Learning From Fallen Rocks

The zen rocks as they appeared in June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves
The zen rocks as they appeared in June 2012. Photo by Tim Graves

Even from a distance I suspected something wasn’t right. Arriving on the sacred ground which lies part-way up the Coyote Wall trail my suspicions were confirmed. I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble. Given the storms that I know they successfully endured, I am doubtful that a natural occurrence caused the fall.

I could be wrong.

Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a biker racing down the trails losing control and inadvertently sending the stones to the ground.

I could be wrong.

Not knowing, my mind fills in the gap. I imagine a group of people laughing and kidding around. Getting rowdy, one of the group inadvertently bumps into the sacred altar. Rocks fall.

I could be wrong.

Though I don’t know what caused the rocks to tumble, I find some solace in the attempt to re-stack them.  Did a remorseful biker frantically seek to restore the altar of small boulders? Did she reject antiseptic wipes and a bandage to her knee while she sought to rehabilitate the altar?

I don’t know.

Maybe the laughter and kidding around turned to shock and dismay as boulders tumbled to the ground, the very ground I deem sacred. Maybe formerly joyous hikers’ moods turned contrite and serious as they carefully sought to restore the zen rocks to their former state.

The zen rocks as they appeared in July 2014. Photo by Tim Graves
The zen rocks as they appeared in July 2014. Photo by Tim Graves

I don’t know.

I am not likely to learn what caused this sacred altar to be altered. My imagination can create a myriad of possible scenarios to explain the destruction and the attempt to restore the sacred space to its former condition. None of my imagined scenarios change the present condition of a the sacred site along the Coyote Wall rim trail. (See A Whisper of a Trail and Sacred Ground.)

Conjecture and supposition — my imagination — does not have the power to change the present moment. However, they does have the power to change me.

Each interpretation of the unknown is accompanied by emotions. Some of the emotions have the power to make me miserable. For example, if I chose to imagine (and believe) that vandals maliciously destroyed the tower, give feelings ranging from sadness to hurt to anger to overt hostility a green light.

And so it matters what I choose. I decide who I want to be. And so I choose to focus not on what I don’t know but on what I do know. I know that the rocks fell and have been reassembled in a new way by someone.

I am disappointed and grieve the change in the zen rocks. Those are legitimate emotions; I own them. I hold them for awhile and then I will let them go. Though I know those emotions are my human desire to prevent change, I take note of them. I learn about myself from those emotions.

I recall that during a wilderness time in my life, this sacred ground with its seriated rocks were important to me. I honor their contribution to my well-being. Like the transformed zen rocks, I have changed. I am no longer in that wilderness. Reflecting, I learn that in my humanity, I still fail to live fully in the present. In recognizing and learning from my emotions, I accept myself. Like every one of us, I am on a journey unique to me.

Because I want love to be the vehicle in which I travel, I focus on the zen rocks as they exist today and carefully choose what I imagine. I think about those who re-stacked the fallen rocks. Though I don’t know, I choose to see a group effort at restoration.

Pondering the sacred stones, I see an upper spire that grows out of many rocks. Combining my chosen imagined reconstruction with their present state, I am reminded that love is communal. Just as each stone in the altar’s reconstructed form depends upon many others, it is in our mutuality and interdependence that love grows.

Because I chose carefully how I would react to the loss (or transformation, really) of a physical monument, I perceive hope. I am reminded that our individual and mutual hope lies in our one-ness with and appreciation for others and their journeys. Our personal and collective hopes lie in choosing to interpret the experiences of our lives through a lens of love.


Related Posts

Sacred Ground July 19, 2012
A Whisper of a Trail October 24, 2012
Evolving Fish Loses Face June 27, 2014

Perceiving & Becoming

Joy of Wet
The clouds hung over the summit like a wet towel and, as if the bathroom fan were broken, my eyeglasses fogged up. Photo by Tim Graves

The clouds hung over the summit like a wet towel and, as if the bathroom fan were broken, my eyeglasses fogged up. My first hike to the top of Washington’s Wind Mountain was ill-timed for taking in its views of the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams.

