Thunderstorms & Victories

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MO 2015

I’m learning so much and some days it feels as though it’s too much goodness to take in. Days go by like minutes and all I can see when I close my eyes are still shot memories playing like a slideshow to echo how much goodness there is in the world when you have found your people, your own voice, your own spiritual expression. I see friends with whom I danced upon hilltops and city lots, celebrating art and culture and community. I see the many cities of the past that made me and the upcoming travels peeking up over the horizon that will soon make me. I see so much to celebrate and yet my mind is restless. I’m in a season of great excitement, but also unknown change after I end my fellowship in two months. In preparation, my to-do list expands ever long and a hundred possibilities of next steps to take keep my tired mind active until it’s 3 AM and I’m typing incoherent musings onto a blog.

But tonight feels a little different. Strong rain beats against the house and I open my bedroom window-fairly confident a cool front is coming through-to give some refreshing air to my muggy room. I turn off all the lights until I am laying in bed listening to the night sky speak in splendor through flashing lightning, rustling trees, and steady rain hitting pavement. My mind is tempted to sort through how I’m going to be able to fit in all the things I need to- or “should” do-this week in light of a couple weeks’ worth of upcoming travel.

But I lay here, the night storm reminding me of pleasant memories, like camping in Puerto Rico last summer. There was that night when I woke up at 4 AM muttering expletives over the tent window I left unzipped that resulted in wet pajamas and a soggy sleeping bag. It didn’t take long for cursing to turn to laughter as I thought about the joy it actually was to be woken up by both the insomniac bulls groaning in the distance and by a rain that smelled of intoxicating fresh raw Earth. I laugh at the memory, grateful that I’m enjoying tonight’s storm with the sound clarity as though I am out there in my tent, but with the luxury of a warm, dry body.

The storm has captured my heart into an entranced calm, the Earthen sounds, smells and sights a natural spring aphrodisiac of sorts. Lying there, listening, I feel as though the storm is speaking to my soul. You’ve forgotten what the point is, it calls out. You’ve forgotten the point is to daily lie in awe of a world filled with people and places and processes that you can’t explain but can only appreciate. The lightning grows brighter and I feel the rise and fall of my chest. You have a heart that beats over 100,000 times a day. Oxygen and lungs to breathe some 12-20 times a minute. Stars and sun that hang above you, grass and barefoot feet below you. All around us are people on the sidewalk, people in the grocery store, friends, family or maybe even a lover whose bodies do these processes too and have that light above and ground below.

So maybe the biggest victory I can have today is being able to stand in the midst of all the work and email and pending decisions and ringing phones to remember that life is for awe and wonder. Maybe my real achievement is not the next speaking engagement or conference invite, but is being able to close my eyes before slumber and hear the own pulse of my heart, pondering the human body and all of its unconscious processes that will go on whether we pay attention or not, like respiration and growing new skin. Maybe it’s in these achievements, these victories of mindfulness, that true life lies- a real place in which hope and peace dance in symbiotic heartbeats that draw creation to Creator. And maybe tomorrow, I’ll return to this space after another full but good day, and feel this gratitude perhaps unprecipitated by storms, in communion with Creator, in awe of a life I can’t explain. 

MO 2015

MO 2015

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Laying Down Superwoman.

Photo: SO 2014

Photo: SO 2014

I am secretly coming to love the late autumn and early winter. It’s in these months that I give myself permission to reduce my triathlon training mileage. To take a break from my intense personality and the regimented core workout–work for 8 hours–timed race pace run–nutrient dense dinner–stretch–ice–foam roll–nine hours of sleep–40 mile ride in the morning– schedule. To tame down the constant part of me that insatiably demands, “More, more, more,” always dreaming of being stronger and faster. To slow down in order to let my creative spirit take precedence over the athlete in me.

This lending over to the artistic spirit allows me to bask in awe of beauty, binging on new musicians via Spotify until 2 in the morning, musing over what experiences and stories led up to these lyrics being sung in this exact manner. I’m Skyping with old souls from all over the world. I’m owning my book project with far less hesitation and it’s leading me to people and organizations I’ve been dying to meet. I’m singing more than ever before with less reservation, in front of more and more people, not just my shower walls. I’m finding my way into local coffee shops, museums, libraries, and concert halls- the most recent being Lincoln Theater to see James Vincent McMorrow thanks to the generosity of a friend who offered me his tickets when he no longer could make it.

Sitting there in the audience Saturday night, I watched, captivated, mesmerized by the budding, expanding, blossoming of the human voice. His voice holding out into time and space, long, lengthened pitches, strong and resounding. Beats and questions and thoughts that float along steady into the atmosphere, a bit like bubbles coasting in the daylight, lingering, hovering a little, and then… a combustible, “Pop.” How vulnerable it must feel to put something out there like that.

What would the world look like, though, if we spoke in those soft, yet loaded, gentle, iridescent bubbles that pop in fits and spurts until something inside of our soul that once was trapped has become freed, so freed, it could just do it again and again and again and again? How empowering would it feel to finally find an expression that elucidates your innermost feelings of an experience? 

I think this gripping beauty mingled with freedom would get us to stop and nestle in deep into the heart of it all, ditching the fluff-and-stuff of life for the yes-and-yearn.

The yes-and-yearn is not easily won. In fact, it can be downright hard, can’t it? To live exposed like that, willingly putting yourself in front of the microphone, or name on the page, speaking those words and asking those questions that it feels like nobody else is asking, just wondering alone to themselves in the dark on some restless, sleepless night?
It can be hard to get in touch with every part of ourselves without sacrificing one part for the other.
But it’s worth it.
So worth it.

Spring will come again, my miles will expand, and I will fall in love with the beauty that ensues when running shoes hit shaded trails.

But today I will fall in love with the beauty that resounds in coffee shops and viewfinder eyepieces. I will fall in love with the full spectrum of the human experience by pondering what’s going inside the soul of a musician as he or she sings his or her truth. I will fall in love with color by popping out the screen window and taking copious amounts of sunset pictures from my third story window, chronicling its evening travels off the edge of the horizon. Maybe, even, one of these mornings, I will wander downstairs to make a warm cup of coffee, only to come back upstairs to take in the sunrise. And together, the light, the people, the connection, this spiritual world will leave us with no other option but to… 

Photo: MO 2014

Photo: MO 2014

“Yes” in Every Season: Thoughts & Longings on the Last Night of Summer

MO 2014

MO 2014

Outside the last night of summer
Sweeps through my open window
A warm breeze
A slow, steady chirp of crickets
Whose bold summer sonnets
now play early autumn decrescendos.

 I close my eyes and lay by candlelight.
All I can see is still shot goodness of the day–
Looking up into my sister’s smile
With deep blue sky all around
A warming sun on our skin
A far out whisper in the wind
Reminding us that shifting change is coming all too soon.

Familiar drives through open spaces and new places
That leave you looking out the corners of your eyes as much as possible
While still keeping your head straight toward the road.
The beloved old
The uncharted new
All of this feels like home.

MO 2012

MO 2012

I’m at the end of a day that’s left me reignited as to how big and beautiful the world is.

And how all I want to do is learn from the stars
by exploring underneath them
or through high powered lens
Gaping mouths gasping soft “woah”s.
Aware of everything
The slow in and our of our breaths
My desire to touch hands in fully alive love

MO 2014

MO 2014

All I want is to throw a few things in a backpack
Drive out somewhere
And wander these trails with no destination
Just grateful for the world outside
And friends like you.

I want songs with sweet, dripping lyrics
and ambient melodies telling us a story
that wouldn’t be heard the same way
if it were dulled with words.

Give me poetry.
And chocolate.
And all those things our hearts beat for,
each syncopation relishing, “yesssss.”

I don’t like when summer wanes
but the longings of my heart
are happy to start this fall
With a new feel in my heart

Filled with wonder
Craving the world
Loving this Earth
And the incredibleness of community
Reminding each other

there is “yes” in every season.

WOOF Puerto Rico June 2014: Farming, Skinnydipping & An Invitation To Get Into Life

“Ok, so I”ll send you my flight information and see you on the 17th!” I replied as I hung up the phone, shocked and excited. I just confirmed a week long stay at Luquillo Sanctuary Farm in Puerto Rico through a program called WWOOF– Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In exchange for a half a day’s work on a family’s farm, WWOOFers receive free room and board at one of thousands of farming sites across the world. This farm is a small, developing farm in Puerto Rico along the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest. The opportunity sounded like Heaven, along with a whole lot of anxiety provoking unknowns. What if the people I stayed with weren’t who they said they were? Was this safe? But the predictable life depleted of risks leaves us believing that strangers are scary, that safety is quintessential as we choke on our own comforts.

