A Weighted Return

“There is a desire within each of us,
in the deep center of ourselves
that we call our heart.
We were born with it,
it is never completely satisfied,
and it never dies.
We are often unaware of it,
but it is always awake.

It is the Human desire for Love.
Every person in this Earth yearns to love,
to be loved, to know love.
Our true identity, our reason for being
is to be found in this desire…” 
Gerald May  Living in Love

“A sense of balance within spaciousness remains within such people, like a window between infinity and the world of everyday experience. They are not only wiser and humbler because of their addictions; they are also more available. Through their spaciousness, they are continually invited homeward.” Gerald May  Addiction & Grace

I’ve never gone back.  At least not to that point.  It seemed as if there would never be a new normal.  Yet, when I began this journey, simultaneously, the spiritual journey as well, I weighed in at over 300 pounds.  It makes me cringe to even type that and admit it at this point in my life.  But I’ve also never gone back.  Sure, there have been many plateaus and stumbles over the years, but now I find myself in a place with more than a hundred of it gone, for good.  By the way, to get to this point has been now over twenty years.  Almost half my life.  Even that seems hard to believe.

I think, more than anything, it’s the reasons for doing it that change over time.  There are, of course, health risks that come with obesity, that are beyond my understanding at times.  Yet, like most, I didn’t like to be told I needed to lose the weight because of those reasons nor did it ever seem possible.  Over time, some of those voices did win out and it became one reason to do it, but it was never the best reason to keep it off nor does it deal with the reasons as to why food and eating were so pleasurable or how it was actually feeding me.  The thought of not having that defense mechanism, though, was too daunting.  If there was one way to protect myself it was to put up a physical barrier around myself, preventing not only me but others from coming in.  Health reasons are noble but not necessarily sustainable in the end.

Without a doubt, others, are a good motivating force and another reason for doing it, but like health, not always sustainable as a reason.  The problem with building that defense mechanism is that it necessarily does more harm to me than others.  It became a way to isolate myself, paradoxically, often from myself.  The desire to please, fit in, be liked and noticed, or even attracted to, was a strong driving force for some time.  Any desire around attraction and sexuality run deep.  They are, though, double-edged swords more often than not.  The more I wanted that to be my reason and my driving force only worked against me, wanting to eat all the more when that desire was not satisfied.  What appeared to be as May writes, a desire for love, was never going to be fulfilled in such a way.  It was looking for approval and acceptance from everyone but myself.  I was convinced, an addiction to my own thoughts, that that was the answer.  If I could only find love, in the way I thought, which was more about approval and acceptance, that would somehow solve the missing link in my life.  That was the answer to the deeper hunger that food satiated, leaving the longing to grow even deeper and an endless pit and dump for more food.  The defense mechanism, the exterior wall around myself, only grew sturdier.

That thinking did finally solidify for me and the defense mechanism, as a means for survival.  It will, though, always mark a significant turning point, both physically and spiritually for me, October 2003.  At that point I was six years into this journey and was at my best, up to that point.  I was at my lowest weight in lived memory, and in an instant, it all fell apart.  I quickly realized just how fragile this new-found way was for me when my life was almost cut short following a rafting accident.  Life became much more about survival and questions that had no answers.  It seemed that the only thing certain in my life was food, or least how I saw food.  Those moments, that turned into months, solidified in a way that I never thought possible, how I felt about myself, projecting it all onto God, questioning why I was plucked from the raging river.  It wasn’t as some would think, as to preferring death, but rather why I was pulled from “the belly of the whale”, as to what was being asked of me in this life and would I have it in me to do it!  It all seemed daunting where all I wanted to do in those moments was crawl into a closet and hide, fearing life all the more, eating as a way to protect myself, when in reality, I was simply feeding the voices of shame and guilt.  Yet, I never went back.  It became an endless cycle of eating and exercising to the point of exhaustion, simply to stay where I was, at least knowing on some level that going back was not the answer.  I knew that and know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

