Show Me How to Live

Our senses are gateways to the world. What we see, hear, smell, touch, taste give us our world, in part. And our senses have memories.

Walking the dog the other morning, I was overwhelmed by the smell of honeysuckle. It transported me back to being a kid, building forts in the marsh, sections of which were absolutely and wonderfully overgrown with it. The smell of steamed crabs has the same effect.

The feel of cut grass under bare feet, or hot sand, or gravel under toughened summer feet. The first time my daughters’ newborn hands wrapped around my finger.

Our senses cue up a lifetime of memories in our mind’s eye and in our souls.

And there is music. Our lives have a soundtrack. Mine is different from anyone else’s, though certainly we share songs and groups with others. Anyone who rode in my car during high school heard their share of the Beastie Boys “Paul’s Boutique,” The Specials, Public Enemy, The Clash, and Metallica.

Getting to North Carolina for college, it was meeting Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog.

I don’t generally sing, but to this day when Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” comes on the radio, much to my daughters’ cringing, I am belting it out.

Cornell and Vedder are still on about every running playlist I have. But Cornell is integral.

We all get to those rough places in our emotional lives. When I was driving four to five hours a day back and forth to DC, in what came to feel like a soul-less grind, and my marriage was crumbling around me, it was Cornell, Tom Morello and Audioslave. Played so loud the windows and dashboard shook. It was the angst, the wail Morello’s guitar, the reach and pitch and emotion and questions in Cornell’s voice.

You gave me life
Now show me how to live.

Audioslave was and is catharsis, solace, energy. When I moved down Bailey’s Neck and got my feet back under me, and would run the wood-lined back roads, it was Audioslave time and time again.

Show me how to live.

In finding a job in Oxford at the community center and re-embracing a community that helped raise me, in moving back to town here, and running through town and up Oxford Rd.

Show me how to live.

The night Ava had her big seizure in Pennsylvania and was flown by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh; as I buried the gas pedal driving through the night it was Cornell and company playing in the car to keep me awake and focused.

Show me how to live.

As we all returned home, and I was filled with gratitude for the outpouring of support and prayers from friends and family and strangers, and I found church and faith, and would shuffle a playlist on my runs, I could hear:

You gave me life
Now show me how to live.

In hearing and finding a calling and Christ Church and being in small groups and building a family and community of faith through our Alpha program, I hear the same words.

I’ve never met Chris Cornell. His death isn’t like losing a family member or close friend. There isn’t a hole in my life in that way. When David Bowie, Prince, or Lemmy died it was sad to lose great artists. But they weren’t a part of first team soundtrack of my life.

We come to know artists through their art. When we find those artists whose work resonates and enlarges our souls, we know it. We connect with them in ways that makes our own struggles and questions seem relevant for someone else; we feel less alone. Like together we tap into something bigger–in the best art we can feel connected; at times maybe we can hear God’s message for us.

In the end, I’m best leaving the words to Morello, who knew Cornell well. The poem Morello wrote to Cornell after his death is beautiful, moving, and open-hearted and minded. Go read the whole thing. But we’ll leave his last words here:

You’re the clear bell ringing, the mountains echo your song

Maybe no one has ever known you

You are twilight and star burn and shade 

 

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.

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.

2016-nov-girls-on-harrison

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.

2016-nov-ava-and-harper

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.

The Gameplan Part II: The Real Work

You’ve called yourself to action, now what are you going to do with it?

That’s the real question. And the answer has been growing in me for 44 years. It’s something that has gained momentum and traction, has surfaced at earlier parts of my life, and keeps coming back, with more force. It’s to the point now where I can feel it when I pray, when I listen, and it can overwhelm me when I don’t expect it. It’s something that is bigger than me, maybe something for which I am just a vessel.

The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. – Frederick Buechner

I’m not clairvoyant. But I try to pay attention and to be mindful when and where things keep coming up. In July, I made a conscious change to more actively follow my dreams. To live life more intentionally and closer to my heart. To commit myself to writing in ways that I hadn’t before. During the past year, but especially the last several months, I can feel a clearer voice and purpose when I write, that seems to come the more I do it. It’s moving toward something, or some way to see.

And a strange thing has happened repeatedly now when I talk to people. I get, “You’re writing a book, aren’t you?” “There’s a book coming.” “It’s time to write a book.” I didn’t think so until a couple months ago, but it has been connecting threads, uncovering itself, and coming to light. More on that another time.

buechner-quote

I have been drawn to learning. It recently came up as a primary strength of my personality. No surprise there. I’ve talked before about deciding  against going to graduate school in Duquesne University’s philosophy program, just after college. I took the more practical, sensible option of getting to work.

