Learning to Love

 

How I love this world. An elegant variety in a multitude of growing things: flowers, shrubs, annuals, perennials, and tall dogwood next to tiny purple eruptions from ground I never planted. Could the abundance entice us to bloom as well? To bloom into love for ourselves and others?

Does the tree just tolerate the camellia? The crabapple the crocus? Or do they love their neighbors? The primordial and present forest trees are connected with nearly invisible fungal filigrees beneath the duff that help them send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. The visible roots themselves crisscrossed unpredictably throughout the paths we just walked, or more honestly, climbed and stepped over and around only with occasional slippage.

Wouldn’t it be loverly if we had the same invisible links to humanity? Don’t we already? Isn’t it a relief to recognize a fellow human being (of any stripe) when we feel most exposed and vulnerable?

In my yard I mourn the decline of hosta and anticipate the hellebore. The red coral bark maple is a delight as it turns crimson in the winter. As much as I have to watch my step on damp, slippery leaves, I love how leaves seem strewn by an artist on the rich earth below. The splash of bright yellow beech or larch surprise me amid a stand of evergreen.

How I love the pebbled shore, too, and the sea’s chuckling laugh as it recedes into its vast deep. The steady slap at the pocked, worn bulkhead. The salty air where gulls sail in rising circles.

Im3RSKdFShmDXw0kSi9QAQWhat a blessing to live in the Northwest where temperate winds freshen the air and all we dare to fear is deep within the tectonic grinding below. This world is fragile–dependent on millions of intermixed elements, its inner furnace and molten center hissing out through fissures and shooting out geysers we gleefully cheer to see.

I wish I could embrace it whole. Despite its hazards, how sweet, how precious–more because it might not much longer remain our permanent safe home. Even now, so many of our neighbors across the globe suffer more than we with rising water, drought, hunger, typhoon and hurricane. I hold them in my heart and sing comfort prayers of peace and well-being.

What if our emergence here as infants is the inauguration of our education: learning how to love. Love is taught by a myriad people, peoples far away we’re only beginning to see as neighbors. Distance need not dictate fear more than love—why not neighborliness? What if the dream of earth is for all of us to share this fragile home, our island planet? To love, nurture it, and care for its tender and delicate balance.

I have had a tiny microchip planted near my heart ensuring that it beats methodically–always
. It will no longer need to think so hard, after years of unpredictability. Now, will there be more room in it for love? More capacity than mechanics–love that I can teach, model, and offer lavishly without regret? I hope so.

 

A Small Clearing

It may be only among strangers in airports or waiting rooms, planes or elevators, that I manage to suspend my well-honed biases. Oh, I know, we must always receive the stranger as a guest, lest we miss entertaining angels unawares. But it is only when I have read everything in sight or played enough Solitaire on my iPhone I will look up wondering if there is a conversation worth having. 

Travelers have a destination in common. It’s a good place to start. In unfamiliar places, foreign locations, I am readier to engage someone who might know a little more or seems as lost as I. Company in misery. On tours participants share the interest that led to a common appreciation, cameras at the ready for long-envied sights. Proximity lends itself to familiarity that is mostly nonthreatening. Such an approach might be useful in other situations.

Such encounters may be what philosopher Anthony Appiah calls “sidling.” Rather than confront someone with religious or political views opposed to mine, he suggests “sidling up” to them. Sidling is a better way to construct a bridge across a chasm of differences–race, religion, gender, economics, politics–than to exchange opposing points like a ping pong ball. Instead of trading shots without hope of common ground, it might be more productive to describe where I was when I was six, then invite a conversation partner to share. Childhood, schools, and early work could fill a canvas with family experience, a list of callings, nuance that makes up a whole person. This brings the background to the foreground and might justify or just explain the values any of us holds when and if we get around to examining more divergent views. 

