Tag Archive - God

I am not the weather.

God is plotting against me again. A Divine Conspiracy to bring me understanding through a stereo of voices on one topic. Presently the topic is this:

I am not the weather.

The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion…then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured and our sense of painful alienation heightened. When the mind is brought to stillness we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. We are the awareness in which thoughts and feelings (what we take to be ourselves) appear like so much weather on Mount Zion.

~Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land

When someone I Love is hurting, I feel responsible…for causing it…for fixing it.
When there is chaos around me, I become the chaos.
If people think well of me, I am ok.
If they are angry at me, I am not.

I am the weather.

In our candlelight Liturgy for the Feast of Epiphany, Father Stephen spoke of the light of Christ that illumines all and enables us to see ourselves as we really are. As He sees us.

As…a mountain?

Then, this morning, this:

Repentance is a great understanding. ~The Shepherd of Hermas

To repent is to look, not downward at my own shortcomings, but upward at God’s love; not backward with self-reproach, but forward with truthfulness. It is to see, not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I can yet become.

~Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom

I see.

So….

If it rains, I will be wet. But I am not the rain. If those I love are hurting, I can comfort and care for them without owning their pain.

When a blizzard howls and rages around me, I will suffer the cold of it. But I am not the blizzard. When chaos reigns around me, I need not contribute to it. I can be the still point. Unshakeable.

When warm sunshine and sultry breezes caress me, I can rejoice in their warmth. But I am not the sunshine. When people think well of me, I will give thanks. But I will not covet their praise.

Hail storms may pummel me and pock mark my surface, but I am not the hail. Unkind words pierce like arrows, but they are not the truest thing about me. At least, not the only true thing.

Mudslides might mar me, but I am not the mud. I will sin. I will fail. Over and over again. But I am not the sin. Repentance will heal me and wash me and make me new.

I am not the weather.

Neither are you.

Whoever trusts in the Lord is like Mount Zion: Unshakeable, it stands forever. ~Psalm 125:1

Christmas in Appalachia…a Remembrance

I run my fingers over the velvet cloth of my dress. Hand-stitched by my mother. Like all of my clothes. It is a wonder to me; this cloth. Like fur. So delicious under my hands. Dark blue. Too wonderful to be real.

I click my black patent leather shoes together and listen to the squishy sound they make. It will scuff them, I know. I can’t not do it.

An excited hum fills the church as everyone scoots together to make more room. So many people. Some of the men pull out folding chairs to put at the end of the pews, and I know that this night is not like others…

The fragrance of cedar mixes with a scent I can only describe as colored light and tinsel. Warm. Artificial. But good. Very good. Delicate icicles sparkle against the lights, and I know someone very like my mother (it might have been my mother) has hung them. One at a time. Draped carefully over the end of the branch. Personally I always favored the technique of throwing them against the tree and letting them find their own place. I usually got two handfuls thrown before my mother very unceremoniously put an end to that mess.

In my mind, I rehearse the words I have practiced over and over. A poem. Short. About a box. A gift box that folds out to form a cross. It is clever. I know that. But I am not really sure why.

The singing begins. My dad always fusses about the crazy harmonies of Christmas carols. They don’t behave properly. And men and women who know nothing of the shaped notes in the hymnal…who find their pitches “by ear”…will be chasing these chords all night. But I like them. These strange songs. These only ever at Christmas songs.

I couldn’t tell you what is happening inside me. I only know that it is other. A flirtation with something beyond my little world. I know it in that most important knowing…the inside knowing.

Without words.

In abject defiance of language.

The time comes for our class to mount the stage. My heart pounds. I search for the words like they are floating in the air somewhere. I feel sick at my stomach. My aunt Janice looks at me. My turn has come. Marvelously, the words find me just in time. I say the poem. Words in a pattern. Words I do not thoroughly understand. Yet they strum against something inside me. Stoking a fire of wonder…of mystery.

It is beginning.

It is more important than I could know.

I don’t remember what happens after the poem….until…brown sacks are retrieved from beneath the tree. Every person will receive one. There is an orange, an apple, several unidentifiable nuts in their shells (these I will give to my dad),  fragrant peppermint, and vanilla cream drops cloaked in chocolate.

And everything that is this night coalesces in a jumble of impression and awe. It is old-fashioned, perhaps. But it very capably says to a little girl of the mountains that this night is like no other. That everything you think you know is being undone. That the miracle of Jesus in the world has the power to transform ordinary into extraordinary.

I have worn it. I have breathed it. I have eaten it.

And the reality of this plants itself deep inside me. And I will never be content in a world without wonder. I will spend the rest of my life chasing that which I first tasted in a simple, ordinary, extraordinary Appalachian Christmas.

A gift for you. A remnant of my little girl Christmas in the mountains. A song we sang every year. One that has proper harmonies. 🙂 Enjoy.

Exultant Explosion

Joy

The Incarnation is…..a very complex thing.

Its unique note is the simultaneous striking of many notes;
of humility, of gaiety, of gratitude, of mystical fear,
but also of vigilance and drama…
There is something defiant in it also;
something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight
sound like the great guns of a battle
that has just been won.

