He Speaks in Silence

Much of this spring has been scheduled, busy, on the move. All to the good, but jam packed with it. And so it has been the unscripted moments that stand out.

Tucked into our readings for an Old Testament class at Christ Church Easton, was this wisdom from 1 Kings 19:11-13:

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

When Elijah hears the sheer silence, he knows God is about to speak to him. It strikes me as absolutely and beautifully profound that he lets the pyrotechnics of the wind, earthquake, and fire go by, but knows God in the silence. He speaks in silence.

It was this time last year that Jim Harrison died. He has been a literary and life hero/model of mine for 20 years or so, and I have been thoughtfully and randomly reading in his books, “The Shape of the Journey” and “Songs of Unreason” since. I came across this last week in the latter:

Don’t bother taking your watch to the river,
the moving water is a glorious second hand.
Properly understood the memory loses nothing
and we humans are never allowed to let our minds
sit on the still bank and have a simple picnic.

Sitting on the still river bank for a simple picnic. Again it’s the stillness and the silence that houses the profound moments. Where we let ourselves catch up.

Running has always been a listening time for me. Even with music playing into headphones, there is a stillness and silence in the motion and the head space that I crave. I have been on the shelf from running this winter, but managed to sneak in a couple five mile runs of late, unscripted, unscheduled, when time and weather have cooperated.

Tuesday was one of those days. After picking Anna up from lacrosse practice, I ran around Oxford, watching as the sun wound down, then grabbed the girls and Harper and hit the Oxford Park to catch the sunset. The clouds got the better of the horizon, but it didn’t matter. It was getting off script, taking advantage of an evening, making a few moments.

Life has its landmarks–those big, defining moments that we measure and remember. God is in the majestic, the heroic, the can’t miss pyrotechnics that leave us in awe.

But I’m trying to cultivate and make the most of the in-between times, unscripted, still. Those times when He speaks to us in silence.

Seasons, Journeys, Treasure

I dig the seasons changing. There is something to that elemental shift that stirs my soul. These warm days of walking home for lunch and feeling the sun on my face; longboarding to work; thinking about sunrise or sunset paddleboarding on the horizon; putting tomatoes in and mulching gardens; seeing the return of green grass. I’m looking forward.

This is maybe the first time I have fully paid attention to the changing seasons of the church: from Advent to Christmas, from Epiphany now into Lent, looking to the Passion and Easter. Another new thing for me is leading a small group as we journey through Lent.

At the Ash Wednesday service last evening at Christ Church Easton, Father Bill Ortt gave out some information on what Lent is all about. Among other things, I like getting into the word itself:

The word Lent is derived from the old English word “lente” meaning “Springtime” or “lencten” referring to the lengthening of the daylight hours. In the agricultural sense, it is a time when fields are prepared to receive the seeds for the crops to be planted. On a spiritual basis, we might look at it the same way. There is much work to do to break the ground compacted by the weight of the winter period of “death” and there are weeds and obstacles to remove. And yet there is good to be found in the preparations, because it is preparation for new life. In other words, this is more than a good thing.

Lent is a preparation. Lent is also a journey. Lent is a journey over a period of time, 40 days, and it is also a journey over the terrain of the soul.

This morning, thinking about journeys, I went back to a book I pick up a lot for those kind of travels, Jim Harrison’s “The Shape of the Journey:”

It is not so much that I got
there from here, which is everyone’s
story: but the shape
of the voyage: how it pushed
onward in every direction
until it stopped

It’s not the destination, it’s the shape of the voyage that defines it. And can define us. In Walter Brueggemann’s “A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent,” he offers this prayer for today:

Self-giving God, call us to walk the road of
newness–a new self, a new society, a new world,
one neighbor at a time. May we have traveling
mercies this Lenten season. Amen.

We are each on our own journey. Some are fortunate enough to help others in their travels, some people help us along. Where our paths intersect, and where we can travel together, those are great times. This kind of trip can be lonely and rough and we need help.

The Ash Wednesday reading from the Gospel of Matthew had some really key traveling advice. Something we may want to take to heart. Matthew quotes Jesus, who talks about not storing up treasures on earth–material things, money, fame, success–but storing up “treasures in heaven,” those things that light the soul, that put us in touch with something bigger, that connect us to God:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This Lent, this spring, as we set out on our journeys; may we find and store up the right kind of treasures and know our hearts; help our fellow travelers on their way; and all know traveling mercies, as Anne Lamott and Brueggemann call them, remembering it is the shape of the journey at least as much as the destination.

To Sit With a Dog

I lived with pets for the first 42 years of my life. I was preceded in my family by a grouchy, black cocker spaniel mix and a large Siamese cat. Dogs and cats were a part of life until separating in 2014, and rental agreements prohibiting pets.

Truth be told, at first I liked the quiet. And the clean. And not having to worry or be responsible for a pet. Daughters were enough. I was burned out.

But a funny thing happened in a quiet home. Quiet became silence. Silence became stillness. And home wasn’t home. There was a void. And the girls saw what it was before I did. They started asking to get a dog. As kids do. But I felt it. I am dense, but at some point it sank in. And our landlord agreed to allow a small dog.

2016 Harper house

We knew we wanted to rescue a dog, knew a bit what we were looking for, and through Operation Paws for Homes in northern Virginia, found Harper (named for Anna’s favorite athlete Bryce Harper and for author Harper Lee).

From someone who takes a philosophical approach to life, dogs teach us more about life and about ourselves than we ever teach them.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil, or jealousy, or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace. – Milan Kundera

When I walk Harper through town, just the two of us, something different happens to my mind. I am slowed from running, not in a hurry, and watching what she sees. Hopefully not a squirrel.

mindfulness_poster_UK

I need more “mindful” and less “mind full” in my life. And dogs can help get us there. Harper helps me get there.

Harper was found on the streets. She is skittish around big machinery; you can see some of what she’s been through. But at eight months old, she is one of the most chilled out puppies I’ve seen. And she puts smiles on the girls’ faces and laughter in their hearts in a way I haven’t seen in my house over the past two years.

Most everyone in our neighborhood knows Harper and speaks to her by name when they walk by and she’s in the yard.

She sleeps in the bed, against the back of my legs. On nights the girls are here, she often rotates sleeping with one of them. As I write, she is crashed out on her dog bed in the sun room. She is constant, consistent, boundless, loving unconditionally. Except maybe food and walks, those might be her terms.

There are days when I come home from work, and Anna or Ava will tell me that they took Harper for a walk around the neighborhood, and detail their route and what they saw. This has quickly become one of my favorite things.

I understand Jim Harrison when he says:

Barring love I’ll take my life in large doses alone–rivers, forests, fish, grouse, mountains. Dogs.

In our case, Harper has added something to our family that we couldn’t have found any other way.

2016 Harper Ava