I have an email pal in North Carolina I’ve never met. A staunch Southern Baptist, she believes the Bible is inerrant and that “total truth” cannot only be discerned, but practiced. We have been corresponding for a number of months. We do not agree. But she, in particular, finds the correspondence heartening. I’m not sure I do. She knows I am a person of faith. She just can’t figure out why I don’t share her beliefs. She’s curious how I manage it. How I preach the Word without her Truth.  She has sent two books to convince me. 

I am trying to glance off the obvious differences between us. To make myself a little vulnerable with a few personal experiences, tangents and questions. I spend a great deal of time thinking how to do this, a lot more work than firing off a volley to squelch her last assertion. I grew up exchanging volleys with my dad, a competition rather than dialogue. I’m used to it, used to hearing it everyday.

It may be that humankind has come to a place where our ping pong habit can get us nowhere. There is no return: unless we learn to listen to one another, we won’t be able to go on together at all. Sidling up to each other may create a small clearing before the great divides. I am convinced that dialogue will not open into its rich wealth of gifts unless one of us dares say more–or less–than a trite closed statement. I hope what I am practicing will lead me to entertain more angels unawares. 

Regreening Earth

When I was a kid, my dad took our family out camping in a trailer he built out of plywood with a double bunk bed–the top for us three siblings, the bottom for my parents. Next was a “five-man” dark green umbrella tent. Campgrounds were full of treasures: silence under tall fir as cooking pots clinked on Coleman stoves, we hiked to and from the baths carrying towel and soap, sat by bonfires flaming, snapping, then dying with sighs and growing darkness.

We visited a number of dams, so impressed Dad was with the feats of engineering, and no doubt the promise of irrigation inland in Washington State. I still have a granite core taken from the Grand Coulee. On our way there I remember stopping in the middle of nowhere for him to show us shale and explain how it formed. And he often told tales of old fires that blackened the forests we drove through. 

He studied forestry in college, but never did work with those skills. Rather, he worked for a pulp mill, then paper mill that stewed wood chips to make paper. If he love the woods, how did he ever reconcile destroying them to make something else? If a forest fire was a disaster, weren’t log trucks dieseling through the forest with cut trees just as much a tragedy? 

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My partner and I spent a few days last week near Port Angeles to view the Elwha River, free to flow wherever its heart pleases. Pure joy. Five years since it was liberated, it has flooded the river road that partnered it, and built up shoals at its mouth to invite  perch and smelt, clams and oysters to thrive. Will we ever return to natural sources of energy, rather than sealing off canyons to force water to meet our needs or ruin the environment with mines, slag and polluted air?

I am a fan of progress, but I lament the loss of natural habitat–concrete that seals earth over. I rejoice at the grass that–not so slowly–begins to break through the cracks, and can break down walls.

I stand on Queen Anne or First Hill in Seattle trying to imagine our hills covered in fir, cedar, and hemlock, such ancient forests that little undergrowth thrived. One could walk through the trees on moss and duff for miles, or near ancient native middens, seeing our snow-capped mountains only in rare clearings or above the tree line. IMG_0294

Must we continue to destroy this fragile earth, our home? Earth will win in the end. Civilizations rarely continue to stand once we’re gone and vegetation regrows. We nurture huge cedar in our backyard just to maintain a sense of the wilderness.

 

 

Momentary Miracles

…how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?

Mary Oliver knows what more of us must learn. Whatever we are doing, is what we are doing. Why worry that we ought to be doing something else? I putter about for this or that scrap to piece together…a word for the day, the week, a frame on which to stretch a canvas. A peg to hang ideas on.

Should we be doing or being? What, in you, is being today? Being is tough. Doing is easier. Being is suspect. People wonder what we’re doing! 

What do I show for what I’m doing? for who I am being? What frame for my canvas, what design for the quilt? No matter theory, the big picture, or a meaning I lay on diverse events, life keeps coming down to chapter and verse. This specific event, this word with that person, these hours spent flipping through books, notes, and remembering to water the hanging begonias.

We each are only one person who can do mostly only one thing at a time. Each choice we make in a day like today eliminates other choices, or limits what else will suit. Every plunge into the pool is a risk of an habitual order.

