Trail’s End

Trail’s End
Fire Ants.  Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Fire Ants. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

Trail’s end,
journey done,
land devoid, arid, and barren.

Pause. Deep breath. Immersed.

Flowing life,
clinging marsh,
carved precipice.

Humming dragons,
chittering Junco,
chalky flood wall.

Fire ants toiling,
fuzzy worms moving,
phacelia and monkey flower.

Fuzzy Worm.  Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Fuzzy Worm. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

Sun warms,
cooling breeze,
aromatic sage.

Pause. Deep breath. Immersed.

Trail’s end,
spirit washed,
into the province of life.


Immersed.  Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Immersed. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

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Sacred Ground

Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ Exodus 3:5b NRSV (Read in context.)

My mother taught me that God is everywhere.  Most Christians would agree with her; the One we call God can meet us anywhere. Indeed the sacred surrounds us, enveloping us. Each human being even reflects the divine (Imago Dei), according to most followers of Jesus.

We often co-create sacred spaces with the divine, the one I call God. In churches and other places we invoke the spirit with candles, prayers, or incense. (I often burn incense and light a candle to remind me of God’s presence. They help me to remember that my gifts are from God.) Some indigenous people burn cedar or sage. Most faith traditions of which I am aware have ways to draw our distracted human minds to focus on the One, on the sacred. These rituals are not limited by location.

But there do seem to be places in which God’s presence is palpable. As I’ve been hiking the Columbia River Gorge this year, I have happened upon places that draw me in, call me to prayer and meditation. Some of these places are simply pretty spots where the artistry of the Creator’s brush compel me to awe.

“Some of these places are simply pretty spots where the artistry of the Creator’s brush compel me to awe.” Photo by Tim Graves

Others have been co-created by human beings. Another person has felt compelled, for reasons I am unaware, to modify the location. The zen rocks along the Coyote Wall trail, for example, demand a sabbath along the journey to the peak.

The Coyote Wall Zen rocks are flanked by Mt. Hood. Photo by Tim Graves

Sometimes the sacred ground I encounter is long, narrow, and winds through Mother Earth’s majesty. The experience of putting one foot in front of the other — of the journey — is itself holy. Being present on that trail as it wanders through the forest, meadow, or along the river, the One walks with me.  The God who loves extravagantly heals me, prods and challenges me, and reminds me that the majestic unfolding realm of God includes each of us.

Photo by Tim Graves

Note: As I begin the long-term project of creating a spiritual guide to various trails within the Columbia River Gorge, I will be highlighting Sacred Ground that I encounter on my hikes.

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.

Water in Wheeling

I love this letter that I read FOUR DAYS after I got home from Lexington. It begins:

“Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard…this is not an emergency…”

I’m a little concerned that the Water Department doesn’t consider violating the standards as an emergency! Perhaps, I’m just an alarmist but how hard is this??? The letter continues to describe that Wheeling water exceeds TTHM:

“Total Trihalomethane (TTHM) are byproducts formed in the disinfection of water with chlorine and organic material present.”

What kind of “organic material” do you think they’re talking about??? BLEAH!! It gets better when you read their reaction to the crisis:

“You do not need to use an alternative…water supply….if you have specific health concerns…consult your doctor….This is not an immediate risk. [Some people who drink this over many years] may experience problems with their liver, kindneys, or central nervous systems, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

Nah, nothin’ to worry about! What is wrong with these people? I am not reassured when their solution is “a blending of well and river water (from the OHIO??) along with a change in chemical treatment.” Again, what is so difficult about this? We’ve had city water for my entire life. Then in small print at the end of the letter is this lovely line:

“Please share this information with all the other people who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools and businesses).

Gosh, why would you want to notify anyone besides the landed gentry. Sheesh, if we didn’t own our home I guess we would be expendable? What this tells me is that the Water Department only met the letter of the law regarding notification on this issue.

Bottom line: I am not amused.

Pretending Global Warming is Undecided is Irresponsible

Originally posted 2/7/07; reposted 2/18/07

I did my morning round of newspapers online this morning and discovered a new online poll on my local paper’s website. I found myself feeling quite aggravated and composed and submitted the following letter to the editor of the Wheeling News-Register/Intelligencer.

The tone of this newspaper’s coverage of the very real threat posed by global warming–including the recent poll asking if this cold snap changes people’s opinion about climate change–is irresponsible. Scientists from around the world have determined that the documented increase in Earth’s temperatures is 90% likely caused by the actions of human beings. A cold snap doesn’t change the reality of global warming or the impact climate change is having and will have.

What we need from our leaders is a cohesive and comprehensive plan to address our reliance on a lifestyle that continues to damage our planet. This plan must include not only long term methods of responding (e.g.; implementation of clean mass transit or concrete ways to help people switch to renewable energies to heat and cool our homes) but specific strategies that everyone can participate in immediately (e.g.; adjust our thermostats, stop using disposable products).

This newspaper can immediately talk to experts and publish in a practical, readable format ways in which each one of us can lessen our “carbon footprint”. This newspaper can investigate and report—not simply repeat the self-serving answers of politicians and executives–what the impact of any proposed action will be on the climate of our world.

In short, this newspaper has the ability to responsibly inform and educate and improve the life of our community and the world. Or, you can simply focus on making a buck.

Will we wait until West Virginia is a coastal state?

Originally posted 1/18/07 reposted 2/18/07

My wife and I were in England for two weeks over the holidays visiting our daughter who is working on a visa in rural Hampshire. This was our first trip overseas.

I love newspapers and was thrilled to be able to read paper copies of the Times of London and the Guardian among others. One of the biggest differences between the discussions in the US and the UK media is the way in which the issue of global warming is framed. In England even the more conservative papers and columnists seemed to be asking : “Are we doing enough to combat climate change?” Contrast this with the poll in my local West Virginia paper that asked whether people believed in global warming or not. In the United States we seem to be arguing about whether or not there is a problem as the ice caps melt while in Britain they have at least accepted the scientific reality of climate change.

Another difference that I noticed, that relates to climate change, is the mass transit in the UK compared to the US. We spent two weeks in England and traveled by bus, subway, train, and the occasional taxi. Only a couple of times–when we were forced to pay the high price of the taxis–did we regret not having a private automobile. The trains were spotless and full of passengers. Even the subway in London was clean and comfortable. Yet, the locals told us that the trains were terribly inferior to the rest of Europe. I guess the Brits should meet Amtrak to fully appreciate what they have.

A third difference is the size of the cars that they do drive. I saw precious few SUVs and those that I did see were small by American standards. I saw cars two sizes smaller than the smallest cars that the very same global corporations (Ford, Hyundai, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota, etc.) offer to consumers in this country. When only one person is in a car, do we really need the bulk that we drive around in?

Perhaps, the British are more sensitive to climate change because global warming may very well cover the isles completely but will we wait until West Virginia has oceanfront properties before we admit the magnitude of the problem?