Buechner on Eternity

I spent late Sunday on a bike and under a tree. The morning and afternoon had been music, prayer and fellowship of worship services, then blessing of pets (several dogs, a hedgehog, two guinea pigs, and a horse) at Christ Church Easton.

On a beautiful fall evening, I hopped on my bike and eased around Boone Creek and then found a tree on the shoreline of the Oxford Cemetery. I stretched my legs out and listened to geese in the cove, the breeze through the trees, conversations of boaters in Town Creek, and watched the sun dance on the water. I read David Bailey, Richard Rohr, and N.T. Wright. Mostly I sat, watched, listened, imbibed.

I was completely full. I didn’t try to give it words, just breath and feeling.

Yesterday I came across this passage from Frederick Buechner’s “Wishful Thinking,” and I realized Buechner had the words I was looking for:

ETERNITY IS NOT endless time or the opposite of time. It is the essence of time. 

If you spin a pinwheel fast enough, then all its colors blend into a single color—white—which is the essence of all the colors of the spectrum combined. 

If you spin time fast enough, then time-past, time-present, and time-to-come all blend into a single timelessness or eternity, which is the essence of all times combined. 

As human beings we know time as a passing of unrepeatable events in the course of which everything passes away including ourselves. As human beings, we also know occasions when we stand outside the passing of events and glimpse their meaning. Sometimes an event occurs in our lives (a birth, a death, a marriage—some event of unusual beauty, pain, joy) through which we catch a glimpse of what our lives are all about and maybe even what life itself is all about, and this glimpse of what “it’s all about” involves not just the present but the past and future too. 

Inhabitants of time that we are, we stand on such occasions with one foot in eternity. God, as Isaiah says (57:15) “inhabiteth eternity” but stands with one foot in time. The part of time where he stands most particularly is Christ, and thus in Christ we catch a glimpse of what eternity is all about, what God is all about, and what we ourselves are all about too. 

“Increase Our Faith:” Thoughts After a Sermon

I try to listen. Every chance I get. I am a visual learner, so being quiet, taking in sounds, words, wind, birds, a conversation, is something I work at. It’s a funny thing, but I find it’s amazing how much I hear when I listen.

“Increase our faith,” Luke has the apostles saying in his part of the Gospel (Luke 17:5). It’s during the trying times that we ask for something like that. When we know we’re working through something. It’s never when things are going well and life is good. Those aren’t the times made for faith.

When I sit in church, I try to make my posture silent and open, so I can take everything in. It’s those moments where hymns, songs, scripture, sermons, feel directed to my ears.

Am I being the person I am supposed to be? Am I doing the things I am supposed to be doing?

Those are the crossroads questions. Livelihood, being a good father, relationships, life, spiritual path, faith… those questions come up, sometimes we have an answer we are happy with, sometimes not, sometimes we don’t know. Those are times for faith. Leaning away from worry and leaning into faith.

Even when we can’t do it, God moving through us can make great things happen.

When we face doubt, struggle, our limitations, if we get out of the way, if we make room, God can work through us.

Being mindful not of who we are, but “Whose” we are…

What a difference a letter or two can make. When I am thinking through questions about living my life, remembering that life is a gift and should be treated accordingly, with gratitude.

I rode my bike down Boone Creek Rd., and looked up the creek. There was a deep silence, a stillness, the same as I felt in church earlier.

…silence to open a path… experiencing the stillness of God’s comforting grace.

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There are times when I dig the hermit on the mountain idea. Cultivate that silence and rest in it. But I know at the bottom of that savored solitude, something is missing for me.

This great capacity we have as human beings to love, makes us better.

Ah yes, there it is. Maybe we’ve got this grain of mustard seed in us (sticking with Luke) that can grow into something beyond what we even thought it could.

In stillness, it can come to us. God can come to us. When we are still. And listening. But don’t expect a road map. Don’t expect answers. If it were easy, if it were clear, it wouldn’t require faith, this walk.