And would it have been worth it after all? Would it have been worthwhile? [Prufrock, Eliot]

I labor always over the BIG risks: the yawning abyss into vulnerability, deep relationship, substantial change, or speaking truth in the face of enemies. But every day, every moment requires a commitment of its own, large, small, or immeasurable.

Just these moments add up to a way of life. My puttering over this book and that, this view or that, sorting through scraps of papers long ago filed away, give me away. I seek meaning in everything. The moment I have, the now that is mine, the truth of myself. Every day presents an empty canvas. Every day the cat must be fed, caressed. The apple cut, the water poured, the garden tended. The word laid down.

Miracles are made of ordinary stuff.

 

 

Grace Happens

Beneath this parable is a bedrock assumption of abundance that we too rarely trust.

There is seed enough to lose, and the God who makes the sun to shine and rain

 to fall upon the righteous and unrighteous (Matt 5:45) is indiscriminate

about sharing. Grace is flung and wasted everywhere.

Brian Hiortdahl, The Christian Century06.29.2011

 

Grace Happens        Rev. Catherine Fransson       Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23   July 10, 2011     

 

Did you, as I, vacation with friends at Spirit Lake at the foot of Mt. St. Helens before the blast? Did you row on the lake, take pictures of her round snowy dome and, seeking shade, hike through venerable old pine, fir and cedar forests? Then perhaps those images haunted us both when St. Helens stirred to life in 1980 in an earthquake, blew a 250 foot hole through her pristine peak, then spewed her whole north side over 200 square miles of grand landscape.

Fifty seven people died. Seven thousand large animals, deer, elk and bears, were killed, and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of small animals died. In one of the nation’s show places, there was devastation of the largest order.

But not so fast. Unknown to us then, vegetation began to recover immediately from the plants that survived the blast and the dispersal of seeds from beyond the blast zone. Scientists were surprised survivors would be so diverse and widespread. They continue to discover many factors that aid the ongoing recovery, beginning with the season the blast occurred, May, when there was enough snow on the ground to provide water to the tiny animals living underground. Yes, the pocket gopher survived. Deaths of cousin animals provided nutrients to the others. Even the wind-blown spiders floating in on the breeze who died provided organic material that supported the life of other organisms and plants. “With what seems like excruciating patience and persistence, nature transform[ed] a desolate landscape into one capable of supporting life.”

 

Life persists, right? Look at your yard! As silent, mysterious, and hidden is the germination of a seed in the soil, a plant will surely follow. As silent and hidden is the germination of the realm of God, for which the disciples prayed and for which we continue to pray, the kindom will certainly come.  Even if the sower, as in today’s case, casts seed upon hard-baked earth, into the thorns and on the rocks, seed will settle, send down roots and thrive. Life persists against the greatest odds.

Missing something? Did you not hear what you often hear in this parable? Whenever I’ve heard it before a small knot in my stomach tells me I am being weighed in the balance and found wanting. Even Jesus explains this parable to show it is the quality of the soil on which the seed is thrown that determines whether the seed takes root and thrives. The point is: is your soil plowed, prepared and ready for the seeds of God? Oh oh.

The image is of Christ casting the seeds of grace, offering life with abandon. Seed falls on the rocks, the path, places it’s never likely to grow. Thorns grow up and choke it. Only part of the seed falls on ground good enough to nurture it thirty, sixty or a hundred fold. If we are the ground, it’s a pretty poor prognosis.

But what of this farmer?! How careless he is! In any other context the point of the story would be his foolishness. Nobody sows seed on a path or rocks and expects it to take root. Even I, only a sometime gardener, know that.

Jesus has to explain this parable, the first in Matthew’s gospel, to the disciples. I speak like this because you are my friends, he tells them, and those others are not. You are blessed to be here with me, and blessed because your eyes see, and your ears hear. We speak the same language. I will tell you what I mean because you have already heard my voice and responded. You have risked everything to follow me.