So I flew into San Juan on June 17 not knowing why I had come on this journey, but positive that it would help me learn to embrace life in all of its fullness. The host farmer picked me up from the airport, luggageless as my bags had been loaded onto another flight, and brought me to the campground where I’d stay for the week. I was greeted by three other WWOOFers from Texas and Czech Republic. Nothing but the backpack on my back, they showed me a tent I could sleep in temporarily and gave me some sheets. Just go with it, I told myself, and fell asleep in a stranger’s tent, lying beneath cocqui frogs and insomniaic bulls that groaned all night long.

machetteIn conversations over digging farming beds and mowing the lawn with machette knives throughout the week, I learned much about Puerto Rico. The US provides an estimated $6.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, mostly in provision of food stamps and subsidized housing, while the US receives almost $58 from Puerto Rico through imports and manufacturing. “Instead of growing our own produce, much of the food is shipped into the island from other countries because it’s cheaper,” my host farmer shared. It was a startling wake up call to the reality of the pitfalls of capitalism and untapped resources. On our daily walks to the beach, we pass mango tree after mango tree and simply reach up to chomp on fresh fruit. Sure enough, when we went to the grocery store, our carrots were from Georgia and fruit from Central America. We could eat local. But there simply lacks farming infrastructure and political will.

That’s where farms like Luqillo are slowly changing this. Part of Luqillo’s mission is to be a non-profit organic educational farm for children, teaching them hands-on skills. On Saturdays, kids from the neighborhood come to work on the farm. That’s when I met Gabriel, a sweet 12 year old, who, when it was time to fill our buckets with the dug up grass from the rows we picked, turned it into a contest raced us up to the top of the hill, winning time afer time again. It’s awesome to think about how these kids might grow up differently from those around them. Grow up different because their hands have touched the grounds of where their food was birthed. They are closer to the Earth and will respect it.  They will be leaders after tasting a bit of what life can be when you live outside the status quo for your town.

After a wonderful week of farming and climbing through the El Yunque Rainforest, we capped off the week of farming with a trip to Culebra, a small island East of mainland Puerto Rico, my eyes meeting vast aqua waters for the first time. Mountainous cliffs lining the countours beckon you to dive in. My friends shared their snorkling masks, which opened up a whole new world of wonder, discovery. A rich reminder that there is EVEN so much more out there than we can fathom.

Traveling opens your eyes to new people, new cultures, new landscapes. And now, it opened me to life beneath the water. The coral reefs right there below. Fish of many hues and sizes darting in and out of caverns. I’ve always known there’s a huge whole world above us- being the night sky filled with billions of stars, most of which are imperceptible to human eyes. And now, to be reminded of entire ecosystems below the surface of the water, I am blown away into wonder and grandeur and mystery. As the sun sank below palm trees, we built a fire on the beach and ran streaking into the water skinny dipping. It was everything I thought it would be, minus my second jellyfish sting of the night.

As we took the ferry back to mainland Puerto Rico, I chatted with Lena, a student in microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico. “It’s amazing because here I am on this one part of the island, in one school, and there’s all this out there,” she shared in awe. I told her that’s how I feel when I look up at the stars.  Together, the stars and waters below sing of a world that feels even bigger.
IMG_1042We are invited into a life that tells us to look up, look around, look below. A life that takes the attention away from worries or our own selfishness because so many beautiful places exist without the contribution of human hands. Rainforests. Coral reefs. They will continue making beautiful and we will be here to awe, wonder, and appreciate hopefully with hearts that treat the Earth with the kindness its placid ways deserve.

I can’t believe I’d ever think to miss out on trips like this because I was afraid. Afraid to stay with people I never met before. Afraid to try something so unknown. But never again.

