A few days ago, my dog decided she wanted to go out a little earlier in the morning than I did. After a short period of sighing and whining (her, not me), she won and I got dressed, pulled on my sneakers and took her out.
I was just getting light. We took the familiar turns around the perimeter of the apartment where we are living right now, as I am settling into a new community and congregation.
Then we saw them. Deer. Just on the other side of the fence, there were several deer. We looked at them. They looked at us. Then they fled, gracefully, as deer are apt to do.
We had seen the deer once before, not long after I arrived. I thought it was a sort of sign, then, in my heart if not in my head. Seeing them made me glad. Back where I came from, there are urban deer at Nature Center not a block from our house. The dog and I would run into them, on occasion. So when I saw the deer, I was reminded of home. Many things are different, but some things are the same, I thought. There are deer, for example. We might not see them very often, but you never know when you'll run into them.
Every day when I take the dog out on her walk, I go by that spot, and I don't see the deer. I had just about given up, just about, when we got up early and saw them again.
It was a sign. That's what I thought, in my heart if not my head.
But what does it mean?
You have to be careful about signs, I know. I have said it myself, even though I can't help looking for them. They are not magic. They don't mean that everything is going to be smooth sailing. Sometimes you think something is a sign, and it turns out to be wishful thinking, an old security blanket you were hanging on to, even though it didn't do you any good. Sometimes you think something is a sign, but it turns out to mean something different than you originally thought. Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes at the beginning of John chapter 6, and it was a sign, but even so, by the end of that chapter, a significant number of disciples had fled, as disciples sometimes do.
It was a good Sunday, I thought. It was cooler than usual when I got to church. I met more people and learned more names. At both services there were first-time visitors. We broke the bread and shared the wine. I saw a worshipper, a guest, in the grocery store after the service, and we greeted each other. She loved the service, she said. They are lucky to have you, she said. Maybe it was a sign.
I saw the deer again, briefly, and I decided it was some sort of sign, although I am not sure exactly what it means. For now, the deer remind me not to give up, because you never know when you will get a glimpse of beauty, a flash of grace. The deer remind me that the glimpses do flee, but they are real. That is the sign I am clinging to like an old security blanket, even though it might not mean what I think it means.
But I think it means, This is where I am supposed to be. I think it means, God is here, too.
As the deer.