The disciples may be insiders in Galilee, immediately near Capernaum where Jesus’ ministry is, but even they are not sure they get it. And the gospel writer’s interpretation is but one of many that can be made on this illustration. As we try to understand the open-ended meanings of scripture today, it is unwise for us to settle on any one truth. There are many truths here.

So what about this farmer’s carelessness? Flagrantly ineffective, he sows with abandon, appearing not to notice. Seed is a precious commodity. Those of us who plant, do so carefully, working the ground, preparing it, adding nutrients, water, ensuring the seed will find a home where it can settle in to grow. And yet look what happened at Spirit Lake. Destruction everywhere. The land laid waste. The forest felled over acres of ground. The lake full of trees, rocks, ash; polluted with dead marine life. The area was virtually dead.

There is only so much we can do about ensuring a good crop, protecting the environment from natural cataclysm, but paradoxically, that doesn’t matter. A few verses ahead of these, Jesus explains, the sower sows each day and then goes to bed, gets up and does it again. “Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the sower knowing how it happens.” (4.27) Paul voices a similar truth in his letter to the Corinthians: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gave the growth. (1 Cor 3:6) Is the seed is so potent it takes care of itself? Is God so potent we don’t have to worry?

Admit it, we have little control over the ground. We think we have some over the weather, but that is in great dispute and much of the time, we have little control of ourselves. Even the great missionary Paul confessed he could not control himself. He tried to do what he knew was right, and failed. All he could do was recognize his mistakes and begin again. God has no such trouble. God never gives up. In communities like ours we encourage each other to have our hard places plowed, turned over and loosened up, our rocky places named and removed, our shallowness deepened and enriched…in short, we ready each other to begin again.

Since God is sowing the seed and seeing to the growth, then even on hostile, indifferent and unreceptive ground, the seed will not return to God empty. This is a God who spreads love and life recklessly. As silent and mysterious and invisible is the germination of a seed, so is the growth of the kindom for which we pray. Grace simply happens!

Now, I do believe all things work together for good. But I have as much trouble as anyone discerning whatgood will come of whichthings. And when. Anne Lamott comes immediately to mind…”Grace,” she says, “eventually.” Grace…yes. But not exactly when we want it, and sometimes not exactly what we want.

I need help to live this kind of life: friends, wise mentors, a pit crew. I need time, coaching, practice, and forgiveness. Paul Loeb’s collection of essays, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, details people working small projects against great odds, only occasionally successfully. But Vaclav Havel, for example, believed hope “the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” Every effort does not have to turn out. Some of what we try to do in our lives, at this church, in our city and our nation, are simply worth doing not because they turn out, but because they make sense, because they are embodiments of who we are and what we believe. “People are often unreasonable and self-centered,” wrote Mother Teresa. “Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” We do what we think reveals grace because it honors our God. And it casts seed on all sorts of unlikely places. Especially on unlikely places and people.

Rachel Naomi Remen, founder of the mind/body holistic health movement, tells of her father who believed his family always had bad luck. Two things: he went bankrupt and she, his only daughter, had chronic illness, so that seemed true. She tells this story: in 1971 her dad won a prize in the New York State lottery…”more money than my dad had ever seen in his life in one place.” He won it when he was in the hospital recovering from the removal of a–benign–tumor. (luck, yes?) He taped the ticket to his chest and declared no one could be trusted to redeem it for him, not any of his friends or family, not even his wife. For a long time he couldn’t even be persuaded to turn it in. As its deadline approached, he convinced Rachel and her mother not to tell anyone, lest they try to take advantage of them if they knew. Eventually he redeemed the ticket, but he never spent the money because he was afraid others would then know he had it.

Remen said she learned more from what he did than what she so often heard him say. Her father created his luck. But even that didn’t prevent her from growing into the intuitive, healing person that she is.

