Resolve: The Everyday and the Epic

What I need for 2017 is resolve, not resolutions. The resolve to continue some of the good things that got underway in 2016, and resolve to be better about getting to some of the things I left out. Resolve to continue to be grateful, to give back, to love, to follow God’s lead, and to smile.

I started 2017 with a five mile sunrise run and then church. The girls and I finished 2016, the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s with a Star Wars marathon–episodes one through seven, Anna’s request after seeing Rogue One–and will have to see if 2017 brings us some snow to get us outside.

As 2017 gets rolling, it’s worth looking back at some of the good from the past year, and some things to resolve to get after for the coming year. We’ll make the list go to 10, since top ten lists are the rage this time of year:

2016 (the year that was)

1. 2016 was a meat-free year for me, except for fish and seafood. Fancy people call that being a pescatarian. I call it trying to be less of a hypocrite. I’ve always been bothered by truckloads of chickens or pigs crammed into cages, driving by on the highway, and the whole notion of animals being raised for the sole purpose of being food. I don’t hunt, but I happily fish, and will clean and grill/cook, so trying to make my own diet more in line with how I operate in the world. It was a resolution I made at the beginning of the year to see how long I could stick to it. Year one is under the belt.

2. We welcomed Harper to our family. You can read more about that here.  At the beginning of June, we rescued a six-ish month “Australian shepherd mix” with the help of Operation Paws for Homes, and our family and our hearts grew exponentially. One of the year’s best decisions.

3. I started writing. I have been writing/blogging for a number of years, but wasn’t making a point of really doing something with and about writing. That changed in 2016, both in starting this site, in writing a monthly article for Tidewater Times and in making a commitment to write and keep writing.

4. I let God into my life. I’ve always been a spiritually-minded person, have always been a searcher, and have always tried to live life the best I can. But 2016 was a calling and answering of a different kind. It has led to looking deeply into my heart, at life, at love, at God, and listening. It has been uncovering and recognizing something in my soul, which is in each of us, allowing the Holy Spirit and Christ to move freely and try to follow. It is not easy, I still mess up wholly, frequently, and am fully human. But I am trying to take my life, what talents I can offer, and time, to ignite and follow the passion and path that God has put in me. If you’ve been reading here, you may have noticed that. During 2016 I also found Christ Church Easton, a home church community, and have just begun my work as Assistant for Small Groups and Christian Education. I have a long way to go, but am learning and trying to make the most of every step.

2017 (the year that is beginning)

5. More silliness – it’s easy to get pulled in to high seriousness: work, deadlines, bills, money, schedules. But so many of my favorite moments are so easy to look past if I don’t make time and have the mindset. Anna running around the yard laughing with Harper chasing her; Ava dancing in the new year; leaf pile shenanigans; beach exploring and sea glass hunting; snowman building; taking and making the time to find simple reasons to laugh and smile.

6. More road trips – I wasn’t very good at this in 2016. A great Harper’s Ferry trip in April, but that isn’t enough when there are so many cool places in easy driving distance. My schedule is busier for 2017, so putting things on the calendar and making time for bits of wanderlust, from day hikes, to car camping, to skateboarding, to visiting national and state parks and historic sites. I didn’t do a good job with this in 2016, so it’s on me this year.

7. Less stuff – Watching a documentary on Netflix the other night called “Minimalism,” was a reminder that I need to own my stuff, not let my stuff own me. There wasn’t anything particularly earth-shattering, I try to keep “stuff” in check as it is, but “The Minimalists,” do a solid job of making some points that I might already know, but don’t always keep at the forefront of my thinking: “It’s not so much about financial gain as it is about financial freedom, which is the ability to wake up in the morning and spend your day as you see fit.” And “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.” I want to remember in 2017, to focus less on the care and feeding of “stuff,” and more on the care and feeding of the soul.

8. More trails – Over the past 10 years of my life, trail running has given me incredible scenery, accomplishments, camaraderie, solitude, friendships, and put me in nature. I spent less time on trails in 2016 than I have in a long time. Some of that is because Sunday morning was my trail running time and that has become church time. I am glad to have church as a time for worship, reflection, and community. I also need to make other time for trail running and hiking. We pushed our Appalachian Trail across Maryland challenge into 2017. That’s one part of more trails.

