I want to take you down memory lane with my family — Daddy, Mama, Johnny and me — deep into the woods of the National Noxubee Wildlife Refuge in the early 1950s which led us to the discovery of a very special sanctuary. One of our favorite things to do as a family was to take a long Sunday afternoon hike back down to the refuge. I must have been between 10 or 11 years old, and my little brother was six or seven years old. I do remember Johnny getting tired and Daddy carrying him some of the way. We took “Totsy” — our little white and brown spotted terrier dog with her curled up tail — along with us that pleasant spring afternoon. The sunshine was beaming over our heads, and we started down our path which would lead us very deep into the beautiful woods of the refuge.
As we walked along, we looked up at all the tall hardwood trees mixed in with the virgin pine trees into the blue and sunny sky above us. We began to hear the many birds singing and the movement of a squirrel or two as they looked down on us making that certain squirrel noise from the trees above us. The air smelled so fresh and so wonderful. There was a certain aroma of this early spring season which put that extra special spring into our steps as we kept on walking and hiking along a worn path. We got deeper and deeper into the woods.
Suddenly, right in front of us stood a tiny white church with a simple white wooden cross on the top of the church slightly leaning from maybe a wind blowing and twisting it. There were three steps that went up to the front door. The door itself was rounded at the top, and we could clearly see several beautiful oval shaped stained glass windows on the side of the church. The roof looked almost like it was made of slate.
The tiny church was a sanctuary in the quiet woods, and the choir was the sounds of the birds chirping. A huge oak tree with its new and freshly spring colors of yellow/lime green leaves which almost framed the church itself. The other surrounding trees seemed to protect his tiny sanctuary.
Daddy had discovered this old church a few mornings before, and he wanted all of us to take a hike with him to rediscover it for ourselves. We walked up those three steep steps, gave the door a tiny nudge and it suddenly opened up for us. We quietly — and with great reverence — began to put our feet inside the front door. We silently walked inside to see the beautiful sunlight as it made those tiny stained glass windows dance across the wooden hardwood floors with all their many colors and reflections from the glass above. Inside it was just like heaven.
There was a silent peacefulness and beauty all of its very own. All of us found our sanctuary. We stayed only a few minutes, and with the same reverence walked back outside that rounded shaped door and quietly closed it back up again.
This hiking adventure on a Sunday afternoon as a family has lingered inside my heart and soul all of these years. This painting was created years ago when I was either 10 or 11 years old when I returned home to my art supplies.
This experience taught me that there are many sanctuaries in life. A sanctuary can be at the National Noxubee Wildlife Refuge. A refuge is a place to experience the sounds, sights, noises, smells and beauty all around us of the wildlife that inhabits and calls this refuge “home.” This is their sanctuary, just as this tiny church in the woods became a real sanctuary to my family and tiny dog.
Look closely at this now very old painting that I painted it back in the early 1950s. See the beautiful scene of a simple sanctuary tucked and almost completely hidden among the deep woods of the refuge. Look at all the colors and the character of this tiny simple painting. Look at the old tree with its rounded hole in it. Do you think maybe someone left a note tucked inside it? Look at the colors of the trunk of the old tree as it almost matches the stain glass window of the church.
As I began to write this story, I remembered the wonderful words and heard the music in my ears of "The Church in the Wildwood," written by William S. Pitts in 1857.
Little did Daddy and Mama realize what a lasting gift from their own hearts that they gave to Johnny and me in our childhoods to keep deep inside our hearts and souls all of our lives. We just took a family hike. I am sure the little church has disappeared now, and I can never return back to it. It is etched within my thoughts and it was caught, saved and preserved forever on my tiny canvas. At my own church, Trinity Presbyterian Church, USA — another church nestled among the trees — we often have a spring service around Easter time in the wooded sanctuary in and among the trees. We sing a song titled "Sanctuary." The lyrics are: "Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary / Pure and Holy, tried and true / With thanksgiving, I'll be a living sanctuary for You."
Today, my wish is that you — within your very beings — become a sanctuary filled with peace, joy and love as you live every second, minute and hour in this world.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .