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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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

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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Look at the Birds.

I went to bed Sunday night knowing I made a memory I won’t forget for a long time.

It was an unseasonably warm November day- the kind of day that begs you to stop everything and make enjoying the moments before you your most important priority. To stop tinkering around with to-do lists and errands, leaving this beauty unnoticed; but rather, to let your eyes become sponges, absorbing beauty, light and Sabbath.

So I drove up Route 1 to meet a dear friend at a Northern Baltimore State Park to study for the GREs in the late autumn fields. I parked my car as the afternoon sun began to cascade into its hues of dusk; its finest colors coming alive. I walked around the parking lot, noticing families in matching outfits huddled together on the hilly field, trying to get the dog and the baby and each of the kids to smile at precisely the same moment, posing for holiday picture greeting cards that will adorn fireplaces in cozy homes all winter long.

Shortly after, my friend pulled into the parking lot. She’s a real gem, an old soul, one of those people with such a sincere, special spirit who seemed to have entered my life right when I needed a friend like that the most. Time spent with these kinds of people is treasured. You know before you even arrive that their soul will touch yours and that no matter where life takes you, this person painted a stroke of love over a piece of your heart to help you enjoy the journey.

One of her favorite places, she ushered me by the park’s wooded trails off to the left, then up a winding uphill path hugged by tall trees in the distance as grasses blew gently in the evening zephyrs. We walked, leisurely, musing on life and love and choices. We soon found our way beside some hay bales, inviting us up for a climb like a small child to a grandmother’s lap. I hopped on top of one, struck with halcyon breaths of serenity replacing the tension I bury in my eyebrows and chest with something heavenly, refreshing, whisking away the toxins of this world with the infusion of something higher, more lovely.

My friend pointed upward, toward the resplendent pink and orange sky. A band of birds migrating southbound flip-flapped their wings in unison. We stopped talking. I stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Completely transfixed by these birds, I imagined how hard they must be working. Are they tired yet? Where will they stop to sleep tonight? How do they even know when to call it a night? Do they sing when they got bored, like the Seven Dwarfs, whistling while they worked (or flew)? Does one of them start humming as they play “name that tune” until a whole choir of them compose an acapella rendition of “Rockin’ Robin?” When do they stop for water breaks? With this many of them, where do they all go when it rains? I sat there below, watching these birds in awe of the journey they make each waning fall. No Googlemaps. No GPS. Just them, together, collectively united for their annual pilgrimage to some place warm. I wondered where they’d drop off. “So, Bob,” I imagine one saying to the other, “will it be Tampa this year, or Pensacola?” Will they gather again for New Year’s Eve in Northern Florida, or perhaps Miami, where ‘the heat is on, all night on the beach ’til the break of dawn?’ I don’t know. It’s amazing to watch something go so far, do something so significant without a stroke of human aid or handling. They were created to be able to fly miles and miles, above homes and seaports and land.

What else can I do but marvel? I’m at peace with the world, with my uncertainties about where I’m going and how I’ll get there. I’m still. I can’t stop watching. They keep coming, like scenes stitched together in a movie, entering from the right of the screen to the left side, over and over again, thousands of them, not one left behind, not one left to fly alone. Perhaps this is why Jesus encourages us to “look at the birds” (Matthew 6:26). Because whatever it is we’re trying to fix or change or figure out will all be just fine. That you’ll actually get more studying done if you stop once in a while and gain perspective on how big this world is and how much goes on, day in day out, without the touch of a human hand. And so maybe Saturday, I’ll go back to this field and we can marvel all over again at those birds. Just hope they won’t poop on my textbooks.

Photo: MO 2012

Love letters with God

Dear God,

I lay here tonight, alone, in the quiet of my room, the only light shining being that of glowing candle casting flickering shadows against my mostly undecorated walls, a peaceful ambiance bringing closure to a busy day.

I’m breathing peaceful, sleepy breaths here in this moment, and all I can think about is you, God.

How I so long to know you.

How I so long to be close to you.

This innate desire to near you.

I hear so many things of you, God, from Churches and books and radio stations, that seem so unlike what I’ve experienced of you, God, experienced with you, God, together.

