Though the big event is still several months away, my hands know the softness, the feel of his healthy pudginess. My arms and back anticipate his weight. The soft, smooth feel of his hair long ago embedded themselves on my soul. Even the texture of the unpleasant, though common, are familiar. The feels of my unborn grandson are already writing themselves to my hard drive.
My nose tingles when I think of the smells. Both virulent and healing aromas weave themselves together in memory and hope. The smell of both rancid and aromatic are equally regarded when they tangle with my already boundless love for the boy to come. Hasn’t he always been? (Jeremiah 1:5)
Impulsive, divine tears and silly grins compete for top bill at the sounds of giggles and gurgles months before the first sound wave reaches my ear. Angst and worry have their moments as well when I well up at shrill sounds of illnesses that will have to be endured by the small one. He won’t understand and my heart will break. My limbs tense into rescue mode as I think about the communication sounds that will burst forth from one so new to earth.
The half-smiles, the pout I’ll love so much, that expression my son used to make that I’d forgotten, and even my grandfather’s nose have already inscribed themselves upon my heart. All of God’s hopes and dreams have conspired to create this winsome sight.
I can taste the boundless joy. My own, that of the remarkable woman who carries him in her womb, my very tall baby boy, and the confident and optimistic God who still believes in humanity.
I am at the IDEC (the International Democratic Education Conference) in Boulder, Colorado. This is a uniquely structured, “unlike any other” conference of educators and students that is hosted each year in different locations around the globe. I am here seeking inspiration, to learn from my global kindred, and to be among people who envision a future in which every child and adult is affirmed as a beloved, respected individual.
One of the features of the conference this year are home-base groups. Each day, we meet with the same small group to reflect on our experiences of the day.
I was struck by the juxtaposition of two reflections shared by two women this afternoon: one from England and the other from Japan.
Having spent some time observing people on Boulder’s Pearl Street (a closed street area of shops and restaurants) a woman from England characterized Americans as a people of openness and generosity. Describing the interactions between people and a street performer she said, “What a wonderful culture!”
I confess I felt pride in my homeland as I listened to her. Yes, despite our problems, we are a good people. However, I was quickly reminded that we’re also a people who are capable of unleashing violence on others.
Today was the 68th Anniversary of the nuclear strike against Hiroshima, a fact which was not in my consciousness. It was, however, on the mind of a Japanese woman in my group. She lamented the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear power as evident in the Fukushima disaster. I detected no anger with Americans; she never mentioned us. However, our role in this human tragedy was not lost on me.
Her sadness with the evils humanity can wreak were superseded by her passion for changing the world. A young woman, I felt hopeful listening to her speak on this disgraceful anniversary in human (and American) history.
Human beings are messy. The same people — my people — who are open and generous are also capable of great evil. The truth is that humanity is imperfect and fragmented. Yet, at IDEC I feel hopeful; it doesn’t have to be this way.
And so this evening, I simply pray that we find the holy within each other that we might realize we are One. When we do, we will be reluctant to harm one another. When we do, I am convinced that God will dance a jig of joy!
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 CEB
In the hot July sun, I discovered a little shade beside a dribble of a waterfall. Sitting sipping from my water bottle, I discovered new life beside the holy rocks. Beneath the stagnant pool was full of polliwogs darting with youthful exuberance.
I last hiked along Oregon’s Deschutes River at the end of February. Though I saw early signs of spring, it took some optimism to do so.
If you squint you can imagine flowering vegetation in the Deschutes River Canyon in late February. Photo by Tim Graves
The blue sky is reflected in the waters of the Deschutes River. Surrounded by hints of green along the canyon, spring is on the horizon in late February. Photo by Tim Graves
My hike yesterday, however, required no faithful optimism to see the season of resurrection in the midst of nature. Trees budded, many blossomed. Wildflowers and green sprouts enclosed the brown dirt upon which I journeyed. It was easy to believe in Mother Nature’s resilience and the god of resurrections in early April.
Zoom in past the green hue of the Deschutes River canyon and you will find plant life abloom. Photo by Tim Graves
Budding trees have turned to colorful blossoms in the Deschutes River canyon. Photo by Tim Graves
Low lying vegetation emerges from its winter hibernation in the Deschutes River canyon. Photo by Tim Graves
Spiraling out of winter, vegetation is blooming in the Deschutes River canyon in early April. Photo by Tim Graves
Wildflowers line the middle trail at Deschutes River Recreation area. Photo by Tim Graves
Wildflowers line the middle trail at Deschutes River Recreation area. Photo by Tim Graves
The trees on islands and along side the Deschutes River leaf in joy in early April. Photo by Tim Graves
The most notable contrast between my late February hike and this week was not the flowering trees or wildflowers, however. It was the non-plant wildlife that has emerged. I saw beetles and huge-whiskered squirrels. Crows were in flight, the bumblebees and yellow jackets diligently moved from flower to flower. Elusive Western Meadowlarks rustled leaves while the lizard darted across my path evading the camera lens. The Deschutes canyon is full of life emerging from winter hibernation. New life and creatures that have returned from southern migrations abound between the canyon walls.
A crow takes flight in the Deschutes River canyon in early April. Photo by Tim Graves
An emerging beetle crosses the hiker’s path in early April. Photo by Tim Graves
Bees are active in the Deschutes River canyon in early April. Photo by Tim Graves
Like bird and beetle, people emerge from their warming enclosures in the spring. In my late February trek, I was alone on the dirt ribbons that parallel the river. This week I encountered several people walking the trail.
Though we forget when trees and foliage fade to browns and yellows, spring comes reliably in the northern hemisphere. In the frozen precipitation and the browns and pale yellows of winter our moods drive us to feel that the darkness of the present will be endless. We fumble through February and early March convinced that we are alone in our winter wandering and seclusion.
