A Soul’s Opening

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet                                                                                      confinement of your aloneness to learn

anything or anyone that does not bring you alive                                     

is too small for you.”                          David Whyte, “Sweet Darkness”

There’s no doubt that the Western Frontier has always been associated with exploration and even facing the great unknowns.  Many left what had been known because of an aching in their own soul, looking for something more in their lives and headed West.  It’s a part of our history as a country but it is also closely associated with a deeper reality of who we are in trying to find our soul in a world that often lacks depth and meaning.  For myself, there has always been a radical opening that takes place within myself when I go West, as if I encounter, for the first time again, the wide and vast area that has yet to be explored or taken over by human innovation, still holding onto the natural that has a way of speaking, or even screaming at times, to places deep within ourselves when we confront in the lived reality what’s really going on within ourselves.  As much as I think I know myself, or God for that matter, I am once again knocked down to a world yet explored, a world unto myself and yet far greater at the same time.

As humans, there is probably nothing that scares us more than confronting those places within ourselves.  At times it seems as if it’s easier to see such vastness and emptiness projected on the frontier to make the task less daunting.  What scares us more than anything is that we may just be proven to be a fraud in our own lives, not living up to the expectations we have placed upon ourselves or others have done for us over time.  Whether they come from the roles we play in our family or in our daily lives, the more we separate ourselves from the last frontier and all it has to offer in exploration, our soul and its vastness, the more daunting it begins to feel to any of us and quite frankly, the less satisfied we become with our lives and the lack of depth and meaning that often becomes associated with it.  It has a way of reminding us of our own shared creation, grounding us in something much deeper than what the world has to offer.

When I spent last week visiting the West, in Colorado, I knew that I couldn’t leave without some time exploring some of the most beautiful spots this country continues to offer, places like Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Seven Falls, and simply the experience of driving through the high desert area that never ceases to catch you off guard by its unpredictability.  It’s probably the least we can do for ourselves, in our lives, especially when we become so conditioned and domesticated in what we do and when the mundane seems to become the norm of our lives, the loss of mystery, adventure, and unknown, to go out and explore.

So there I was, wandering the Garden of the Gods, at times simply being overwhelmed by the vastness and the intricacies of it all, driving through narrow cutouts, feeling lightheaded by the altitude, a mouth parched from the aridness of the air around, the feeling of being vulnerable as I wander alone in places yet explored.  Will I find my way back to my car?  Do I have enough battery life in my cell phone?  Would someone be able to find me?  Of course, all fear and anxiety I was placing upon myself!  As crazy as it seems, though, the deeper I moved into the area the further I wanted to go, to see, to experience, to understand, as if something within me became enlivened in those moments, knowing that I am no longer bound by the routine and the known, but being invited into the last frontier, the wild west, one more time in my life, and for that matter, my own soul.  For a few moments it seemed to be inviting me to escape it all and reconnect with a deeper reality just now being revealed.  It’s as if, once again, for the first time, you begin to look at life through a different lens that begins to expand and yet mirror how small we sometimes become in our daily lives.

The whole experience was somewhat overwhelming to the point of tears, as if love was revealed again in a different way, a more profound way, and yet questioning whether I could ever accept such a gift that was being revealed in those moments.  In the distance, the snowcapped mountains gleaned, mounds of stone perched, empty vastness that seemed to go on for miles, and there I stood so small before it all and merely an instrument trying to put into words that which could not be described but only experienced, a moment that could never be captured by camera or phone, but one that only speaks soul to soul, that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.  There it was, in a single moment, where all seemed and felt to be one, not wanting to end, not wanting to separate, not wanting to leave but try to absorb a beauty unlike any other.  There I was, not only witnessing what was lying before me but also within me.  It’s times like that when my own fraudulency is revealed and an invitation to go deeper, further, opens up to something more, a deeper understanding of me, God, and love, when what I had become accustomed to no longer was enough but called out for more.

Like most experiences, I go thinking it’s for one reason, to celebrate and vacation a bit, spend time with friends, but a change of place, time, landscape, the normal, has a way of breaking down our own defenses, our own walls we build, to open us up to something new that we could never have expected or even know we desired.  Yet, when the soul becomes dissatisfied and desiring more, it will awaken us to our own complacency and once again invites us to go West, to the great unknown, to open us again to life.  We can all become beat down by life and the challenges that we encounter, relationships that can deflate our souls, but we’ll never be satisfied with anything less than what it desires of and for us.  In those moments of exploration and the loud silence that ensues, we make that promise that we’ll never settle and never be satisfied with anything less for our lives as co-creators with Mystery, with God, with the great unknown that the West has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Less Traveled

Genesis 12: 1-4a; II Tim 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

Life is difficult. It’s the first line in the book, The Road Less Traveled. The author, Dr. Peck goes onto say just after that sentence that it takes a great deal of acceptance of that statement to finally let it go and move on, accepting reality for what it is and now what we think it should be. It’s why so many choose not to take the road less traveled because it means change and letting go and remaining open to something new in our lives. We’d often rather just wallow in our challenges and difficulties, somehow victims of a God that doesn’t seem to give me what I want when I ask.