All this indescribable thing that we call the Christmas atmosphere
only hangs in the air as something like
a lingering fragrance or fading vapor
from the exultant explosion
of that one hour
in the Judean hills
nearly two thousand years ago.

But the savor is still unmistakable,
and it is something too subtle
or too solitary
to be covered by our use of the word
peace.

~G.K. Chesterton

 

*Artwork: Soliloquies-Joy by Makoto Fujimura

Lonely…

Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures…
~Henri Nouwen

This has been a raw, cantankerous, no one will answer my emails, tired, overwhelmed, everybody needs something from me, tears in the dishwater kind of week. I am not sleeping. I have no talent for sleep anyway, so it is usually the first thing to go. That, of course, only makes matters worse. I am frenzied, withered, spent.

I have been here before. And I have come to understand that when it seems as though everyone is conspiring to make me insane, the problem is probably not with “everyone“.

And even though it never works, I begin by trying to eliminate the stresses in my life; by wishing everyone would just do what I need them to do.

It’s kind of like putting perfume on sweat. The first impression might be tolerable, but it doesn’t take long before the stink wins out.

I was awake last night. In the middle of the night. Again. This time, instead of repeatedly calculating exactly how much sleep I will get if I fall asleep right now, or fretting over everything in my life that needs to be done for the next 2 weeks years, or trying to escape by planning our next vacation… I picked up a book…one of the books I began reading at the beginning of Advent…and found the familiar, but forgotten, words above. And I began to understand…

I had made a worthy start to Advent. Finding time for stillness. For peace. Peace that I could carry with me into my days. And give to others, if need be. I’m not sure where things went wrong…

You cannot bring peace to others if you do not have it yourself.
~Fr. Alexander Elchaninov

Today, roughly half way through the season of expectation and longing, I begin again. Pursuing loneliness. For myself. For my family and friends. I will follow the One I love to the lonely place. I will sit with Him. And I will invite Him to set me aright so that I might love as He loves. So that the sweet aroma of Him might linger upon me…

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. ~Mark 1:35

Image of the Invisible

Starry-night-sky-615

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

Power.  Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.  Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough, and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be.  Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine, to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.

~Madeleine L’Engle

Abide…

The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must be heard by the soul.
~St. John of the Cross

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Advent season in the Orthodox Church. For us it is a forty day affair, much like Lent. A season of preparation. Of expectation.

On Sunday, our priest encouraged us to approach the Nativity season with two thoughts: Rest and Abide, Search and Seek.

Rest and Abide: The Soul of the Shepherd  Distractions keep us from abiding in the field of our hearts and keeping watch, he said. We are to guard our hearts against distraction. To be still.

Search and Seek: The Mind of the Magi The Magi were seeking. They were looking for signs and knowledge. We are to seek Christ.

The two of these might seem antithetical. One implies stillness, the other journey. But perhaps this is a journey within.

There are two contemplative practices of fundamental importance in the Christian tradition: the practice of stillness…and the practice of watchfulness or awareness.
~Martin Laird

Parallel  messages of silence and awareness have come to me from three different sources over  the past three days. Even I am not dull enough to miss the significance of that. Thus, I am embracing this theme for my Nativity journey this year. A cultivation of stillness, and a practice of watchfulness.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. ~Matthew 5:8

Here are a few resources I will use to help me remember. To be still. To watch.

Into the Silent Land: A guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird

The Inner Kingdom by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season by Father Thomas Hopko

Watch For the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Daily Advent Readings from the Merton Institute

I will avail myself of the services of the Church. I will strive to keep the fast. I will, to the best of my ability, make room for silence. And in that silence, for the Light.

How are you preparing to receive the Christ? What will Advent look like for you?

Among Trees…

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle…

~Wendell Berry

“I built it for everybody. It’s God’s treehouse.” ~Horace Burgess

In 1993 Horace Burgess received a commission from God…of a rather unusual sort. He was to build a tree house. Eighteen years later, it is a project still in the making.

Peter Pan would find himself right at home in this architectural invocation of whimsy. Stairways meander. Decks crawl all around the sides, ducking in and out of the interior. There are cozy nooks and astonishing views; a second story basketball court and a church. And if you are brave enough to climb to the crow’s nest, you can ring the bells. There has never been a blueprint. The design has simply evolved. A bit at a time. Oh yes, and he has constructed the whole of it from recycled materials.

At a height of 97 feet, it is a contender for the tallest tree house in the world. They are in negotiations with the folks at Guinness even now. Burgess has elected to not go higher, because at 100 feet he would have to install a flashing light to warn planes. 🙂

My extended family (grandparents, cousins, etc…) paid a visit on Saturday. It would be hard to say who had more fun, the children or the adults.

The tree house is located near the Genesis Road Exit off Interstate 40 in Crossville, Tennessee, 245 Beehive Lane, Crossville, TN 38555. Hours are approximately 8am-6pm. The attraction is free, though you are welcome to donate to the ongoing construction expenses. If you would like more of the particulars, read this from USA Today. Also, see a couple of gorgeous photos HERE. If you go, wear good shoes as the surfaces are somewhat…well…did I mention whimsical? Also, keep a firm grip on very little ones.

