For many of us, the coming days are a great time of faith, gratitude and celebration. Some of us, I suspect, miss the true meaning of Christmas because we get wrapped up in the giving and getting of presents. How can we not? We are constantly bombarded in the media about Black Friday, can’t-miss holiday sales and the temptation to spend as much money as we can on others, as if that gesture in some way corresponds to the love we have for those around us.
I was struck by the timely words of a fellow writer and a great talent in last week’s Weekender edition of the Herald and Times Argus. Willem Lange wrote eloquently about the challenges of faith. Here, he tells us why belief can be so important in challenging times: “At this time of the year, as darkness and cold deepen and almost every bit of news we hear is grim or portentous, can it be wrong to hope for better news, for warmer hearts, for a less beleaguered world?”
So, what does this have to do with the outdoors, a reasonable person could ask?
I bring this matter up because it could very well be that some folks may be hard pressed to believe that a hunter can be a person of true faith, that somehow anyone who makes the conscious decision to take the life of a wild creature is something of a hypocrite and could not really be religious.
So, here is my take on faith whenever I take a bow or firearm into the woods. Every morning, without fail, after I have taken up my place in the woods and it is deer season, I recite a short prayer: “Father, if a deer comes within good killing range, may my aim be true, may its death be quick.”
And on those wondrous days when success comes and a deer is down, dead in the leaves, I first make certain that it has died, then I place my weapon to the side, drop to one knee and place my right hand on the gift I have received. I then give up a prayer of thanks for my good fortune and the gift of a deer, venison for my family.
It was not always so. When deer season arrived, in my younger days, I set out with but one objective: to get a buck. Early on, days of success were not all that common. It was hard work, tagging a buck in those early years. Although many people may not realize it, it remains something of a challenge to tag a deer in Vermont. So, as the years passed and my rate of success improved, at some point, right after I was about to put my tag on a buck, it occurred to me to offer up thanks, to my creator, as well as the deer, for my great fortune.
I was raised in the Episcopal Church, which, looking back, was a great blessing for a child of poverty. I learned about the bible, went to choir practice some four days a week and sang, along with my three older brothers, at every Sunday’s High Mass. The people of the church, the priests and the nuns, were God-like to me and showed me a better place, a higher place, than what was found at home.
Then, in that dark place called Vietnam, I lost my faith, lost it for some 25 years. There could not be a God, not if there was a hell, the place of death that I found in that Godforsaken country. Then, just like that, a life-changing event occurred and I vowed, on that day, that I would praise God’s name until the day I died.
And, as Forrest Gump often commented, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
So, I guess the whole point of all of this is: We all have to make our peace with our God, no matter what shape or form he or she takes. Just try to keep all of your blessings in mind in this, a most holy time, even if you are not of the Christian faith.
Be kind to those who need kindness; help those in need; remember the poor; celebrate the season with joy. And as Mr. Lange has reminded us, keep the faith.
Dennis Jensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org