The spiritual journey is no different. It’s difficult and like life, probably why so many choose not to take the road less traveled. It’s much easier to make my relationship with God about what I do on Sunday rather than a daily affair of prayer and silence. The problem, though, is it starts to close us off from even needing God. We begin to settle for something less than we really are and plant our stakes deep in the ground, often even cutting us off from God. As much as we sell ourselves short in life, we can do the same in our spiritual lives, knowing they are so intertwined, often settling for death over life.

I think it’s why the story of Abraham and Sarah is such a model for us in our lives because they did often choose the road less traveled. Listen, pretty much everything up to this point in the bible ends in disaster. It ends with war and violence. It ends in destruction. But when Abraham and Sarah enter the story, there seems to be the dawn of a new day in salvation history. You know, the two of them have every reason to be like so many that had come before them and there lives just ending poorly. They’re 75 years old and it seems as if God never gives them what they want. They could live their lives as victims of circumstances and give up. They can just dig the stakes of their tent in deeply and settle for less. However, that’s not what they do. Here they are, well into their lives, and now being called to embark on yet another journey from a God that hasn’t come through for them the way they wanted. They don’t him and haw about it but rather set out for an unknown land. Despite their age, there’s still a sense of adventure and there’s still something that calls them forth in their lives.
Here’s the thing, unlike for most of us, there’s no going back. If we leave home we can often return to that location. For Abraham and Sarah, it was giving everything up. They were being called to pull of the stakes and take, once again, the road less traveled. They once again will head out into the unknown simply because of a message from the Lord to Abraham. It’s as if they recognize that it’s not about this world and see themselves as passing through. There’s no reason to dig in to deeply because when the Lord calls them to do what would seem impossible and even crazy to us, they go forward. They don’t allow the pain of the past or failed expectations to stop them from heading out to the unknown and once again living with this sense of adventure and child-like trust in God.

Now we couple that with today’s gospel and the disciples who witness the transfiguration. As quickly as Abraham and Sarah are willing to pull up the stakes and head out on the road less traveled, accepting the difficulties of life and yet trusting God and the unknown, Peter quickly wants to settle down. He quickly wants to build and altar, drive in the stakes of the tent, and call it quits. It’s not that they didn’t know life was difficult. They were fishermen which was not and is not an easy life. They understood that. But with Jesus, maybe they thought differently and react to what they see and decide to end the journey there.

Jesus, like Abraham and Sarah, though, still knows that the road will become much more narrow and very much less traveled as they make their way towards Jerusalem. The ultimate test will be the cross and whether they have what it takes to push through and be pushed through such pain and agony. It’s the moment when the spiritual and life intersect and we’re left with the decision whether we want to settle down, drive in the stakes, and erect the picket fence, or allow ourselves to experience yet another adventure by God calling us forth. It really is the reality of our lives anyway, always in transition, always being called forth, always being led to the great unknown, deeper mystery, that leads to the fulfillment of life that we truly desire. It’s easy to not change. But it also makes me miserable, fearful, and well, quite honestly, so self-consumed that I can’t see anything beyond my hurt and pain. We’d rather hunker down in Good Friday than experience the newness of Easter.

As we continue this journey through Lent, our prayer is that we have the perseverance that Abraham and Sarah exhibited in their lives and their own acceptance of the difficulties of life and yet not allowing themselves to become attached to it all. They remained open to change and to whatever it was that God was calling forth in that very moment. When we don’t limit ourselves to experiencing God simply on Sunday, but rather as a way of life, making the time for prayer and silence, we become more attuned to the voice of God as they did. Maybe that’s what scares us the most. When we do hear that voice, it may ask us to do something crazy or impossible, thwarting our own plans for life. But like them, when we choose the road less traveled and persevere, the promise of Easter remains a promise. It doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. That’s a reality. But it will be an adventure, a change, free of burying our own stakes in the ground, and an openness to wherever God may lead.

Arrivederci!

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Today is our final day at Sea. We’re currently sailing somewhere in the vicinity of British Columbia, or at least that’s what I believe we were told. It’s a full-day at sea. It’s been a day of final shopping for a few things. It’s been a day of packing and unloading and preparing for disembarking the Island Princess tomorrow morning in Vancouver and then fly out in the evening. Before I do all of that and get on the treadmill of travel to get home, some of this day has just been sitting on the deck of the ship and taking in the quietness of the waters. As a matter of fact, although I can see some land in the far-off distance, it’s pretty much all water and the lapping of the waves beyond us and up against the ship as we sail.

