Go ahead, find some shoes and go out the door. You don't have to be gone long, just go. Ten minutes out, ten minutes back if that's all you can "afford" to invest today. But when you're out there, be all there! Be mindful of what you see and hear in your world.. Start listening with your eyes. You never know what you might discover. And if you won't take my word for it, here's a quote to get you motivated!
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher." William Wordsworth
What are you waiting for? The weekend is whispering your name..."Come. Pause. Listen." Yes. You. Out.the.door.
A wise man recently told me – you need to learn to hear with your eyes (oh, Moshe Kempinski, the conversations I’ve been having with you in my head) so I decide to do that today. I wonder what will I see, what I will hear? I am choosing to be intentional about looking...
but I don’t really know what I am looking for...(and life is a lot like that, most days.)
I am walking in the most ordinary of places today, unlike my recent adventures in the intense and varied land of Israel. Oh, such a place, such a place. I’ll never forget the wonder of exploring Hippos...was that just three weeks ago?
To stand atop that mountain, with a bit of breeze lifting my hair, taking in a splendid view, wandering with friends or alone on a cardo (Main Street) that was centuries...no, millennia old?
Seeing where the columns fell in a row, here, here, here, when an earthquake shook the city... It is like a dream...thinking about it right now, I feel wistful, full of longing to walk there again. (Hippos was in my top two “wow” moments in Israel, along with Gethsemane.)
But I am not in Hippos anymore, I am back here in my rather drab spring-isn’t-quite-here-yet world, where I’ve walked hundreds of times. What can there possibly be to see, I wonder?
I don’t know what I’m looking for, I’m just looking, eyes wide open, ears too.
How many shades of brown can there be? Yes, bits of green are emerging, but overall, the landscape is underwhelming.
I notice the barbed wire fence needs repair near the creek...which means I have no trouble at all scrambling through to the interesting side. (Last time, the fence looked much better, and I looked much worse after I snagged my pants and ripped a red angry scratch in my leg.)
It’s the season of mud, just now, wedged here between winter that will not give up and spring that can’t find it’s mettle. The water along the creek is finally receding after recent rain and heavy snow raised the banks to overflowing.
I’m listening with my eyes, and I can hear the busy-ness scramble of life along the creek banks when I'm not here. Lots of small creatures, coming and going, stretching to reach the creek for a drink, creating little tracks through the grass, highways and byways leading to hidden burrows and holes beneath giant gnarled tree roots. Groundhog, squirrel, chipmunk, a skunk, right here, a few weeks ago, creeping across the frozen span.
Around the far side of an enormous stump, a startled muskrat hustles herself straight into the water and disappears. As I pause, birds flit from brush pile to the thorny hedge that is the perfect cover for song sparrows and nest building cardinals. Overhead, two red-wing blackbirds seem to be gossiping about me, pink hooded intruder; robin fuss tells everyone I’m here.
A flash of white grabs my attention...pure white feather resting in the mud.
I’m pleased with myself for noticing...but when I bend down, a bit of movement surprises me:
a honey bee, stopping for some water.
The creek is too fast for her tiny form, so she’s grateful for mud...me, not so much.
I take a few more steps, and the story of the white feather unfolds before my eyes. I'm hearing the scream of the hawk, the muffled piping of the lovely pigeon who became dinner. Now as the wind scatters feathers, I know the tree swallows will gather whiteness to soften their nests in a few weeks.
I climb up the bank and wander along the edge of the cemetery. I wonder about this enormous rock which I have never noticed before.
It’s probably eight feet by six feet, and I’m sure it’s always been here, but I wasn’t listening for its story until today. Why is it uncovered, all weathered and worn, right here in the middle of a grassy area just south of the grave stones.
And who etched this cross along the side?
I clamber through another broken down fence, and stooping, I spot the tiny blue brightness of corn speedwell.
Yes, it’s a weed, but it’s hard to argue with this kind of blueness.
A tree stump
with a half dozen gnarled roots reaching into the stream
is the perfect spot to pause
and let my soul finally
catch up to the rest of me.
I sit for a long time.
I realize I have missed this ordinary place in the weeks I’ve been “seeing the world,”
missed the opportunity to ramble at my own (slow) pace,
missed these familiar sounds -
and horses clip-clopping along the road
and wind whispering, "Welcome home..."
I whisper back, "It’s good to be home."
