Tag Archives: stillness

how interesting it all is

There is comfort to be found in the mountains, in the open air, in the away.

There’s something to it; maybe it’s the stillness. Maybe the fresh air alters our chemistry. Maybe there’s a spiritual component, whatever that means.

Years ago, before I knew how frayed the edges of my religion were, I noticed this comfort. Sometimes on Sunday mornings the thought of church was enough to make me cry, and the mountains provided a specific kind of escape, one that called to me. I didn’t know why I was so upset–even if you couldn’t name thirst you would drink water when you came to it–now I think my brain and body were rebelling against situational anxiety that I couldn’t identify as such, and wouldn’t be able to for years to come. That particular stage and script, for which I was so ill-suited, was making me sick. These things will out, somehow.

I confess I cried recently while watching Pete’s Dragon in the theater with my kids. I’ve written about wildness here before–how it’s a gift I was granted in childhood. I have a deep gratitude for it, and often wonder if I’m giving it to my own children, and how exactly to do it. Parents know this matrix of examination all too well, this thing where I think we’re okay on this front, but what about xyz thoughts make you stare at the ceiling at night. The movie, with all its beauty and wildness, abandonment and new starts, its understanding of home and companionship, has stayed in my thoughts since.

In German, I understand, there is a word for the feeling you get when you’re alone in a forest. I’m spending a lot of words to try to name the feeling of being comforted and filled by wild things. This is not nearly so elegant, and yet I learned to name the thirst over time. I’m learning to name the water.

This summer we spent two weeks in national parks, which is a curious experience because you’re right there in the wildness, with hundreds of other people. This was no backcountry camping trip. It can be pretty comical, really, but you know what was beautiful? The shared, earnest, childlike excitement over the sight of a bear, or an eagle, or the first of many bison. Adults, standing in clusters, huddled around specialized lenses that they set up before dawn, just waiting for a glimpse of the wildness. And when you catch it, it’s spectacular. You exclaim and sigh and point and smile and ask your neighbor if they see it.

You ask them if they see it, and they say yes, and you share that moment of communion.

So we followed the paved roads, hungry for sight. We walked along dirt trails; we respected and preserved. We didn’t pick the flowers, but we took three pictures of the same flower, or four. We gaped at boiling hot thermal pools–deadly, agate-like marvels. We took in the beauty of a red-rocked desert that is more harsh than the desert we live in.

And when we left, we were beauty-saturated. I scribbled memories in a moose-adorned journal: we saw a marmot frantically eating on the tundra. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins to the kids each night, in the tent. We sipped wine by the fire, or whiskey, after they went to sleep, listening to the night sounds. Silas drew the solar system in the dirt with a stick. There are purple lupines everywhere. Ricky braved the mosquitoes to take a bath in the river.

Life is now schedules and routines, and fresh back to school energy. What does it mean to commune with wildness? Is that even the thing I’m trying to name here? I only know this: when my children stop to examine the snails that emerge after a summer monsoon, or when we spent a Saturday gleefully wading in a shallow river and they caught their first tadpole, when I notice them examining the growing pecans in the backyard, or finding mama toad and papa toad in the leaves, and in all of these things see their complete engagement, I feel a type of hope that I’m seeking. I think that this is how I pray, now, if prayer can be simply slowing down enough to notice how interesting everything really is, and to feed yourself with that.

There is so much to see, to learn, to appreciate. It truly is the work of a lifetime.

I need to teach them all kinds of things, but this learning, theirs and mine, is particularly sweet.

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Sabbath

At present we hear

only the sound of

hush, hush, hush

and so take our joy

in things like warm red wine, like

a blanket and socked feet touching,

in the hours-long nap the babies have settled

into, in choosing which song-words to teach them

this season.

All is as it should be, nothing to fix,

nothing to re-arrange.

Nothing to do except lay my head on your shoulder

as the snow parades down and we applaud its perfection.

Stop, rest, wait.

Come evening we ladle out a slow-cooked dinner, clink

water cups all around,

and light the second candle.

Fill us with good things, I breathe.

Today is for hush and glow.

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Illusion & Light

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about Advent, and how it can be a good time for grieving. It’s a season of outer sheen, but many people are processing things in the shadows. There’s a peculiar kind of grief that hovers over the season.

In some ways, this sadness stems from the fictional idea of a “perfect” Christmas that advertisements feed us. Consumerism lures year round, but this time of year the pull is especially strong. We’re not just buying a toy or a book, we’re told cleverly, we’re buying an experience, a memory, a feeling. But then the day comes and goes, and whatever problems we have are still problems. The idea of a perfect Christmas is an illusion, and the aftermath brings an aching, empty feeling.