If I could sum up the fifteen years since that moment, I’d say it was one of trying to crawl my way back to where I was and fighting all the way.  I firmly believed that was the answer.  If I could only return to the way life was before that day then all would be well.  I can’t even begin to explain how many times I thought that and said that, thinking somehow I could turn back the clock and erase all that had happened.  What I didn’t know, though, was just how much the “stinkin’ thinkin’” had held its grip on me.  As much as clawing and fighting were the name of the game, there was a gradual process unfolding through it all that was unlearning what had been learned.  It wasn’t, as May points out, the “spaciousness” of what was within that I feared the most, it was that feeling of being trapped, the weight of a raft, an other, atop me, drowning in my own feelings and desires and desiring the dark confines of that enclosed space to that spaciousness.  There wasn’t even space for myself, let alone anyone else, in what I would describe now as some of the roughest seas of my life, often feeling like I was gasping for air.  Fighting it all the way, of course.  Wanting to go back and yet knowing that wasn’t the answer. The weight I carried on the exterior very much symbolized the weight I carried within my own heart and soul, a grief unlike any other.

Food, though, like alcohol, drugs, internet, or whatever the pleasure, is merely a symptom of something much deeper.  That spaciousness only seemed to open up within me as I learned to write, page after page, writing to a God that I needed to listen.  I needed someone that could know my deepest thoughts and desires without judgment.  I had done enough of that myself and couldn’t handle a God doing the same.  I was sick, in my own way, and didn’t have the ability to go to where I needed to in life, to the deepest recesses of my heart and soul that held the key to unlocking the secrets to the symptoms that plagued my life.  There was nothing easy about any of it, quite frankly.  At times I feared sharing these writings with anyone; the shame and guilt of who I thought I was ran deep.  All I could imagine was myself hovering over me, stick in hand, ready to pounce.  Eating became the solution.  Eating became an escape from reality.  It allowed me to create my own reality, one that would protect me from the pains of the world.  Little did I know that it merely fed the deepest pains of my own life.  The desire, as May points out, is to love and to be loved.  I didn’t know what that meant, at least in my own life.  I hadn’t even learned to love myself.  How could I possibly love another?

Page after page and sentence after sentence, it seemed as if God was finally listening.  I was falling less and less into eating.  The more I became with the spaciousness as a new way of life, the more I had room “in the inn” for others who were hurting, and sometimes in similar ways. I learned to let go of unrealistic expectations, that somehow losing weight was the answer to all my problems.  I’ve had to tell myself that one many times over.  I could never quite understand what the deeper hunger was that was driving me to eat all the more.  It was a hunger that never seemed to be satisfied.  It was a hunger for connection.  It was a hunger for intimacy.  It was a hunger for love and to be loved.  It felt, at times, like a freefall into the unknown, and with each fall God seemed to hoist me up all the quicker or I became more aware of the fall each time.

I’m not convinced that it ever goes away.  I suppose that’s why addicts continue to claim that with each passing day.  Yeah, it gets easier.  I get that.  But as much as I don’t like to admit it, I also believe that the fall is the key over and over again.  It seems that with each fall it’s not into spaciousness at first.  Rather, it leads me to that trapped space, the confines of the closet, that becomes the passage way each and every time.  Every time I’m asked to give up a little more, surrender this way of thinking, because my thinking seems to be almost chameleon-like, changing with me and finding new ways to seduce me into believing that acceptance and approval are found beyond myself.  As much as I try to turn it off myself, I know it’s only in the moment of surrender, when I stop clawing and fighting, when something bigger than myself takes hold.

Losing weight, or dealing with any addictive behavior or thinking, is never easy, but it holds the key to the life we desire and the deeper hungers that remind us of our humanity.  At times I’ve said I’d rather be an alcoholic for at least I don’t need alcohol to live.  I’ve learned to live without a great deal in the process and with that I am ok.  All forms of addictive behavior or thinking was designed to protect us from hurt.  We all have some tendencies.  It’s manipulated in a consumer world convincing us that our deeper hungers, which are very much connected with our deepest hurts, can somehow be “taken care of” by something, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, etc.  Although in the past month or so I have surpassed that point of October 2003, finally, there were mixed emotions through that process of crossing a threshold I had placed for fifteen years.