It's time to get back to the house now; neighbors rumble by in their carriage, waving. I pause once more, looking up through the branches of my favorite meadow tree. I don’t see it from this angle very often.
This is a tree whose stories I would love to hear. I’m certain this ancient oak predates all the European settlers who traveled to this area in the mid-1700’s. The first church in the valley stood right here in the meadow, and this tree probably stood in or near the church yard, hearing the preaching and the visiting and the laughter of children and the singing. Today it only heard the wind. And humming.
And what did I hear today, with my eyes?
I read the music,
and I heard the song of home.
This sweet and lonesome melody,
with interludes of long silence, stanzas of joy and lament -
it is my song.
And so, I sing.
HumminB (is home!)
December 21. Four days until Christmas. “Are you ready for Christmas?” is a common question these days…checking lists…what remains to be done before The Day?
How about pause.
(Maybe next week???)
No, I suggest, I urge, now.
Today. And maybe again tomorrow.
Pause. Because you need The Presence.
The hunting season is paused for a few weeks, and
I need the exercise,
I need the woods,
I need to think,
I need to pause,
This is a good prayer for such a day, for such a season:
O God, You are my God.
I seek you earnestly.
My soul thirsts for you… longs for you…
As in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
(Or at least no snow so far this winter.)
I wander up the path. The woodspace is open now;
leafless trees pause in the life cycle for rest, to go deep, to wait for spring.
Bird song is muted; no murmur of a breeze can be heard.
Not one squirrel announces my presence; we’ve had a sudden cold snap and they are hunkered down in their messy looking dreys.
It’s a still place.
But it is not empty.
I am halfway to wherever when I finally tune in to the whispers of life surrounding me.
I hear a great horned owl calling, low and steady, pause, repeat. The call is repeated in a higher pitch far up the mountain. Mating season comes early for these predators.
Woodpeckers tap.tap.tap. their steady rhythms and call out the warnings
when I encroach on their space.
The raucous alarm cry of the pileated woodpecker raises my curiosity and I stand, pause long, until I spot him, high in the canopy. (Sorry, no clear picture!) I wait him out, and he forgets me, or decides I’m not a threat, and resumes his busy-ness- he is dangling, twisting, snatching red berries from a bittersweet vine twined sixty feet above the forest floor. Looks like a happenin’ Christmas party for one.
I see other signs of forest activity. Someone has cleared a fallen tree from the path and neatly stacked the wood. Something has torn apart a log in search of a snack; I notice a recently excavated hole about the size of a chipmunk…it’s nap time.
Long unseen fingers of frozenness have brushed across the pond, adding crackle glaze to tree reflections.
I could turn around now, and it would be enough-
But I choose otherwise. This time I will not rush home. This is a different kind of power walk…
I hear the water before I see the glory,
a stream of water gushing from a hidden source deep in the heart of the mountain.
It is my favorite resting place on a hot summer afternoon. Beyond this spot, the path disintegrates into a tangle of thorny canes and tick cover and snake rocks, but right here, a reservoir overflows with pure clearness that quenches more than my thirst today.
It’s been just cold enough, and the ice beauty catches me off guard. Oh, dear God, You did this. For me?
I doubt anyone else has seen it, just this way, this day. My eyes, my soul can barely take it in.
I see a host of ice fractals, patterned in a multitude of designs.
A waterfall of icicles flows from one nondescript twig.
This one makes me smile...(is this what happens to naughty aliens?)
I stand back to take in the delicate ring of ice formations…ummm, did You intend that to be heart shaped?
And then, ohhh...these exquisite ferns.
I’m out of words and on my knees,
to see this breathtaking beauty,
to capture photos so I will remember,
to say "thank you."
Psalm 63:2-4 continues:
So I have looked upon You, I have seen You – to gaze at, to perceive, to contemplate with pleasure. This is a more poetic word than the usual “seen.” It refers to a prophetic vision and insight, to seeing God.
In the sanctuary – a sacred place. “God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy.” (Note from NASB Key Word Study Bible, OT entry 6944) Moses heard God’s voice at the burning bush, “...the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” It was his unexpected encounter with the living God in an ordinary place that became holy. Yes. I get that. I'm standing stock still on holy frozen ground.
I don’t take my shoes off…brrr... but my soul kneels and my heart is raised in praise to this One who would pause to create this place of pause to meet my need,
to meet me.