9. More prayer – I try to pray every day, make a quiet time to talk to God, to show gratitude, to listen, to be still. I have a lot to learn and I know this needs to be a focus.

10. Dig deep – I made some steps in the right direction in 2016. I want 2017 to be a year for follow through, for resolve, for next steps. It is time to dig deep and keep at it. Whether in writing, in study, in leading small groups, in playing, at work, I have reached a place in life where I have a pretty good idea of what I need to be doing, what my calling might be, what I need to do for the girls, the things that make me deeply happy. Now it’s a matter of staying after it, while being mindful that things have a way of going in directions we don’t expect.

In the documentary “180 South,” Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard says, “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.” There is likely something to that.

A life well-lived is one that appreciates, finds, and embraces both the epic and the everyday. And sees that each lives in the other. There is a bit of both throughout the above list. So that’s my resolve for 2017: make room for, appreciate, and embrace the everyday and the epic. That’s an outlook for a lifetime.

On Vocation: Five Golden Things

“It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure,” was an ad slogan the U.S. Navy used in the late 1970s and early 80s. It must be pretty good since it still sticks in my head. What if we could go through life like that? What if we felt that way about our jobs? Our lives?

Not all jobs feel that way. But for the life adventure attitude, we’ve got to dig deeper than just a job and look at vocation.

A man knows he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live, and begins to live. – Thomas Merton

I don’t claim to be in that space Merton describes, but I am getting closer, and I am getting a pretty good lay of the land for what that looks like. For our purposes here, let’s think of vocation as a hand; as the work we do in the world with our lives. Our hand, like most hands, has five fingers. The fingers are all part of the hand, and the hand is made up of the interconnecting fingers. You can’t separate them from each other, they are all part of the same thing/work/life/vocation.

Disclaimer: I am a work in progress and things change and evolve over time. In describing these things, I am putting words towards things I have found in life to this point to be the things that seem to make up aspects of vocation/calling. Check back frequently.

1. Fatherhood. This is the one role in life I am least prepared for, it takes improvisation, winging it, frustration, questions, blood, sweat, and tears. And it’s the role that means the most, rewards the most, defines the most. Nothing else I do, or could ever do, compares to it.

2. Writing/Reading/Learning. This has been a part of me, a defining part for 30 years or more and counting. From the notebook in my back pocket, to grabbing a book with coffee in the morning, it is a part of me that never turns off. For the past six months, Tidewater Times has been a great outlet for me to write about everything from nature to history to incredible people and cool goings-on in our community. I hope to make this more and more a part of my life over time.

3. Being outside. I feel most alive outside, in nature. I can be running (preferably trails), walking the dog, hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking, bird watching, skateboarding, but being outside is where my soul feels both most alive and most at peace. Recognizing that and making sure to recharge that way and make the time for it is a daily practice.

4. Building/connecting community. It’s not a coincidence that when I was at a major crossroads in life and career, it was the Oxford Community Center that needed a director. When I think about my family being in the area since the 1600s; the evolution and changes in the town and the community; the players and personalities that have helped shape this place in the past and during my lifetime, it seems like a place I am supposed to be, involved in work that I am supposed to be a part of. I can look around and see and feel a connection to the town and the Eastern Shore in ways I have never seen or felt anywhere else. I’ll just leave it at that for now.

5. Spirituality. I saved this for last for a reason. This is where the change has been taking place and the reason for my reflection on vocation and for this post. I have been a lifelong spiritual seeker. My path has taken me in wonderful, rich, and unexpected directions at just about every step of the way. Over the past year and a half especially, that direction has revealed itself more through a deepening relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the love that flows through the Trinity, through our hearts (my heart), and into the world. I’ve never felt anything like it, and how could I have?

It’s when I have let go and allowed God to work that I have felt most free, most driven, and the most connected. On an October Friday, I put a gameplan out into the Universe, which I have no other way to describe then that I just knew those things were what I was supposed to be doing. The three parts of the plan are: 1) writing/sharing, 2) learning and studying, and 3) helping to create a community of Christian small group study. That Sunday, Father Bill Ortt stood in front of the Christ Church Easton congregation and said that they were looking for someone to lead small groups. He said you don’t need any experience, he had more than 30 years worth and that he would look to help train/mentor the right person.