But there’s more to it than just that. Judy Garland captures a beautiful melancholy in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. When she croons have yourself a merry little Christmas, I feel that thing I don’t quite have words for, that remembrance of childhood hopes and anticipation and wonder, mixed in with all the adult realities of my life. Christmas can be a lot of work, and I miss loved ones who aren’t around, but I’m also missing something I never actually had. 

I’ve realized in the past few years, as my curiosity about the liturgical year has grown, that Advent is about homesickness for the Kingdom of God. I didn’t come to this idea myself, but it gives me language for something I’ve felt many times.

There’s an undercurrent to Advent that invites us to enter into the world’s pain more deeply. To pour from our fragile pitcher of grief into the vast ocean of sorrow and then wade out into it, letting the waves crash against our legs. To feel a little more than we let ourselves feel at other times. Our pain calls us to see each other, to see ourselves, to understand and name our longing for a different Kingdom.

someday soon, we all will be together

I love the tradition of lighting Advent candles. Each Sunday, as the tradition calls for, we light one, then two, then three, then all. Each light reminds us that we’re drawing closer to Christmas, but the unlit candles also remind us that we’re in a season of waiting.

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A profound difference exists between the disappointment that comes when Christmas presents don’t actually fill our void and the sharing of grief that Advent calls us to. Both involve sadness, yes, but one points to an earthly kingdom and one points us to the upside-down kingdom where God is at work in the shadows, inviting us to join. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Rather than something to dread, setting apart a season to tune in to the pain of the world and join that world in waiting for relief is a gift. We remember our own losses, unmet expectations, “the hopes and fears of all the years” and we wait, quietly.

I’d like to learn to be better at quiet, this Advent. At rest. It’s only December 3rd but I’m feeling slightly anxious because we have no decorations up, not even those four Advent candles. I’m very much vulnerable to the illusion of a perfect Christmas. I like order, and plans, and not missing out. My instinct is to channel my anxiety, which is probably really grief, into frantic attempts at creating that illusion to make myself feel better. And it’s true: the glowing tree and the wooden Nativity and the kids’ crafts I’ve saved will make me feel good. Beauty points to its own Author. But then I think about the mess of this season. The mess of a baby on the way and no marriage certificate to make things tidy. Mary pushing out a baby in the messiest of conditions. All those months, giving a body to God, putting flesh on a Spirit, tissue differentiating into muscle and bone, taking all from a tired, vulnerable, unspeakably brave mother. It fills me with hope to realize that Mess can point to God, too. 

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Ah, she knew about stillness, about rest. Can I make a space for the Child, right here? Can I find the holy space that contains the beautiful and the messy, and choose to be still in it?

This season seems to be brimming with the purest kind of rest. I don’t want illusion, not really, even though I’ll forget and chase it from time to time. I want illumination. To bring my whole, messy self to the manger, yet again.

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rooted

We make our way down the hill from the cul-de-sac to the footpath, me pushing the stroller, their little faces growing rosy in the cold air. Still growing accustomed to all of these trees, we look up, quiet, crunching the diminishing leaf piles underneath. As we walk toward the water, the remaining leaved branches shimmer and sway in the slight breeze, but my gaze goes to line of thinning, nearly bare trees in the distance. They don’t seem to move at all. It’s as if they’ve shifted their weight a little lower into the earth and now they stand with perfect posture, rooted, stoic.

There’s a different sort of chill in the air today; autumn is giving way, slowly. I’m thinking of the winter to come, of more time indoors.

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In the early hours before sunlight, I fold myself out of the warm bed, first creaking down the stairs for coffee, to listen and write in the still, taking joy from all the feathers lining my nest lately. I’ve known bare, too.

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The man who helped to bring me up in this world would have been 65 last Friday. I’ve never observed All Saint’s Day before, and so I haven’t noticed its proximity to his birthday. It comes around this time of year when we’re adjusting to less light, reading more, wrapping up in warmth, re-calibrating to a slower rhythm.

So maybe it’s a gift that the community church we visited on Sunday celebrated All Saint’s Day a week late. They placed remembrances on an altar, lit candles, wiped their eyes, and later we passed bread and sipped wine from that same altar. When we sang a song honoring the ordinary saints that we love and miss, I heard my Dad in the words.

It was a gift to pause and feel the sadness tug at me, but meet quickly with joy as it does now. It took years for that to happen, for time to weave its silky cocoon around all those sharp edges that would pierce with every turn. I’m blessed to remember someone so fondly. Blessed for these roots from which to draw water.

And today, blessed to walk through our little neighborhood forest as it shakes its leaves down and reminds me: I’m rooted, I’m known, and all shall be well.

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November 15, 2013 · 5:00 am