All of this has left me in love with the world, lusting after all the places that I will never get to taste, see, or touch simply because the world is huge- reminded like they sang in the Lion King that there is “more to be seen than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”

It pains me because I will always want more. I will always want to see more, to keep needing to press the zoom-out button on my worldview lens because it keeps expanding. But instead of loathing that it’s all too much, I celebrate that tonight. I celebrate the opportunity we have to do some of that seeing and doing while we still have breath in our lungs. Because we have been invited to get into life.

Get into the kind of life that loves this world, all of it, the things you cannot see under ocean waters when you fly over them.
Get into a life that looks up regularly. For inspiration. For perspective. For no other reason than to use the eyes you’ve been given.
Get into a kind of life that loves people– loves to get mouths and hearts talking about the things that really matter to each one.
Get into loving God, your creator, whatever that name is to what/whom you attribute the great celestial connection of earth and land and people and connection. I am finding God is out here everywhere, especially in laughter, showing me the light at the end of the tunnel to all of my unfounded fears. I watch this God and this world take away my fears like carbon dioxide as I release the poisons that trap and breathe in the invitation to this new kind of life.

Because the adventure is calling in whispers and shouts across the sky, “Will you get into life?” 

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Audacious Freedom: Screaming YES ‘Til We’re Breathless

Susan B. Anthony once said about the bicycle, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” I get that feeling every morning and afternoon as my feet touch pedals, epitomizing that freedom she talked so wisely about in 1896. And tonight, two days in from the dawning of Daylight Saving Time, I’m delighting in this audacious freedom again and again as fresh air fuses with endorphins. A smile creeps up inside of me that simply cannot be held back.
And so tonight, as I’m about to go into my house and say goodnight to another beautiful day of freedom and bikes, something catches me outside for the umpteeth time. Maybe it’s the clear sky above me. Or the fact that I am out here in a t-shirt for the first night after a long winter that developed its own vocabulary (“polar vortex:” who can forget that, and what it feels like).
But I lay here.
I should be preparing for an interview tomorrow.

But I lay here.
I should probably go inside and get proper rest.

But I lay here.

All I can see above me is the moon, this ever present wonder in the sky that shows up night after night to remind us that life moves on, moves forward. 
Stars scatter the sky daring us to notice them, not to show off, but so that we will show up. To be here now. To stop missing the beauty that’s above you, watching over you day after day, night after night.

So I will lay here.

Freedom and life surge through my veins, a restlessness that can only be quelled by uncharted territories and taking chances and by the story that comes from when you start doing the things you’re scared of. When you stop waiting for feelings of confidence and reassurance and do it anyway, unarmed and unfettered. 

There’s no time to waste when all around you, the stars, the birds, the infantile crocus pecking its way through once snow-covered ground each beg your soul to awaken.

And so just for tonight, I won’t care about what time I go to bed.

I won’t frantic over tomorrow.

All I will care about is filling my heart with this Earth, overjoyed by the ability to walk, skip, and jump on it, along with all these beautiful people that inhabit it.

Copyright MO 2012

Copyright MO 2012

I look up at the moon once more. It’s traversed a part of the sky and moved what looks like just a few feet to the left, but indeed it has moved so many more. I try to picture it in the exact spot where it was an hour ago when I first came out here, but it begs me to let it go and stop trying to rearrange life and all of its pieces the way that I want them all to turn out.

   
I’ll let go.
And stay up too late.

And binge on open sky that opens hearts which open mouths and together, we’ll speak from bodies standing tall, hands outstretched screaming “YESSSS!” until we’re breathless.

Copyright MO 2009

Copyright MO 2009

Ashes of Hope: My Love of Lent but Not of Murder on a Cross (PLUS 40 Days of Sustainability coming soon)

Even the winter won’t last forever. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
We’ll wake up in April, ready and able, Sowing the seeds in the soil.
Even the darkness cannot disarm us. We’ll see the morning, we’ll feel the sun.
-Audrey Assad

Easter is what many would argue to be the quintessential turning point of the Christian faith. The crux. The climax of the story. The thing that you must be able to articulate into carefully formed sentences depicting your belief, as though words and theology solely define your spirituality and very existence. Perhaps from all of this lies the basis for the trite messages that I, along with so many others, have heard about the Christian faith. “Jesus died for your sins.” “Jesus paid the debt.” “Jesus stood in your place and died for you so that you might have life.”