But the God of resurrections and seasons never abandons even when we distance ourself from divine love. The Divine within all and between all of creation, loves and cares as deeply and as fully in the grey days as in the midst of blossoms. Like nature and Jesus in the Christian narrative of faith, we are resurrected from times of distress, anxiety, death, and fears to a world clothed in purples, greens, oranges, and hope.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life . . . Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith! Luke 12:22a, 24-31 CEB (Read in context.)
We tend to think in yes and no, in dark and light, in good and evil, in right and wrong, and in happy and sad. But this dualistic mindset is not reflected in creation.
Having been away from the hiking trails for too long I headed out yesterday to satiate my craving for nature. Unable to cross the Hood River bridge to Washington state because of a car crash, I ended up on my second-choice trail on the Oregon side for the day.
As I headed up the unmarked trail to Mitchell Point, images of the familiar trail began to flash in my mind. I awaited the log I’ve nicknamed, “evolving fish crawling out of the primordial sea.” (Yeah, I know it’s kinda long for a nickname.) As I crossed the meadow, I remembered the wildflowers of summer that were now a distant memory.
I trudged across stones littered with brown leaves. The openness created by the barren and near barren deciduous trees seemed to emphasize the vista that I could not see. My head bowed downward in disappointment as I journeyed to the peak, which I was now sure would lack the beauty I remembered.
I begrudged the fog. I was disappointed that I ended up on a trail — which I knew had excellent vistas — on a day that they hid behind the clouds.
Then a remarkable thing happened, a sign was laid across my path. I first noticed the large tree fallen across the trail as I rounded the switchback. “Ugh!,” I muttered as I realized this tree would require me to stoop underneath it to continue my journey. As I got closer, however, I saw tiny little umbrellas (or were they parasols?) arranged artfully on a lush green blanket.
I was fascinated. I was excited. An ear to ear grin spread across my face as I moved close to see the intricate detail of the light brown, pale yellow fungus. This sign of hope from the One changed me. Soon, my step was lighter. Instead of grieving over the missing vistas, blue skies, and full trees I began to notice the resurrecting life all around me.
Yes, the deciduous trees are becoming dormant and even the flowers that bloom into autumn are gone but there is also new life. Resurrected moss and toadstools that seemed to have died during the hot summer months have returned in brilliant hues.
Looking down I saw a single toadstool as I neared the precipice of Mitchell Point. Down on my hands and knees, I lay on the hard rockwhere nothing is supposed to grow and appreciated the orangish, multicolored parasol. It was more sturdy than the delicate ones I’d seen at lower altitude.
Perhaps its stocky demeanor was necessary to protect it from the Gorge winds. Brilliant green grasses surrounded it as if to say, “We, too, are alive!”
I moved twenty feet upward to the peak. I sat cross-legged on the formidable, unyielding rock looked westward and watched the foggy clouds move around other rocks that jutted into the Columbia Gorge. I lifted my hands and soul to God, to the Divine One that connects all of humanity and all of creation, and simply “was.” No agenda but to listen to the Spirit, I sat.
I heard it first, then felt the sharp pellets of ice as they hit my face. Twelve-hundred feet above the river, I was humbled by the power of nature — the living, growing world created by the living growing One who loves me extravagantly. The fog forced my attention to itself with frozen spheres. I looked westward at the fog that lovingly wrapped its arms
around the mountains. I found hope and release in the heavy clouds and the intricacies beneath my feet.
No, I couldn’t see as far as I did on my last trip into the heights of the Columbia River Gorge. Though the blue skies were gone, I would not have noticed the details along the path if my eyes had been focused on the vista.
In the fall season when we think that winter death is imminent the Divine energy that flows through creation is rejuvenating. Perhaps it takes fog and clouds — and sometimes sharp pieces of ice — so that we can see the resurrecting hope that is beneath our feet.
I watched the movie Crash last evening. My wife’s comments after it was over were, “Well, that was depressing.” She was right and yet there were also tiny slivers of hope.
This movie begins at the scene of a multiple car crash in Los Angeles. We are then taken back to the day prior. The film builds very slowly as we meet characters from a variety of racial and ethnic groups: Americans of European and Middle Eastern descent, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans. The characters display bigotry, hatred, anxiety, fears, hopes, and many of the worst aspects of human nature. Very few of the characters fully gain the viewers’ sympathy and, yet, none of the characters are without some redeeming character no matter how small.
As I reflect on the film, the word to describe the actions in it I believe is sin. I define sin as a separation from God and from each other. Separation was plenty in this film. People judged one another based on skin color and actions. People used other people, killed other people, and molested other people but mostly they didn’t see each other or hear each other. It was not a complimentary view of humanity.
And yet there were slivers of hope. One character that demeaned another in the worst possible way, refused to leave her to die after a car crash. Another character who seemed to have given up on his brother, made sure his elderly mother had groceries in her refrigerator, one carjacker displayed empathy for illegal aliens who were bound toward slavery. There was hope when the individuals however briefly opened their eyes and saw their fellow human beings.
So, what do I do with these film images that refuse to leave my head?
This film doesn’t reflect my view of humanity or life and, yet, it is hard to deny that there is truth in this film. What I didn’t see in this film were people who consistently choose to operate from a place of love. I know lots of those people. Typically, they are people of faith; they are Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims. In this blog, I will periodically highlight individuals in my life who exude the love of God or Allah or Jehovah or who seek the peace of enlightenment. Some of these people I have known for years; with some I only had brief encounters. In each of these human beings I can feel the Spirit in them.