The very fact that I sit here writing this now has taken a lot of coaxing because it’s very personal to me.  It has been the loss of a great deal of who I thought I was over the years, and now, at times, as I step out of the confines, I’m left often wondering how to live my life.  It’s no longer the question of survival, but about what truly feeds the deepest hungers in my life and how does that love manifest itself in the life God has given me.  I’m left with trying to make sense out of what it all means in the days and months ahead.  There is, if I am honest with myself, a sense of grief and dying that is taking place within myself that I myself am not even able to yet comprehend or even put into words.  That’s not easy to admit.  Everyone wants to assume I feel better and have more energy, and on a physical level that is very true.  I have never been more active in my life.  However, the certainty has vanished and the defense mechanism is no longer standing in the way of the mystery of life and relationship.  I find myself looking for deeper meaning in my own life and in friendships.  It’s caused me to pause and question who is in my life and are they in the realm of that space.

I guess the bottom line is, like the rafting accident, I find myself asking questions that there aren’t really answers to, or not as quickly as I’d like.  But it’s different this time and the questions are open to possibility rather than shutting myself off, vulnerability rather than superficial, free rather than confining.  You see, at some point I finally began to see that it wasn’t about health and it wasn’t about others, as much as I’m still driven to think so at times.  Rather, it’s about me and the life entrusted to me by God.  I needed to learn acceptance.  I needed to learn love.  I needed to learn to feel and express.  I needed to be vulnerable.  I needed to step out of my own box.  I needed more than I could express and thankfully there have been people, friends, along the way who believed in me in that way.  I needed to believe in myself.

The journey “homeward” is never an easy one.  As a matter of fact, each time it appears you’re “getting there” new obstacles appear that open the door for deeper opportunity.  Deep down I have always wanted to do this for myself.  I believe that desire has always been there, that somehow I knew there was more to me than what I carried with me day in and day out.  I was never satisfied, and quite frankly, not sure I will ever be satisfied.  It’s in my DNA to question and to go deeper, either with others or within myself.  With every bite I took I knew there was something that was trying to be revealed.  The more I became aware, the more it was revealed.  I’ve never gone back and never plan on going back, to that place, at least.  When “home” is finally found nothing else satisfies the hunger.  Food, eating, addiction, has something very profound to teach if we’re willing to believe, to unlearn the learned, and to be open to the pain of others to enter in and teach.  The reasons change with age but so does what gives meaning and purpose.  What doesn’t change, though, is that hunger to love and to be loved.  When we recognize it as the eternal addiction we finally learn that nothing else satisfies and nothing will ever be enough except the utter abandonment of it all and a total trust in God as we fall into the mystery of our lives, broken and redeemed.  For “God does not love us if we change; God loves us so we can change.”

 

 

 

Convergence

acadia

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  John Muir

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”  Jacques Yves Cousteau

Mountains and Seas, unlike most other natural realities, have a way of pulling us out of ourselves and often moving us to the needed and necessary perspective on life.  For me, Maine has become the home of where the two converge into one, where climbing can lead to some of the deepest places and the depths of the sea move you to some of the highest reaching points of discovery, all at the same moment.  Even upon departure there’s a sadness that overcomes in that, with the return to the world of life and work, where depth and heights are all but a mystery, stagnant, and even discouraged, the longing and call to nature never leaves, that, as Cousteau points out, casts a spell and captivates forever.  Nature has the ability to seduce us in ways unlike much else, pointing to greater depths and heights that often can only be left to the imagination.

A great deal has been written about nature depravity that has become the norm in our culture.  The days of spending our summer’s as kids outdoors and using our imaginations has all but dissipated with time.  The use of electronics, structured play, and all the rest may have progressed us as a people, but the long-term impact of cutting ourselves off from what is most important and what provides us meaning in our lives will be hard to recover in the generations that follow.  Despite the relentlessness that nature can have on us, as we see through the extremes of weather plaguing the globe, its ability to show compassion and care for the wanderer and seeker isn’t to be overlooked.

Climbing a mountain or spending that week in the woods along the endless shoreline, resurrects that child within to expand the imagination and open the heart to new possibility.  Even in watching others hiking along side at times, it was fascinating to see that much of it was about accomplishing another task, just as we do in our work lives, in order to move onto the next mountain or the path that follows, rather than allowing ourselves to stop and be in the moment, allowing the natural world to speak to and with our souls.  More often than not it speaks a language that remains foreign to us, not dictated by ourselves but by the eternal and the unearthed creation in which we share and walk, hand in hand.

