further off the trail and then looked and noticed the tree where the deer stood the year before.


There are certainly other explanations for a mound of rocks in the woods, but I thought of the Ebenezer symbol from Scripture and wondered “could this be from the Lord for me to see?”  In the story of Israel, the prophet Samuel prayed for Israel’s victory against the Philistines and the Lord answered his prayer.  Following the battle in which the Lord fought for Israel, Samuel set up a monument:

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12

The term Ebenezer means “stone of help.”  In the case of Israel, it served to remind them how the Lord helped them overcome their enemies in his mercy and grace despite their own unworthiness.  When I saw the stone and thought of the Ebenezer stone, I also remembered the twelve stones that were brought up by the twelve tribes of Israel from the Jordan River when they crossed following Joshua into the Promised Land.  After they crossed over Joshua had them piled into a memorial:

“The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Joshua 4:19-24


The stones in Scripture represent the mighty help of the Lord to his people.  I don’t know how these stones in the woods came to be right at the spot of the trail where I went off and experienced a mystical time with the Lord who blessed me with the interaction with the curious deer.  But what came to my mind was that the Lord caused them to be there and for me to see them and stop to remember how the Lord revealed himself to me and blessed me through his mercy and grace.

For me, it was the Lord who set these stones there as a remembrance not only for me but for himself.  The Lord revealed to me that our times of communion together are his delight and joy as well as mine.  The Lord looks forward to the times we spend together in tune with one another. He remembers with fondness the experiences he has with us when we give him our full attention and love him with our whole heart, soul and strength — whether they are times of intimacy in solitude or times of sacrificial service to others.  God sets his own remembrance to remind him and us that communion is the true source of satisfaction and fulfillment.

It is baffling to imagine God being like a child who says to his mom or dad, “Remember that time when we…”  However, to see the Lord’s longing for communion with people, we only have to read and reflect on the prayer of Jesus to his Father.  He are the closing verses:

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.  I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:22-26

The prayer reveals Jesus’ longing for his followers to be one with him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.  To be one with the Lord is to be filled with the love that the Father has for his beloved Son.  The pile of rocks in the woods reminded me of God’s delight in me and love for me.  It revealed to me that God delights in his love for me and my reciprocation of love to him, and he remembers our time of communion.  What a grace to serve a loving God who speaks to his children and shows himself to them. (John 14:21)

By the way, in the pile of stones beside the trail, there were eleven stones.  I added a small one on the top to make it twelve.



One Response to “Gracious Expressions of God”

  1. Jeanie Says:

    Hi Fr. Craig, it was a pleasure to find this post on Sunday when we were in Avon and missed being at Redeemer. I appreciate your ability and willingness to share the delight God takes in you and the ways he shows it. To know Jesus loved us enough to die for us and to know God’s Word isn’t all there is. I think it takes a reminder sometimes that God actually delights in us to experience the ways he is willing to show it. Greg Boyd says, take time to enjoy Jesus enjoying you. Thanks a lot for this post. It was delightful!

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