That began a conversation that has helped reveal a calling (of sorts) and that has turned into a part-time job as Assistant for Small Groups and Christian Education with Christ Church Easton.

Vocation is the big picture. It is doing the work that you feel called, charged, fulfilled to do. It isn’t necessarily connected to a job, but it can be, and when it is, then you know you are doing the work you should be doing.

As God has revealed life and vocation to me, and helped me see what those things are that charge me and that I can give back, I have Frederick Buechner’s words in my head a good bit, “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I don’t know about the world, so I’ll start with myself, my family, our community. And we’ll see where it goes.

Stop, Look, Listen, Believe

“Perhaps it is time to look and listen without seeing and hearing.” This has been a common theme in Father Bill Ortt’s last two sermons. It’s a message I connect with; one that resonates. The idea is to look with fresh eyes and listen with new ears, to shut off what we expect to see or hear, and really take things in. Flaubert gets it:

I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony. – Gustave Flaubert, November

But this isn’t a specialization, it’s not exclusive. Looking and listening are things any of us can do. But it is so easy not to. We are in a hurry to get to work. To get our Christmas shopping done. To get to the next meeting. To check off our to do lists. And we know people, we know what they are going to say. We have heard stories or we know their soapboxes. What can we learn?

Flaubert’s quote above is about making the time. It’s about being quiet. Looking and listening without expectation. Being alive to what is really there in front of us.

In many ways, those are the only times we are open to God–when we turn off our small minds and wants and open ourselves up to what is real and what is now.

The other morning I walked the dog along the shoreline. I could feel the cold in my bones. I dropped into a catcher’s crouch to pray at the edge of the river and took a few deep breaths. I can still feel that moment, those breaths, and the creak of my knees.

When we got back home, I picked up Mary Oliver’s “American Primitive” and read “Morning at Great Pond” for the first time.

It starts like this:
forks of light
slicking up
out of the east,
flying over you,
and what’s left of night–
its black waterfalls,
its craven doubt–
dissolves like gravel
as the sun appears
trailing clouds
of pink and green wool,
igniting the fields
turning the ponds
to plates of fire.

I know those mornings. I’ve felt them when running; I’ve seen the sun paint away the night. Great Blue Herons, ducks, geese, songbirds in motion. Looking and listening in the morning, but it opens up to more:

and you’re healed then
from the night, your heart
wants more, you’re ready
to rise and look!
to hurry anywhere!
to believe in everything.

Mary Oliver is clearly a morning person. So am I. That’s when my energy runs deepest. But looking and listening isn’t limited to the sunrise hours. God’s paintbrush reaches the west as well. In the evening, it’s just as easy to look, listen, and believe.

“Start Your Life Afresh”

A blind girl sees for the first time after getting her sight from cataract surgery. Annie Dillard describes the girl’s experience visiting a garden:

“She is greatly astonished and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it,  and then as ‘the tree with the lights in it.'”

I don’t know how many times I have gone back to Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” but I’d forgotten that passage until coming across it again, afresh, while reading John Eldredge. I love the description of “the tree with the lights in it.”

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. In his sermon this morning. Father Scott Albergate invited us to look at Advent as a time to “pause and seek a fresh start in your life.” He described Advent as having a couple points, which resonated with me: 1) to live in hope, and 2) to live with a sense of a call to action and a purpose.

This has been a year of a lot of reflection for me, of trying to figure things, life out (nothing new there). It’s been a year where I have felt God and Christ in my life in ways I haven’t before, and I have tried to get out of the way, to surrender to these rolling waves that come over me, which I don’t have words to describe. They come in prayer, on walks, while running, while writing, raking leaves. All I can do is ride them as best I can.

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Advent is new for me in that way. I’ve been through 40-some Advent seasons, and yet T.S. Eliot could have been using my eyes to say:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

It’s not coincidence that I’ve written about Dillard and Eliot before, quoting some of the same passages, but now they circle back via Eldredge or others, and they are new, changed, even though the words are the same. I read them differently.