Over time the line and all that separates begins to fall away like scales from the eyes, noticing the intricacy of a freshly spun web, the movement of the fog that seems all too real in life at times, the fallen trees that have been given the proper reverence to return to the earth untouched in order to continue the cycle, all of this unfolding before our eyes and within our very beings waiting to be explored and discovered all anew as if seeing it for the first time yet over and over again.  The natural world, in all its beauty and wonder, provides us all with what we are often lacking in our lives, the natural silence in which can only be heard the groans of new birth breaking forth from the earth, mirroring to us the gift that is freely being offered to us in this very moment if we can only allow ourselves to stop, to breathe, to surrender, and to recall from where and whom we have come.  As much as things change, life and death and the perpetual mystery that surrounds remains intact, ever-true and ever-deepening, nature pointing the way to the naturalness of it all.

It was, though, the guide while whale watching, that reminded us all that we only but see the surface with any of it.  What lies beneath the sea remains unexplored and ever-expanding.  Her reminder to all, whether it was heard or not, is true of each of us.  We only see what our eyes allow us to see in any given moment while so much remains undiscovered.  We trust that what is unseen is there and contains much life but our own fears prevent us from embarking.  The mountains of Acadia, as breathless as the are to see, pale in comparison to what lies beneath in the depths of the earth and sea that continues to call us forth.  Noise, life, distractions, success, accomplishments, and all the rest act as faithful guards to the unexplored.  I don’t have the time.  I’m busy with work.  I can’t get away.  Excuse and excuse, at our own doing, keeps us safe from going to such places and not closing the gap between nature and ourselves, and even more so, closing the gap between me and myself and you and yourself.  Nature opens the door to another world, a world of possibility and healing, a world in which we desperately want to hide, or for that matter, avoid.

It doesn’t take long to begin to feel that loss when, after being immersed for days, we return to life and what often feels so unnatural.  The beckoning and longing only seem to deepen and yearn all the more as the days and years march on.  In these moments of my own life I’m not sure I could even stop myself from making that time to return in order to be found once again, breathing a sigh of relief that all is right with the world again and again, freely falling into the hands that wait.  Until then, the memories remain of the light dancing off the water, waves crashing against the sea, stumbles and falls, tears and joy, of all that the natural world continues to provide for me and so many others that feel that deprivation.  If anything, it stands as a safe place, a place that only wants you to be you and nothing else and where nothing else matters.  It allows us to stand naked, unashamed and unafraid, in all our own highs and lows, light and darkness, and even the glimpses of the shadows that provide shelter.  When the mountains and sea converge into one the consequence is a convergence in our own lives, standing in the tension of life and death, what stays and goes, while continuing to walk on and through, allowing mystery to be revealed step by step.

Navigating Darkness

Matthew 2: 1-12

One of the movies I caught over the holidays was A Monster Calls. The story is about a young boy, Conor, who finds himself just overwhelmed by life and not able to take much more of it. His parents are divorced, he’s bullied at school because he’s become so isolated, and now the one consistency in his life, his mother, is dying of cancer. He has this ongoing nightmare where he feels as if life is slipping through his hands. There’s so much uncertainly that he lives in this constant state of fear, let along the anxiety and anger he’s experiencing because of this deep grief.

But he encounters this “monster” which is the tree outside in the cemetery that comes to life. Even that distracts him from the nightmare he’s used to. He begins to call upon it. He begins to realize that the “monster” isn’t out there in the cemetery, it’s deep within him. The monster keeps assuring him that he’s leading him to healing, to this deeper truth that gets lost in the darkness of despair and this ongoing lie that he’s holding onto that everything will be alright and his mother will somehow survive. He begins to learn how to navigate through the darkness that has so often consumed his life and learns to let go. It’s not easy for us adults let along a young boy trying to navigate.

This whole season has been allowing ourselves to wander and navigate that same darkness in our lives. Christmas does not expel the darkness nor does it somehow destroy it. We seem to operate in the world that we can get rid of it which only leads to greater darkness. These Magi we encounter today are learning to do the same in their lives. Even their navigation is a bit off, leaning on their own expectations of a king being born. They find themselves a few miles outside Bethlehem in Jerusalem, in what seems to be their final challenge in learning how to navigate this great darkness, the Herod that lies within.

