Droughts, Abundant Rain, & Being

Droughts, Abundant Rain, & Being
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Dry Bones (September 2012). Photo by Tim Graves Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

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.

No, Virginia, God Doesn’t Condemn Anyone to Eternal Damnation

No, Virginia, God Doesn’t Condemn Anyone to Eternal Damnation
Fire Line. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Fire Line. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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.

Lush No More. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
Lush No More. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ This photo was taken in September of 2015 in the same valley as Lush Days (below).

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.

Lush Days. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ This photo was taken during July of 2014.
Lush Days. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
This photo was taken during July of 2014 in the same valley as Lush No More (above).

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.)

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

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.

Nature's Monochrome. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ A burnt area is devoid of all color in Columbia Hills State Park following the Horsethief Butte Fire in September 2015.
Nature’s Monochrome. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/
A burnt area is devoid of all color in Columbia Hills State Park following the Horsethief Butte Fire in September 2015.

A Solitary Raindrop

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

I wiped my face half expecting smushed bug but all I got was raindrop. Simultaneously relieved and confused my eyes turned skyward. White fluff dotted blue, sun-soaked skies.

Except.

Except for that one dark mass of sky lint. I’d have remained dry, apart from the sweat my own body produced, as I climbed McCall Point were it not for that annoying, solitary raindrop.

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

It was that kind of raindrop that strikes out on its own. It was risking enthusiasm and passion embodied within two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. It was prophecy of challenges to come, of storms that must be navigated. And it chose to land upon my face.

Though we often scold or ignore solitary raindrops, we need them. The solitary ones herald the costs of our journeys. They risk that we might grow and develop musculature. They risk that we might be whole.

I pray today that I heed the warnings, embrace the wisdom, and honor the risks the single tears take on our behalf. May I be worthy of the solitary one’s choice to land upon my cheek. Amen.

___

Click here to see additional photos.

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One Year Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today I was in surgery. One year ago today, my children and wife paced awaiting news. One year ago today, my life changed.

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

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I learned about vulnerability. I learned about weakness and allowing others to care for me. I learned that hospital scrambled eggs can be an orgasmic experience after  more than a week of liquid diets and IVs.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

I felt the love of my congregation, my community. I felt the love of my wife whose love manifest in our new mantra, “No more TMI.”

I cried out to God during those days! I sobbed in my wife’s arms the day the biopsy came back negative.

When a trip to the living room wore me out, I whined that I might never hike the trails of the Pacific Northwest again.

I felt the love and presence of the divine in those days as my community prayed for me. I felt the love and presence of the divine in the loving skills of medical professionals. I felt so many things, some about which I blogged and others I could barely admit to myself.

I am healthy.
The surgery was successful, though recovery included an infection which still tingles from time to time.

My journey continues. My struggle and joys continue. My gratitude for the web of divinity that connects me to every human being and every spring bud is boundless. I’ve experienced a resurrection firsthand!

One year ago today I was in surgery. I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could, especially that tingle. Amen.
___

This is the eleventh of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy and removal of my right colon.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural, May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos, May 27, 2014
No Big Deal, May 29, 2014
Mortality, June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories, June 6, 2014
Perseverance, June 10, 2014
Scars, June 19, 2014
Embracing Emotions, July 2, 2014
An Unexpected Onion, January 14, 2015
One Year Ago Today, March 28, 2015

 

 

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The Miraculous Perspective of Ever-Upward

The Miraculous Perspective of Ever-Upward
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Barely halfway up to McCall Point, the view of the Columbia River Gorge spreads out in majestic splendor in this image from June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves (Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0)

I like to hike up. Perhaps it is the result of having spent so many years in the midwestern flatlands that I relish a steep incline. Often when in the midst of a particularly strenuous uphill hike I think it is because I like to punish my calf muscles.

Mostly, I think it is the broad perspective of place and journey that captivates my being. Unlike much of life, which is filled with a day in, day out macro focus, ever-upward trails offer a miraculous perspective. Sometimes it takes what seems like endless hours but never has a trail failed to provide its miracle. No matter the hours of struggle, no matter the aching muscles, and yearning spirit eventually every path opens up showing me the miracle of the distance I have traveled.

Keeper of the Altitudes, lead us to the viewpoints that provide your perspective. Let the knowledge of how far we’ve journeyed encourage us to continue the sometimes painful path upon which we find ourselves. May the miracle of growth and transformation baptize us in divine love. 