At Mt. St. Helens some plants survived the blast. Some root remnants were watered by the snowmelt. Prairie Lupine was the first to return, taking nitrogen from the air. The northern pocket gopher survived in her dens and tunnels, pulling down the roots of the lupine for nourishment, pushing rich old forest soil up through the ash to create mounds that caught plant spores lofting in from out of the blast zone. Some thrived there. Some died. Others adapted. Today that unbelievable devastation is slowly healing. Earth healing itself. In time earth will heal itself even of nuclear accident…even if humanity as we know it is severely compromised. Earth does not need us. Indeed, it is we who threaten it. If, instead, we plant, and share the watering, God will give the growth.

Grace happens. In spite of volcanoes, typhoons, tsunamis, and wildfire, life persists. In spite of death life persists. God continues to scatter life and love and growth, health and wisdom and patience day after day after day, year after year. Because of that abundance, we know that life begets life.

“If God exists,” writes Sara Maitland, “she exists as a God who wishes to reveal herself; who labours constantly and complexly in her relationships with the creation, both individual and communal, tossing down clues and invitations and introductory notes here, there and everywhere like an ambitious hostess; a God who yearns to be loved and known and engaged with.”

 

How can we possibly lose?!

 

 

Surprise

Soaring with purpose over my roof, a crow carried food in his beak. I walked to the back window to see him poised in the back yard over a deep patch of moss. He dropped his peanut and then poked it three or four times with his beak, pushing it deeper. He looked, then found and reached for a nearby frond to drop on the cache to cover it.

One of the neighbors leaves peanuts out for all the critters. Some peanuts end up in the bird bath, soaked beyond recognition, putting off the birds. Squirrels dig in the flower pots routinely to hide or retrieve their treasures, leaving roots awry, dirt spilled.

I’d never seen a crow hide a nut before. But they’re notoriously inventive, wise and wily. Surprising, too, like the one who shook snow on Robert Frost. Surprise, in our overbooked lives, jars perspective, lifts mood, lightens darkness.

pexels-photo-914854.jpegGrace is like that.

Do you have hope for the future?

Someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.

Yes, and even for the past, he replied,

that it will turn out to have been all right

for what it was, something we can accept,

mistakes made by the selves we had to be….

When least expected, grace weaves rainbows through storm clouds. Leaves promises we can trust. Assures us that Creation is always, always inventing, surprising glimpses of riches where we least expect.

Why not, then, that some good comes out of what we remember when we were too young, too inexperienced, even too unwise, to know…mistakes made by who we were.

Then wouldn’t it have been worth it after all?

Keeping the Faith

Keeping the Faith

I am loafing in an enjoyably warm, peaceful summer. Were it not for politics, war and my awareness of the inequity and poverty in our own neighborhoods, I would say I was content. But how can I be grateful for status or the wealth of my choices without the guilt that so many others suffer? There is no end of the need for us to be doing as much as we can to influence or correct these ugly realities.

The balance is very difficult to keep. Since Jan. 20, 2017 we get no help from a president who daily cries wolf. Nor freedom from wars and rumors of wars. In an “all hands on deck” mode, who is selfish enough to think our desires could come first?

And for us whose sympathies lie with the least, the last and the left out, who may also be tired, aged, ill or disabled so that, regardless what we do in our prime or what our lasting true gifts are, we do not have energy for the fight against the outrageous, heartbreaking need all around? My heart truly aches for the suffering. I do name them in my prayers. But is that enough?

Eventually, even the best known activists among us take time out. Some shift to mentoring, urging our younger, abler sisters and brothers to find their own passions among those who lack necessities like clean water, healthful groceries, ethical police, and children on our streets day and night.

We can do only what we can do, whatever it is, with God’s help. We plant seeds, water them, and every day, do what we can to lighten these burdens. We cannot “fix” homelessness, but we can decrease its numbers and improve our services. We cannot “fix” the juvenile justice system but we can continue to lobby for compassion and restorative justice. One of these priorities may exactly be your call.