Though I appreciate new trails, I often visit the same trails multiple times. And so it was that two days after my initial hike I was back on this challenging, though relatively short trail. Unless I’d time traveled between seasons, the weather could not have been more different. On my first journey my focus was on small details. A myriad of miniature suns lining the trail lifted my mood. The drops of rain collected on vegetation while moisture saturated my skin and clothing.

A foggy view toward the northwest from the top of Wind Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves
A foggy view toward the northwest from the top of Wind Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

Conversely, my attention the second morning was drawn to expansive vistas peeking through tall trees. My yellow mini-suns seemed duller and fewer as Sol peeped through trees. Upon reaching the pinnacle of my journey, rather than a windowless penthouse, I arrived in a glass house affording phenomenal views of the river below and snowcapped mountains above.

Each journey afforded me perspectives I needed to intimately know my new friend, Wind Mountain. Both trips around switchbacks, under and over fallen trees, and along its rocky, muddy, and packed dirt surface taught me something about its character. While each perspective is true, neither one fully reflects the who of the mountain. Two summer mornings spent with my new companion do not wholly inform me of the mountain’s nature either.

Approaching the thirty-fifth anniversary of our wedding, I know my wife better than any other human being. Yet, I do not know her

thoroughly nor she me. Part of the challenge in understanding and empathizing with others — even those we’ve known for decades — is that we are moving targets. I am not the same person at this moment as I will be this evening. Like Wind Mountain, we are each living, growing, and evolving life forms.

A view Photo by Tim Graves
A sunny view  toward the northwest from the top of Wind Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

Change is inherent in our nature. If we are undistracted, we perceive it in ourselves, our relationships with one another, and with the Divine. For many, it is in Nature that this universal characteristic is most obvious.

Gaia, our living planet of which we are a part, is in the continual process of becoming. As part of the living body that is creation we, too, are becoming. Consequently, as I re-hike a trail or relate with my wife, we influence one another. We have a novel experience.

And, so, I wonder. I wonder why we insist on quantifying one another. Why do we label ourselves and others? When we label or quantify, we seek to define the indefinable. We seek to control the Divine mystery when all we can really do is be. All we can do is be present with each other. All we can do is become together.

Perhaps this is why each trek on a particular trail inspires me. Each pilgrimage affords me another opportunity to experience the essence that permeates all that is,  the One I call God. Each hike is about being and becoming an integral part of the unfolding realm of extravagant love.




Photo by Tim Graves

It was at the junction of two trails up the mountain that I first saw him. Well, actually, I passed him by without giving him much notice. No time for niceties; I was on a mission.


I’d set a goal for my post-op self. I would travel to the top of Dog Mountain, loop around, and then come down the long way. (The peak of Dog Mountain on the Washington State side of the Columbia River Gorge offers a vigorous route to a lavish carpet of wildflowers at its peak in May and June.)

Huffing and puffing enough to blow a pig’s house down, I finally arrived at a meadow overlooking the Gorge. I lingered awhile among the flowers hoping for resurgent fitness.

I sat awhile.

I ate a snack.

I breathed in the yellows, purples, pinks, and reds that surrounded me. I admired the handiwork of over a million years of geological events displayed at my feet.

No go.

Disappointed, I eventually admitted to myself that my ten-week post-operative body was not going to make it to the top. With a sigh I began the trip back to the trailhead.


Image from http://www.portlandhikersfieldguide.org/wiki/Dog_Mountain_Loop_Hike

I met him again on my way back down the trail. He slowly and steadily continued his ascent. I gestured and smiled, moving to the side for him to get past me.

“Did you make it to the top already?” he asked.

“Not today,” I said feeling all of the shame and disappointment that I’d created for myself. I explained that I was still recovering from surgery. “I’m still building stamina and strength,” I added.

Nodding his head, I felt his empathy and understanding encircle me. Approaching his eightieth birthday, he told me that half of his right foot had been amputated at the beginning of the decade. I listened with my best pastoral ear only later realizing that he was the pastor and I the parishioner.

Just as we were parting — I on my way down the trail and he still journeying upward — he added a few more words. “My attitude” he said, “is that as long as you’re still climbing uphill, you’re not over-the-hill.” I chuckled and wished him well.

My disappointment dissipated with each step downward. “Look how far I’ve come,” I reminded myself. Two months ago I couldn’t roll over in bed without extreme pain. Six weeks ago walking a few loops around the house required a two-hour nap. Four weeks ago a morning of work left me barely able to prepare my lunch.