These waves of faith and feeling and newness aren’t constant. I misstep, get turned around, make mistakes on a regular and frequent basis. Life is still confusing and I still struggle.

But I hear Father Scott invite us to look back at “where we see God’s movement in our lives in the past year,” and I know He is at work in new ways; starting things this year that haven’t been there in the past.

There are times when I feel beat down by life. And there are times when I feel like the tree with the lights in it.

Light. Having new eyes, seeing things differently. Starting life afresh is choosing to be awake to what is going on around us; choosing to be awake to God at work around us and through us.

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I was pulled into this photograph today, and the photography of Pete Muller more broadly afterwards. There is something about the landscape, the river, the boys tending their cows, a beauty in the present moment. It takes me around the world to Kenya, a place I have never been, and connects me through the human experience, nature, caring for animals (it is Muller walking his dog that puts him there). I can’t say for sure why, but the scene gives me a deep sense of peace; if a scene can smile, this one does for me.

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty–”

 

Hopkins, Eliot, Dillard, each are awake to everything around them, each moment.

Advent is a time to pause and reflect and a call to action. It is both a looking forward with hope, and a being awake to life and what God is doing right now. Part of our job, going back to Father Scott’s sermon, is “to usher in the realm of God in the present moment.”

Amen.

Making Us New

Each day is full of the expected and the unexpected. There are things I see coming and plenty I don’t. There are things I recognize and those I know are new. And that goes for myself as well; there are parts of me I recognize and parts I have to do a double take to catch (some I like, some I need to work on).

We can say the same thing for each of our paths through life: there is familiar ground and new ground every day. The thing about it is to keep going.

By your endurance you will gain your souls. – Luke 21:19. That was the Gospel from this morning’s worship service at Christ Church Easton. Over the last couple months, I have been reading the Books of Luke and John, and I underlined that passage a week or so ago. As a distance runner it speaks to me of lessons learned through perseverance. As someone whose life doesn’t generally seem to move in straight or discernible lines, it’s also about endurance in the face of the unknown. We might call that faith. Faith helps us endure.

Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple, the impermanence of the earthly life, the trials and tribulations and hardships that lie ahead, and the need to stay on the path, have faith, “by endurance you will gain your souls.” There are a very few things we can control, life happens all around us, what are we to do, what are we called to do as followers of Christ in the face of it all?

What we are called upon to be in this world is a force for good, for hope, for reconciliation, and righteousness… we can be better vessels of grace in this (community). – Fr. Bill

Life happens in ways we can’t understand. What we are called upon is to be a force for good, for hope, for faith. To focus on those things we can do something about, how we treat others, how we serve, what we can do for ourselves, our families, our communities.

Our walk may require different shoes than we expected (I had to grab the photo above, which shows what happens when a priest has to go from two morning worship services to volunteering at the Waterfowl Festival). It may take us down different roads, put us in different places, and run us into different people than we expected or than we would have chosen on our own. Though we’d like to, we can’t control what or who we encounter, but we can control who we are, how we act, and how we see things and people.

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Sometimes I think we adapt to the path we are on. We are made new by how we respond. Sometimes, I think we adapt to the path we see coming. We are made new to prepare for what’s ahead. In both cases, it is our response to God, what He’s put in front of us, and how we respond to His calling that makes us new.

Endurance, enduring doesn’t just have to be work and suffering. Those things are there, but so are happiness, joy, celebration, inspiration, and love. All things by which God makes us new, renew us. Along our path, we are able to become new again, invent, and improve ourselves. We can look to God for inspiration and we can surround ourselves with people who inspire us.

I’ve had the great fortune over the past couple weeks, to be inspired by two friends, in their mid-40s, doing amazing things that they have taken upon themselves to do.

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Jeremy Joseph is an elementary school art teacher, father of two girls, his wife is also a teacher. He is an artist with a cool style. Recently he decided to take his painting in a new direction and opened a solo exhibit of 30 new works. More on that another time, but Jeremy has long been an inspiration for me and writing, the way he makes time for creativity, for his passion, when it would be easier just to work, to be a dad, live life. Instead he chooses to have creativity, art, and newness be a part of his life.

