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/

Being in the Dark, Damp Passages

Being in the Dark, Damp Passages
Photo by Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Photo by Tim Graves. (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The metaphor of journey and wilderness appeals to my hiker’s soul because there is often much beauty along the path. Like the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert, my trek is filled with self discovery and divine relationship.

As I hike the nature trails of the Pacific Northwest, both the things that move and the plant life touch my soul. That’s why this metal tube with its dearth of the natural slowed me down for awhile.

Placing my arm in the pipe, the cold, damp darkness enveloped me. Creeping past my elbow to my shoulder the unnatural cylinder threatened to overtake my core. I would soon continue my hike in the sunlight of a summer morning but…

But something about this chilly metal tube captured me for awhile.

Resting on my knees and elbows, I peered into the tube, my nose and face inside the dank and unnatural place. Ahead through the water drain the warm sunlight beckoned and I dawdled.

Despite the beckoning warmth of the golden sun, I was not quite ready to leave the divinity of this natural unnatural place.

Holder of the Sacred Energy: We build in our minds a culture of idyllic journeys lined with blossoms, singing birds, and twittering ground mammals and are surprised by reality. When we find ourselves in dark flues with only beckoning light to encourage us, evoke in us the holiness of being present in that space…with you.

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In the Lenten Wilderness

The nagging, oh, the nags that I experience. My internal nag — I call him Nagging Nate — has been lurking in my

psyche for some time now. He won’t shut up.

“You’re getting behind!”

“You need a creative outlet!”

“You’ll lose followers on your blog!”

Nagging Nate didn’t accept my feeble attempts at excuses. Neither my serious sickness or my son’s wedding in January would shut him up. He didn’t accept my February excuses either: a call to a new church and moving. Nope, Nagging Nate is not one to shut up.

And, so, I appealed to a higher authority. I appealed my case to God. Perhaps a bit presumptuous for such a small matter but as the Apostle Paul writes, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.” (Philippians 4:6 CEB Read in context.)

In prayer and meditation, I was reminded that not only have my creative energies been focused on life transitions, my illness did slow me down. In the metaphor of creation, God did not create everything in a day. Neither am I  expected to create blogs, sermons, newsletter articles, and a home simultaneously.

In the Lenten Wilderness. Photo by Tim Graves
In the Lenten Wilderness. Photo by Tim Graves

I’m also not expected to forego rest. Not only did God rest from God’s work at creation but Sabbath time is considered essential to human and divine well-being throughout the biblical narratives. Sabbath is about trusting God’s abundance. Sabbath is about maintaining a relationship with the One. It is also about self-care and kindness to self.

And so in this Lenten season as we strive to add practices that help us to grow spiritually, I am adding rebuking Nagging Nate to my repertoire with the full realization that he will be back.

After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

Luke 4:13 CEB Read in context.

Like Ducks Fighting Over Stale Bread

The former Egyptian slaves wandered in the desert. “Anything would be better,” they thought. Now with their destination far in the future, with their bellies empty, they began to whine. They said to Moses and Aaron,

‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’ Exodus 16: 3 NRSV (Read in context.)

The women and men of the Board gathered in the church basement. The coffee was flowing

Photo by Ducklover Bonnie

and someone even brought donuts.  It was gonna be a long one. This was the annual meeting to discuss the budget. Several whined to anyone who would listen,

“Since the economy tanked our investments have been flat at best. What are we gonna do? Several of our big givers have died or moved away. It’s like God has abandoned our church. I guess we’re just going to have to cut our contribution to the homeless shelter.”

The joyous nature he woke with was gone. Taking his hands off the keyboard, he leaned back in his chair. A frown grew on his face. He whined to is wife,

“Well, if you call Sallie Mae and tell them we’ll be a few weeks late on your student loan, if we just accept we have to pay a late fee on the water bill, and if we give less to charity this month, we should make it to another pay day. As he opened the fridge and pulled out a snack, he said, “We have no safety net anymore now that we’ve emptied my pension and sold the second car. Why can’t we ever get ahead?”

***

What if? What if we’re not meant to get ahead? What if we’re only expected to gather enough for today?

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. Exodus 16: 4a NRSV (Read in context.)

“Go out and gather enough for that day” not enough for tomorrow, for next week, for retirement, or for the feared rainy day. A core message of the manna section of Exodus is that of trust, of taking just enough. The ancient author implies that trusting God, trusting the earth, and perhaps even trusting our journeys through the wilderness requires taking just enough.