And if those words bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away, nor discredit them.

It’s just not the Jesus I’ve come to know, face-to-face in my human spiritual struggle. 

The Jesus I’ve come to know didn’t die at the hands of a blood-thirsty, vampire-like God who needs to see someone murdered in order to forgive people. The Jesus I’ve come to know, and the God to whom he points, is a rebel. A revolutionary who challenged the privileged and elevated the marginalized. Who spoke out of turn, unafraid to make people think harder about themselves and the world around them. Who taught us to slow down long enough from our exhausted minds to “look at the birds and flowers,” and to be a visionary in whatever issue your culture is facing.
Direct from the mouth of this revolutionary contains the most gripping parts of the Eastertide story, in my experience. The pieces that I rarely heard pastors and Bible study leaders quote. The part where Jesus, our supposed role model, screams up at God, “My God, My God, Why have you screwed me like this?”  Because that’s life, that’s reality. That’s the affirmation I look for when I’m stuck in the mud and mire and all around me are hope-depleted apertures crying out for just a flick of mercy from a kind and loving God, begging for auspices that come from this Divine Light. And to hear Jesus utter these same words gives me confidence that I am in good company when I am in the thick of the squall and my once blithe heart feels incapable of coming back to me. When I’m a low that low, that’s when I know I’m only a few steps out from mercy. Because we, like Jesus, get to experience the surge of joy that is the resurrection, ashes of hope that sing of redemption.

I think these ashes of hope are what the soul longs for. Beyond a good love story, a good hope story. To know that all of our troubles will not be squandered, but used for fodder to keep these tales of beauty-from-pain alive. To give us the fortitude to know, anchored in our core, that it doesn’t matter what comes our way, for it won’t last forever. But the feelings of hope and the aftermath of beauty will hit us so viscerally that we tear up at the thought, “I didn’t know life could be this good.”

This is why I haven’t given up on Lent or Easter, despite some of my theological wrestlings and frustrations with the traditional teachings of this spiritual season. Lent draws out the heart’s ability to draw nigh to your Creator. A 40 day season containing strong, beautiful symbolism. Death from life. Life from death. The two are inseparable. Hope is reborn, recycled out of crushed pain and heartache. The timing of this season enhances the meaning all the more to me, as we begin Lent in the waning winter, in which it is still snowing as I write this. But we end Lent well into spring. During those 40 days, shoots on trees develop, buds blossom to form magnolia flowers- my absolute favorite tree on this planet that reminds me there is no cold that cannot be endured to eventually give way to life. The sun graces us for 2.5 minutes longer each day, until we’ve accumulated some 177.5 minutes of additional daylight come Easter evening, thanks, largely in part, to Daylight Savings Time. (Can you tell yet that spring is my favorite season and consumes many of my thoughts?)

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Copyright MO 2013

And so I don’t know where your heart is this season. Maybe it’s hiding in guilt and shame, underneath a veil of many coverings, because you feel it has gone so far awry from any sort of “straight and narrow.” Maybe your heart is parched, longing for a bit of this hope story. Or maybe your heart abounds in a joy so full, that it might cry droplets of gratitude onto baby seedlings that will soon lean their faces toward the sun for the first time. But one thing I do know, as we forge into spring, is that all around you, life begs your soul to awaken, and if it cannot awaken on its own, let its colours take you to places unknown until hope uncovers and your soul sees vibrant hues ablaze in beauty.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over the hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.
-Mumford and Sons

    

Coming tomorrow: My 40 Day Sustainability Plan- Come observe Lent through environmental social justice

60 Seconds of Beauty Before Smashing Your Head Into The Keyboard

smash headToday is one of those “smash face into keyboard to continue” days. Smartphoneless, I discovered I missed several important emails, including a few deadlines. I began a grad class this week. Work, often feast-or-famine with the patient population I work with, who experience several barriers to medical care, was definitely a feast this week. A large one. Thanksgiving with all your extended relatives, kind of feast. Add triathlon training, a conviction to be a better friend/family member, and a few other commitments, I noticed the all-too-familiar trap of spreading myself thin in a flurry of perfectionism.