A.K. Leight is a marine biologist. He decided a number of years ago that he was going to get his PhD in environmental science (Biological Oceanography) knowing he and his wife work full-time, have two girls, and that it was going to be a long, slow process. This past week he successfully defended his thesis, bringing the culmination of so much time, effort, and study. It’s not something most people do 20-some years into a career. As I am entering a new life adventure where continuing education and/or graduate study are a part of a calling, I am inspired by what A.K. has done and how he has gone about it. I am blessed to have friends who inspire me by their example.

Every day there is something new for us. Every day we can bring new eyes and renewed heart to what we are doing and how we live our lives. Every day God makes us new.

Making Moments

The world is rough. It is full of death, sickness, sadness, and anger. The adage is that life is suffering. You can’t dispute that. There is so much we can’t understand, that doesn’t make sense to us. Granted we can’t see the big picture, but there are times when our limited view can seem absurd.

But then there are moments. Moments when our hearts expand, connect to our minds, guide our actions, and we can see and feel something bigger than ourselves. Life is also full of these moments, but it is up to us to see them. To find them. And to help make them, for ourselves and for others. Especially for others, because that is how we experience them for ourselves.

Spirituality is not learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there. – Meister Eckhart

In his sermon yesterday, Father Bill Ortt described a mystic as “someone who is hypersensitive to God around them.” He talked about Meister Eckhart, who is a favorite of mine. I think we do well to have people around us who are hypersensitive to God’s presence in the world and in our hearts. They help us to see, they help us to not miss our moments.

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For me those moments can happen anywhere. They happen watching my daughters play field hockey. They happen in an interview that turns into a two-hour conversation on spirituality and life. They happen sitting with Anna, Ava, and a friend of theirs at Rise Up Coffee, eating and laughing and telling stories. They happen catching a sunset on the water. I felt a transcendent moment in church yesterday as the choir and congregation were singing, clapping hands, and the girls started clapping along.

Experiencing those moments can be about being plugged in. If we close our eyes, we won’t see them.

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one, one seeing, one knowing, one love. – Meister Eckhart

Yesterday afternoon was beautiful. As fall settles in, you don’t know how many of those weekend days we will have. So Ava and I opted out of watching football or TV, grabbed Harper and went hiking around Pickering Creek Audubon Center.

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One part of experiencing those moments, is that sometimes you have to go make them. Our conversations, watching Harper cover ground, being in the woods and fields, smelling fall smells; it just as easily could have not happened.

Frederick Buechner wrote a book called, “The Alphabet of Grace,” where he tries to captures all the blessings and moments he experiences in a single day, just by looking more deeply into life.

Today, my moments and blessings are grateful ones: Ava having a good neurology appointment and good news on her MRI results; time spent with the girls and watching Anna discern and decide how/whether to spend money she earned babysitting; having a job I enjoy and that allows me to take time to go to a doctor’s appointment; coming home to a roof over our heads and a dog eager to share the evening; grilling dinner for the girls on a crisp, autumn night; taking time to be deeply and humbly grateful for the time we have together.

Off-Road Spirituality: Finding a Compass

Sometimes I feel like I need a guide. Someone who’s been there, walked it, looked around, and can report back. I think we all get there. I don’t want someone to walk for me–I want to take it all in, experience it, know it for myself, but someone pointing a finger in the right direction, throwing a knowing smile that I’m on the right track can be huge. Those people pop up in our lives, sometimes in the form of actual people we meet or know, sometimes through books they’ve written or the story of their lives, which can be an example. John Muir is someone I come back to a good bit.

The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love. – John Muir

Muir understood the correlation between our interior lives, what is inside us, and the natural world. That is key for any spirituality for me. And though Muir made that connection eloquently, beautifully, and all the more so because he lived it, his life’s work was getting that point across to people, finding the Divine in nature, finding the Divine in us, and connecting them, encouraging folks to get outside, this was not a new concept.