It’s enough to drive me crazy. Or at least frustrate me.

But you, God, your Spirit has captured my soul.
So I offer you this. My love letter to you.

It’s not a prayer per se, although it is the cry of my heart.

I’m not going to quote any verses.

Or mention hell. Or re-pray the sinner’s prayer, although I wonder if that’s what you even had in mind when you said that you wanted us to have faith like a child.

I just want to express a raw gratitude for every single thing you’ve spoken to me, given me, helped me to enjoy, everything you’ve used to help me grow, God. It all comes from you; all of this leads me back to you. Even if I were to purposely try to not look for you in it, God, I would still find you.

Oh how I love you, God, and Jesus, who marvels me into simplicity when he urges us to learn from the wildflowers and the birds of the air. Did you do all this to dazzle us, to beckon us closer to you, our Creator, through the beauty that drips from the works of your hands? Some artists use watercolor, others use charcoal, paint, or yarn, but you, God. You swirl sunsets with your hands. You design waterfalls miles wide. You hang gaseous luminaries in the endless twilight, composing Pleiades and Orion, while we forage around with plastic ornaments on fake trees or rearrange stiff, staged portraits on crème colored walls.

We are far too easily entertained by the baubles of manufacturing while the whole outside world screams your name in iridescent hues and highlights of every magnitude and height.

I wonder, God, if the next time someone tells me I’m wrong about my view of salvation or homosexuality or any of the stuff that some Christians seem to get so vehement about… I wonder God, if I can go back to your artistry and sunburst and pluck one of your Black Eyed Susans from a field, and talk with that person in a lush meadow of cattails and clover, birds in flight. And I wonder if in that moment, all of that chatter and shaming and “righting” and “wronging” can dissipate, God, as you meet us there and offer us this cup and this bread and we delight in it, so we pass it around for all to taste this… this love, this light, this indelible connection to the one we come from.

Oh, Lord. I’ve been taught to take my faith so seriously, take the Bible so seriously, as if my entire life hangs on the thread of “correct” interpretation and pedantry. Truth is, I don’t think you’re as serious as they’ve made you out to be. I think you’re a lot more fun than that. You have a sense of humor, and that wasn’t discussed in our bible study lessons. Instead we memorized words on pages, not once being encouraged to explore the endless ways in which we can experience you outside of the pages, the text, the words.

Please keep showing me how to “unlearn” some of the things that I’ve been taught about you, the aspects that are hampering my freedom in you. Tonight, that might look like the juxtaposition of how to let go and how to hold on, and the wisdom for when to do which, as you show me what my hands should pick up and what they should put down as to have room enough to embrace such experiences when they come.

Please keep being patient with me, and thanks for letting me muse questions and for allowing me to show up to Church wet and dirty from stomping in mud puddles on those rainy days in which I’m stir crazy indoors and want nothing but to taste your rain on my tongue and feel music in my feet.

I can’t wait to see you when I wake up. Only you know the ins and outs of what’s to come, but I just thank you that I get to experience it all with my mouth and my toes and my ears and my nose and my eyes to let in more light, love, beauty, wonder…

I love you.

       •••••••••••

Dear Child of God,

When you feel a closeness trickling from your heart, up to your chinny chin chin, going up to your ears, that will be me tucking you in tonight.

I’ll see you when you wake up to the fresh dawn of a new day, a blank page that you so love to embrace in  possibility, unsullied and smooth, that is, until you’re ready to create words and lines and stories with each person you’ll meet today, footprints running all over the page in new directions. I’ll see you, and you’ll see me through the wind kissing the tree tops of the forests, a soft breeze brushing through early autumn leaves of faded green, yellow, crimson, and orange. You’ll see me through the smile of your sister, the open road before you, and oh yes, those wildflowers and birds you seem so blithely fond of.