Years later, when the contract we were working on ended after three and a half years of working in Washington, D.C., I was at a similar crossroads. Reading and thinking and praying back then, I felt a pull to go to seminary, to delve into studying Christian theology and see where that went. It felt strange, but right, and I talked to a handful of people about it and began researching options. Then I was offered another DC job for a good paycheck, which I took, thinking it the best option for my family, and let that notion fade.

My sense is that things in our lives happen when they are ready to happen and not before. Both of those times, feeling pulled to deeper study in faith and philosophy, I wasn’t ready. It wouldn’t have been real in the way it needed. It was while working the second DC job that I lost track of what my heart and soul wanted out of life, my marriage fell apart, and ultimately so did the job. I had to hit the reset button on life. That had to happen.

That calling to continued, deeper, sustained study in faith and Christian theology is back, exponentially louder than either time before. I’ve ignored it twice before; I won’t do that again.

slide-jesusreally

I get stirred up, moved, inspired when I read Thomas Merton, Buechner, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Richard Rohr, and of late John Eldredge (which is where the image just above is from). I feel things working in me and through me when I am in church. But that isn’t enough. I have to do something with that, I have to act.

One of the things I have seen during the past year at Real Life Chapel with Pastor Frank Short, is how vital and essential small group study is. Church on Sunday is a time to recharge, to reflect, to come together, to pray. But there is no dialogue, there is no depth, it is not the time or the place for the real work to be done. That’s where smaller groups, and directed study and engaging with each other comes in.

Getting people together for some purpose seems to be something I do. A number of years ago, we had a writer’s group, which was a big part of a number of our lives for a stretch. In 2008, a few of us started the Rise Up Runners group, which led to more adventures and friendships than I could have imagined.

Life, and our personal walks of faith are best shared. We need to be encouraged, challenged, helped out, questioned by others. It’s not a safe or easy walk. There are wrong turns, bad ideas, fog, darkness. But there are also accomplishments, clues to be found and left, ways to hold each other up.

God acts in the world through people, among other ways. Through us. Finding and honoring our tribe of spiritual adventurers is key to making sure we find and keep to our path.

Now what are you going to do with it?

That’s the question my heart has been sitting with and my prayers have been in conversation with. When fire and passion and energy have built, are building, what will I do with it?

The answers that keep presenting themselves, over and again: 1) write, tell and share your story.  Dig deep, sustain it, tie the threads together, focus it. Look to examples like Buechner and Merton, that’s part of why they are there. 2) Learn, study, sustain and direct it. Follow the repeated calling to graduate study, find your teachers and mentors for that road. 3) Find and convene and honor a tribe, a small group for Christian study. Engage, laugh, celebrate, wrestle with stuff. Help each other.

Life is an adventure, at least how I want to live it. When I look back, so many things and experiences have been building in me and informing me, some I could hear, some I ignored. They are beginning to come together, and I’ve been quiet enough to listen, to hear, to feel.

It’s all led to right now. It’s where the good stuff is. Where the fun is. And where the real work begins.

Delusions of Knowledge

When I look up at the stars, my response is wonder. When I watch a hummingbird hovering in the yard, I am fascinated. In neither case is my first instinct to analyze, label, figure things out.

Likewise, when I think about God, it isn’t to solve the Mystery, but to dwell in the Mystery, sit with it, let it wash over me. Not to try to pull it apart.

The mystery of creation is like the darkness of night–it is great. Delusions of knowledge are like the fog of the morning. – Rabindranath Tagore

Tagore is a writer who I have recently been drawn to more and more. He was the first non-European writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913. His “Stray Birds” are several, rapid fire blasts of sunlight, glimpses of illumination that cut through the shadows of unchecked rational thought. The painting at the top of the page is Tagore’s as well.

I’ve been sitting with the idea of paradox a lot lately–the notion that two things taken together are seemingly impossible, but actually true. Like when physicists say that light is made up of (behaves like) waves and particles at the same time.

Science and scripture are full of paradoxes. How can Jesus be both a Lamb and a Lion; how are the worldly poor the spiritually rich? Why do you have to let go in order to have everything? Why is surrendering the only way to victory? Jesus loved paradoxes and deep thinkers like Einstein saw them everywhere.

Why is that? One reason might be that our intellect by itself is not the right faculty to get us to the deeper truths. It would be like trying to use smell or taste to figure out the tip when you get the check from dinner–could be interesting, but ultimately not helpful.