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The Early Demise of a Wooly Worm

The Early Demise of a Wooly Worm

I like caterpillars! I like the fuzzy fur and stripes of orange and black. The way in which their bodies move up and down as they move across trail, field, or deck fascinates me. But it is their hopefulness that enthralls me most. They will transform in a dramatic way becoming what appears to be an entirely different species.

Photo by Tim Graves
I examined the tiny legs; the dissipated life force had ceased to propel and inhabit this creature. Photo by Tim Graves

Serving as metaphor for the nature of existence, with its cycles of death and resurrection, butterflies-to-be inspire and remind me of the divine essence moving through us all. They remind me that who and what we are now is only temporary. All things change.

Existence is a continuous process of change. We exist both in this moment and in our becoming. I am wooly worm living in the now and am content with myself. I am also butterfly-to-be divinely lured in each moment to become more loving and more in-tune with the whole of creation.

***

Kneeling beside the caterpillar, camera at the ready, I waited for it to move. Gently touching it, despair washed over me! This tube of hope was not going to move! Immediately, I sought an answer for why the small creature was no longer a butterfly-in-becoming.

No predator had snatched its life from it. There was no apparent injury. I examined the tiny legs; the dissipated life force had ceased to propel and inhabit this creature. Why? What do I make of this creature whose existence ended before becoming that which it was destined?

A lifeless caterpillar seems more analogous to an unexpected death. It is an inexplicable event; it is the death of hope. A dead wooly worm will never become a butterfly. Yes, everything is temporary. Even our becoming will end.

***

The fire-devastated environs in which I stood reflected the harsh news. Photo by Tim Graves
The fire-devastated environs in which I stood reflected the harsh news. Photo by Tim Graves

Standing in the middle of the woods — woods that burnt in a recent wildfire — the words coming through my mobile phone stung me. A beloved member of the extended community in which I serve as pastor was dead.  A woman I perceived as joyful, confident, and butterfly-bound ended her own life! The fire-devastated environs in which I stood reflected the harsh news. I pondered the deep pain (and desperation?) this beloved of God must have felt to have taken her own life.

After talking with her brother and sending an email with the sad news to the church community, I lifted my pack out of the ashes where I’d dropped it. Dusting it off, I embarked on my long pilgrimage back to the trailhead. Trudging through blackened trees, charred leaves, and scorched cones, I pondered shortened lives of wooly worm and human. Despair, deep sadness, shock, and sobs took their turn with me.

Each step became a prayer. The grassless meadows and hollow trunks were symbols of the evil and hardships of life. They pointed toward the emotional state that would drive a beloved child of the Divine to take her life. My pilgrimage to the trailhead was a blessing as I identified both my personal reaction and  my pastoral response to the difficult news in my community.

***

There is a harmful stream in my faith tradition that says that suicide is a sin. While that is not a belief in my particular theology or that of my denominations (see About), it has made the grief of family members and friends of those who die at their own hand more difficult. I unequivocally reject the notion that the one I call God chooses to further punish a wounded soul with eternal damnation.

The essence of the creating energy of the universe (that which I refer to as God) is love. Love is empathy. Love knows and feels with each wooly worm, with each wildflower and stem of grass, and with each human being. In the words of process theologian Monica A. Coleman, God “knows us from the inside out” (see Life After Death).

The blackened leaves of a scrub oak in the McCall Preserve near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
Trudging through blackened trees, charred leaves, and scorched cones, I pondered shortened lives of wooly worm and human. Photo by Tim Graves

The one divine essence, whether envisioned as energy or old man with a long white beard, knows us better than we know ourselves and desires the best for each one of us. When free will and the complexities of our interrelated existence, combine to lead a person to choose suicide, God feels with us. The Divine feels not only our emotions of dismay, shock, and grief, but the sense of hopelessness of the deceased. Taking those feelings into godself, the Divine Love nudges us to listen to one another, to wipe tears, and to act for good.

Though I reject the notion that God creates hardship to teach lessons, I do perceive the divine one using even the most traumatic life experiences for good. When faced with suicide, the sacred spirit moves within and between us calling us to care for one another as we grieve. We are encouraged to work for changes to our cultural and mental health systems that prevent people from perceiving hope in our fractured and temporary existence.