Caretaker's Cottage

Podium inside church

The Way

It is the last place he ever expected to find himself. He comes to St. Jean Pied de Port to claim the dead body of his only son. A son he hardly knew. Who refused to fit his mold. Who left his doctoral program in anthropology to travel the world and live among the people who were just faces in a book.

How many times had Daniel begged him to join him? To be part of his world?

It had seemed so reckless. So irresponsible.

He sifts through Daniel’s belongings. Bits and pieces of a life. Photographs from far flung places. Of a young man fully alive. A young man worth knowing.

Tom decides he will accompany Daniel on his final journey.  The one he had only just begun. A pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He will carry Daniel’s ashes, leaving them all along the way.

“I’m doing it for Daniel,” he says to the gendarme.

“You do not walk the Camino for another,” he replies. “You walk it for yourself.”

It will ask more of him than he can imagine. He will come to know his son. He will come to know himself. He will not be alone in this. There will be a motley assemblage of comrades. Who find one another. Who need one another. More than any of them realize.

Yorick “from Amsterdam” is here to lose weight for a wedding. This, despite the fact that he seems to know the culinary specialty of every region through which they pass, and insists upon sampling it. But there is another hunger in Yorick. A sorrow. One that can only be shared with those who have walked long and lived deep with one another.

Deborah is bitter, belligerent, and guarded. She walks the Way to stop smoking. She says. But she too is fleeing dark demons. She has forgotten how to trust, to be safe with others…how to forgive…how to forgive herself.

Irish writer, James, is brash and loud. He has some serious problems with the Church, who has been the cause of much bloodshed in his homeland. He has writer’s block. He is here to find a story. The story will find him.

The Way is an artfully made film from Emilio Estevez. The story is compelling and rich, with characters who get inside your heart. The cinematography is stunning. And the invitation…to slow down, to breathe deep, to open ourselves to God and to others…is for all of us.

I implore you to see the film. It will be gift to you. You will laugh. You will cry. You might dare to dream big dreams. And with your ticket, you will cast a vote for the beautiful and the true.

Buen Camino!

To the Field of Stars

…if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth’s lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you. If, on the other hand, the very thought of seeing stars dance piques your curiosity at some deep level of your soul, then pay attention to what follows….

Thin places, they have been called. Geographic points on the earth where the space between God and man lessens, and the Presence is a breathable, touchable reality. Often these bear some connection to a holy person or persons who lived there once, or whose bones lie there still.

And so, the pilgrimage. One walks across one’s threshold and keeps walking…for weeks, even months…until he comes to the sacred place. Here he prays. But not here only. For every step along the way becomes prayer. And the journey is a shaping of the soul. A readying for the Presence. And perhaps, if there were no journey, the Presence would be indiscernible. It is the journey, the trouble and pain, the giving of oneself to others along the way, that prepares the soul to pray. To receive. Without demand. With only gladness. And humility. And joy.

In July 2003, Father Kevin Codd begins his own pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He tells the story of this journey artfully and vulnerably in To the Field of Stars. I am captivated from the first page. And I sob my way through the last couple of chapters, feeling almost as though I, myself, am entering Compostela with these dear friends who have loved well and shared so much of themselves along the way.

I leave you to discover the story of Compostela, the third most traversed pilgrimage in all Christendom (after only Jerusalem and Rome). Herein I propose, instead, to give you a taste of this marvelous story and why you want to read it. My choices are strictly subjective.

Of the commencement of a pilgrimage: The author confesses the motivation only reveals itself clearly along the way. However, most begin as a longing for something other. Something transcendent and bigger. Something that matters.

We want to see there one little sign that there is more to us than just us…We want to see there an extravagant God who does not count or measure but just pours and pours and pours, grace upon grace, stars upon stars, into our sky, into us.

Of walking as prayer and the earth as sanctuary: Father Codd begins the day with morning prayers. The rhythm of the prayer becomes the rhythm of his feet and he finds that walking becomes prayer. And the slowness, the earthiness of feet against soil makes him a citizen of earth, keenly aware of its mysteries. And God is there.

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present…

The heat of the morning makes the pitch in those pine trees give off a strong scent; this is the stuff of which incense is made. I inhale its aroma and remember as I did the day before that out here, too, I am in church.

Of his journey with the Church: Not the least of Father Codd’s wrestlings along the way have to do with the Church. He answers the questions of intelligent young people who feel the Church has lost touch with them. He winces at liturgies perfunctorily performed in some of the tiny towns through which they pass. He also sits in the sweet coolness of a Romanesque chapel and contemplates the Savior. He meets hospitality poured out in Jesus’ name. He watches an old priest drop his briefcase to dance with young people around the zero kilometer marker in Compostela. He sees the Bride of Christ as she is…

…grace made flesh, but flesh it still is: soft and hard, young and old, new and worn, all at the same time. It is so close to God, yet so far from God, yet so close to God.

To the Field of Stars is a pilgrim story, told honestly, with humble grace and great good humor, and a fair measure of poetry. It is laughter. And silence. It is community. And solitude. It is invocation. Contemplation. And invitation….to a life that is…more.

Shine

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson

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