I am never more frustrated than when I try to have all the answers; when I want to have things figured out before I move forward. I am never more at peace than when I allow myself to be in the moment, to be happy with/by/from the things and people that make me happy. And it is still hard not to want to know that I am moving in the right direction, doing the right thing, moving further up the mountain rather than backpedaling.

“One of the great constants in life is change.” That was the doctrine of Heraclitus, a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. A paradox and a truth. And not new information.

How we deal with change, how we deal with the mind coming up just short of what it is we want to know, those responses to life are what our lives become. There are all kinds of options: we can doubt, fear, bury our head in the sand and not give it thought, we can lose ourselves in work, we can party like it’s 1999.

I go back to a favorite Thomas Merton thought:

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

That feels right. So when I walk outside after the storm and through the boat yard to catch the last bit of sunset and see this…

2016 Sunset Owl

And I walk back to the house and hear an owl in the top of a tree and then watch he or she take off and fly with outspread wings, I smile and sit with Tagore’s words that have been in my head on a Sunday:

That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.

 

The Head, the Hand, and the Heart

I don’t know much about John Ruskin. But maybe he knew something about living. Ruskin said:

Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.

I’m not so much worried about fine art as about living fully, deeply, integrated, connected to God. And I’ve been thinking about when you get two of three of those things–the head, the hand, and the heart.

In church we’ve been talking about the head (beliefs) and the hand (actions) going together. If you believe something, truly believe it and hold it to be important, then your actions should show it. That seems wholly true to me. If your actions don’t show your beliefs, what good are your beliefs? But there seems to be something missing. I think it’s the heart.

If you put the head and the heart together, you get a band. One I’ve been listening to a bit lately.

the-head-and-the-heart

Their song, “Lost in My Mind” gets stuck in mine. It’s a great song. Getting lost in my mind is an easy tendency.  “Oh my brother, your wisdom is older than me.” There is a notion in the song I dig:

How’s that bricklayin’ comin?

How’s that engine runnin?

Is that bridge getting built?

Are your hand getting filled?

Won’t you tell me, my brother?

Cause there’s stars

up above

We can start

moving forward

It’s that notion of work versus dreams. You are working, making a living, but are you filling your heart, your soul, with the good stuff? The wonders of the Universe. The deeper aspects of life that we miss entirely if we don’t pay attention: raising kids; watching a sunrise on the beach with someone you love; playing an instrument; staring at the stars; writing a book; whatever it is that fills your heart.

But if you have just your head and your heart, you are missing your hand: you are holding your dreams, but not acting on them. Not trying to build them.

It’s not easy to yoke those three things together and drive them forward. For me, thinking and dreaming come easy. It’s building that takes work and effort. And attention.

At 44 years old, I’m not one to let go of dreams. As a father, I’m not about to wildly chase a dream that doesn’t help, include, or provide for my girls. A conundrum? Maybe.

Sooner or later, if we’re lucky, we come to learn a pretty big lesson: it’s not all about me. Though I try to shape them, use them, and do the best I can with them, I didn’t make or create my head, my heart, or my hands. I have to admit there are bigger things, bigger hands, hearts, and minds at work than mine. And if I want to put mine out there and try to make something of them, it requires a couple things: faith and risk.

I get a daily e-mail to contemplate every morning from Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action. This morning’s musings came together like this:

This is probably why Jesus praised faith and trust even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall or to fail–and not to fall apart. Faith alone holds you while you stand waiting and hoping and trusting. Then, and only then, will deeper love happen. It’s no surprise at all that in English (and, I am told, in other languages as well) we speak of “falling” in love. I think falling is the only way to get to authentic love. None would go freely, if we knew ahead of time what love is going to ask of us. Very human faith lays the necessary foundation for the ongoing discovery of love. Have no doubt though: great love is always a discovery, a revelation, a wonderful surprise, a falling into “something” much bigger and deeper that is literally beyond us and larger than us.

We need our heads–our thoughts and our beliefs. We need our hands–our actions. And we need our heart–love, passion. And love is something that goes beyond us, is bigger than us, involves a letting go, a surrender; involves faith; involves God.

I’ve still got more questions than I’ll ever have answers. But I like to think about living life the way Ruskin describes fine art. And I like to think of giving my head, hand, heart, over to faith, to love, to God, and trying to build dreams, to build life, with a little Help.

2016 Hammock Swing

 

* The photo at the top came from Living Outdoor. It represents something of a dream for me–living and writing outside in the woods, in a simple cabin.