I think there is a misconception that Christianity happens in a church, is all about “thou shalt not” and is generally boring. For those that would knock it, it seems more about keeping people in line, a blinding form of mind control. And there is some validity to those criticisms, when you look at some of the fundamentalism and the parts of what it is to be a Christian that some churches decide to focus on. Those churches aren’t focusing on what Christ did with his life, how he lived, what he taught, or how he encouraged us to be. There is so much more to it, to Him, if we just take the time to find out for ourselves.

It’s the Christian mystics who light me up, who seem to come the closest to communicating what Jesus taught and lived. They are interested in experiencing God’s love, following Jesus, living out his teaching, not simply sitting passively, or being talked to, or taught.

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If we move our idea of wilderness into metaphor for a minute, it’s a wide world out there, and we are all wandering, looking for something. Spirituality is maybe that notion of trying to find the right path, trying to make our way through the wilderness to get somewhere. No one walks it for us, but we could use some help.

Finding Christ, in the deep and mystical sense, the experiential sense, Jesus as the coming together of the Divine and the world, is finding our compass, the way to point us and show us the way to get where we are trying to go. The even better part of finding our compass, on our walk, is that it’s not just about the destination (it never is), it’s reassurance, it’s guidance on our walk, in a way that makes each step that much better, that much more loving, that allows us to fully be in those moments.

I’ve been getting a double dose of Richard Rohr this week, reading his book “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” and really drinking in his daily meditations, which this week have been focused on the “Cosmic Christ.” Rohr talks about the Eternal Christ, as part of the Trinity, who goes back to the beginning with God, as well as His becoming human to show us, teach us, give us an example of how to live, how to love, how to navigate the wilderness of our lives. Rohr points out St. Francis of Assissi, the Desert Fathers, and others, who got it and lived their lives knowing:

Jesus is the union of human and divine in space and time, and the Christ is the eternal union of matter and Spirit from the beginning of time. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we’re believing in something much bigger than just the historical incarnation we call Jesus. Jesus is just the visible map. The entire sweep of the meaning of the Anointed One, the Christ, includes us and includes all of creation since the beginning of time. Revelation was geological, physical, and nature-based before it was ever personal and fully relational (see Romans 1:20).

As someone who thinks deeply, who (on a good day) meditates and prays on things, who tries to open myself, I find Christ to be the way to go deeper to a real understanding of things; the way to embrace life and love and recognize God in all things. And not in a way that dismisses cosmology, or science, or logic, but in a way that picks up where those things leave off, where they end in paradox. Because the mind stops short. The trail ends and we have to look for a new way to continue. That way is the heart.

The compass that we are given is the Trinity–it’s in each of us, as the Holy Spirit, flowing through our hearts. Our compass is our heart and life lived with and from the heart.

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It’s opening ourselves up to a new, deeper way of knowing. It’s finding our spiritual compass, built into our heart, that can guide us in our walk. It’s recognizing, heeding, and living our lives from the heart.

Open Our Hearts, Open Our Lives

I’m learning to get out of the way. Sometimes that means to move over to let what’s coming through get where it’s going. Sometimes I realize it’s because I’m what’s standing in the way of me getting to where I need to be.

When I pray (someone cue MC Hammer), I get out of the way. When I am quiet, when I listen, I get out of the way. It’s a matter of clearing out my ego, clearing out uncertainty, and trusting God, allowing bigger things to work.

Lately I’ve been moving in a certain direction. I’ve listened, written things down, made a gameplan. I’ve been looking for ways to help put things in motion, ways to serve, and at the same time, still having those pangs of doubt. A friend/mentor came across a quote from Henri Nouwen and sent it along:

When all is said and done, what we must learn above all is to offer ourselves–imperfections and all–to God. If we keep waiting until we are ‘worthy’ of God, we will move farther rather than closer to Him. It is through our broken, vulnerable, mortal ways of being that the healing power of the eternal God becomes visible to us.

