My wife had an outpatient procedure. The first time I accompanied her to one of these procedures, I was left in the curtained prep and recovery area when she went into the surgical unit. And I stayed. And I fretted. Alone, beneath fluorescent bulbs I cried. I worried. I played out the worst in my head. I barely resisted dumping my panicky feelings on my daughter via text.
This time, I wandered downstairs, bought an apple, and found the hospital’s Healing Garden. The warm summer sun warmed my spirit as I wandered the Healing Garden and chomped on my apple. As I admired the floral symphony, I wasn’t alone this time. The Holy Spirit touched my worries, acknowledged them but reminded me of the love that flowed through doctor’s fingers, nurse’s skills, and anesthesiologist’s watchfulness.
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.
Awhile back, I was inspired by the abundant life still present in the parched late summer at the Tom McCall Preserve near Rowena, Oregon. The dry conditions were not unusual that year. I confess the sound of the hot wind blowing through the dry grass and crinkling leaves brings me peace when I hike there in the summer months.
Instead of the Columbia River Gorge’s hot breath, I experienced its bitter winds on my early February hike. There was no crunching to be heard, only the sloshing sound of my (thankfully!) waterproof hiking boots on the muddy and floody trail. There was subtle beauty in the winter moisture just as there was in late summer.
Last fall, much of this area was under a drought emergency. Mt. Hood was rapidly losing its snowcap. Areas I hiked in July had the same lack of snow that is typical of late September. This winter we’ve been blessed by moisture falling as rain at the lower elevations and snow in the mountains.
Certainly we need to be concerned about climate change; we should be taking more drastic actions than we have been taking. Nonetheless, spiritually we need to remember that the very nature of existence is change. What is now, will not last forever. Droughts become an abundant winter of snow and rain.
Writes Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, “Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.” I confess that I’ve recently been in a funk. I’ve been struggling with the wilderness, the “no-man’s-land” as Chödrön refers to it, on and off for some time.
The result of course is I’ve been out of harmony with reality. By allowing myself to resist and struggle against the impermenance, failing to be in the present, I allow myself to be out of sync with the joy, the contentment — the divinity — within myself and others. So, I confess my sin and pledge to continue the wandering, the learning to be.
Below are photos of the moisture from my recent trek through McCall Preserve. The image that looks like a small stream? That’s the trail.
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.
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.
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.
Though productive and gratifying my spirit and body were ready for a sabbath hike at the end of the day. With thoughts of wafting sage and a murmuring river, I began filling water bottles and checking my pack.
Making a “just in case” stop before heading the twenty-five miles to our localstate park, I watched as the energy of out-of-towners turned our small town gas station abuzz. Some smiled; many looked pained and stressed.
The station manager smiled at me and I her. It was a holiday weekend at the only gas stop for fifty miles. Our small talk while she pumped multiple cars revealed that though it was still before four, she’d been chewed out several times by stressed holiday-goers.
Once filled, I headed down to the park. As I passed wheatfields, the old abandoned homestead, a parishioner’s ranch, and the wind farms I noted actual traffic on our two-lane highway. I waved at the sheriff as I slowed to pass him writing a ticket.
The thought emerged as I made the twenty-five minute drive but impressed itself upon my brain as I walked the quiet trails in the canyon. My holidays are significantly different than those of others. We’ve long since given up stress-cations and are healthier for it.
Walking quietly along the trail, I listened to the gurgling river, the singing birds, and humming insects. The stress of my day flowed out of me with each footfall. Respite is not tied to a place; it is in the journey. My sabbath began as I filled my water bottles and stopped for gas. My healing was jump started by smiles and small talk at the gas station.
The friendly wave from the sheriff and the nod from the woman leaving the trailhead are not a means to an end. They are the sabbath itself.
I hope that the hurrying masses find the peace they need when finally arriving where they’re going on this holiday weekend but I wonder. I wonder if they might have more joy if they slowed down and breathed in the journey rather than fighting it.