But before I could drag myself into work for one final day this week, I marveled at an urban creek that I pass on my commute to work each day. Sun kissing ice blocks in emerald green water, a gem amongst graffiti and the click-clack of trains off in the distance. “Lord of Lords,” an old hymn, comes to my mind, and I suddenly find my soul in a pining connection to the lyrics, “Keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus’ face. Let not the things of this world ever sway me.” As much as I refuse to go back to my former version of Christianity, there is so much that I want to make sure I don’t let go of. And one of those things is to keep steady resolve on Jesus’ ways, because that way of living feels more fulfilling, more rich. A teacher who catches us in the midst of snowballing worry, and looks us in the eye to say, “Hey! Snap out of it. Can worry add a single minute to your life?” (aka what I hear from Matthew 6:7).

Copyright: MO Baltimore, MD

Copyright: MO
Baltimore, MD

This winter, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of the Falls. Each morning, I give myself permission to temporarily fix my gaze from the road to this scene of peace. Usually frantically running late to work, I often glance only long enough to smile at it. But today I decided to stop long enough to hop off my bike, take a picture, and remember the words of Anna Quindlen: “And realize that life is glorious, and you have no business taking it for granted…” (From “Life’s Little Instruction Book.”)

Biking along the Falls, I feel as though I’m being taken away to Canada. One to share my voice only to the shower vapors, I softly sing aloud, “on the lakes of Canada…” Instead of aimlessly passing up the opportunity to be transported, I intentionally decide to stop whooshing by it and stop for just 60 seconds to soak it all in. 60 seconds to let my eyes dilate, absorb light and movement, to not think about anything in particular, to just be. 60 seconds to create experiences of beauty.

It was the best 60 seconds I’ve spent today. I’m so tired of rushing through life, not pausing to create moments of peace, order, beauty, serenity. Because unless we stop, unless we do something to forge scenes of beauty, unless we sew them together with beautiful seams of peaceful patchwork, we can easily forget. At least, I do. We forget the peace that can be found in this world. Forget how beautiful it is, because in the celerity, in the achievement-oriented rat race, it can seem like peace, beauty and order have left the building.

It’s no coincidence to me that as I hop back on my bike, the next piece of graffiti I find is the wall that over the summer read in big letters,

Go placidly amongst the noise and haste…
                             and know the peace there is in the silence.

go placidly amongst the noise and haste

I’m going to stop more. Because it’s up to us to create scenes of beauty in our lives. It’s up to us; it’s our responsibility because if we can’t find peace and order and beauty, then maybe we aren’t stopping long enough to actually exhale and find it.

Yes, I will take ownership for having peaceful moments in my life. And be gracious to myself when I forget to stop—When I’m at my desk, smashing my head into the keyboard for one more day, kicking myself for not stopping.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin again. The Falls will be there. Birds on Trees will be there.

“Flowers in the garden.
Laughter in the hall.
Children in the park.
I will not take these things for granted…
…Anymore.”

-Toad the Wet Sprocket 

A few telescopes, some friends, and plenty of stars.

Saturday, June 8th, Solider’s Delight Natural Environment Area:

“That doesn’t look like a swan,” someone in the group mutters aloud.

“Well, you have to have an imagination. Remember, when the Native Americans, Greeks, and Arabs named the stars, they could see them billions at a time; there was no light pollution to inhibit their view,” an astronomer whiz shares with us.

It’s late Saturday night, and some friends and I are at Soldier’s Delight for a stargazing night put on by the Westminster Astronomy Club. Volunteers set up their elaborate telescopes for the community to use the second Saturday evening of each month. And this month, some friends and I decide to not miss out on the opportunity to look up in wide-eyed wonder.

“That’s M21 out there, you see it, to the right?” our instructor, Skip, motions.

“No, but what’s M83?” I ask.

“One of the galaxies.”

“Oh.. it’s also the name of a great band,” I share, feeling some celestial connection of music and stars.

The stars elicit questions a mile long.

What was the transit of Venus all about? What was the most memorable stargazing experience you’ve ever had? What’s the difference between a red dwarf and a brown dwarf?

“How many satellites are in the sky on any given night?” I ask.

“Well, it depends, you might be seeing an in-tact satellite, or a glove falling from a satellite, or just general space junk…” Skip muses.

“Space junk, is that anything like Space Jam?” my friend Rajni asks. We all laugh from the ground, bodies sprawled out on grass and cement in wonder and gratitude.

