I tend to favor less developed parks. Trails that are narrowier, more treacherous, and less groomed challenge my physiology and spirit. Rocks or moss (sometimes both) are my preferred benches. The Oregon Parks Department, however, has a knack for placing benches within oil paintings.
Sometimes, I find myself along a well-groomed, safer trail. When I come across a bench in the divine art gallery, I sit upon that bench. As I admire the painting before me I soon realize the divine artist has also been busy to my left, my right, and behind me.
Tuning in to the chatter of squirrels, the rushing water, and the breath that tousles branches stretching to the sky, I notice my own brushstrokes. I am part of this divinely created masterpiece!
Like the splendor of the falls, the mud in my boots, and the early budding trees, my allure and beauty are created in the artist’s own image.
“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.
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.
Left foot, right foot. My legs move repetitively one after another. On the packed sand, I move at a good clip in the midst of the adaptable vegetation that thrives on the dunes.
Moving my whole body at an energetic pace en route to the ocean, I only pause to breathe in the noble vistas or tiny gems that border, and sometimes encroach upon, the trail.
The path does not remain an idyllic easy-to-traverse route. Much of the trail is loose sand as I journey over and through the dunes. Struggling as the ground shifts beneath my feet, my stride slows. I feel each step not in my calves but in my right hip (Genesis 32:25).
Left foot, right foot. I am determined to return to the sea from which Darwin posits all life emerged. With each footfall the stress of recent weeks moves through my muscles and exits my psyche. Yearning to commune with the One, my spirit moves my body toward the divine breath that sweeps over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).
As I near the sea, the blowing sands have covered my path. Signs placed to point the way perplex me. Confusion overcomes me. “Which way is the right way?” I lament. Without an obvious answer, without a simple answer or a definitive path to follow, a gut choice is all that remains. I stake out toward the sea of life through the final dune.
Left foot, right foot. My feet arrive on the beach as the wind blows away the morning fog. The sun warms my face as the breath of origin envelopes me.
It is hard to photograph the beauty of wild grasses as they dance at the behest of the winds. Like the green and golden wheat fields of my eastern Oregon home, the movement of the grasses sparkle in the sunlight. First left, than right, sometimes in a whirling flourish, but always the grasses move together in their choreography.
The ripples of the tassels move in concert; no one stalk takes center stage. While each blade of grass holds its own allure, it is the combined response of a field of individual grasses that gives me pause.
Together, the grasses respond to the breath of the earth. The result is magnificence no blade can achieve singly.
We are each of unique value to the whole, but we are an essential part of that whole as well.
Each of us hold an intrinsic beauty within us. Our inborn exquisiteness is an inherited mark of the divine. Created in the image of the one I call God, we are each connected through that divinity. Every human being and each blade of grass is of worth to the Divine.
Just as the grasses and wheat respond to the holy breeze, when we respond together to the luring breath of God the potential splendor is immeasurable. It is in our divine connectedness rather than in our individualism that our hope as a human family dwells.
Waking from a lucid dream, I lay in my hospital bed in those wee hours. I was convinced that they were out to get me. Even moving slightly in the bed caused excruciating pain. How would I protect myself from them?
Through the narcotic painkillers induced paranoia, I looked at my wife Maggie sleeping in the chair beside my bed. What about her? She might be a little naive and too-trusting of them but did I have a better option?
Our history and relationship of thirty-five years clawed its way to the surface: Maggie was my best hope. I’ve always been able to trust her. I remember that. I could not recall a time when she had ever – EVER – betrayed my trust.
I silently chanted to myself, “I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie.”
During the post-operative period following the removal of my right colon, the intensity of my dependency on my wife rivaled my need for water. In the hospital she served as interpreter, she served as personal chaplain, nurse, and guard dog. She did not leave my bedside for longer than twenty-minutes. Once home, she prepared the doctor-ordered “mush meals” and stood just outside the shower stall while I struggled to return to normal hygeine habits.
My vulnerability during my eight-week recovery period, especially early-on, was frightening and intimidating. The medical staff at the hospital were exemplary but they did not love me. The power of the trust and relationship I have with Maggie kept me emotionally stable during my time in hospital and recovery at home. When I would panic, she would bring me back. When I would sob, she would listen and hold me.
To be human is to be vulnerable and dependent upon others. I am an emotionally healthy and independent individual but I still need others. It is how humanity is made.
Emerging from these challenging months, I am thankful to have had a beloved who interrupted her own normal routines to be ever-present with me. Love is like that, though. Love takes bad things — a health crisis in our case — and encourages and nudges us to create good out of it. The more than thirty-five year love and bond between my wife and I has grown in surprising ways using the raw material of weakness, fears, and vulnerability.
Love, that Divine glue that connects us with one another and with each rock, atom, and animal, uses chaos as the raw material for good. Created in the image of the Divine One, we too can create and expand love out of the chaos. All we have to do is claw our way out of our paranoia and suspicion of others and learn to trust one another.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters…God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. (Genesis 1: 1-2, 31 CEB)
This is the third of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.
Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread—until you return to the fertile land, since from it you were taken; you are soil, to the soil you will return.” (Genesis 3:19 CEB)
On Ash Wednesday we recognize our human mortality. But sometimes we say ashes to ashes and dust to dust (or in this case soil to soil) to imply that we are dirt, that we are worthless. When we say that we came from dust and return to dust what we are really implying is that we are interconnected with the earth beneath our very feet.
We are part of the wholeness that God creates. To suggest that we are dust is to suggest that even the dust is worthy of the love of God. We are integrated into creation not separate from it.
Sin. We also focus on sin on Ash Wednesday but I think we misunderstand. We think of sin as something we’ve done wrong when sin is by definition not a mistake but a separateness from God. And so in this passage from John, Jesus offers us a way out of sin.
He is more than the image of the shepherd who cares for us and gives us personal salvation, though he is all that for Christians. Jesus is the signpost pointing us toward the One who loves ALL people, the One who loves each of you.
So Jesus spoke again, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep. (John 10:7 CEB)
Jesus is the gate. For his followers Jesus is the opening through the 12-foot concrete fence topped with barbed wire that we have constructed to separate ourselves from God. Jesus is the gate which swings wide so that we can find green grass and abundant, life-giving streams.
And, so, because Jesus points us toward God we do not have to sin. The promise of the shepherd means that we do not have to be distant from the One who loves.