My lips will praise you – to address in a loud tone! (I’m doing it, yes I am, because my heart is overflowing, and I just want to thank Someone.)
Because Your steadfast love – your lovingkindness, your unfailing love
Is better than life itself.
I will bless /honor/praise You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
Jesus, You whom we
during this frantic, festive season,
I will pause to praise You as long as I live,
or at least, let me be singing when the evening comes.
It was a perfect day for mountain hiking, alone. The air had warmed considerably to about seventy degrees from early morning lows near forty. The breeze kept any bugs away, but I really don't think the little critters have figured out the hot/cold/hot/cold spring we've been having, so they were a non-problem all around. The birds seemed exuberantly thankful for a balmy afternoon, and the trees were alive with their songs, like beautiful background music on continuous shuffle.
I walked and walked and walked. I sat. I thought long thoughts or no thoughts at all. (Is that possible??) I fell asleep. I listened to the noisy quiet, to wind rustle and bird song. I stood perfectly still for minutes at a time. Eventually, I breathed deeply and began to look for a writing rock. A poem had been steeping in the back, back, back of my mind since my last long hike, three long weeks ago. My life and mind had been scrambled and noisy, and the words had been lingering so long, I was afraid they would dry up and disappear. I found a just right rock and penned (actually penciled...) my central Pennsylvania mountains version of John Masefield's poem, Sea Fever.
This weekend, the woods beckoned. The air was chill, but my soul was in need of the distinctive solitude of pine forest and mountain lake.
I had (very dirty) windows to wash at home, but it had been so long since I'd hiked beneath blue skies...
I sat on a bench that was almost warm and thought long thoughts, even did some scribbling on a scrap of paper I'd managed to remember to bring with me. I didn't see any turtles, but I felt like one, basking in the weak promise of late March sunshine.
A duckling squabble arose from the reeds nearby, (although I never saw the little ones,) and this joyful singer raised a song sparrow serenade from a nearby twig. His exuberance made me smile.
I meandered around the still, dark lake, soaking in the silence. Only my feet made a racket, scuffing through leftover leaves gathered inches thick on the seldom used trail. It felt good just to put one foot ahead of the other, following the curve of the path to wherever it led.
And then I saw these funny fellows and they made me chuckle. The roots were sprawled everywhere, and I wouldn've sprawled headlong if I hadn't been careful. They seemed posed for a picture, so I obliged. Like all the rest of us, they seemed to be waiting, waiting, waiting for the warm rays of spring sunshine. Of course, they've been lying there a long, long time. These days, I need the reminder of their patience as I wait for spring, wait, wait wait for it...
Sometimes a little humor helps me wait. Sometimes.
(a haiku for days when spring is not yet)
Solitude is... (excerpts from Bread for the Journey by Henri J.M. Nouwen)
Solitude is the garden for our hearts...
Solitude is the place where our aloneness can bear fruit...
Solitude is essential for our spiritual lives...
Solitude is not an easy place to be,
since we are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by
whatever promises immediate satisfaction.
Solitude is not immediately satisfiying because in solitude we meet
our feelings of lust and anger,
and our immense need for recognition and approval.
But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says:
Do not be afraid.
I am with you,
And I will guide you through the valley of darkness.
Let us keep returning to our solitude.
All quotes excerpted from the writings of Henri J.M. Nouwen. Hummin'B
I'm heading out for another walk, thinking about why/how I do this as often as I do. Somehow the waters of my days are parted occasionally and I find a path to my wooded wandering place. Certainly it's great exerscise for my body - although it would be even better exercise without this dangling camera...often my footsteps slow, stop, even back up, as I catch a glimpse, then try to capture, some tiny exquisite jewel...or I look up and long to pull in the wonder of morning gold. But my camera can only garner what it's one dimensional wide eye can observe. It cannot catch the hum of crickets warming in late September's angled rays nor the damp fresh smell floating from Lydia's laundry. Still, I take my camera anyway, thought it slows me down, for recently I've realized that the physical benefits might actualy be secondary. Even if this were fattening, I might still find a way to do it....
So why? Why let sixty three possible projects undone: dishes stacked with breakfast drying on the edges, slow cooker awaiting chopped veggies, clothes dryer dinging "done," lesson plans strewn across the desk…oh, the desk. There are appointments to be made for my parents, my son, myself. Editing/writing projects call my name, and I know I'm not prepared to teach Sunday school this week. (Whose idea was it to tackle "grieving the Holy Spirit" as a topic. Oh. Mine. Sigh.) I keep moving through unseen beckoning tendrils of the "oughts," past the silent glare of the to-do list. I am moving toward the door, toward a different choice for these 30-40-50 minutes.