It’s 10 PM, which segues into 11 PM, but time is put on hold for now, and I try to stay here in this moment, in this solitude, underneath this sky, with these friends that I yearned for when I moved to inner city Baltimore a couple of years ago, lonely, and wondering what the hell I was doing was with my life.

A warm gratitude relaxes my body, like a soothing cup of hot tea, and I lay my head onto the grass. It’s amazing how many satellites you can trace with your finger across the night sky if you sit down long enough to look up.

We take turns looking through high-tech telescopes, pointed at double stars, galaxies, and Saturn. I peer into the lens. Inside, a round, pale yellow circle enclosed by a thick ring stares back, a distant object the size of my pinky fingernail.

“Woah!”

“Wow.”

“Awesome.”

Each phrase becomes a prayer, connecting us to the universe around us, back to a Maker, a Creator, that larger presence that some of us don’t mind calling God.

I find hope, awe, wonder, humility, and faith looking into each telescope lens, scientific tools enabling us to learn and unlearn of a world we cannot understand, of a largeness and vastness that just keeps going and going and going to… where? I don’t know.

But up above our heads gracefully dangle bands of gas that have swirled together to sustain a planet light years away, light from something so far away that we’re merely looking back in time to what it was lightyears ago, a time-space continuum that baffles my mind, like Back to the Future, or traveling back in time, a perpetuity I’m half-scared and half-ecstatic to enter to into, wondering if you were catapult yourself into this space, what time would it actually be?

A few telescopes, some friends, and plenty of stars bring my mind into the past and the present and future all at once. My memories drift back to the night sky of Botswana, Africa in August 2007. My 20 year old self is sleeping under the African sky with a tent full of snoring “macoas” (white people) and crickets. Just on the edge of the horizon, The Southern Cross peers out, playing a peek-a-boo game with sky and Earth. Alas, in winter solstice, that’s all we see of it this night, though hardly a disappointment. There’s stars everywhere, and they shine like the smiles of each child I met over the past two weeks here, some in orphanages, some in villages, some walking back home from school, waving jovially.

I enter back into the stars of the present, my night at Soldier’s Delight with friends, my heart drenched in melancholy for Africa, a pining so emotive, I remind myself of the promise I made to myself: to return to Africa by the time I’m 30, and I re-commit to it with alacrity.

I guess that’s what the stars do to us: awaken our sense of curiosity and wonder, our desire to learn more ponderings of how we got here, and what does it all mean, and this can’t be it, right? A pep talk sans spoken word, just twinkling of molecules daring each of us to dream bigger and surround ourselves with people who will believe in you, who will nurture the restless adventurer inside who never ceases to explore, ready for another question, a brand new musing.

And so tonight it seems there is much to be thankful for. Friends, genuinely good people, the ones I’d been trying to find in this city for the previously lonely past couple years. My life feels rich and full and like it’s about to exciting, because these dreams in my mind refuse to stay quelled as a mere idea, no— they’re ready to leap out into daylight, into air, into existence in movement and dance. I want to see it all unfold. New visas. Plane tickets. A life of making merry and mess and saying what I want to say even if  my voice trembles. I want to experience a love sopping wet with life and adventure, disheveled wet drops pouring over two lovers who view everyday by asking, “How much fun can we create today?” One dream lending itself to another, another one birthing out of the completion of the former.

Alas, we drive home, but my mind is still creating new possibilities. I pay attention to car headlights meeting cement, occasionally glancing to the side to check for deer along the tree-filled roads. My friends and I talk quietly in the car, softly, sleepily, but my mind is somewhere else— Still grappling with the fact that the planet I learned about in middle school science class, drawn in a text book, not only hangs above us in the night sky, but is able to be viewed by our little eyes if only we stop to look. It’s in the sky, right now, as I type, as you read this; it’s so so far way away, appearing like a mere sticker through a 150 power telescope. But it’s out there.

Hope.

It’s out there.

Peace.

It’s out there, again and again, night after night after night after night; these sunsets, these stars, these planets, all hovering above us, never shouting, nor demanding our attention, but exuding a captivating pull, begging us into a story of wonder and awe.

