She married my daughter on Saturday. Though we have long considered her part of the family, I’ve struggled to tell others how important she is to me. I’ve been without a simple label that communicates who she is to me.
Calling her “my daughter’s partner” or “my daughter’s girlfriend” only explained who she was to my daughter. The awkwardness of “my daughter’s significant other” did little to uncloak my love for her.
Add my fear of the bigotry of anti-LGBT sentiments to the failure of our language too often caused me to stutter. I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes avoided expressing my love for her because of fear of bigoted Christians.
I love that young woman. During a short period of time years ago when she and my daughter were apart, I went into a mild depression. Yes, she’s that wonderful! She’s also that perfect for my baby girl!
For twelve years, I’ve been marginally successful at expressing my love for her to others. And then this year, the law finally caught up with love, allowing two soulmates who met in college to marry.
I am thrilled to call her my daughter-in-law!
Now when I tell someone about my daughter-in-law, they immediately know that the relationship is deeper and more important to me than a random friend of my daughter. Not only did the Supreme Court finally validate the legitimacy of love between my daughter and her beloved, they validated my love for her. My daughter-in-law is connected not just to my baby girl, but to me.
I struggled to keep my eyes on the freeway as I drove westbound. Across the Columbia River on the Washington side, I could see flames rapidly advance across the drought-parched grasses. That was a mere ten-days ago.
Because of diligent firefighters, the fast moving fire was fully contained within a week but not before over 4000 acres burned including a large portion of the familiar trails of Columbia Hills State Park.
As I traveled those trails yesterday, the smell of burn filled my nostrils. The monochromatic ground contrasted with singed trees. Familiar locations looked alien to my eyes. Were it not for the memories of the shape of the earth, of the scalded yet surviving trees, I would not have known this place.
Is it any wonder that dualistic thinking imagines a Hell filled with fire and its destruction? The wrath appears final. The color removed, life can seem hopeless after a fire.
But hopelessness and permanence are not the nature of the earth.
The Heaven versus Hell crowd fail to observe the world as it is. Creation reflects the energy, the creator, the divine spirit I call God. Creation and Creator are not binary or unchanging.
Quite the contrary, the burnt landscape I traversed yesterday will undergo a resurrection in the spring. If the Rowena Fire from last year is any indication, the resurrection will begin before the end of the year. (See The Lichen and Leaves of Hope.)
The nature of the One who connects all that is with all that is, the nature of the divinity within and between us all is not binary or dualistic at all. The nature of God is not about harsh judgement, angry retribution, Heaven and Hell, and certainly not about eternal damnation.
The nature of God and creation is about a path that begins at birth and continues through death to resurrection. This is the lesson of the Christian narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus — the biblical witness. Love overcomes even death. Love does not condemn creation or humanity to fiery Hell. It can’t; if it did it wouldn’t be love but hate.
Between here and there, I chewed gum and sipped my iced tea. Between there and here, I listened to an audiobook before streaming music on my smartphone.
Nearly here, I exited the freeway.
The hybrid engine shifted to electric as I slowed. Adjusting the volume of my music, I read the cardboard sign as I came to a stop. I looked at the man holding the sign. His beard was more brown and black than my red but it featured the same expanding grey.
I reached over to the passenger seat for my wallet. Having broken my twenty as I came across the toll bridge, a ten, four singles, and a five occupied my wallet. I clasped the five and handed it to the man saying, “Bless you.”
That was when I saw a human being.
“Thank you, God bless you,” he responded with appropriate courtesy. Then he looked at the bill and exclaimed with excitement, “Wow! Thank you! God bless you!”
Given the joy in his voice, I wondered for a moment if I’d handed him a fifty but I never carry that much cash.
Between here and there, I was reminded of the sin of economic injustice wrought by the myths of rugged individualism and making capitalism an idol. On the corner of there and here, Jesus sported a scruffy beard and held up a cardboard sign.
Above the clouds, beneath the blue atmosphere I had an urge to strip bare. This despite a sixty-two degree moisture-filled breeze and deeply ingrained social taboos. I’ve had the impulse before while hiking.
No. I am not an exhibitionist; I’m a very modest person.
Neither do I succumb to the urges. Usually I open my shirt allowing the wind to dry my sweat-soaked skin. On a particularly hot day I’ve been known to remove my shirt for a time before I put it back on for fear I’ll burn.
But that’s different.
When the urge to strip bare comes over me it is not about hot weather. It is about a feeling of unrestrained awe in the presence of the divine. It’s about a desire to strip away anything that separates me from the sacred. Within the caverns of my soul, I yearn to reveal my whole self!
And why wouldn’t I?
I am created in the image of God! Why would I hide anything from the boundless love? When the very breath of God blew across the peak of Wind Mountain this morning I slipped off my shirt. Though the thermometer read 62, the sacred breath warmed my sweat soaked skin and weary spirit.