And today, I climbed 1600-feet in just over a mile and a half! Not bad for someone with only half a colon!


This is the seventh of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

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

Why do I write about this topic?

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.



Desperately Seeking Community

Desperately Seeking Community
Photo from http://www.etsy.com/listing/119259733/vintage-bicentennial-1976-1977-missouri
A Missouri license plate, circa 1976. Photo from http://www.etsy.com/listing/119259733/vintage-bicentennial-1976-1977-missouri

I had to work on the bicentennial of our country. Along with two others who lived the same 40 miles away from the Six Flags over Mid-America, I car pooled to work. A chivalrous seventeen-year-old, I squeezed into the backseat of a Chevy Vega on July 4, 1976. (Those of a certain age will know that this was no small task for a two-year-old let alone a teenage boy.)

I was discouraged that day; I spent it selling watered-down orange juice in cheap plastic orange shaped containers when I really wanted to be celebrating my country’s two-hundredth birthday. Instead I spent it earning $1.90 an hour (less than minimum wage) because I was a seasonal worker.

Nonetheless, I still believed in my country and was glad to have a summer job. Growing up during Vietnam and the Watergate era, I wasn’t naive but I believed in the progression of the dream. Deep down, people are good, all people. (I still perceive this deep within my essence.)

I am not as idealistic as I was three plus decades later. I’ve witnessed things I thought would never happen.This is true both on a personal and national level. I‘ve had to explain unjust war to my children more than once. My trust in the electoral process  — with some caveats — was shattered by the 2000 debacle. 

I’ve seen improvement in race relations only to see a significant and sometimes racially-motivated backlash to the election of a bi-racial president. I’ve seen a minority of people so afraid of our rapidly changing world they draw their circles of inclusion tighter and tighter. This has been true in politics and within the faith I claim.

A Condon Fourth (2013). Photo by Tim Graves
A Condon Fourth (2013). Photo by Tim Graves See more photos on Flickr.

I began pastoring a small United Church of Christ in an eastern Oregon town of less than 700 this year. I quickly began to hear murmurings in town about the big Fourth of July celebration. A little cynical and not much of a flag-waver, I was curious about what this big day would hold. There was an all-community breakfast and dinner in the newly-restored town park. The parade was followed by a soap box derby and tricycle races on Main Street.

Though there were plenty of flags and some of the outfits my congregants wore blinded me with their stars and stripes, this was not about waving the flag. The Fourth was not about blind-obedience to a particular political perspective or even to the United States. No one denied we have our differences in our small town.

Despite those differences, we share something. We share the place we live. We are dependent on one another in our isolated community. We smile at one another (and sometime sneer or are cold to one another) but we all crave community. We need each other. While I lack my exuberant patriotism of 1976, I’ll wave a flag for a town that comes together for a red, white, and blue spectacle each July. I’ll wave a flag for those who in this era of division and vitriol, seek to be a community.

May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. Genesis 28:3 NRSV (Read in context.)

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 NRSV (Read in context.)

Communal Healing

Communal Healing

You may listen to Communal Healing by clicking here.

They were bright yellow with bold black letters. I don’t know if they made it to Condon, or even to the west coast, but they were all over the Bible belt. Like someone had sprinkled cinnamon sugar on french toast, “I FOUND IT” bumper stickers were sprinkled on cars all over my north St. Louis county neighborhood. One of my friends even plastered three of them all over her notebook.

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 1.43.26 PM

I was confused. Asking someone about it was like being present at the anti-Pentecost. Those I could understand one moment suddenly began to speak unintelligibly. They spoke

in words I didn’t understand. They asked me questions I couldn’t answer.

  • Have you been saved?
  • When did you find Christ?
  • Do you know where you’re going when you die?
  • Did you know God tricked the devil?
  • Jesus died because of your sins, did you know that?

And in this high-pressure peppering of questions I suddenly realized I was being evangelized. I was being pushed to attend a specific church or, rather to embrace a literalistic and non-questioning faith. I was being asked to give up the tradition of thinking for myself. I was being asked to give up the kind of Bible study we did at the storefront Disciples of Christ church my family attended.