As I write, I’m up on the eleventh deck of the ship so there is much below me. Even as the birds fly by below, they seem so far away from where I sit. I was thinking, though, just how much life is below me here. I don’t necessarily mean the people that are below me on this Ship, although there are more than two thousand on board, but rather the thousands of feet of water that lies below and all that calls that home. We never get to see much of it at all. We were told we’d most likely see whales among other creatures living in these waters, but this time we’ve seen none of it here. We all certainly get credit for gazing toward the horizon, day in and day out, seeking to catch a sight of something, and yet, all I see is the lapping of the waves, both here and far. All I see are the land masses that pop up from time to time and the gulls that seek food below. As much as we can’t see below, I at least know that they can see into the depths as they search for food.

But that is the hard part of any journey and what we call life. It’s, at times, nearly impossible to see what lies below the surface of the waters. We tend to live in a world that seems better suited for what we can see and what lies on the surface rather than seeking something more, rather than taking flight like the gulls, and seeking what it is we are looking for. I even know, that, once I step outside my room here, I will enter another world, so often seeming superficial in trying to buy and sell and shop until you drop on the cruise ship. Now I’m fully aware that it is vacation and there is an element of that for all of us. We like to have a good time, celebrate, and be with friends. But in many ways, coming to my room here has been a sanctuary, sitting out looking over the waters before me calling me back home to myself and to the mystery that I am as well.

We will never completely know what lies before us, beyond us, and even beneath us. Why would we want to anyway. Without some unknown in our lives we no longer have a need for faith and hope. It’s when we stop taking flight out into the great blue yonder or allowing ourselves to enter into the deep waters of our own lives that we become content with what we see and what we know rather than seeking more. It’s the more that continues to enthrall us, invite us, even seduce us to a dissatisfaction with the flashing lights and the latest gadget rather than falling overboard into the depths of the ocean with the faith and hope we need that God too will swoop down and lead us to greater depths and take us to places we’ve never seen.

As this experience draws to a close and I continue to try to take in as much as I can, of all that I can see, I’m mindful of what lies beneath. There too the splashing of the waters lapping against the heart bringing about new life and new opportunities. Sure, the sea often feels the roughest at those moments, but it’s also what makes it exciting and and adventure. There is so much I can see and yet even more so that I cannot. All I can do is continue to accept the invitation as much as I can, without fighting it and allow the depths to take me away to new places, to new realities, to new experiences that are always within reach.

North To The Future

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Today we end our final stop on the Alaskan tour before heading up to Vancouver to head home after two weeks of adventure from gazing at Bald Eagles to trying reindeer for the first time, and even liking it! If you don’t know, Alaska’s State Motto is North to the Future. It was adopted on the centennial of the Alaskan Purchase and is described by Richard Peter, a Juneau journalist at the time, as “a reminder that beyond the horizon of urban clutter there is a Great Land beneath our flag that can provide a new tomorrow for this century’s ‘huddled masses yearning to be free’.”

Ironically, anything that I’ve seen, experienced, and witnessed seems to come in contradiction to what we, in the lower 48, deem as the future. When we think future we think progress and the ever-increasing presence of technology. Yet, most of the time traveling around the state I had very little internet access and phone service for that matter. It seemed as soon as I had the chance it was the first thing I grabbed for, that somehow I had to tell the world what I was doing, seeing, and experiencing here in Alaska. It’s become our way of life in many ways. We begin to adopt this mindset that the rest of the world cares about everything I am doing with my time! It’s easy, as I’ve mentioned in other posts on this trip, to get lost behind the camera and phone and miss what is before your very eyes and allowing it to speak to you and change you in some ways. Maybe the future isn’t all about technology and advancement, but back to the very basics of human contact and relationship and the experiences we share.

For many of us, suburban life has also become part of our way of life. We want to escape the ‘urban clutter’ that Richard Peter referenced and problems that have come to exist in our many cities in the country. There is very little city life, as we know it, here in Alaska. Many of the towns that we visited have no form of government. They manage to work out problems on their own. Of course, that has it’s downside as well when it comes to hospitals and the basic care of the people, which is lacking in many parts. The capital, Juneau, can’t even be accessed by road. In order to arrive in the city you must come by boat or plane. It’s incredible to think, knowing that I can get in the car and drive to Annapolis whenever I want back in Maryland.