I could have walked the hard stone trails of pale yellow and brown with my eyes closed. I know her sacred land of brittle grasses and lingering flowers like no other. “Why have I been away so long?” I wondered as a parked at the Coyote Wall trailhead.
The brief respite from the drought disappeared behind September-blue skies and friendly clouds. I slipped out of my raincoat shoving it into my pack. A t-shirt would be plenty.
My old friend beckoned my weary and wounded heart between precipice and boulder. Step by step my heart walked trails well-worn by feet and baked by a summer of merciless sun and no rain. As in past journeys up the exposed fields, the coyote spirit led my mind through my to-comes, my are-nows, and my once-weres.
An old friend, I thought we’d gather beside her fallen Zen rocks and laugh about old times. Remembering my foibles of immaturity when we first met, she held my hand near her wall. But no matter how familiar, coyote spirit always teaches the lesson I need when I visit.
Turning east before reaching her Zen chapel, I trudged toward a cluster of trees. As I did, the damp wind blew behind me. First a smell and then drops caused me to open my pack and slip on the raincoat I thought I wouldn’t need. Mentally rehearsing my route back to the car, my old friend had another plan as she lay another trail before me.
I didn’t question her. I’ve long since learned that coyote spirit never reveals her mystery until she’s ready. And, so, I moved across switchbacks that my muscles had never traversed or maybe my mind had just forgotten.
I met an angry dog in the mist. Wondering whether I’d be huffing back to my car with bloody hand or leg, I spoke to the territorial canine. He wagged and turned around as if to say, “Oh, you’re coyote’s friend. You belong.”
Confused about my location, I wondered again whether I’d bitten off more miles than I wanted. Step by step I hiked into the coyote’s wet breath until a junction lay before me.
I’d been here many times before but it took awhile for me to recognize the blazing bush before me. Without conscious thought I knew which direction was mine. Contentment befell me as I existed within the life force of this holy place.
Remembering other trips through the wilderness — some in which I was baptized in rain and others immersed in sweat — I trekked and paused to peer at coyote’s wall.
She always delivers, though on her own schedule. Wandering mind and focused heart, I would walk or stumble until my old friend gave me the glimpse for which I’d come.
The blue replaced the grey and a ray touched the still-thirsty earth unveiling a delicate pink flower. I knelt before its beauty worshiping in the are-now, thankful for the once-weres, and hopeful for the to-come.
Back at the trailhead I placed my pack on the front seat beside me. “Until next time,” I said as waved goodbye to my ever-present friend.
Stripping off the heat of the day,
I lower my body to the mat upon the floor.
Cooling night breeze brushes against skin,
body hair tingles with each gust of dark air.
But the jaw refuses,
holding tight to the day’s tension.
Not yet cool but no longer hot,
I partially drape my body with the sheet,
and banish canine to the foot.
But the jaw denies release,
holding word and worry tight.
Systematically moving from toes and heel to ankle and calf,
my mind pauses in awareness of each muscle.
Deep within, my ever-present right hip threatens,
to push ahead in line as each part of my physicality,
has its turn at notice by my meditative mind.
Reaching my belly, my mind circles in compassion around,
tingling epidermis and twinges of nerves beneath,
that remember the knife that opened my belly not so long ago.
My body remembers even when my mind represses.
Jaw, belly, and hip conspire,
to deny the cooling breeze its healing powers.
Until my lungs let out their quivering sigh and my mind lets go of body, consciousness, and finally the day.
“Some people don’t need to rest but I do,” she said. In the rhythm of the conversation, it wasn’t the time to contradict her assumption that some do not need rest. I just nodded, “Yeah, me too.”
The great American myth is that we can accomplish more if we muscle through without rest. The great American sin is failing to take care of ourselves and, in the process, failing to trust God that the world will keep spinning without us. It is an arrogance. It is an idolatry to worship work at the expense of rest and self-care.
Besides our arrogance and failure to trust the divine spirit that flows through creation, when we neglect self-care and regular sabbath we abuse ourselves.
Threaded through the biblical witness from Genesis (e.g.; Gen. 2:3) to Jesus (e.g.; Mark 2:27) is an emphasis on the importance of self-care and rest. Living into the image of God in which all of us are created, we need regular sabbath. Despite the church’s traditional (self-serving?) teaching that sabbath is primarily about going to church, the reality is that most references to sabbath in the Bible are about abstention from work, rest, and self-care.
Created in the image of the divine, maltreating ourselves through overwork is abusing God.
When we forsake physical and emotional rest, we are more likely to mistreat others and break the Golden Rule (Matthew 22:34-40). When we fail to care for ourselves we are less kind, less patient, and, in my case, quicker to become angry and short over minuscule slights. Harming the God in me, harms the God in you.
Without regular sabbath, we cease to be the people we were created to be.