I know you don’t understand me all the time, or other people either. And that’s ok. I don’t expect you to. I only ask that you love that much harder when you encounter voices that drive you crazy. Whatever you say about them, even if no one is listening, remember, I hear. And they are my children too. You don’t have to listen to the hyper critical voices. But do take a look inside and examine your words too. Will you bring love and hope with your words, or cynicism and criticism? Together, I hope you’ll make the time to take some bread and dip it in the cup, together, and feel free to dance, too- play the hokey pokey or the macarena and come together on the dance floor, unencumbered arms moving in and out and over to compose the letters “YMCA” above your heads. After all, you can’t argue and dance at the same time… Pretty soon the two of you, or this group and you, will be out there, on the dance floor, laughing, like old friends at a wedding reception, and all the bickering and “righting” and “wronging” will fall to the wayside as you let yourselves go fly free into the night, souls so alive and abandoned. Remember, I meant it when I said there will be dancing and merriment when you make it to the other side…

I am so proud of you when you hang on to me through faith when your world is shaking. Remember, though, that your world will shake time and time again. But I am right here where I’ve always been, as much as I’ve ever been, beside you, inside you, inside each person you meet and in all that your eyes encounter each day. I created all of it, and long to walk together through it with you, Child, even in the midst of confusion and struggles that you cannot make sense of. But I hope you trust long enough to experience the ways I grow you in these times, so that you can smile and know I’ll use even your saltiest tears as the gateway for goodness, sweet, genuine goodness. And I will watch you, I mean, take a step back as to really take you in, all of you, both your body and your soul, as you soar, as you dance, as you hop, skip, jump, and as you sprint ahead, never once looking back over your shoulder, into the life I have for you.

I love you; I love all of you- your questions, reflections, and even your muddy feet.

Which is Yes…

Image“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees,
and for the blue dream of sky and for everything
which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” -E. E. Cummings

Aug 12: Sunlight all around, making the green fields glisten like the first coat of untrampled upon snow. The wind is lightly blowing in my face, a warm late summer breeze that feels more like spring. My legs move up, down, up, down, up, down, faster now, exhilarated by the velocity of a good bike ride, breathing heavier now. There’s sunflowers waving in the grass, some wildflowers hugging the edge of the road. There’s so much beauty to see. Orioles fly gracefully through a field, orange belly lighting up the sky. I have no roadmap, no predetermined route. I am an explorer now. And oh, by bike, there’s so much to see. So much to see…

I take a turn down a hill off to my right and cycle around a CSA farm. I can see spinach and lettuce and other greens growing off in the distance as a woman approaches the garden, presumably to help share in the farming responsibilities. It’s the aura, the ethos of Community Supported Agriculture that gets me. People coming together to grow and harvest food that will nourish brothers and sisters, neighbors, families gathered ‘round the table, and those who pine with a deep hunger to have just one meal with a family like that, ready to say grace before the passing of baskets, dishes, and salt. There’s something about this that’s heavenly and holy, divine, like that’s the way food is supposed to be- you’re supposed to get your hands dirty and know the faces of the hands that plucked your berries from the vine or the tomatoes now garnishing your salad. It’s as if you’re supposed to celebrate that the produce you’re eating was once just some tiny seed that made its way through heatwaves and deluges of rain, sunny days, cloudy days, and days in between, just growing, growing, growing…

I head back to the main road, going down streets I’ve never been on, neighborhoods and schools and hills I never knew existed. A father goes on a walk with his two daughters, one in the back of a wagon, the other blithely by his side. We smile and wave.

I take in a deep breath, filling my lungs until they say “no more,” and prepare for a steep hill, fantasizing about the view from the top. Changing gears, slowly but persistently, inching but persevering, legs getting stronger and leaner with every turn of the pedal, I make it up to the top and discover a new place that I will watch sunsets from.

It’s beautiful now, this moment, this evening sunset just doing the same thing it does night after night, only I don’t stop often enough to give it the glory it deserves.

It’s stunning, really, the sun ablaze, hovering over tree tops, trying to avoid sinking down beneath the nighttime covers of the horizon, a firery ruby orange, a sapphire in the sky.

Oh it’s so beautiful.

The whole wide world.

It’s fricken beautiful, and I have everything I need.

It’s beautiful and God, it feels good to be alive.

