Sacred Threshold

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sacred the power, being, or realm understood by religious persons to be at the core of existence and to have a transformative effect on their lives and destinies.

threshold any place or point of entering or beginning…

 

I probably should not write this at all.  I know I will not say it well.  For every breath I help you breathe with me, there will be a thousand others unbreathed. And yet, words brought me here.  I wonder how many of those who shared their words with me thought they did not say it well?  For every fragrance, every whisper of wonder, of holiness, on a page or across a table…how many others were left locked up in their hearts?  So I write.  I treat of that which defies explanation.  I invite you to peer with me inside a mystery…

Sometimes life takes the most unexpected turns. A couple of years ago I came to a place of crisis with God.  I felt I had pursued Him all my life, and that He had eluded me.  And I was angry.  Perhaps I had approached Him badly, in error, but it was not for lack of trying.  Funny how sometimes the very road we try to take to God is the one that perpetually leads us away from Him. I felt compelled to prove myself to God, as though I must earn His love.  I would have told you I did not believe this was true.  But I lived my life every day as though it were.

I came to a place of devastation when it became clear to me that I was incapable of being good enough…when I could truly see the blackness inside me.  I was in deep despair.  I felt that if I were to surrender my endless, futile attempts to find worth in myself that I would simply cease to exist.  It felt like death!

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.


“When we are nothing, we are in a fine position to receive everything from God.”
~Richard Rohr God began to woo me.  I know He has done it all my life, but much of the time I was too busy doing things ‘for Him’ to take notice.  He met me on runs and in early, quiet hours when everyone was still asleep.  He met me in novels, in poetry, and in His Word.  I saw Him in His creation and in great works of art.  He spoke His healing words to me through friends.  You know who you are.  There will never be enough words to say to you how important you have been to me.  I love you more than I can say.

Then came the most unexpected gift of all. Up until about three years ago, I had never known anyone personally who was Orthodox.  My only encounter with Orthodoxy was purely historical.  But all of a sudden, I was ambushed.  Blessed Ambush!  A friend, then several aquaintances, then a circle of beautiful, wise women, and finally a family.  Books, podcasts, music…I couldn’t get enough.  And worship! That was the most compelling of all.  Orthodox believe that in the Divine Liturgy we literally enter the Kingdom of God.  I believe it.  I believed it the very first time.  There is a blessed otherness…such a profound sense of holiness.  Sometimes I can hardly breathe for the weight of it.

Today, on Saint Nicholas Day, I crossed a threshold.  Today I became part of the Orthodox Church.  Mike and I have walked most of this last year with the congregation at St. Ignatius.  We have fasted together, celebrated together, struggled and learned together, and entered the Presence together.  My soul has been nourished in ways I could never have imagined.  And I am learning to live in God…to revel in His Presence…to come to Him honestly with all the best AND worst things about me, and to experience His joy in me.

God knew my heart so much better than I did.  He knew how to help me find Him. My friend, Monte, tells me that when a lifeguard goes to help someone in distress, he will not engage the swimmer until he stops struggling, otherwise the distressed swimmer can drown them both.  But once the swimmer has exhausted himself, then he can be saved.  Once I was thoroughly exhausted, God helped me find the means whereby I could finally know Him.

Yesterday, I made my first confession in preparation for today. I began with a written prayer, then shared those things with the priest that weighed most heavily on my heart and those that present persistent challenge.  It was a solemn and weighty experience.  He spoke words to me that Christ would have spoken had he been there.  After this, I knelt and Father Stephen placed his stole over my head. He told me that just as the stole covered my head, Christ’s blood had covered my sins.  Hot tears flowed down my face as his words planted themselves deeply within me and forgiveness became a palpable reality.

This morning, after affirming that we accept and submit to the essential tenets of the Orthodox faith, we were anointed with Holy Chrism (oil).  As Father Stephen made crosses with the oil on our foreheads, eyes, nose, ears, chest, hands and feet, he said “the seal of the Holy Spirit” and the whole congregation cried out “SEAL!!” I felt like my chest was a great ball of fire.  I could not stop the tears.  That God would be so kind to bring me to this place where I could breathe Him and wear Him when I had been so ready to walk away from Him is too much for me. Receiving the Body and Blood for the first time with my dear sisters and brothers was a completely transcendent experience.  Heart pounding, knees trembling, filled with wonder.  May it ever be so.

At lunch today my dear friend, Gail, said to my fellow celebrants, Giorgio and Mike, and to me that today we only lifted the lid to the treasure box.  She assured us that there are enough treasures inside to last us a lifetime.  I believe her.

“You do not resolve the God question in your head…it is resolved in you when you agree to bear the mystery of God.” ~Rohr

Photographs in the post courtesy of our friend Joel Smith.  At the top of the post, Mike and I with Father Stephen.  Above, with Mike and Gail Hyatt, dear friends who have been such an important part of our journey and today stood with us as our sponsors/godparents.  Also, Keith Coley and Giorgio Kemp.  Beautiful irony: Giorgio was in my third grade choir.  His mother Rhonda was my homeschooling mentor.  We have danced in and out of one another’s lives for years.  What a blessed gift to be Chrismated on the same day.  Many years, dear friend!

