It was an unexpected surprise.

Near the end of July, I found myself looking for something to do in the western suburbs of Chicago. Something that would refresh my spirit. Something that would take me outside on a gorgeous summer day. Something that would not “bust my budget,” but that would be worth my time and energy.

Just for fun, I did an internet search of “western Chicago suburb gardens.” The entry at the top of the page read “Cantigny Gardens, Chicago Western Suburbs, IL.” A closer look revealed that it was only about 20 minutes away from where I was at the time, and the only fee appeared to be a $5 general parking fee. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.

It was an unexpected surprise.

Rich colors. Intoxicating scents. Lush greens. Delicious flowers. “Lovely” does not even begin to capture the gardens – or the experience.

Roses. Lilies. Sunflowers. Succulents. Hostas. Zinnias. Dahlias. Oaks. Willows. Maples. Firs. Dogwoods. And more, and more, and more.

I took my time moving from garden-to-garden within the 500 acres of Cantigny. Drinking in the light and the shadows, the colors and the contours, the sights and the sounds, I was rather lost – in a good way – in my own thoughts, when I turned a corner down a shaded path. As I looked up, my breath literally caught in my chest. The sight before me was remarkable. Stunning. Beyond-words-beautiful.

It was an unexpected surprise.

Weeping willow trees blanketed in light provided a backdrop to purples and whites and pinks, with a rhythmic splash of yellow. In the middle was a tree with a flowing green canopy – a tree of life amid a garden of wonder.

As I made my way toward a bench to sit awhile in this eden-like place, my heart and mind filled with an affirmation: surely God is in this place. The longer I sat, the more I realized that I had wandered into a holy moment, a liminal experience, a thin space where the veil between the holy and the mundane blurred with intricate delicacy.

After sitting awhile, I wandered, and then returned. And then did it all over again.

It was an unexpected surprise. Surely God was in that place.

Since that day at Cantigny, I have kept those words close to the surface, and I have kept my eyes and ears open. Where else might I be moved to say, “surely God is in this place?” In what other places might I step into the intersection of the sacred and the ordinary, if only I have the intention, the presence of mind, to notice?

I have especially found myself lingering on those words as this new year has begun here at Valpo. As the football team came to worship at the Chapel on August 20 – surely God is in this place. As the Peer Ministers gathered for a week of training – surely God is in this place. As I took a stroll through the new science building – surely God is in this place.  As I sat next to Homeless Jesus – surely God is in this place. As the RA’s encircled the Chapel chancel for a word of blessing – surely God is in this place. As the faculty gathered in pre-year meetings – surely God is in this place. In the International Student Orientation. On move in day. At Opening Convocation. In offices. In classrooms. At the ARC. At floor meetings. And on, and on the list goes. Surely God is in this place.

We will be exploring this theme at Candlelight on Sunday nights this year by considering  the many and various places — both literal and metaphorical — of our lives. I invite you to journey with us, to keep your own eyes open, amid the expected and unexpected, the ordinary and the extraordinary to see when you too might be filled with the affirmation – surely God is in this place.

Blessings on your discoveries. Blessings on the journey.

+Pr. Char

Aug. 30, 2017

Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Dr. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.

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