I’m back at the house, eyes closed, trying to fall asleep. All I can see is the ingrained image of Saturn, an image I know will come back to me time and time again as I live out this next week. A soothing image massaging my shoulders, whispering a loving, “Don’t you worry, Child,” to all who ponder its mystery. “I won’t,” I promise back. Tomorrow, maybe, but for right now, I won’t worry. And if I’m lucky, Saturn’s image might come back in and speak that love song of serenity into my soul, into my toes, into my finger, oh I’ll live blown away…

Photo Credit: Wellington Astronomical Society

The Art of Slowing Down (And The Wisdom of Louis Armstrong)

I’ve often heard that Lent is a season of slowing down. Of drawing closer to God, to others, to the wide open world around us. A time for spiritual reflection and inner examination. An opportunity to go a little deeper in trying to figure out Jesus. A time to pause. A time for simplicity.

This Lent, I decided to get back into biking to and from work (in addition to cold showers and placing a penny in the “Suck it Up or Shut Up” jar each time I catch myself complaining). IMG_1458
When I moved across town in June, I said I’d bike once I found a good route, but I weasled my way out of it for reasons such as having to bike through some sketchy areas by myself, something I was a bit fearful of.

Now a few days into it, I’ve found a route and a rhythm. I got off to a rough start the first day of Lent biking home drenched by the down-pouring rain. Two cars didn’t see me, causing me slam on the brakes, skidding in the middle of an intersection. Cars passing by splashed water up against me like a small ocean wave. It was cold. It was dark. And I kept making wrong turns, making my time in the rain even longer. I had a “shake your fist at God” moment, muttering things that warranted pennies in the jar, and then managed to put my sopping wet hand back on the handlebar. I thought about the journey that women in Africa make to and from water wells and firewood piles on a daily basis, often risking the possibility of getting raped just to gather these essentials for their families. Surely, I didn’t have it so bad.

And most of us don’t.

As I biked home today and pulled up to my house, exhilaration flooded my body with the sounds and sights of life around me. Daylight was still visible at ten of six. Birds chirped goodnight lullabies to their young. Soon, it will be March, which will usher in spring.

Despite all of this beauty, I was about to walk in the house to begin my usual routine: put away my dirty work clothes from the day, wash today’s lunch containers, pick out clothes for tomorrow, eat something better than cereal for dinner…

But I stopped myself. Why did all of those things seem so pressing? Why do I do each of those things the second I come home? Outside, the sky is changing hues from deep cobalt blue, to indigo purple, to peachy pink, without the help of any human hand. How can I settle for doing dishes when the world around me is putting on a symphony of light and color in the sky?

I sat on the ledge of my front porch, dangling my feet over the edge, bouncing them up and down. I looked up the block and felt gratitude to have the opportunity to live in a neighborhood I enjoy coming home to. I looked up at the two airplanes in view, traversing the sky, filled with passengers, dreamers, grace-givers, homesick spouses, screaming infants annoying the people in front of them, questioners, seekers, searchers, adventurers, and people wondering how quickly they can get off this airplane. Fellow human beings, like you, like me, in a slate colored vehicle with aluminum wings and flashing lights that can get you from Atlantic to Pacific in five and a half hours.

All of this is so amazing.

This world. It’s so beautiful. And everyday, we have the opportunity to relish it. How many days are spent checking off to-do-list items on the backs of receipts? Why do we think we’re so busy all the time? Why do I always feel like I have things to do, when really, all that I might need to do in that moment is…. slow down and look up.

Look up.

The dishes can wait. Your lunch will get packed. Come. Sit. Out here on the stone porch. Come sit and settle in with your maker, like a child and a parent snuggled up on the couch. Breathe in the world around you. Observe the movement of cars filled with people; some going home, some going to meetings, some going to fill their refrigerator with more food than we can ask for, some going to see a dear friend, some going crazy. Feel the stillness of tall trees; though brown and bare now, a metamorphosis is coming. Stop rushing. Enjoy your life. Enjoy the Earth. Enjoy every good and beautiful thing around you.

I sit outside until my fingers feel numb.

Spring’s a’comin, but it sure ain’t here yet.

I sink deep inside myself, shoulders unslumped, before heading in.

Louis Armstrong was right, I think to myself.

What a wonderful world.

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