Born to Run

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“It all began with a simple question no one could answer.  It was a five word puzzle that led me to a photo of a very fast man in a very short skirt…a murder, drug guerillas, and a one-armed man with a cream cheese cup strapped to his head.  I met a beautiful blonde forest ranger who slipped out of her clothes and found salvation by running naked in the Idaho forests, and a young surfer babe in pigtails who ran straight toward her death in the desert….barefoot batman…the Kalahari bushmen, the toenail amputee…and ultimately, the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara and their shadowy disciple, Caballo Blanco.  In the end, I got my answer, but only after I found myself in the middle of the greatest race the world would never see….And all because, in January of 2001, I asked my doctor this,
‘How come my foot hurts?‘”

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Thus begins one of the most intriguing books I have ever read.  Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run combines masterful storytelling, mythic (yet real) figures, and truths about running that will blow your mind.  He drew me deep into the narrative with the first few sentences and told a story that was too fantastic not to be real.  I found myself so invested in the characters, I could hardly wait to find out what happened to them next.  Laced through the stories are discoveries the author makes about running as he spends time with these folks, many of which are quite startling…and liberating.

Plagued by repeated injuries and unwilling to accept the suggestion that perhaps someone of his size is just not cut out for running, McDougall begins a fascinating voyage to see running in a very different way.  In the Tarahumara, he finds a people who run for the sheer pleasure of it, who are still running injury free into their nineties, and who seem immune to the top ten diseases that are killing Americans.  What is it that they know and we don’t?  They eat a spare, vegetable based diet.  They live in simplicity and in harmony with those around them.  They have a very precise idea of how to treat others that demands hospitality and self sacrifice.

This last factor is more important than you might think.  Over and over, from running coaches and from runners themselves, the author learns that the most successful endurance runners are also gracious and generous human beings.  Witness Ultra legend Scott Jurek.  As a teenager, Scott came home after school every day to care for his sick mother who was dying of a debilitating disease.  He persisted on the cross country team even though his inadequate practice opportunities meant that he did not excel. He was tormented mercilessly by his teammates.  When his mother died, he suddenly had all this time on his hands.  So he ran…miles and miles and miles. A teammate enlisted him to run an ultra with him, and Scott won it.  From there, his life has been one triumph after another.  And yet, this 7 time Western States Ultra champion, who won the Leadville 100 then set a course record at Badlands just two weeks later, has never forgotten what it feels like to be the one bringing up the rear.  After every win, he wraps himself in a sleeping bag and stands at the finish line for hours cheering on each finisher.

McDougall introduces us to fascinating folks like Barefoot Ted, the verbose eccentric who eschews running shoes in favor of his own unencumbered (and unprotected) feet or, as an occasional concession to safety, Vibram Five Finger “shoes”. Jen and Billy are wild twenty somethings who party like rock stars, wake up late, and still have 100 miles in them.  Eric Orton’s coaching and friendship enable the author to be part of the race of a lifetime, and he, in turn, gets to meet the Tarahumara for whom he has the greatest reverence and respect.  And Arnulfo Quimare, the silent, regal, undisputed champion among a people who call themselves the Raramuri (running people).

The character who most captures my imagination is the enigmatic phantom, Caballo Blanco.  After acting as “mule” for Manuel Luna in the Leadville 100, Micah True leaves Colorado to do something no gringo has ever done; live among the reclusive Tarahumara in Mexico.  He fully embraces their lifestyle eating pinole (a corn porridge), beans, and limes and drinking homemade beer, ditching his running shoes for huarache type sandals made from old tire rubber, living in a hut he builds with his own hands, and running…running for miles and miles for the sheer joy of feeling his body move, strong and free.  He embraces the Tarahumara culture of korima, unconditional living.  If he is out running and needs assisstance, he stops at a hut and asks for it.  By the same token, his home and his larder are always open to visitors who pass his way.  And so, everyone is cared for.

It is Caballo Blanco who organizes the culminating event in the book.  He dreams of an ultra-marathon that will allow the Tarahumara to race inside their own canyon where they will not be exploited or manipulated, but where they can have the joy of running with some of the very best ultra athletes currently racing.  Just getting there is an adventure and it looks for all the world as though it may not come off.  I will not reveal to you how it all turns out, but I will tell you that I was crying like a baby before it was over.  The camaraderie, the kindness, and the ebullience completely overwhelmed me.

Whether you are a runner or not, you will find this story enthralling.  If you are a runner, you just might find yourself seeing the run with new eyes.  If you have lost that sense of fascination and wonder with what your body can do, perhaps you will find it here.

Photographs by Luis Escobar

A Dream Strayed Into Daylight

Sparkling water trips over stones

Whispering breeze rustles leaves

Heart whisper

Soul breath

Transparent eyes

A dream strayed into daylight


Delicate petals

Sweet scent

A Rose

Exquisite intoxication

Lavender delirium

Columbine spell

A dream strayed into daylight


Extravagant brilliance of sunset

Spectacular resplendence of fall

Delicious agony

Orgasm of pain

A dream strayed into daylight


Breathless silence

Blanket of snow

Icy flakes on bare skin

Violent exhilaration

Thunderstorm, rain

A dream strayed into daylight


Raspberries

Fragrant exotic delight

Cabernet

Mysterious and warm

Chocolate

Decadent, bitter and dark

A dream strayed into daylight


Elegant threshold

Ecstatic response

Transcendence

Abandon

Bliss

Pieces of Heaven

Diverted to Earth

A dream strayed into daylight

~SM~


*I owe a great debt to C.S. Lewis for the title line.  While reading Til We Have Faces, the phrase “a dream strayed into daylight” lodged itself in my mind.  It actually has a negative connotation in the book.  But for me, it was magic. It made me think of all those experiences, all those moments when, perhaps only for the space of a breath, I have touched the otherworldly.  Lewis called it “joy”.  This poem has rolled round in my head, in bits and pieces, ever since.  I have been blessed with a great many transcendent moments.  The words and phrases above commemorate some of them.

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