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.



Evolving Fish Loses Face

Along the two and one-half mile trail, you climb nearly 1300 feet on the way to Mitchell Point. One of the markers for me has always been the fallen log I call, Evolving Fish. Evolving Fish is about one-third of the way up the steep path.

A tiktaalik, from the Devonian period. Image source:
A tiktaalik, from the Devonian period. Image source:
Evolving Fish as I first encountered it. Photo by Tim Graves
Evolving Fish as I first encountered it. Photo by Tim Graves
Evolving Fish begins to show early signs of decay. Photo by Tim Graves
Evolving Fish begins to show early signs of decay in November of 2012. Photo by Tim Graves
Evolving Face has lost its snout and its eye is less pronounced. Photo by Tim Graves
Evolving Face has lost its snout and its eye is less pronounced. Photo by Tim Graves

Evolving Fish is so named because the fallen tree reminds me of the images of a fish with rudimentary front legs emerging from the primordial sea. Each time I encounter the Evolving Fish on my journey to the peak, I pause. I reflect upon the essence that courses through and connects nature including humanity.

The connecting essence, which I call God, courses through each rocky precipice, each tiny bud, spider, and person.  A characteristic truth about creation is that it is not static. Continual change – becoming – is an integral part of creator and creation. This can be observed in nature’s cycle of life, death, and resurrection. God still-creates and fuels the still-evolving world.

And so it is fitting that on a recent journey to the rocky precipice above the Columbia River, I noted that my primordial friend has begun to noticeably decay. Much of Evolving Fish’s face has fallen away. The eye is less pronounced; the nose has crumbled away.

At first I grieved the loss. But of course Evolving Fish must decay. Evolving Fish must ultimately die and become the soil, the ground, the foundation of what will be. That is the nature of our ever-in-process, ever-evolving world. It is the nature of creation and each of us. It is the nature of the One, the essence of all-that-is.

And, so, each time I journey to commune at the peak, I will still pause. As Evolving Fish decays, I will remain in relationship with my changing friend. When Evolving Fish is no more, I will watch for the new thing that will spring forth.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. — Lao Tzu

Like Magic

Like Magic

Last evening as I prepared a meal of eggplant, yellow squash, green beans, and wax beans seasoned with dill, I remarked to myself “it’s like magic.” Every item in the meal, including the seasoning, was grown in our backyard. It was a veritable feast for a vegetarian like me.

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

As I rinsed the dirt off the squash, I smiled knowing that I did not need to worry about pesticides or non-organic substances creeping into my meal. The gardener in our family, never uses those things.

At dinner, I tasted each vegetable planted by my wife. The subtle taste of yellow squash, the stronger slightly sweeter taste of eggplant, the satisfying crunch of the green beans, and the slightly squishier less pronounced flavor of the wax beans satisfied my vegetarian soul.

I tasted the magic that is Creation. With a few seeds, water, with loving weeding and tilling, and a little luck multiple meals are growing under the eastern Oregon sun in my backyard.  They make their way into the house where I prepare most of our meals. (My freezer is also slowly filling up with food for those cold winter days.)

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

As the non-gardener, it is probably easier for the meal to seem magical. But of course it’s not really magic. The harvest is the divine dance between Creation and the human being who nurtured the earth and seeds to fruition. Perhaps that is why the gardener in my family talks about gardening as a spiritual practice. Each year gardeners co-create a harvest with God.

What else could we create if we listened to the spirit of love moving across the earth?

Promise of Resurrection

Promise of Resurrection
Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

As the morning sunshine rises each day, the promise of resurrection is manifest. Within the natural world we see evidence that the nature of things is death followed by new life. Our hope — reflected in nature — lies in the faithfulness of the creator whose promise of new life is evident all around us.

Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. Hebrews 10:23 CEB

Idolizing the God of Moderation

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 26-27 NRSV (read in context)

Living closer to nature, we live closer God. By slowing down, we see the subtleties of creation. We see the nonstop transformation of the world. There are deaths and resurrections all around us. Dry creek beds, surging waterfalls, ice storms and debilitating heat all come to an end. The Divine energy  pulses and vibrates throughout it all. (This is also reflected in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.)

We experience and observe the resurrecting nature of the One I call God in Creation. It is where we can take our rightful place as one creature among many. We are called to practice a dominion over the earth that reflects the image of God (Imago Dei) within us. That god does not control us. The One who loves us with abandon and feels our every emotion creates and transforms with us. Without pausing, God prods us to reflect God’s loving creating nature.

Responding to this call requires empathy. Empathy with the salmon struggling upstream and with our kindred humans fighting for dignity and justice. Without empathy we fail to reflect the Imago Dei.

A blooming flower grows through a crack in the asphalt.
Nature is filled with death and resurrections. Photo by Tim Graves

Yet, we idolize a god who does not feel or transform. We isolate ourselves from the opportunities to empathize and love.

In our modern world of air conditioning we forget that a little sweat is a good thing. Instead of feeling the warm summer blowing on our face, we insulate ourselves. If we feel moisture on our skin with the thermostat set to 78, we sequester ourselves at 72 degrees. We live in a world insulated from the nature of God and one another.

Moderation and comfort are our idols. But without the highs or the lows, the anguish and the exuberance, we do not experience the One who is always creating, the One who dances in joy and weeps in despair with us, the God of the ancient Hebrews who heard cries and responds in mercy. The God who grows through the crack in the asphalt demanding that beauty win, that love win.