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.

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.

Wonder and Wildness

Jesus was not a city slicker. Sure, he hung out and preached in towns, but when it all got to be too much, or he had stuff to work out, or just needed a break, he went for wilderness. Wilderness, both literal and figurative, was his place of transformation, of discernment, of revelation.

Over the course of my reading life, anytime I have found my peeps, ancestors to whatever aesthetic, experiential, existential tribe I belong to, it’s been the folks who hit the wilderness. Whitman, Thoreau, and the American Transcendentalists; John Muir, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder; and the British Romanticism crew. When I read Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and company, it almost felt like Superman ditching his tie and collared shirt. Wordsworth in particular, had come to grips and written about his soul’s need to go to nature and finding his way:

The earth is all before me: with a heart
Joyous, nor scared of its own liberty,
I look about, and should the guide I choose
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud
I cannot miss my way. I breathe again:
Trances of thought and mountings of the mind
Come fast upon me.

Wordsworth Prelude

Wordsworth’s “Prelude” is getting back to nature. The importance and role of nature in the unfolding of our souls and minds, as individuals, was a spark for the Romantics.

One of the things about wilderness, is that it can inspire us, and reconnect us to our own wildness. I could feel that the first times I went trail running. Nothing felt so freeing as running through the woods, the mountains, in tune, in touch, heart pounding and smiling from the soul.

Delaware Trail Marathon 2008

The times I feel most lost, most disconnected, are when I realize I have lost touch with that part of myself. Going outside, way outside, helps. But it’s not the only way. I have to remember to bring something from those times back with me; to ignite that spark; turn it to flame; and keep it burning through the work week; through daily life. Not to lose touch with it.

It often seems like we live in a world where we get points for being tamed. From schools, to cubicles, the better you sit still, assimilate, regurgitate, and fill out your TPS reports, the further along you are.

Yeah… no. That’s never been my path. And anytime I’ve seemed to start down it, God has seemed to redirect and remind me… wake up, look around, is this what you want? There is so much more.

There are daily reminders in town. There is a fox who lives in our neighborhood, whose gait and speed, and coat make me smile and wake me up a bit. Paddleboarding or kayaking. The sublimity of a sunrise. The power of a storm rolling in on the water. The vastness of the stars on a clear night.

At the same time we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. – Henry David Thoreau

We lose our wildness at our own risk. We lose it in as much as we are happy to be tamed. That doesn’t make me happy.

Sparking our sense of wonder. Rekindling our wildness. Every time I do those things, God seems to show me more–about life, the world, myself.

* Featured image from Space Attraction.

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