We are called each day to present to the Lord the whole of our lives–our joys as well as our sorrows, our successes as well as our failures, our hopes as well as fears. We are called to do so with our limited means, our stuttering words and halting expressions. In this way we will come to know in mind and heart the unceasing prayer of God’s Spirit in us. Our many prayers are in fact confessions of our inability to pray. But they are confessions that enable us to perceive the merciful presence of God. – Henri Nouwen, “A Cry for Mercy”

Sometimes I’m good with cliff diving. Sometimes I can use a shove off the ledge. Sometimes it can be just a nod. That’s where having others to encourage us along the way, fellow pilgrims on their own journeys, makes the walk easier, lighter, more certain. It can be a hard road alone.

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Pride is a funny thing. We think we need it to accomplish things. We naturally feel proud if we do something well and it turns out better than we hoped. But riding pride’s high horse can be a dangerous trip. It grows our egos and prevents us from getting out of our own way. Today’s Gospel in church was from Luke (18:9-14). It’s the parable of the proud Pharisee and the repentant tax collector. Jesus closes with:

…all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus digs parables. He’d rather make us think than tell us straight. But that one is pretty clear. Be humble, you’ll find the reward in it.

Getting out of my own way means opening myself up to possibilities. Opening my heart to the flow of what’s coming through. Whatever we choose to call it, we’ve all had those moments, whether playing sports, or fishing, hiking, playing music, running, writing, where we have felt we were in the zone, in the flow, something bigger than ourselves took over. Getting out of our own way opens us up to what God is sending through. In the Trinity notion, it’s the Holy Spirit.

And when we open our hearts, we open our lives to let things happen. To let God work. To do things, move in directions, I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

2016-serve

Opening our hearts and lives to something bigger than us, is to serve. To offer ourselves to and for a bigger purpose. The contemporary choir this morning, with a soloist, belted an inspired version of Matthew West’s “Do Something.” The lyrics pretty well sum up the notion of God/Jesus at work in the world. Working through people. The singer is fed up with all the terrible things that happen in the world and asks God to do something:

He said, “I did, I created you.”

That’s how I think about how God works in the world: through us:

But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

It’s not a song I would have listened to on the radio or downloaded. But if I could have the version that was performed in church–choir, band, soloist, live, inspired, moving an entire congregation–I would play it on a loop. It’s the kind of message that always hits me hardest. God works through people. God works through you. If you see a problem, it’s on you to fix it. To do something.

I’m learning to get out of the way. I’m learning to let bigger things work. To let God work. I’m learning to open my heart, to open my life. To serve. To do something, those things that I can do differently than anybody else could. Even me, flawed, imperfect, with my “limited means, (my) stuttering words, (my) halting expressions.”

I’m learning to get out of the way.

Just Get Living

“Just Keep Livin,” was a notion from David Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey’s character from the movie “Dazed and Confused.” The motto struck McConaughey so much that he named his foundation after it. I have dug it as a way of going about life–you struggle, you fall down, if you are lucky enough to get back up, just keep livin. You have great moments, you celebrate, you drink it in, just keep livin. What else can you do?

But what if you get to a point in life, you come to a crossroads, you have an awakening of some sort, and you look at life differently? What if you wake up to a revelation you can’t go back from? You are compelled to do something. You have to act.

Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts. – Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

You can know something all you want, right down into your very being, but unless you act on it, act in accordance with it, unless it means enough to live it, what do you really have?

Thought and life, thought and action, need to be aligned. They need to have each other’s back, to prove one another. It can be a feedback loop:

Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. – Merton

2016-oct-cove-sunrise

I would venture to say, if you live in an area where you grew up, and you love life, you are tapping into something like experiencing new things in the old and old in the new. Coming at something familiar with fresh eyes is huge for me.

Let’s get back to action. We are a society whose actions don’t line up with our words. We see it in churches, politics, sports, schools, you name it. We are all guilty of it to some extent. But we can do something about it in our own lives.

I’ve been pretty good at thinking elevated thoughts, finding and mining great experiences outside, or as a father;  having moments, minor epiphanies that leave me reeling; riding that stoke, maybe writing it down, on to the next. Surely they are moments to be savored, to carry with us, to seek out.

Then I come to a place in life, where things look different. Things feel different. Life the way it was falls apart, shakes to pieces. And a new life is opened up–opened up and connected, or uncovered to be part of something bigger. Like I’ve been given the gift of a new way of seeing and being. If I do nothing with that, if I put it on a shelf to come back to later, or I just keep living the same way, and sit on it, then what do I know differently? What have I done with the gift?

