Really Living & Living Really

“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in…where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”  John Muir

“It is astonishing how high and far we can climb mountains that we love, and how little we require food and clothing…No sane man in the hands of nature can doubt the doubleness of his life.  Soul and body receive separate nourishment and separate exercise, and speedily reach a stage of development, wherein each is easily known apart from the other.  Living artificially, we seldom see much of our real selves.”  John Muir

I came across both of these quotes today by John Muir, legendary activist and protector of the woodlands of this country, who in many ways has a love affair with the outdoors.  It becomes not only the avenue for finding himself but for finding a being greater than himself, although rarely wrote about God.  He is considered the Father of the National Parks.

If there is one thing I have learned in spending time in the outdoors, whether it’s here at Acadia, the Grand Canyon, the vast forested area of Alaska, or even the shores of Maryland and Jersey, it’s that deep down what defines the soul is something much more than an urban landscape but rather a never-ending twist and turn, yet explored area that very much resembles these wild and uncharted lands that I’ve had the opportunity, and really, privilege, to explore.

His sentiments have been mine through these experiences, that the natural mountains that we climb or even the vast chasms that we descend throughout this land, how little, we begin to realize, that we truly need.  What becomes our challenge as humans is that we often climb illusions of mountains in our lives, seeking power, prestige, so often missing along the way just what it is we’re losing, forgetting, ignoring, that we become blinded by the climb itself.  A return to the mountains is a good reminder of how we fall prey to the illusions that power and climbing seems to offer, leaving us insecure and fearful of losing something that was never really real in the first place.

Of course, descending the chasms can be just as challenging.  The fall from the illusion of grandeur can be a humbling experience when we begin to see what it is that we have forgotten or ignored along the way.  I had that experience climbing, and descending, in Acadia this week, so intent on getting to the top of the mountain and not until I started to descend did I begin to see things differently, as if the hardness of the climb began to dissipate, noticing a fallen tree, a sparkling stream, an unnamed path that leads to one of the most spectacular views and serene locations in the park.

It seems in either instance, our temptation to remain at the top or simply climb, as we see so often in our culture and society, but also to become attached to the bottom, walked upon, taken advantage of or needing to please, both begin to increase what it is that we seem to need in our lives, when the insecurity and fear begin to take root in our hearts and souls, no longer free.  In the words of John Muir, a separateness of heart and mind begins to form, creating a deeper chasm within ourselves.  In some ways, we become needy and no matter what it is, nothing seems to be enough.

The more I give myself the space to explore the outdoors, which in turn frees me to explore myself, the more I see the value in protecting our lands and leaving them as a place of wonder and exploration.  Whether it was watching a group of young boys play the 21st Century version of “cops and robbers” on Cadillac Mountain or even getting lost myself and being aware of the anxiety it brings up within myself and learning again to trust that deeper instinct and voice.  Over and over again, the natural world has something to teach and to help us to understand not only about itself, but about ourselves and even about God.  In not only helps to fill the chasm between the head and heart, it helps to fill the chasm between humans and the natural world, where everything belongs.

The freedom necessary to not live an “artificial” life as Muir speaks about, requires a letting go, surrendering, and living a life filled with the grace of detachment.  No, not in the sense of not caring, but rather in its natural sense, where I can surrender outcomes and trust God no matter what happens.  Otherwise, we predict the outcome, which in and of itself, is an illusion, artificial.  And we’ll do it to ourselves again and again.  The natural world teaches us to be free, to go where the wind blows, and to accept not what should be, but rather, what is, gradually dispelling the artificialness and leading us to a holiness and a wholeness, reminding us how Muir is correct, in how little we really need to experience the fullness of our lives.



Come Out!


John 11: 1-45

All movement in today’s gospel is towards the tomb. Every word and action of Jesus is moving everyone in that direction. In many ways, to learn to die before they encounter the great death. Lazarus is obviously already there, bound now for four days, surely there will be a stench. Yet, the lesson is for everyone else that Jesus encounters on this journey to Bethany. Before they can encounter the fullness of life, they too must go where Lazarus has gone, led by Jesus to where none of them want to go but need to go. It provides us the opportunity to put ourselves in place of some of people Jesus encounters and what it is that needs to die.

Certainly the Jews, the scribes and Pharisees, are a continuous part of the journey. Jesus too is trying to inch them towards the tomb. For them I see that it is resistance that they need to let go of and die. As time goes on the resistance deep within them continues to build and grow ever more resentful of Jesus. They don’t like what he has to say and certainly don’t like what he is doing. It is causing a deep restlessness within them. Now when they see the tomb they take it at face value. They see death, despair, hopelessness. Despite being led by Jesus, they won’t go there. They don’t want to change. They know what they know and it gives them perceived power over others. Rather than embracing the tomb as a place of transformation, they will in turn act out of their insecurity and restlessness and bring about the death of Jesus, projecting their own pain onto him. Where is the resistance in my own life? Where am I resisting change and letting go? Where do I see despair and hopelessness in my life? So often it’s our judgments, minds, our egos that stand in the way and cause us to dig in our heels. Where is the Pharisee in me resisting letting go and experiencing life?

Then there’s Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sisters. Martha has one motive in mind, the return of her brother and being bothered that Jesus wasn’t there to stop it. But again, all his words and actions are leading them to the tomb, where they don’t want to go, which somewhat explains this two day wait that he takes before heading to Bethany. Martha too needs to go where her brother has gone. Yes, she believes to a point, but doesn’t know in totality who this Jesus is. She just wants her brother back and she knows that Jesus has some tricks up his sleeve to pull it off. I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus says. Martha will come to believe but for a different reason. How often have we just wanted God to bring back a loved one after the experience death? Jesus will lead Martha to the tomb of her brother, where she has avoided, to come to understand just who Jesus is. Where in my life to I avoid grieving? Where do I cling to what no longer is? Where is the Martha in me being led by Jesus to the tomb, the cave of transformation?

And yes, Mary. The one who believes. The one who falls to the feet of the Lord. The one who has anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Mary, the believer. Yet, for some reason Jesus moves and nudges her to the tomb as well. How will Mary react? All the negative voices of the leaders and doubters continue to grow and it begins to impact Mary’s belief. You don’t need to go there. This is crazy; what does this Jesus know about life and death? This is a place of despair. And Mary begins to doubt and question. Mary too needs to let go and die before she dies. And Jesus wept. Jesus weeps for all of humanity. He understands the human dilemma of dealing and experiencing death. Yet, as he does for all these characters he does for us, he nudges us to the places of resistance in our lives, where we do not want to go in order to bring about life. Where have I doubted? What about me do I believe God can never love that leads to doubt and despair? Where have I given into the negativity of life, that as God nudges me to those places in my life, I turn away out of fear, not wanting to go?

Yet, Jesus nudges us along to where Lazarus is. Lazarus has gotten it right. But as much as God continues to lead us to that tomb before we experience the great death, if we move with faith and trust rather than fear, we too hear, as Lazarus does, come out! Come out, unbind us and set us free! Yes, God will move us to that place of resistance and is there every step of the way, but he is also the gentle voice that calls us out to freedom.  It is God that allows us to see not as man sees but as God sees, that the tomb is not a place of hopelessness and despair, but a place of change and growth and life.  Yes, death happens but in turn life follows. Imagine those words being proclaimed to you today…come out!! Unbind and be set free from death to fullness of life!