Fear rules Herod and the land and it’s what the Magi now must face within themselves. He was a tyrant and often believed to have been paranoid in the end of his days. He too finds himself in a position where life seems to be slipping through his fingers and losing control. However, he doesn’t let it go. Rather, he takes it out on the most vulnerable, on the children and has them killed. It’s fear, darkness, and despair when it comes to Herod but a valuable lesson for the Magi seeking life, the newborn King. it’s a struggle for many of us, the darkness within ourselves that is so often easier to cast upon the other rather than learning how to navigate it all. Jerusalem will become that same place for the disciples as the story goes on. They too won’t understand the Christ until they first encounter that same darkness. It won’t come in the form of Herod but in the form of a crucifixion by others who are plagued by darkness. Jerusalem becomes the doorway to Bethlehem.

And so they find their way to the Christ. They offer their own gifts, in someways symbolic of their own journey and the darkness that they too had to confront. The journey to the Christ took them where they’d rather not go, where we would rather not go, but like God, we are often led without even knowing, into the great unknown, into this deeper reality of mystery. For young Conor and for the disciples, it was about seeking truth and truth leads to darkness and to life. He had to let go of what he knew. It was no longer about the head knowledge that we want to cling to and how it’s supposed to be or how we want it to be, but rather a deeper knowledge. It’s deeper knowing and truth that so often is beyond words but lies deep within, ever so gently navigating us through that very darkness that we have feared.

As this season of Christmas draws to a close, the journey really just begins. We’ll hear the call of the disciples to go deeper. We’ll hear the call to enter into this journey and to begin to learn to trust something deeper within themselves as they too are led to uncharted territory, where all that they have known begins to slip through their fingers. They will be left with the same choice as the Magi as the encounter the Christ. Do they leave it all at that crib, with great humility, life and death, or do they cling to what they can see, what they know, what they are comfortable with in life? It is what is asked of us as well. With God’s grace, we can learn to navigate the darkest of times, but we can’t deal with the darkness of the country or the world until we first begin to master it within ourselves. When we do, like the Magi, we can no longer go home the same way. The seeking of and finding of the Christ changes the course of our lives where we too go home by another way. It’s no longer about going home to what we know but into the unknown, into this deeper mystery. No, and not that physical place we call home, but deep in the recesses of our hearts and souls, ever so gently teaching and guiding us, while casting light, to navigate the darkness of our lives.

A Salmon’s Journey

IMG_1605

Now I already know what you’re thinking in regards to salmon. There’s probably one fact that everyone knows about them and that’s that they swim upstream. Big deal. But if that’s all you know, you probably don’t know much about what it is so many eat. And by the way, I don’t ever recommend visiting a salmon hatchery before you go to a salmon bake! If you don’t believe me just try it.

So alright, they swim upstream. Actually, it’s rather fascinating to watch them in the streams trying to do this, as if they were holding onto something with dear life. It looks somewhat abnormal and tiring in a way. It seems to explain why bear are such a predator to them being that it looks like you can just stick your hand in and grab one…although I’m sure it’s not that easy. There’s also the fact that they lay their eggs at the time when they are swimming upstream. Once they are born and ready to head out to salt water they will spend anywhere from one to five years out in the ocean waters, swimming thousands of miles, before returning where their lives began. It’s a rather fascinating story that they return to where life began, to the beginning. Whether they know it or not, though, it’s also the beginning of the end of their lives. When they return, if they are lucky enough to return, to the stream where their lives began and eggs are deposited and fertilized, it marks the end of their lives. It truly is the beginning of the end of the salmon’s life. As soon as they give life in this way they can die, and we saw several simply floating, dead, but also become dinner for so many.

It’s a rather fascinating story and of course can teach us about our own lives as well. I would hope when I come closer to the anticipated end of my own life that I still wouldn’t be fighting to swim upstream. It seems like a lot of work from one end of the spectrum. When we’re young it still feels that way sometimes. We’re still trying to give birth to something new in life, trying to recreate ourselves and redefine who we are. All of which can be a lot of work. It feels quite often as if we are swimming against the tide while at the same time trying to swim with it, adapting, adjusting to new environments, trying, so often, to feel free! Yet, that feeling of swimming upstream can lead to new adventures and opportunities as we grow up and almost seems necessary.