At the same time, I don’t want to glorify, idealize, or even somehow romanticize Alaska. We met many who have spent their lives living off the land here and calling it home. Not one said they would ever leave it behind, however, they would also never deny how hard it can be. We have become so accustomed to running to the grocery store rather than living off the land, hunting, fishing. We have often lost that sense of hunter and gatherer that has been in the very DNA of the founding of this country and even prior to becoming a country, Natives who lived the life. Them too, though, we deemed as an obstruction to what we call progress. That doesn’t mean that all progress is bad. In many ways it is necessary and helps humanity. But if we lose the struggle and tension within ourselves of progress and yet remaining grounded, we begin to lose sight of our very humanity and the magnificence of a God that continues to reveal new ways of relating, understanding, and simply being ourselves.

Progress does not always mean getting better, despite that we’ve often equated them that way. Progress as humans on this journey, keeping our eyes on the future, means so often falling and facing defeat and finding within ourselves the hope to get back up, learning from it all, and growing deeper in love. When we view it through that lens so much of the other stuff just doesn’t seem to matter and can even go days without a phone or internet. It’s amazing to think that it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t even have that ability and yet we somehow think we can’t live without it. We can.

This was always a ‘bucket list’ trip for me and I don’t even know what would be next. It’s the one place that I have always felt drawn to visit. There was a mystery to it all being so far away from the lower 48, even, at times, feeling like I was in another country! It was a lot of traveling, miles and miles of traveling, viewing, reflecting, experiencing, laughing, among other things, but it in no way has disappointed. One of the best things about it, that mystery is still there. There really is a mystique to the place like none other. Maybe it is the fact that it remains so undeveloped in a world where we can’t go a mile without another building, Wal Mart, or Starbucks, so often showing my own selfishness and ‘better than’ attitude. We have become so accustomed to convenience that we have so often become less patient and so impulsive, thinking we can have what we want and when we want it.

In many ways, Alaska has slowed me down and quieted me down. One of the hardest things is going back, knowing that the chatter of work and life will soon take over. That’s not to say that they don’t have their own version of it all, but this time, as hard as it is to believe at times, especially considering the fact that I’m currently sitting on a Princess Cruise ship, was a time of pilgrimage into the often ruggedness of my own soul, from the icy glaciers, the deep, blue waters, and the wild peaks of Denali. It’s all here and it’s all within me now as well, catching a glimpse of the way God not only creates the world but continues to recreate me with each experience. I

n some ways, Alaska probably is the Future, but not in the ways we have come to expect. It may, at times, be considered the last frontier, but after spending time here, I can say it’s more the beginning of a frontier to a deeper reality of the mystery of our lives and the frontier journey we’re all invited into in our lives. As they can tell you here, life really is what you make of it. Sometimes the more we think we need to advance and make progress comes at a great cost. As a country and world we have to ask ourselves what really is most important and just because we can do things doesn’t mean we should. What’s most important is relationship, encounter, experience, human contact, life. We truly have all we need for our future. Can we now accept the invitation to live counter-culturally and find value in what matters most in our lives? That’s really the question and reflection for all of us in this life.

Out of the Boat

Matthew 4: 12-23

“James and John were in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets.  He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”  It seems like a rather odd detail to mention, yet, in most of the call story of these brothers, James and John, we hear that exact detail…in a boat, with their father, mending nets.  When Jesus calls they leave everything to follow.  Were they that disinterested in fishing  with their father, as a lifestyle?  What would ever possess them to leave it all behind to set out on an adventure that none of them really knew what was going to be asked of them?  Did they hold a grudge against their father that somehow they were going to become trapped in the family business, never having the opportunity to venture out and try new things?  How was Zebedee feeling towards Jesus at that moment as he pulls his two sons away from their livelihood?  Would we do the same, leaving it all behind, to follow?

The boat is often a safe place, even for ourselves, when we are out on the water.  There is some sense of safety and security when it comes to being in a boat, that just your typical day out on the water isn’t going to bring about much harm in your life.  I remember the time of my rafting accident, and after approaching every rapid that followed, falling into the raft, locking my feet in place to keep myself safe and secure, avoiding any more harm or hurt that had already occurred.  All of these things that were being given to them…a livelihood, safety, security, responsibility, and yet, none of it was going to replace the call of Jesus in their lives.  Even if they didn’t know what was going to be asked, it was going to be different, adventurous, new, bring about change, travel, and so much more; what young man or woman wouldn’t want that or find themselves looking for that in life.

The call of the disciples, as it is for us, runs much deeper than anything else.  There is a nagging and a longing that happens within us that is hard to avoid.  We can run from it and hide from it, but at some point, while we’re feeling safe and secure in life, mending nets, the call will again surface and God will once again call to some new adventure that only you can fulfill because it has been placed within your heart.  We pray today that we may respond with immediacy in our lives when the Lord calls us to change, to step out of our security and safety, into the deep, and go where only we can go, into a place of faith and trust as the brothers were called to today.  The Lord entrusted them and the Lord entrusts us to come and follow, in and through faith, to wherever he leads and calls.