Not all things in life are unscarred, pure, and perfect.

Amen. It’s our scars, our particular brokenness and how we are put back together, that defines us.

Increase our faith.

[italics are words taken/quoted from a sermon on Oct. 2, 2016, Christ Church, Easton, Md.]

Storing Up, Finding My Way

I knew it was coming. Sometimes catharsis taps you on the shoulder, sometimes you run square into it, head on. Sunday we were waiting for each other.

My runs this summer have been five to seven miles, at a quick-for-me pace. It’s felt good to push and see how I respond. Sunday morning was the first group run I had done in a while. We started out slower, so I decided to run further. It was hot. I wasn’t planning to run so far, but the reckoning was there. I ran for about eight miles with someone faster than me, until I decided to drop off.

I found my quiet spot. My longest run of the year, at a pace too fast, undertrained, on a heat advisory day. I had reached a point where I knew I needed to draw spiritual blood; to push, to suffer; to get everything out; to find that place on the other side of daily life, on the other side of sweat and tired, that only running can take me.

In that place, I found a me I had let go for a bit. We stared each other down, smiled, and then got inside out of the heat. I am a glutton, not dumb.

Herb Elliott quote

Herb Elliott is responsible for one of my favorite quotes. I have written it in notebooks, posted it on the fridge, put it on bulletin boards. Sometimes I have to go back to it. I don’t think a race has to be a race, it can be life.

It’s time to store up. I’ve been antsy for a road trip, but this isn’t the same thing. It’s a gathering in; a collecting.

The hut at the top of the page is called Fossickers Hut, in New Zealand, I found via Cabin Porn. I don’t need to go there (though I wouldn’t argue), but need to find/make that space. To feel it, so that I remember the me that running brings me back to; that writing brings me back to. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve stepped away, then look around. And have to find my way.

It was a long day, of early morning field hockey practice and watching Anna tough out a 7am practice when feeling like crap the whole previous day, and working through it. And being impressed by her fortitude. It was scrambling home after a late meeting, grilling dinner, and laughing with the girls over mindless dinner humor. It was walking outside after cleaning the kitchen, seeing the sun setting, and color and clouds, and reading the clouds differently.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher a storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. – Rabindranath Tagore, “Stray Birds”

Clouds add depth and shape. They shade us from the sun. They add color to sunsets and sunrises.

2016 sunset clouds

Saturday Prayer

I have not sat still well today. Solitude’s double-edged sword had me pacing, caged.

I walked Harper across town to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry and back in the morning. I cut grass, which brings on thinking for me. I read and wrote for a book review article coming due. Changed lightbulbs. Sitting in the yard, I had to move.

I hop on my bike and cruise through town, riding down to the shoreline at the park. I pull Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island” from my pocket, in all its underlined, written in, and dog-eared grace.

I close my eyes with my face in the sun. An evening breeze brushes my ears and hair.

The waves are sharing an embrace and a conversation with the shoreline; sitting in silence, it is all I can hear–a soundtrack no less extraordinary for being commonplace.

I bend my head in prayer to listen. Language doesn’t need words to speak. No, that’s not it. God doesn’t need words to speak to those who listen.

I leaf through Snyder, who offers a “Prayer for the Great Family:”

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
      holding or releasing; streaming through all
      our bodies salty seas
                          in our minds so be it

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
      trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
      bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–
                           in our minds so be it

I don’t properly write in my pocket notebook very often, opting for a bigger one where my mind stretches more. But the pocket notebook made the bike ride, and as I scrawl these thoughts together, I see words bleeding through from the next page.

2016 Ava rehab words

They are Ava’s from the rehab hospital last year. She was working on getting her words back with a therapist–she couldn’t find the right words to say, to answer, but she could write them down. Today being a year since the seizure that landed her there, it doesn’t seem a coincidence to have her words find me here.

I close now wet eyes again to listen to the river. And God.