However, as we age, the swim upstream seems to change with us, or should as we grow older. We no longer should feel the need to fight the current so much and learn to accept so much of what comes flying by us, whether upstream or downstream for that matter. We no longer have to take things so seriously. As the salmon age and return home, a journey which probably seems long and arduous, they begin to lose their silvery color. In many ways they become more beautiful and probably even more noticeable in the water, maybe as a sign of the journey that they have made over their short life span. There’s always that part of us that wants to make a difference, wants to give life in a generative way, and as we grow in wisdom, we begin to learn that it’s not so much about swimming upstream or fighting the current, but rather about letting go.

Maybe deep down all those salmon out there today know what it means to make the journey home, to where it all began. What began on the bottom of the creek always is calling them back to their true home and their truest place. It is there that they not only encounter and give life, but in such paradox, where they also face death. In a short span they model the extremes of our own lives. Where we so often avoid and fear death. They learn to embrace it and are called to that place that when new life forms death is inevitable. Maybe it’s not so much the salmon that know all this but we sure do from our own journey’s in life. The more we hang on the more we seem to cling to death, get stuck, become jaded towards life, when in the simplicity of letting go, yet there is nothing simple about it, new life forms and the cycle begins again and for us humans on this journey of moving up and down stream in our lives, mystery deepens and continues to call us home as well, to the home not only in the depths of our being but so far beyond and so much mystery that we can never completely see or understand the journey home.

Beyond the Edge

IMG_1536I came across a quote today from author and conservationist, Wallace Stegner, in which he wrote in a letter, “We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” I don’t know if I ever could have appreciated those words until a made a concerted effort to visit some of the great national parks of the United States, which now I can include Denali. Although it has been limited so often to the majestic mountain we visited yesterday, there is so much more, a wild side that spans millions of acres that often times have yet to be explored.

It’s been interesting meeting some of the people along the way here and other Parks I’ve visited. When you meet those who dedicate months of their lives to educating others within the park, you often are left wondering why they got there in the first place and why they continue to do it in service to others. Maybe on some level Stegner was right that if it does anything, it has the uncanny ability to reassure us of our sanity let alone heal us on levels that we are often totally unaware of as we walk through life. So much of the time is simply trying to take it in and every now and then listen to the stories being told, of the guide but also of the vast land that advances before your very eyes, even with a glass window standing in the way from fully embracing the experience on a deeper level, on a very tactile level of touching the earth that has been home to humans and animals for years beyond counting.

One of the people we encountered today, who has served in Denali for nearly ten years now each summer was Phil. He was our bus driver but also our nature guide as we ventured through the Park today. He couldn’t have been more than his late 20’s driving this bus, majored in Marketing back in Colorado, and now spends the off-season training other bus drivers to do what he does at Denali. But it was his story that leaves you pondering the words of Stegner because it was practically just a month ago that he was attacked by a Grizzly in the Park. Now I would guess that for most of us, that would be the end of our time stepping foot in there without having some time of flashbacks or anxiety attacks, but here he was driving us through and now telling his story of his encounter with the wild. It’s probably the main reason why most of us don’t venture beyond the confines of our cars or bus, the fear of the wild is real for us because it is the one thing that still leaves us humbled that there really is something more powerful than ourselves.

Phil has the scars to prove it (although he wouldn’t allow me to take a photo to prove it!). The grizzly caught him right at his left calf, a bite mark that encompasses much of his leg. He had gone out hiking on a beautiful day in late June and was trying to avoid areas of moose scat, which, unfortunately, led him to the encounter with the mama grizzly and her two cubs. He knew what he had to do in order to protect himself but also knew what he was up against in the reality of the wild that remains untamed and ferocious, yet, continuously invites us to those very places within ourselves. At some point, if he hasn’t already, he may find himself seeking that grizzly within himself, teaching him, guiding him, and acting as wisdom to this young man, but until then it remains an external encounter, wounding the flesh but often wounding and touching something deeper within us at the same time.