I was being told to stop asking questions, to stop listening for a new word in the turbulent 70s. The answer had been found. All I had to do was follow someone with an “I FOUND IT” sticker to their church.


This kind of high-pressure evangelism is exactly why too many Presbyterians, Methodists, Disciples, ELCA Lutherans, and UCCers are afraid of the word evangelism. I think it may be a factor in why more than one of you in this church have said that your faith is a private matter.

You have rightfully been hesitant to share your faith with others for fear of being pushy, for fear of being overbearing, for fear of telling someone else how they should believe. But fear is not a faithful perspective. It reflects a lack of trust in the Divine. The all too human emotion of fear, leads us astray from trusting in God.


Like many of you, I am a universalist. That is, I perceive that the one we call the Holy Spirit, the one others call by other names, manifests in different ways for different people. The extravagant love that is within all, is between all, and is over all leads some to follow a Buddhist way of life.

The same Love leads some to follow the teachings of Muhammed or Krishna or the Great Spirit. Faithfulness to Love is for some found in the ancient traditions of Judaism.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 9.29.10 AMFor you and for me it is in Jesus, the one who breathes in God and breathes out Love, that we find our faith. It is in Jesus that we meet God. It is in the Great Healer that our wounds are wrapped in healing balms. It is in the Great Challenger that we are called by God to seek justice for our kindred across the globe.

Before you say I’m ignoring what the Bible says…

Before you say I’m being swayed by misguided political correctness…

Know that Universalism is a justifiable position based upon the whole of the biblical witness. When we interpret John 10:16 through the expanding circle of God’s love rather than by its original meaning. When we interpret John’s words through the expanding circle of God’s love that is manifest from the Hebrew Bible to the gospels and to the book of Acts, we see that the One we call God loves all of God’s people.

Says Jesus in the book of John,

I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them, too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd. John 10:16 CEB

And, so, we don’t have to be afraid to share our faith with others. We don’t have to be pushy or intolerant to share our faith. We can share our faith without being like those who “found it” and who have settled answers to all questions.

We can share our faith without using approaches like those that offended each of us at one time or another.


But, some say, “I am spiritual but not religious.” Some suggest that they don’t want to hear about any communal faith.

Though there are many good reasons for rejecting institutional religion, from historical atrocities to pushy evangelism and hate-filled theologies, we must be careful not to define faith as an individual matter.

To avoid those who want to define your experience of the Great Mystery, of God, is rational and good self-care. So, I absolutely empathize with those who mean that they want to have nothing to do with institutional faith when they tell me they are spiritual but not religious. I dance on the same stage as those who struggle with institutionalism. Many of you, I know, dance there with me.


But a healthy and growing faith cannot be spiritual but not religious in the sense of being a solitary act. We need one another. Writes Lillian Daniel, the pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Glen Ellyn, Illinois:

There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

As we’ve been journeying through the book of Acts, we have learned that community was critical to our ancient kindred, the apostles and others, who sought to follow the teachings of Jesus in the early decades after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.

The immediate response to Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the people, was a sense of awe and a desire to follow the teachings of the apostles and

“All the believers were united and shared everything.” Acts 2:44 CEB

Those whom the Holy Spirit touched on Pentecost did not disperse to pray privately. No,

they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. Acts 2:46b-47a CEB

Even when their lives were threatened by those who valued power more than God and for whom institutionalism was a tool for their own well-being, rather than a way of spreading the Good News, the apostles depended upon a sense of community. They depended upon one another. When Stephen was arrested in today’s reading, notice that

his face was radiant, just like an angel’s. Acts 6:15b CEB.

Though Luke, the writer of Acts, undoubtedly was implying that Stephen was a good and faithful man, that faithfulness was developed within the community of followers. Stephen’s strength to face the council who in verse 54 respond to his words by becoming

enraged and … grind[ing] their teeth at Stephen (Acts 6:54 CEB)

comes from living in a community of others who follow Jesus. And, though, Stephen will ultimately be stoned to death, he remains faithful to God.

That kind of faith can only sprout and grow when others water and till the soil around you.

We need one another.


Likewise, Jesus in our gospel reading today affirms that faith is not a solitary act. He affirms that faith is communal. That we need one another.