It’s beautiful and this Sabbath bike ride pulls me in deeper, deeper into you God. I’m pedaling downhill, I’m flying fast now; exhilarated, like a child on their first rollercoaster getting brave enough to wave her hands in the air.

Oh yes I’m pedaling harder now, making my way around the bends in the road, biking past a tall damn with geese at the top, looking over the edge. I bet they’re daring each other to jump or fly off the edge- “you go,” “no, you go…”

I bike over the bridge where I went bridge jumping with friends, wearing my cap and gown one jubilant night in May 2009 with friends. This spot always causes a smile to traverse my face, usually from the right to the left as I ruminate the rush of that plunge over and over again.

I peer over my shoulder one more time and there’s that sunset again, this time emanating from water.

It’s beautiful.

My eyes can capture each hue, every tint, every highlight of sky refracting off the water.

It’s beautiful, God, and I get to see it… get to see it, taste it, feel it, experience it.

And it was one of those amazing days composed of everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes…

On This Ground I Dance Upon Called Earth

On Rest and Renewal

I always am blown away by spring. Breathless, I delight in the colors of spring, dizzy by their hues and shapes. I am drunken by the intoxicating  fragrance of magnolia blossoms. I am constantly in awe of new buds on trees, blowing on wishies, plucking wildflowers from the ground as I place them my hair.

Today was one of those beautiful spring days where that feeling just seeps into the enclaves of the chambers and walls of my lungs, heart, and arteries; a day where you are convinced that you are literally breathing in life, with every breath.

Brian whipped out his camera as we marveled over the reflection of the blue sky on a water droplet on the leaf of a daffodil. I got up close to a baby bee roaming around on a weeping cherry blossom tree. I looked at it from different angles until I was literally staring into its eyes.

We went on a “Sabbath Walk,” where we barely spoke to each other except for a few faint whispers, “I saw a fox!” We meander through creeks and logs and hear the chirps of birds high above, singing joyfully. My mind feels like I need to be doing something, need to be praying, need to be singing a worship song to God, but I realize that I have no words; that all too often I rush around doing things when really all I need is to be. To learn from the joyous songs of the birds, to listen to the cool creek water trickle down hills, and be completely convinced that there is nothing in life I need to worry about. It’s hard to feel anxious when surrounded by such beauty. It’s hard to dwell on your fears when you realize that if God can help flowers grow, He can surely help you with whatever is so pressing on your mind.

Time stops in such moments. Nothing else matters in these moments. I decided yesterday that I will continue to create time and space to make sure I have these moments of quiet awe-filled worship on a weekly basis, because in those moments, as I’m captivated by nature, or breathless by stars that are so so so so far away, I realize that there is so much more going on here than we realize. That nothing is normal about this human experience; that there’s these little tiny things called cells and they make up the leaves to plants, animals and human beings. That right now I am actually standing somewhere on an Earth that is moving and rotating, though I can’t even feel it. I am held down to this Earth by gravity, which keeps me from falling off. I.can’t.even.feel.it.

Flipping through scripture, I am always refreshed when I hear God speak about creation. Jesus tells us to look at the birds (Matthew 6:25) and to learn from the wildflowers (Matthew 6:28). In Psalm 23, we’re told that God wishes for us to lie down in green pastures; to be lead beside quiet waters. Job reminds us that God “spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in His clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.” We are reminded that creation itself is meant to teach us- yes, to learn through their actions, not their words, for they need not speak verbal language. “Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all.” (Job 12:7-10)

So today I will learn from the birds in air, and the shoots developing on trees. I will look at the wildflowers and how they are able to grow, year in, year out. I will remain in awe of you, Lord, and the works of your hands. I will remember your calm, your peace, your authority over all things, even at work this week, where there are days in which I feel as though I hear nothing but sirens, see nothing but trash on the streets, and yet find you in unexpected ways through the smile of a stranger or the excitement of neighborhood kids riding their bikes after school. And be it inner city, forest, behind the desk, or out in the community, I will ponder you, God. I will seek you, God. I will find you and be awed by you as a precarious child of you, God. And I will celebrate you on this ground I dance upon called Earth.

My favorite part of my parents' home is their Magnolia tree in the front yard.