Perhaps the problem with the economy and even the church is that we’ve forgotten this basic message. When we take more than enough for today, we’re like ducks fighting over the stale bread thrown to us in the park. Churches hold investments “just in case” while local charities struggle to have enough resources to feed the poor. Individuals plan for a future we can’t predict. We drive fancier cars or live in bigger homes than we need.

Communal One of Relationships, Heal our wounds that we might trust that enough for today is enough. Remind us that we are created in your image as social, interrelated people who need one another. Knowing that what we do impacts everyone, grace us with the wisdom and love to take just enough for today and share the rest. Amen.

When You Hike with God

Sometimes hiking with God can be confusing. You don’t even realize God is with you at first. You may have a crowd of thoughts and worries pushing against you threatening to knock you off the path. But God? It seems like everyone but God is on that trail.

One step. One step more.

As you trudge along on your hike with God, the crowd trudges with you. Then, you notice an elaborate web spun across an old tree stump.

An elaborate web spun across the rough top of a tree stump. Photo by Tim Graves.

You pause, fascinated by the intricate work until that nag in your head pushes you, “C’mon, no time to look at bugs!” You continue on your way. The crowd that piled out of the car with you at the trailhead is still with you. But God? God’s nowhere to be found.

The carping crew breeds doubts. “Maybe I should turn around,” you tell yourself. But you don’t.

One step. One step more.

As you continue hiking with God, you wonder why it’s so hard. The ensemble in tow begins to whine as the trail gets steeper and steeper. Pausing for a sip of water, you realize your heart is working hard to keep you moving upward on the winding trail. You notice your breathing and check your heart rate as the trail gets more difficult.

A steep switchback along the Dog River Trail in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Photo by Tim Graves

As you hike with God, you start calculating how far you’ve gone. You wonder how long it would take to get back to civilization should your phone ring. “Go ahead! Look at it! You know you want to,” cajoles the crowd. Reaching into your pocket you pull your phone out, glance at the time. As you’re about to open your email, you hear a rustle at the side of the trail.

That’s when you notice the funky flower. It is a flower isn’t it? The mob sneers and taps their fingers on their wrists. You don’t care. They can wait. It’s amazing. On your knees, you get closer to see it.

Photo by Tim Graves

A smile on your face, you finally get off the ground. As you’re wondering what other flowers bloom on this trail, you notice the impatient crowd seems to have thinned. Maybe they went on ahead without you? Went back to the car?

One step. One step more.

Hiking with God, you find yourself getting deeper and deeper into the woods. The nattering naysayers that began the journey with you, though noticeably fewer, remind you of stories of an experienced hiker who fell off a cliff. They remind you of coyote sightings and of your dry mouth.

That’s when you notice the moss getting heavier on the rocks. Pausing, you pull out your water, take a sip, smell, and listen. The air smells more humid and, yes, that’s the sound of rushing water in nearby.

A moss-covered boulder in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Photo by Tim Graves

One step. One step more.

When you hike with God, your band of worldliness eventually gives up on you. One by one they leave you and that’s when you find holy ground. Sitting, you pause when you come upon the sacred cleansing waters. Later, when you reflect on your time here,  you realize that those waters are preparing you for what is yet to be.

The cleansing waters of a sacred land. Photo by Tim Graves

Rested, you continue your hike with God. Your eyes begin to see amazing things. A miniature waterfall dribbling onto the trail, purple flowers that reach upward where the canopy breaks, and gnarled post-growth trees that provide a home for so many small creatures.

One step, one more gentle step.

You’re walking gingerly now. You’re on sacred ground. You’re reaching the top of the canopy now. The vestiges of the battalion that began the journey slowly begin to fall away. Anxious for the pinnacle, you take a side trail looking for that which you seek. “Watch out for poison vines,” offers the last of the nega-teers.

When you’re hiking with God, negativity is but information. You look at the sacred ground upon which you take each gentle step.

One gentle step, one anticipatory step more.

That’s when you see a single flower. Dressed in royalty, the flower — like you — yearns for the One.

A lone flower reaches for the sacred sunshine. Photo by Tim Graves

The only one of its kind, the flower beckons you to look in the direction in which it points.

You jump in joy!

You dance like David before the Lord! (2 Samuel 6: 14) You cry out, “Ooh! Ooh! I was looking the wrong way!” You play your tambourine and dance back to the main trail — your path — just as Miriam danced (Exodus 15: 20).

One joyful dance step and another. And another.

