Coyote Spirit

Coyote Spirit
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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.

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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.

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Until

Until
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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.

Until my lungs let out their quivering sigh and my mind lets go of body, consciousness, and finally the day.

The Risk of Hard Work

The Risk of Hard Work
Beside Still Waters (variant). Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Beside Still Waters (variant). Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

“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.

 

I Find a Rock.

I Find a Rock.
A Rock. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
A Rock. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Sometimes, the pre-ordained destination is the only thing that will give me peace. I must reach the end of the trail, the waterfall, the lake, or the top of the mountain to feel a sense of completion.

But not always.

As I begin to wear out, as my motivation and ever-loving oomph dissipates I find a rock. It might be halfway. It might be three-quarters of the way or even nine-tenths of the trek to the anticipated destination.

But when I find my rock, I sit.

“I’ll sit for just a moment,” I tell myself, “and then I’ll get up and go the final distance.” My muscles relax and my breathing slows as I sit, snack on a trail bar, and immerse my spirit in this place.

I breathe in the scents. I drink the tall trees or scrub brush. I reach deep into the earth as my body connects through stump or rock.

And God shows up.

The cooling breeze carries with it words. I become dizzy as the words swirl around my head.  Tears or sobs, a smirk of contentment, or a huge grin emerge as the words demand to be written down. Pulling out my ragged journal, I write as fast as I possibly can.

That.

That is the moment I realize that this rock is my destination for today.  This is the moment and the place for which my soul aches.

When all the words have run dry, I load up my pack and return to the trailhead, content and satisfied.

 

Such a Tease

Such a Tease
Tease. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Tease. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

The butterfly is such a tease.
She flits. She sits.
I focus my lens, she’s gone.

The butterfly is a such a friend.
She’s here. She’s there.
I need her, she doubles back.

The butterfly is such a dancer.
She box steps. She moon walks.
I’m unimpressed, so she pirouettes.

The butterfly is such a joy.
She sparks smiles.  She enhances meadows.
She brings hope through her short-lifed presence.

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I Come Alive

I Come Alive
In the Aviary Domain.  Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License  BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
In the Aviary Domain. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License
BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I come alive where,
the desert meets the river.

I come alive where,
the scent of healing lines the trail. 

I come alive in,
the aviary domain,
and the land of kindred,
crossing my path.

I come alive beside,
the still waters. 

I come alive when,
I hike with God. 

Where the Scent of Healing Lines the Trail. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License  BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Where the Scent of Healing Lines the Trail. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

___

I wrote this poem and created this video as a member of the planning committee for the Central Pacific Conference, United Church of Christ Annual Meeting 2015.

Related 

Video: I Come Alive, https://youtu.be/pbpNeJuswsI

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Grandmothers’ Arms Are Aching

Grandmothers’ Arms Are Aching

When unaccompanied children were arriving at the southern border of the United States, grandmothers’ arms ached to hold and comfort. In my eastern Oregon town we talked about, “What can we do to help?”

When Mike Brown lay dead on a hot summer street for hours,  we didn’t talk. It was a foreign land; it was news from the big city back east. Grandmothers’ hearts were protected by ignoring and avoiding.

When burnt convenience stores awakened white grandmothers’ arms, I told my story of growing up near Ferguson. I told my story of my family still nearby. Grandmothers asked, “Is your dad okay?”

Assured my white father was safe, it no longer mattered that Mike Brown had lay dead on a hot city street for hours or that black mothers and fathers sobbed. White grandmothers’ arms crossed in defensiveness and talked about, “What did he do to deserve this?” and “Why are they burning buildings?” while  black grandmothers’ arms ached to hold grandbabies.

And so I told my stories of race, identifying my own sins, and our collective white sin of racism. I was dismissed, “You only told one side of the story.” We talked about anything but race.

When Freddie Gray died in police custody, white grandmothers’ arms ached again. We talked about, “something is not right” until we were reminded by power and defensiveness that Mike, Tamir, Trayvon, Eric, Tanisha and so many more before and since were not worthy of due process.

We listened to the voices of power, fear, and sin justify shooting children of God because of skin melanin. We listened to white supremacy, fragility, and privilege as it determined the status quo, the truth, and our white history of subjugation must be hidden at the cost of black body after black body.

It is our turn to confess our sins. It is our turn to learn our history. It is our turn to bear the pain of  the truth of what white supremacy, ignorance, and fragility has wrought.

If our arms aren’t aching we aren’t paying attention.

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___

Other Suggested Reading
These represent a few of the many articles that I’ve found helpful as I’ve begun accepting my own white culpability and responsibility in responding to our nation’s race problem. 

I, Racist
Huffington Post

Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race,
Good Men Project
This article includes a reading list to help whites self-educate.

Dear White Preachers, Take Off Your Prophet’s Mantle
Rachel G. Hackenberg

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Race,
Good Men Project
This article talks about white reluctance to deal with issues of race.

One Way or Another,
Being, Wandering

Quick to Listen,
Being, Wandering

The Dogma of Mountains and People,
Being, Wandering

Condon & Ferguson: A Response
Condon United Church of Christ 

 

 

Being Up, Getting Up

Being Up, Getting Up
Olympus. Photo by Tim Graves. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Divine Pinnacle. Photo by Tim Graves. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I dance at the party of wildflowers in higher altitude grassy meadows. Perched on craggy ledges, my eyes drink in the meandering blue waters from above. Before the divine pinnacle, I bow my head and receive a blessing at the snow-streaked top of the world.

Trail to the Clouds. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I choose trails that torture muscles while amplifying my heart rate. Often I question my choices during the first third (or more) of the journey. I whine and plead with myself, “What were you thinking? Can we pleeeease turn around?”

But I don’t turn around. I like being up. I like going up, though you’d never believe it if you could feel my feels on that first part of the journey. Despite my self-complaining, I like going up.

With each step and stumble the angst, hurts, and the grief of living are revealed and faced preparing me for the mountaintop.

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