Because I've been learning something lately:
When I get to the end of life, my in box will not be empty.
My list will not be ended.
The oughts will not all be accomplished.
So, I cannot wait for the perfect time or enough time.
I just have to take time. NOW.
You know, in the present.
With the Presence.
I'm almost there...here. I choose my water proof hikers. I choose this way to breathe life into my soul. I walk outside and close door on all of that, for now. It will all be there later. It will all wait. But this moment will not wait.
"High moments of holy companionship are found
as one's ordinary life is lived out in the Creator's extraordinary creation."
(Corrine Ware in St. Benedict on the Freeway)
I almost didn't take that dusky, evening walk; the shoulds and oughts clamored and called, and I vainly tried to quiet them with more thought- words. Like a horde of noisy trolls, they were spinning and tumbling over each other in their efforts to gain my attention. I caught only snippets of the whisperings of the Other.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the words "silent" and "listen" are composed of the same six letters.
I walked, looking, listening, breathing. My thoughts slowed to match my pace, settling, resting, waiting, expectant, and finally, still. Silent. Some half noticed something surfaced in the pool of my reverie, and I tracked back for another look. There it was, a distinct, heart shaped melted spot, black and clear on the snowy road, surrounded by white slush and gravel. If I'd seen a photo of it (and why oh why, didn't I take one???) I'd have suspected it was doctored, concocted, photo shopped into existence. I wondered if some clever prankster waited around the corner. But there was no one. I walked the road alone as far as I could see.
And that perhaps, was my problem at the moment. "As far as I could see" was simultaneously not enough and too much. When I looked at my life, I wanted to see farther, yet what I was sure I knew had me weary and worried. And I couldn't truly see what was right in front of me because I wasn't truly looking. Who but the One who placed it there knew how much this lovely, lowly reminder of his love was needed by my own dark heart, gritty with daily life and stained with salt wash. The next swerving car or sure footed hoof print would have smudged and erased this unmistakable love note. It was just for me, just now, here. And I almost missed it.
"You're loved, child. See I put this here just for you, then I whispered your name, and called you here. You almost didn't hear, didn't come, didn't see, distracted as you were by the ceaseless noise of the immediate. I'm so glad you came. I'm especially fond of you."
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the words "silent" and "listen" are composed of the same six letters.
sound fragments from a winter walk at dusk
snow hush, boot slush.
carriage clatter, cardinal chatter.
hawk scream, murmuring stream.
Quiet listener heard God whisper.
I like to take long walks, even in the winter. Maybe especially then.
The pace of my life slows. (I can only walk so fast....) The burdens I am carrying- fresh, daily failures, frustrations about situations I cannot change, sweaty palm anxieties for unseen future moments- fall from my shoulders like weightless snow dust.
I breathe differently. I think about what it feels like to breathe. in. deeply. I feel a snowflake touch my cheek, gently, and melt there. It is like the kiss of God.
I listen to my boots squeaky-creaking in unpacked snow and wish for more words to describe the walking sounds of winter. If Finnish has over forty words describing snow, couldn't we add some of them to English? People are always coming up with new words, silly little words like chillaxing...a word which seems particularly ridiculous on a twenty-degree day with a northeast wind stirring the drifts... Oh, I'm wandering again...won't you join me?
As I wander, I look, I really look. I open my eyes wide and try to take it all in. I am surrounded by beauty. Always. The finger of God paints my world with splashes of cardinal red. He doodles in sepia tones, great misty masterpieces. Barren trees and bent stemmed weeds are transformed, suddenly, into such beauty it takes my breath away. I am overcome with awe, with wonder. I do a little snowboot shuffle joydance on Hickory Lane and hope no one is watching, except One. I hope, I know, He sees. And He knows it is my thank you for the gift of this moment, the wonder of this glory. I think I am living the reality of these ancient words-
The heavens are telling the glory of God, the firmament shows His handiwork...
Help me to keep looking,
to keep listening for You.
For You are transforming
my bent stemmed world
into your Masterpiece.
(I guess I'll save "Ice is Nice" for tomorrow...)
I'm finding my way beyond the maze of the "middle" years