How All Our Salvation Begins (#SmallWonder Link-up)

(For the past several months, I've participated in a group organized by Oasis Ministries that meets for monthly silent retreat days.  We meet one Saturday a month at an old farm turned retreat center near Elizabethown, PA.)

I arrive in the nick of time, lugging a bag of books, my purse and a packed lunch.  Inside the old farm door I exchange greetings with a few and make my way to the bathroom.  Then I throw back a quick cup of coffee – I’m not fully awake yet – and head in to join the circle of silence. 

After a period of silent prayer and some brief reflection, the nine of us split off in different directions.  I make a beeline for more coffee and then head upstairs to a bedroom alone.  I journal briefly before doing what I know cannot be put off any longer.  Tipping to my side, I curl up with an ugly blanket on an even uglier couch and, in seconds, I drift off to sleep.

I wake to lunch time.  In the cold dining room, I eat around a long table with women who are mostly twenty to thirty years older than me.  I crunch red peppers and carrot sticks and crack my hard boiled egg too loudly on the table before realizing I can crush it gently with my fingers.  I drink hot tea at lunch, a follow-up to my hot coffee, because I’m cold and can’t seem to get warm. 

After lunch I find a sunny spot by a window and pile out my books and journals.  I thumb through a Birds and Blooms magazine cutting pictures and words that strike my eye with scissors I stole from my three-year-old’s office.  Then we gather again at the circle, for more silence and sharing around our reading for the month. 

During afternoon retreat time I head outside with more coffee and sit briefly on a bench watching bees buzz happy among the clover.  Then, still cold, I remember the black bed-liner in my husband’s old, red, pickup truck.  The black bed draws the sun like a magnet and climbing in I’m greeted by warmth and the smell of gasoline.  I unpack again, books and journal, in the bed of the truck, my back tucked into the corner.  I run inside one more time briefly for my sunglasses and trade my cup of coffee for a plastic cup of water.

In the truck, I read a bit and try to write poems that wilt, listless on the page.  I eat the perfect orange, slowly, beneath the blue sky of spring.  In all of this I wonder, what am I doing here?  I’m deliberately unproductive on these days, deliberately leaving behind the laptop, setting no firm expectation for the day.  There’s prayer, yes, but most of the day feels decidedly unremarkable, strikingly unholy. 

There are no angel choirs, no visions from heaven.  I do spy a pileated woodpecker outside the whirled glass window at lunch, but if he’s meant to deliver a message from God, I fail on the receiving end.  It isn’t until the closing of the day that I remember again a bit of reading, a quote from Thomas Merton, “. . . all our salvation begins on the level of common and natural and ordinary things.”

The word “all” is what gets me, sticks like taffy in my soul’s teeth. 

I marvel at how unholy, how unremarkable these days apart seem most months and, on the whole, they’re filled with “common and natural and ordinary things.”  This much I cannot deny – food and rest, silence and small chatter, an ugly blanket, the warm black bed of a pickup truck. 

But Merton, sly fox, tips things up-side-down in one short sentence.  These things, he whispers, these

Carrots and coffee and sliced red pepper, quiet moments flipping pages soaked in sun, that orange, the smell of gasoline, the happy bees drinking life one blossom at a time.  

These things, he whispers, these

It’s then, at the end of the day, that I accept again the invitation to surrender to God’s backward ways of transformation.  God’s proclivity for infusing the material with divine.  

The door is everywhere.  All our salvation begins.   

*   *   *   *

I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.   


  1. "God’s proclivity for infusing the material with divine." Beautiful words here. Most often I find this in nature and yes, the ordinary. Elizabethtown: wondering where you retreat center is. My husband grew up there and my dad was born there too, spending most of his life in Middletown area. We don't get back there often, but I do have cousins there and my husband has family there. It's such a small world.

    1. I'm not too familiar with the area, Carol, but it's called Wittel Farm - maybe associated with the Evangelical Lutheran church, I think. It's about 45 minutes from where I live.

  2. A truth that frustrates me at times, but if it weren't so, I'm not sure I'd have managed a "holy moment" in the past 20+ years! Thanks be to the God who shows up at my clothesline and in the sink full of crusty dishes!

    1. Ain't that the truth, Michele - God showing up right where we are while we're longing to be somewhere else! Thanks for being here.

  3. Thank you for a strong appreciation of the plains rather than the mountain tops on our faith journeys. Reminds me of Norris' wonderful Quotidian Mysteries.

    1. Thanks, Adrienne - that book is one of my favorites!

  4. Kelly, I love your writing! You always make me feel like I'm right there with you. I'm realizing that I need to make time for periodic retreats as a part of my day. I need that time alone with God, my thoughts and my journal. You inspire me to do it!

  5. Oh my... I can't explain how I am needing this! I have been saying for weeks that I need to get away to be quiet and it makes no natural sense because I am an empty nester and it is --or can be, anyway!-- quiet all around me. Still - there is something about getting away and out of routine and I LOVE that you have this place and this community to be silent together! What a gift!

  6. this is divine, so happy you carve out this silent time from parenting, work, and your busy life..I love how present you are in the unordinary, and so find grace right there. I love Thomas Merton..he changed my life years ago as I read Seven Story Mountain while lost in NYC..I lived near Columbia University so was fun to be near where he traveled in his early un-saint like day. I so wish I could go to your writing retreat. Blessings! Late in posting on link up this week..I need that silent retreat!

  7. Oh, oh, oh....this has been in my inbox for a week--what a treasure to finally read.
    I felt the not-warm sun on my face as I peeled an (imaginary) orange and delighted with you in "God’s proclivity for infusing the material with divine."
    Thank you for writing about the ordinary and every day. It points me to Jesus.

    The door is everywhere. All our salvation begins.

    1. Thank you, Jody, for bringing Kelly's post to our attention! Honesty, beauty, simplicity, and sublimity all rolled into one!

  8. After four decades in Florida, my husband and I returned to the Midwest almost two years ago. The transformation of the landscape in spring thrills me, as dreary grays and browns become lush green, and flowers bloom in rainbow colors. Salvation is seen in the landscape; cold death becomes vibrant life--an inspiring metaphor of what occurs unseen in our spirits. Thank you, Kelly, for your beautiful inspiration!