Riding my bike through town, life goes on. People are happy eating, walking, biking. There are kids playing in the sand and ankle deep in the water at the Strand.

Almost home, I turn up Jack’s Point Rd., and an Eastern Bluebird flies across the road in front of me, into a vacant lot. I have only seen a handful of bluebirds in town and I smile. If you read birds, happiness must be nearby.

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Uncovering the Path

* This was first posted at The 4-1-Run. I wanted to re-post it here, as it is an ongoing exploration/discovery, and I want to have all the various thoughts along the way collected in one place.

I pack a small backpack: water, fruit and nut trail mix, binoculars, a birding book, a notebook and pen, rain coat, pocket knife, a slim book–maybe John Muir, or Wordsworth, or Thomas Merton, or Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island.”

I think about the movie “Empire Strikes Back,” where Luke Skywalker looks into the cave that is his test and asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda’s response, “Only what you take with you.” Be light and free. Be open. I start up the mountain with Muir in my head:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. – John Muir

Hold on, who said that, Muir or Yoda? Maybe Muir is the Yoda of the mountains.

For 20 years or more, I have used, lived, and contemplated the metaphor of life, and the life of the spirit/soul, being a journey up the mountain. I think that too many of us–speaking for myself–wear a path back and forth or around the base of the mountain and think (or tell ourselves) we are making progress upwards; that we are getting somewhere.

And that’s where Yoda comes in, we find only what we take with us. And what we take with us are our habits, our worries, our fears, our doubt, and in some cases our stuff–our material things. And those things either weigh us down so heavily that we can’t climb, or we have to wrestle with them before we get anywhere.

This past Sunday, at church our pastor put Henri Nouwen’s “The Spiritual Life,” in my hands, a tome of eight of his books brought into one. We were talking favorite spiritual writers while on a mulching expedition during the week and he couldn’t recall Nouwen’s name as we threw around Merton, Bonhoeffer, and Buechner.

“This is for you,” he said, with his best Yoda smile. What he had first mentioned about Nouwen was that he walked away from prestigious academic positions to focus on helping men and women with intellectual disabilities. I’ve been spending my morning coffee with Nouwen this week. Books and writers have a tendency to find me at the right time.

henrinouwen

Nouwen talks about how our time and schedules are filled, how we are always busy, because being busy is a status symbol–look at how busy and productive I am–nd yet our spirit is unfulfilled because we are not filling our lives or schedules with the right things.

Only having the girls half the time, I spend a lot of time alone. That can be both good and bad for an overthinker. The only times I can really turn my brain off, or allow my thoughts to slough off are when I am running or in prayer/meditation, which can be sitting with coffee, watching the sunrise or sunset, staring at the stars, but it has to be intentional time.

For all my alone time over the past couple years, when I looked closely, I found myself circling the bottom of the mountain; pacing back and forth in a rut of my own footprints. My habits, my lack of clarity, my inertia, nothing was helping me push up. And yet, climbing the spiritual mountain, carpe’ing the diem, asking the big questions and looking for answers, and being on the move rather than one place–these are all things that make me, me.

My time alone somehow wasn’t solitude, or at least not enough of it.

Once the solitude of time and space have become a solitude of the heart, we will never have to leave that solitude. We will be able to live the spiritual life in any place and at any time. Thus the discipline of solitude enables us to live active lives in the world, while remaining always in the presence of the living God. – Henri Nouwen

There are times when it feels like you’ve just unloaded rocks out of your pockets or backpack and feel lighter and ready to climb.

I have much more to say about the mountain–maps, compasses, the virtue of discerning your true path vs. switching paths at every pass, the people you meet along the way, whose paths overlap with yours and who you walk with for a time–but let’s call this part one. Beginning again. Or uncovering a path I had let get overgrown.

As I swill some water, smile at the sunrise, and keep on up the mountain, I look into Wordsworth’s lines that are among the favorite I have ever read:

…And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things. I heretofore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains, and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and in the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the muse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my mortal being.
– William Wordsworth, from Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

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