Experiencing exhilaration

Sunday, July 25, 2010

One of the boys in our neighborhood was carrying a piece of wood not long ago. "What are you doing?" I said. "Making a bow and arrow," he replied.

The boy did not know that he was talking to a person who owns two bows -- one recurve, the other compound. Although it has been awhile, I've shot targets with some small degree of accomplishment. I've also shot at deer and turkeys, with no success.

In my desk at church I keep a turkey caller -- a tangible reminder of a distant day. Archery hunting is a chapter in the book of my life that long has been closed. But it took only a boy's comment to turn open the pages of memory. Many hours at dusk and at dawn spent in tree stands or in blinds.

On a memorable evening at twilight, I stood in a recently harvested wheat field, body in camouflage. I was face to face with a deer, a two-pointer if memory serves. I stood perfectly still, and he did not see me. Sixty yards away in an open field and to that whitetail, my body was probably of no more importance than a tree.

When he dropped his head to graze, I quietly and quickly pulled back the string of my 50-pound recurve, aimed and let fly. The arrow went over his back. He looked at me some more. In my impatience (and nervousness, no doubt), I moved slightly and he was gone -- leaping into the woods to my right.

I had no idea that my heart could beat that fast.

"Buck fever" was a concept known to me, but it had been head knowledge, an abstract concept, until that moment. It really does exist, and it is a strange and exhilarating feeling.

Exhilaration goes beyond excitement. To be exhilarated is to be overwhelmed with adrenalin. And it can happen at any age. Elderly Simeon, it seems clear, was exhilarated in meeting the Christ child. It was his prayer to see the Messiah with his own eyes. Once he had gazed on the infant, the old man declared that he had reached the apex of his life journey and could now die. As he put it, "Now let thy servant depart in peace."

Mary Magdalene, walking alone after the crucifixion, struck up a short conversation with a man she thought was a gardener. All it took was for Jesus to say her name and Mary nearly jumped out of her skin: "Rabboni," she cried (meaning "Teacher.") The resurrection had happened, as he said it would. I imagine Mary's heart did somersaults similar to my own back on that patch of western Pennsylvania farmland.

As a young man, I discovered it was possible for my heart to race, for my blood to pound in my ears, for my mind to whirl in excitement. All of that over a two-point buck. aImagine how it will be when you and I see the Lord for the first time. We will stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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