When you hike with God, you dance until you come to a clearing where the sunshine warms your skin. Your dancing slows. You settle beneath a tree. This tree is for you. Beneath the sacred evergreen you rest from the journey and gaze at a mountain.

Mt. Hood from the Dog River Trail. Photo by Tim Graves

When you hike with God, you rest under your tree. You sleep. You wake. You sob. You laugh. You find peace. You pray and meditate. When you hike with God, you return to the trailhead and daily living, wanting to love as extravagantly as the One.

One step. One loving step more.

Wings

You have seen . . . how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 

Exodus 19:4 NRSV (Read in context.)


An eagle as seen from Coyote Wall in across the 
river from Mosier, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves.

Their broad, protective wings surround me in the the sky above the tiny Oregon town in which I live. I’ve seen them – as many as seven in number – surveying the town when I return home in the early evening. In the early morning I’ve seen them circle in a spiral to the surface of the river to catch a fish. When the winds for which the Columbia River Gorge is famous, bring out human windsurfers and kiteboarders, these magnificent birds can be seen rising thousands of feet above colorful kites and sails to catch the wind currents. Watching, they seem to float in mid-air in even the most powerful gale. 


When I walk along the Columbia, I eye the shore where they sometimes perch just beyond human reach. When I journey to hike the Coyote Wall and Labyrinth trails across the river in Washington state, they follow me reassuring me that I am not alone nor far from home. 


And, today, a feather lay across my path reminding me that the One is blessing my journey.



Fears & Anxiety

The Bible is so rich. I love the Israelites revisionist memory of what they wanted from Moses. When they get scared in the desert, seeing Pharoah’s army approaching upon them, they cry out to the Lord. “They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’” Exodus 14: 11-12 NRSV

I’m this way today because I can’t see all the details of our impending move to Oregon in place right now. I’m heading down Anxiety Lane toward the freeway to Fear City. The rich stories in the Bible remind me that our forekindred also struggled with anxiety and fears. Just as for them, God will provide direction when it is needed. I need only continue on the path God has already laid before me.

God,

Help me to quell my anxieties and fears.
Touch me with your spirit,
that I might trust you.
For you are a trustworthy God,
who has never failed me.
Open my heart and ears that I might,
perceive your lure today and tomorrow,
trusting that the path you have set me on is the path for me.

Amen

Practicing for Late Nights?

Dispatch from Lexington Theological Seminary
4:15 a.m. August 27, 2008

Well, I woke from one of those stress dreams that are filled with anxiety and emotions. The good thing about these dreams are that they assist me in identifying where I am emotionally.

In this stress dream, I was struggling to stay awake in a class and, of course I was being called upon to speak. In the dream I was suddenly realizing that this class had been going on for weeks and I had missed all the previous sessions because I had somehow missed the announcement of when class began. “Speak! Speak!” the professor said. I literally spoke, talking in my sleep, and woke myself.

So, what does this dream tell me about myself and how I am feeling emotionally? We don’t need Freudian dream therapists to answer this one. It has been twenty-years since I have been on the receiving side of the teacher’s desk. It has been twenty-years since I have been responsible for taking notes, taking tests, and taking in massive quantities of textbooks on a timetable.

So, yeah, I’m a little unnerved. My younger friends may not fully appreciate that what frightens me the most is the nagging fear that Father Times’ dirty trick of slower data retrieval (and I don’t mean on my laptop) than when I was in my twenties and thirties may embarrass me. I sometimes feel like I am living in a temporal bubble that is about fifty-five minutes delayed from the timeline that is dominant on this planet. For you non-science fiction types, that means I get the epiphany fifty-five minutes later than the people around me.

Now before y’all rush to make me feel better, please don’t. I need empathy not solutions. I need to name this fear, this anxiety, and read my constant companion, Luke 12: 22-34:

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? Luke 12: 25 NRSV

Curiously, this passage was part of my daily lectionary reading yesterday as was Exodus 12: 28-51. In Exodus, this verse flashed neon for me yesterday:

All of the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron. Exodus 12: 50 NRSV

So, here I am as my God has commanded. Here I am settling into my four-day a week home for the next three years, settling into my new challenge, awaiting orientation tomorrow and my first class on Tuesday. Our God has called me and I am here as irrational, as frightening, and as crazy as this seems to the secular culture. And I know that the God who has provided me with that which I need throughout the first forty-nine years will continue to do so.

I may, however, add a little ginseng to my ginkgo biloba dose. That is the one that goes with ginkgo for memory, isn’t it? I don’t remember.