Photo Credit: Scott Otterbein

Learning to Love the Questions Themselves

3.21.11

It’s my most favorite time of the year, where just walking by a flower causes me to smile. My favorite tree is in bloom and each day, I stop my running mind to observe new budding and flowering of each magnolia blossom. And it’s a reminder to me that God is not finished; that He is on the move, and what I once saw in January was not the final picture nor final fate for these beloved trees, beloved blades of grass, beloved chirping birds… And so it is with people; so it is with me… That I am ever-growing, ever being molded and shaped, ever-taught. And yet still my soul thirsts and hungers deeply, a seeking and asking that never seems to stop. When I think I’ve figured out one thing, there’s always something new to ponder, some new question to ask…

And in this season of life, I am asking more questions than ever before with some kind of shameless audacity and curiousity about the world around me; not a demanding, indignant, deserving sense of question-asking, but rather one of an explorer, a participator. What does it mean to be fully alive each day? What does it mean to be a human, bound to Earth by gravity, seeing all this messiness around me, but receiving my guidance, direction, purpose, and hope from above, beyond this world? What good does it do to be critical of other people; afterall, we’re all brothers and sisters anyway? If Jesus prayed for ‘Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven’, shouldn’t we be actively trying to shape the world around us into something more beautiful, more complete, more whole?

And so I’m learning to not be afraid of questions as they come, but rather, I’m learning to love the questions themselves. That they point to something bigger than me, something beyond me. That my little brain cannot fathom, nor know, nor fully comprehend the majesty of life and Creation… That yes, there are absolute truths in life. But that God is not limited… that his/her Kingdom is more diverse, more whole, more all-encompassing that I can ever, ever imagine. And I feel convicted that my arms want to refuse to unembrace anyone.

So may we  s e e k . And may these questions that cross our minds draw us into holy wonder and awe, straight into the arms of our Creator.

Like Birds On Trees

4/5/10
At my favorite park, reflecting:

I look out there into that creek, water gracefully sliding its way down stream around rocks, and I look up into that g i a n t blue sky, the sweet fragrance of magnolia captured in the warm breeze brushing up against my face. All I can think about is how what I see in the world doesn’t seem to equate to what I feel like Jesus offers us. I think about what my faith community taught me during college about my gender and feel hurt, small, and my heart aches because I don’t think this is what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give us life to the full. I think about what they and so many others have said about homosexuality and how most of them have never bothered to sit beside still waters with someone of a differing sexual orientation.

I skip some rocks and ponder the sacrificial love of Jesus who touched those who were rejected by society (Matt. 8) and never condemned anyone (John 8).

And I think about all the beauty in the world and how much peace we could share if we could stop and slow down more and marvel and learn from the beauty around us. Trees offering birds a place to rest and make a home. Ducks in the pond just coasting along the small water ripples, no hurry, no worry, just your best duck friends and you cruising along the cool early spring water. Birds exhaling beautiful harmonious songs of gratitude and joy, as if to delight the tree, to bring out the green on its leaves or to encourage the growth of blooming buds daring to come out and experience the world, knowing there would be winds that might shake off its petals and that winter is inevitable and one day in the future it will die, signaling the finality of life and death, but d a r i n g  u s  t o LIVE BRIGHTLY AND BEAUTIFULLY WHILE WE ARE STILL YET ALIVE.

And look at the flowers. You don’t see them arguing over who’s pink and who’s purple and why it’s wrong to be a perennial instead of an annual. Just harmony and brightness and joy. Maybe the flowers know more than we humans do when it comes to Jesus’ goals of being of “one heart and one mind, so that we’ll be unified and together” (John 17).

So I’m sitting here, stretching at the entrance of my favorite park, post-run sweat slowly drying to my forehead and cheekbones. And God is bringing me back to s i m p l i c i t y . That really, S/He doesn’t want our arguing. That S/He is so simple, yet its the simplicity of God that makes Him/Her/the Spirit seem mysterious. That one day, we will all hold hands and D A N C E in heaven, like birds on trees, being moved by the warm magnolia breeze, like purple annuals and pink perennials growing in the same garden of love.

Copyright MO 2012