We can imagine the realm of god, what it could look like, and talk about it, pray for it, and nurture faith and hopefulness. But we don’t have to work until we drop. Thomas Merton counsels us not to commit [ourselves] to too many projects, and thus succumb to violence….He continues, The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. [Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander]

Discerning between our rush to help and our need for nurture is our primary, ongoing call. Not to decide is, of course, ironically, to decide. But to rush in every direction at once is to stall immediately. To put ourselves forward as helpers when we don’t have the mental, emotional or physical resilience, is to offer little.

Let’s lighten up and take in some love, friendship, summer laziness, sleeping in or staying up late, and visit the Science Center or a museum or two…not to mention parks, before this gorgeous summer again turns to rain. The world, the nations, and difficult people are always with us.

Cathy Fransson

 

Forever Saying Farewell

If you’re just waking up to the reality that loss is central to the human condition, you must be in dreadful shock. If you’ve experienced two such shocks within a year, you may be thinking your world is ending. Where is God? Isn’t “He” supposed to protect you from pain? Sorry, but death is a part of life. “If we live long enough,” James Hollis writes, “we will lose everyone for whom we care. If we do not live long enough, they will have lost us. As Rilke puts it, ‘So we live, forever saying farewell.’” [Swamplands of the Soul]

If this is your first season of loss, of your peers and their young spouses or children, vanishing summers and beloved homes, it may become only practice for more of the same. We live with sadness and grief among our seasons of joy.

There are means, however, to walk through even these seasons. Sitting at dusk in a comfortable chair, or in a patch of noon sun, may allow the tears to flow, pause, and taper off. Tears have an end of their own. Tears are in charge of how much they need to flow and when to stop. Taking an aimless drive may let the mind wander forth and back over a reverie that will never end. You can visit it at will.

Begin watching PBS Masterpiece Theater. Read a gripping best seller. Walk–rain or shine. Work out. Nap. Feel the empathy of other people’s losses and the world’s pain, and weep. It takes only hearing a song two of you loved to be transported immediately to the scene where you first heard it together. Eat a favorite meal, sense a familiar fragrance. We can cherish these gifts, these pain and joy-filled flashbacks, even though they ended too soon.

Singer Diana Krall’s latest album, “Turn Up the Quiet,” is her last album with her champion, the producer Tommy LiPuma, who died in March. “Though the shock hasn’t worn off, Ms. Krall has come to see ‘Quiet’ …as a testament to the values Mr. LiPuma embodied for her….‘He took such joy in life,’ she said. ‘He had a tremendous sense of humor, and he taught me the importance of taking the time to be with my family.’ As Ms. Krall has dealt with the losses in her life, she comments that “’It gets to the point where you need to laugh….we had so much fun making this record; that’s what I hope comes through.’”

Have I said, laughing? What to do while living through great loss is also to laugh, to continue a life that seems to, but does not stop. Of course we must laugh. A good wake includes laughter and tears, so closely related that we cannot tell when the laughter so easily turned to tears.

Be among good friends. See a therapist. Forget reaching anything like “closure.” We can’t shut doors on our losses. The experience of the whole person will always be with us, and our relationships continue. Back in the day my mother thought that flying saucers were angels flying in close to watch over us. Although she died in 2002, she still makes flybys today. My dad, who died in 2005, is less talkative, but he is a presence to me regardless, shyly smiling from his favorite chair.

Follow Wendell Barry’s advice: “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” [Emphasis mine] Don’t worry about making a beeline to some politically correct goal. Nor about knowing where you’re going. Or what other people expect you to do, except this: …create life in the midst of grief, create love in the midst of loss, create faith in the midst of despair. Resurrect us from our big and little deaths….The only road to Easter morning runs smack through Good Friday.                                                                                                                                            [Barbara Brown Taylor]

Cathy Fransson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting in the Middle

After a long hiatus from my blog, where do I begin? How do I discern the central point I’d like to make? Or where find a pithy or poignant jumping-off place?

I have been writing my heart out, pulling together a memoir of the last years of my parents’ lives. Who knows whether these 345 pages will meet the trials of today’s book market. But never mind. I have said all along that I want to writeIMG_0040 this—to write it, period. To feel as if I have captured my mom and my dad as the three of us negotiated the seven years between their independent living in their home and their deaths.