***

Both my spiritual tradition and the nature that surrounded me as I moved through burnt forest and meadow, teach me that not every wooly worm becomes a butterfly. Life is filled with both despair and elation. As every child is loathe to hear, life isn’t fair. But the sorrow of the now will end just as moments of euphoria end.

The good news obvious in nature and reflected in the sacred writings of multiple traditions, is that even in death there is new life. To be sure, without death new life does not exist.

Lichen of Hope
The good news obvious in nature and reflected in the sacred writings of multiple traditions, is that even in death there is new life. To be sure, without death new life does not exist. Photo by Tim Graves

The grasses burned by wildfire will return in the spring with a vibrancy that the thick, overgrown brush lacked.  The trees that survive will emanate a beauty in their scars that a perfect life could never reveal. The fallen trees will provide homes for small rodents and insects. And the inexplicably deceased caterpillar I encountered on another trail, will provide food for a passing bird or decompose and become part of the soil upon which life depends.

Because we are interconnected with one another, the essence of the one who takes her own life or the one who dies at one-hundred-twenty years, remains within our diverse Gaian whole. We are forever connected with one another in the present, the past, and into the future. And, so, the wooly worm whose life ended before its incarnation as butterfly remains constituent of the living earth. Though no form lasts forever, through the Divine One we remain eternally connected to each other in the becoming realm of love that slowly unfolds outside of time.

The Lichen & Leaves of Hope

The Lichen & Leaves of Hope

McCall Point Trail still smells of burn. Containment lines are marked as no-hike, restoration areas in the natural preserve. In many ways, my first journey on the trail since the early-August Rowena Fire was sad. The loss of brush and many trees is significant.  To contain the fire, firefighters had rightly destroyed delicate vegetation to build containment lines.

But the grasses will return in the spring. The many surviving trees have already started to sprout new leaves despite the season. The lichen in all its delicate beauty has found sustenance in scorched fenceposts and tree stumps.

New leaves sprout from a blackened tree. Photo by Tim Graves
New leaves sprout from a blackened tree. Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves
The delicate and hardy lichen finds a home on a burnt fencepost. Photo by Tim Graves

Related

Additional Post-Burn Photos of McCall Point

In the Valley of Dry Bones (photos)

McCall Point Trail, June 2012  (photos)

 

Self-Care: I Am Important

Self-Care: I Am Important
One of the many remarkable views on the trail up to McCall Point near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
One of the many remarkable views on the trail up to McCall Point near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

The statistics about the health of the clergy are staggering. (See for example, Clergy Members Suffer From Burnout, Poor Health). We tend to be heavier, less active, and prone to depression.  I knew the problem before my mid-life call to ministry.

As the “pastor’s wife” for a decade I saw the toll that parish ministry takes on clergy up close. My wife’s physical health and mental health suffered at the hands of the church. I was frightened at the impact that congregational ministry had on her.

And, so, when I discerned a call to ministry, I was bound and determined to avoid suffering the same fate as my wife had in parish ministry. With a personal routine of working out at the gym five days a week prior to seminary I naively committed to continuing to do so in seminary.

Alas, poor habits of self-care are taught alongside theology and the Bible at clergy training institutions. I left seminary flabbier, more stressed than necessary, with a caffeine addiction of epoch proportions, and with extremely poor sleep habits. Within a year of of leaving school I’d unlearned most of the poor self-care habits.

Once ensconced in parish ministry, however, my health began to slide again. I had two significant health events within as many years of beginning parish ministry. The second, in which my right colon was removed, was the quintessential wake up call.  That surgery earlier this year caused me to think about what I would regret not doing should I die.

Nearing the peak of McCall Point, Mt. Hood and I pose for a selfie. Photo by Tim Graves
Nearing the peak of McCall Point, Mt. Hood and I pose for a selfie. Photo by Tim Graves

I’ve re-ordered my priorities.  Since my surgery nearly four months ago, I have become diligent in taking care of myself. I hike and write — my preferred forms of physical and mental exercise —  at least three days a week. The mental shift I’ve had to make is this: instead of taking care of myself after X or Y is done, I do so on a, albeit flexible, schedule. Self-care is a priority.

I am as important as my parishioners. I am more important than administrative and other tasks. My self-care is non-negotiable.

And, so, today I prioritized myself. Though many things demand my attention in this extremely busy week (with another looming), I went hiking with God.

So you see that a sabbath rest is left open for God’s people. The one who entered God’s rest also rested from his works, just as God rested from his own.
Hebrews 4:9-10 CEB