I have to say, many of the people that we’ve encountered in these locations are locals. They didn’t grow up here and had no immediate connection to Alaska until they had come themselves, visiting and experiencing the land and the spirit that arises from within these lands. We mustn’t forget the countless Natives that have called this home before others ever arrived, who have called forth from the wild the spirit of these lands. As much as many of them aren’t here, they return to give back. During an initial visit to the outreaches of this country they are called, have a life-changing encounter, and then continue to yearn to return to what then becomes home. It seems, at times, hard to fathom why they would ever do it. Why would Phil keep returning to these secluded parts of not only Alaska but this country he calls home, if it hadn’t first touched him in some deeper way.

From the peaks of Denali to the depths of the countless acres of undergrowth, it remains metaphor for something bigger, beyond explanation. Maybe they haven’t all found it yet within themselves, but the voice of the great Spirit that leads them to these lands and continues to reassure them of their sanity, reminds them of the nagging within themselves for connection and encounter and they find it here. In my experience, and I’m sure they’d say the same, you can really only drive to the edge and look in for so long, in the words of Stegner. Eventually you have to allow yourself to cross that line and enter in fully, even if it means an encounter with a grizzly. Deep down, you just know, that it’s where you belong and may be the only place that leads you to saving your soul and living your life most fully.

Homestead Simplicity

There’s something appealing to the lifestyle of some who have made the choice to live here in Alaska. Even they would admit that the greatest deterrent is the winter weather that seems to drag on forever with nearly twenty hours of darkness. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like, on top of many feet of snow and temperatures that average well below zero throughout the winter. Yet, some have chosen to make it their livelihood, leaving the lower forty-eight behind for a more simple way of life.

We met some today who have made that choice. Prior to becoming a state, some made the choice to move here with the opportunity to make Alaska their home. Of course, many had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and yet, felt called to move to a much more vulnerable way of life here in Alaska, not necessarily knowing the inaccessibility that they would face on the frozen tundra. Many years later, they remain and now others make the same choice to live off the land or “off the grid” as it is known.

We met one such guy today, Levi, a twenty-eight year old native of Alaska who continues to live on one of the original homesteads, although, made the point that now you have to pay for such a property unlike when Alaska remained a territory. He continues to live without electricity or running water, hunts moose and bear to make it through the year, and grows many of his own vegetables for himself and some of his family. Ironically, we learned that you can even can chocolate cake! Although we questioned him on whether he ever thinks that maybe there is something better out there for him, a life that wouldn’t be so hard. He never went beyond the tenth grade and yet finds himself content. After driving nearly ten miles down the road he then gets out and has to walk about three miles to his place, his home.

It was fascinating to listen to him talk about his life and the amount he has learned by living off the land and knowing the cycles of life through that experience. We all kind of stood in awe listening to him, quite possibly, because deep down we know he’s right. We know that there is something simpler about life that we lose in the busyness of it all and the technology that has often stood as a wall between us and others and the natural world. Heck, he has to nearly climb a tree to get a cell phone signal, which he didn’t even want but was made to by his family so they knew he was alright being out there by himself.

There have been other times when I knew we were out of place as tourists visiting different sites and locations, but probably no more than here. We stick out like a sore thumb here and the lives we lead and live at least give the perception that we stand in conflict with something much simpler, much more grounded and connected, despite living in a state that’s practically closer to Russia than the lower forty-eight, that has harsher winters than any other part of the country, and doesn’t worry so much about trying to live up to the haves and have nots.

I don’t want to give the illusion that it’s a perfect world. They would tell you otherwise. It’s not a place for the faint of heart. It’s tough and grueling from late September until Spring. Most of us would not make such a choice in life. But as we wander through the streets of these small towns, it’s hard not to reflect upon on our lives and all that we have that quite frankly, isn’t even necessary. But we like to have our things and we think they somehow make us more connected and more important. Then you meet people like Levi and you are reminded that there are bigger things in life and deeper things in life that draw us to that simpler way of life, a life we can call home, our homestead in which we now dwell and that gives us life.

We can all learn a little from watching some people, knowing that their lives are not going to end but rather learn to adjust and adapt to whatever comes there way. They’ll admit, they don’t like change, and yet, it’s such a natural part of the cycle of their lives that it’s seethes from their very being. It was a good reminder today of just how much we have and often complain about in our very predictable and calculated lives and yet just how free we can be when we hear the call of the wild from within, calling us home, calling us to this more simple way of life.