Mom died before Dad. And Mom and I got along well, pretty much in sync. So when she was gone, I needed to face my rigid, distant Norwegian father. How many men born in 1904 change their personalities in their late nineties?

The answer is in my manuscript. It takes willingness and work. Getting along with my dad after Mom’s death was something akin to loving my enemies.

With the manuscript now in the hands of an agent, I miss working on it because it has been part of me for some 15 years. But too many slips between pen and print can, and often do, occur. So I’m not holding my breath. The theme of the book is the more we try to wrench our agenda into a vision of holy peace, the more peace eludes us.

So now I read, read, and read more. Scott Malcomson, Kathleen Dean Moore, Brian Doyle—I just loved Mink River. Soon I’ll turn to Donna Leon’s next book for a change of pace.

But the heart of my life is to stay at peace with myself, at peace with the others in my life, and at peace with—yes—the state of the world. Because of the myriad tragedies unfolding all around us, both distant and close, and the tragedies in our own lives and in the lives of those we love, it would be easy to despair. It is not as easy to find peace when we are full of pain, deep sadness at the wounded world, its peoples and the Earth, and perhaps even sorrow for God. Long ago Karen Armstrong in a touted webcast on God commented in a sympathetic tone, “Poor God.” For sure: poor God, putting up with our failures, persistent anger, and soap-opera lives as if we were children while ignoring the needs of children worldwide.

I have learned that trying to wrench my agenda into something more peaceful just worsens the problem. In order to be wise, practical, and compassionate for others near and far, I need to stop, practice what I know opens my heart to myself and to others, and let in the peace I already have.

Seizing the Day

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I had forgotten how tall the firs were as I plunge deep into the forest conveniently close to the highway and very near Stevens Pass. Once out of the car and down the trail, I could not see the tops of the trees without sitting, leaning against the granite to steady myself to see back that far. The canopy is bright green against the blue sky. How quiet the forest is next to the river as it pretends to be ferocious and yet no doubt, in this drought, is only a fraction of its strength. Still it pours clear then rippling, frothing through the bed against which it sands and smooths the rock in its path.

 

As I draw closer to the bottom of this glen a pause in the density of trees reveals a deep pool quietly lapping the surrounding boulders it has already beaten to apparent silkiness. Stillness here. Ageless duff under my feet, worn branches worked into rails and seats for short gazes into the water and across it to forest on the other side, occasionally a bridge that leads over and back if one doesn’t prefer to stop in the center and imagine floating down in the icy, constant flow.

 

What a relief this is, to walk into the woods, the rough places, sudden drops of the trail, and then rising again, my footsteps balance between fir, hemlock and alder, and then toward the river. It’s been at least two years, maybe more, that I have waited, wondering how long healing a knee replacement would take before I could take to the woods again. Sun streams onto the river, splashing into the trees and my slow, steady gait balanced between two trekking poles. A big smile on my face.

 

The moss! Strings, shreds and draperies of it from tree to tree, bright and green. Lichen, small black knobs and then shells of white studding the blunt and torn ends of trees that have fallen and been cut to make way. A huge, wide cedar stump with cuts left by the springboards of foresters bent on laying the forest low sports a very tall, very thin hemlock that, in this muted light, may never grow to more than fragility.

 

I take in the light, the trees I can name, the trail, the bridges, soaking in the rich detail that simply doesn’t exist in neighborhoods like mine where at least a number of cedars still stand, six of them in my own back yard, and one Douglas fir. What a gift to be alive on the earth. Not that many years ago I would have been consigned to my home, if not to my room, with a branch cut to fit for hobbling through the house.

 

Now I am returning to the trails, beaches, and woods I have so missed in my convalescence that, at my age, takes longer than expected. Seize the day! Lest you let it pass without the wonder and respect it deserves.  “And we shall be like trees planted by streams of water, that bring forth fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither; and in whatsoever we do, we shall prosper.” Psalm 1:3

 

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