The spiritual life if first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived. – Merton

When you know things to be different than they were, it is no longer okay to just keep living. It’s more a matter to just get living.

There’s a funny thing about an awakening where God is concerned. That kind of awakening is not a matter of: go to church, be good, color inside the lines and everything will be okay. Anybody can do that and churches are full of people who like that safe approach to spirituality: follow the rules, keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. It’s comfortable, reassuring.

Look back at the lives that the early prophets lived, the life that Jesus lived, the lives the disciples lived. Did they play it safe? Not so much.

The prophets, too, were a wild bunch. They had to be because they were the spokespeople of a wild God, a God who didn’t care much about temples and offerings but who cared a lot about the way people were treated and the opening of the human heart. – Richard Rohr, “From Wild Man to Wise Man”

In my mind, any kind of spiritual life is not about playing it safe, but following, being led by the spirit, or more specifically, the Holy Spirit working through us. The opening of the human heart. And that can be some scary stuff. But it’s when and where the adventure begins. It’s where it gets good. It’s open eyes, new eyes, wide eyes, looking down a path, taking it all in, and walking it to see where it goes.

2016-oct-harper-wye

Hold on, what’s different? I’ve walked paths, walked and run trails for years? What’s new? The difference is a new understanding: it’s not about me, or my walk specifically. I’m not just randomly picking paths. I’m trying to go where I am led, called, and trust it, trust God. I’m not setting out down a path I would have chosen or thought about prior to now. I’m trying to act on thoughts that I don’t exactly know how they came to me.

Wisdom is God Himself, living in us, revealing Himself to us only in so far as we live it. – Merton

I’m trying to wise up. And just get living.

“Awakening to New Wonder”

God is bigger than church. Church isn’t the only place you’ll find Him. For a long stretch, church was one of the last places I looked. Nothing against it, but I felt like I connected with God better in nature than in a building.

I still talk to God more outside than I do inside. My most prayerful places are by the water. I treasure those times and those places. Yesterday, Harper and I took our dog walkabout to Wye Island, a place where I have run close to 30 miles at once, have run at night, have lost keys, hiked, reflected, prayed. Our walk didn’t disappoint, following trails, sitting, listening, reading and praying by the river; and Harper would have liked to have chased down her first buck, though I’m not sure what she’d have done with it if I had let her go.

2016-oct-wye-island-osage

I’m a slow learner, and have never been one to take anyone’s word for anything. I have to find things out for myself, experientially, even though it frequently means falling on my face and dusting myself off, eventually coming to the same realization that was suggested at the beginning.

If we only look for God in church, we are selling ourselves, and Him, way short. But I realized I was selling myself, and Him, short by choosing to only look for Him outside a church. And part of what that comes down to is misconceiving “church,” as being just a building, or a set of beliefs. And not seeing it as a people, coming together to worship, quite literally to be the body of Christ, alive in the world. I like the way Richard Rohr looks at the Trinity:

God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you, “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us, and even me.

It’s that understanding, of having God alongside us, and working through other people, and finding that, feeling it, knowing it much deeper when I started to find other people walking their own walk, struggling with their own questions, coming together to worship and to pray and to help one another. Finding church.

Yesterday sitting along the Wye River and this morning in church, I felt grateful; an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Thomas Merton explained what I felt better than I can explain it:

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything… Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. – Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

I’m a work in progress. That’s all I will ever be, trying to put one foot in front of another along the path and not be distracted chasing every other SQUIRREL! life throws at me. But gratitude and prayer are pretty good at helping sustain and focus me when I pay attention.

This morning’s sermon was about praying. Can I pray? Can I pray always? Can I pray proactively? Can I be persistent, not just praying when I am troubled, but also when and because I am grateful. The sermon closed with a prayer from Archbishop Desmond Tutu (which he adapted from Sir Francis Drake), which I felt in my bones:

desmond-tutu

Disturb us, O Lord

when we are too well pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord

when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the abundance of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord

to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.

Amen.