No Going Back

Ezekiel 2: 2-5; IICor 12: 7-10; Mark 6: 1-6

There’s one thing that the prophets quickly learn, as Jesus does in today’s gospel, you pretty much cannot return home. Most of us can understand it on some level like when we leave home and start to break away, it’s hard to return. It’s hard for others to see us beyond the lens of who we were in their image and who we have become. Jesus meets immediate resistance when he returns, questioning his authority and the wisdom he shares. Like any of the prophets, home has changed for them. Home is no longer defined by the outside relationships of family and friends, but is rather found within. It’s that home that gives the authority and wisdom to say and do has they do to the people.

But it doesn’t come without a fight. That is the consistent theme of the call of the prophets of the Hebrew Scripture. From Ezekiel whom we hear from today to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest we hear from throughout the year, there is this ensuing tension with God and the call that is being given. It gets to the point where they almost can’t not do it because it becomes agonizing for them until they can finally surrender to that voice. Like any of us, there is always that desire to conform, go along with the crowd, fit it, be accepted, but to be authentic and live out that call, Ezekiel must move beyond that and grow to accept the call that is being given in going out to Israel. However, despite their hardened hearts and Ezekiel knowing the difficult task that is being placed within and on him, he’s freed up by God reminding him that whether they heed or resist, a prophet has arisen. Their acceptance or denial of his call has no bearing on the fact that he’s being called in this way, to a new way of life and to be this prophetic voice to the people. It’s not that he’s being called to be the doomsday guy or to tell them how to live their lives, but given the gift of the spirit, he sees and hears on a different level. He becomes the voice and eyes of a God who is always present, even in the hardness of their hearts and the messiness of their lives. This is what Ezekiel sees and hears and can’t not be that voice to the people.

Jesus, as I said meets that resistance when he finds that home within himself, just as Ezekiel does. He returns to his native place where you’d think they’d welcome him with open arms and yet is quite the opposite. What do they see? They see a carpenter. They see the son of Mary. They see what and who he used to be, from their own lens, and yet can’t see him for who and what he is now. Even Jesus sees he’s going to get nowhere here in his native place. Their own hardness of heart prevents them from seeing the face of God in their midst. They are probably the ones that needed the miracles the most; yet, their prevented from seeing and experiencing the gift. They question his wisdom and his words. Of course, finding that home within leads us where we don’t want to go, in the face of persecution and hardship, suffering and to the cross. It’s what leads to his impending death on the cross. He too can’t not do what he’s been called to and to be that prophetic voice. But we are all called to that life of mature faith. When we come to this baptismal font we are all anointed priest, prophet, and king. We are all called on this journey in where we too are no longer defined by our exterior relationship and circumstances, our past, but rather find that voice within. That’s how we become the person God has created us to be and to be God’s gift to the world, His instrument.

Paul, too, understands the challenge of that call. He calls it a “thorn in the flesh.” It’s something that is always there. He questions along the way as Ezekiel and the other prophets do. When standing in the face of pain and suffering will I be able to be true to that voice, even if it means confronting the thorn in the flesh in my own life, suffering at the hands of others who can’t accept this call that has been given? It’s not easy being that voice, which is why so many choose otherwise and would rather that voice be silenced within rather than to be true to it, to be authentic. In the end, though, we lose what is most important to us when we do. Paul, like many others, are not willing to give that up once it’s found and will face martyrdom if that’s what it takes to be true to the home that has been found within.

There are many that claim to be prophets in our world. There are many that think they are great defenders of what we believe. Yet, so often it’s empty words if it’s not grounded in something and someone deeper within ourselves. When we continue to try to please others or want acceptance more than authenticity, we will continue to surrender our greatest and most treasured gift, our authentic voice within. We all have one, but like the great prophets that have gone before us, when we settle for something less, God will continue to wrestle as long as we need to, but in the midst of our own suffering that we continuously bring upon ourselves, God’s presence will arise and win out; God always does. We pray that we may find that voice within and remain true to that voice, our own home. It may lead to rejection and other suffering, but we will remain true to ourselves and the true home within will become the home of the many who go without in our world.