The Roman centurion seeking healing for his servant would never have gotten to Jesus had it not been for the community of Jews who spoke on his behalf. Writes Luke in the gospel,

some Jewish elders [went] to Jesus to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly pleaded with Jesus. “He deserves to have you do this for him,” they said. “He loves our people and he built our synagogue for us.” Luke 7:3b-5 CEB

And, so, it is a community — in this case Jews who helped a faith in Jesus sprout within a Roman soldier. It is the Jewish community who watered this faith as it grew toward the sunshine. They and the Roman friends of the centurion enabled him to reach Jesus with his request of healing for his servant.

After the community of Jews and Roman friends had spoken to Jesus, he turned to the crowd. Luke tells us that Jesus was impressed with the centurion after hearing the community’s words on behalf of the soldier. Writes Luke,

He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.” Luke 7:9 CEB

With our rugged American sense of individualism, we’ve traditionally interpreted Jesus’ commendation of “faith like this,” to refer only to the centurion. As if his faith sprung up in a room by himself, we assume Jesus is affirming ONLY the centurion for his strong faith.

But Jesus — who himself lived the communal life of a good Jew of the early first century — had just witnessed a faith fertilized, watered, and sprouting within a community. It was only after the community of witnesses to the centurion’s faith spoke that Jesus affirmed the strong faith of the centurion, a man within a community.


We need one another to fertilize and water our faith. And though we will each have solitary spiritual practices — various forms of prayer and meditation and reading our Bibles ourselves — we need to talk with one another about our experiences of the Divine.

We need to participate in Bible study and other learning experiences together. We need to worship together.

Just as our children need spiritual mentors to grow in their faith, we as adults and near-adults need spiritual kindred to affirm us and sometimes challenge us. We need a tapestry of different ideas, a plethora of gifts of the Holy Spirit, and others to journey alongside us.

Our pews are more than half-empty…we also need those other folks. We need to listen to their experiences of the Divine and we need to share our faith with them…even if they never walk in the door of this church.

We are called to be the Body of Christ, to be the Good News in the world. We are called to be faithful in our own right but also to plant seeds, to fertilize young sprouts, and to weed the garden. We are called to lift up and share the Good News of God’s love with everyone we meet. Amen.

Go for Broke

In the classic board game, Monopoly, the goal is to play until one person has all the money and owns every

Go for Broke board game.
Go for Broke board game.

property. It is an anti-communitarian game for sure as each player is focused on their own ultimate success. Yes, sometimes unsanctioned alliances are temporarily created but if you play the game to the end only one person can be successful.

There’s an old anti-Monopoly board game called “Go for Broke.” The goal of the game, which I confess I’ve played far fewer times than Monopoly, is to lose all your money. Perhaps I’ve played this game less often because it is too much like real life. Still, it is not really the opposite of Monopoly because it still involves the movement of things with the ultimate goal of one winner.

Neither game reflects what it means to be in tune with being a follower of Jesus. Though many of us in western culture — especially North America — try to mesh the Monopoly mindset with our faith, in the end they cannot coexist. Capitalism in its most radical form is about winning at the expense of all others. In its most radical form, it is about accumulating as much as possible regardless of others.

Whoever tries to preserve their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will preserve it. Luke 17:33 CEB (Read in context.)

The teachings of Jesus lead us in the opposite direction. Jesus calls us to live in community for God is a god of relationship. Jesus calls us to let go so that we might be able to see the other: those who are not like us. Jesus calls us to let go of the idols be they the accumulation of money, tech-toys, shiny cars, or attitudes such as our desire to be in control.

When we let go of these idols, we can perceive the One who loves extravagantly. We see the divine in everyone we meet, in creation, in the relationships between all that is, and all who are. And, yes even in ourselves. The freedom that most of us only glimpse from time to time, liberates. Suddenly we become more relaxed about things that previously angered or stressed us.

When we let go, seeking to simply be in the moment with ourselves and those around us, a peace descends upon us. And while the things of this world like bills, troubled relationships, and horrors on the news still bother us, they no longer control us.

When we let go and live in the moment we are true to the divinity, the image of God, in ourselves. It is in that moment of trueness that we hear the luring voice of the One who loves extravagantly. It is in that moment that it is clear our call in this world is not to judge but to love.

Creating Energy, May we find moments in the day to simply be. May we glimpse you today and respond to love with love. Amen.


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.