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.



One of Mind and Heart

Acts 12: 1-11; 2Tim 4: 6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16: 13-19

Although Peter and Paul have their own feast days throughout the year, every year on June 29th we bring them together on this Solemnity, celebrating them in a different way. They are two iconic figures, larger than life in many ways, but show us something of what we hope to attain in this life, an inner freedom that is monumental and beyond words.

So often when we see them portrayed, we see Peter holding the keys as we hear in the gospel today on this feast and we see Paul with a large sword, defender of the faith as he is known; although he is very much a writer of the faith as we know it today. But they really are more than just these symbols that have been attributed to them, keys and a sword, temporal powers; they truly have this great inner power that inner freedom that often put them at odds with one another.

In many ways I do believe Peter is a good representation of the heart of the operation and Paul, although a mystic in his own right, truly is the brains. This did often put them at odds with one another, creating tension between them. Yet, we know in our own lives how those two are often at odds. It can be so often that our heads and hearts are disconnected and we live separated lives. We do know or experience that inner freedom that they did and knew. But they also reconcile, not themselves, but something greater within working, a deeper mystery at work that brings them together, mending and reconciling what is at odds. Quite honestly, it’s what made the two of them quite dangerous to the status quo of the leaders of the time, because they no longer feared death or controlled by fear, living in and through this inner freedom.

We see that in these readings for this feast. In the First Reading from Acts of the Apostles we encounter a community at prayer for Peter, who finds himself locked in prison. Both Peter and Paul, again, no longer fearing death or confinement, take their time in prison very differently than I’d say most of us. Nothing on the exterior or the outer world can touch them and so they freely go where others will not, eventually leading them to death. On the Eve of this Feast it is the Gospel from John where Jesus lays out the kind of death that Peter will face, once he begins to put love first in his life. He becomes “broke free” from prison, by the Lord, just as his heart was broke free by an ongoing encounter with the Lord.

Paul to in the Letter we hear in the Second Reading speaks of himself being poured out like a libation. He’s not doing it, but it is being done to him. His departure is at hand, rescued from the lion’s mouth. Over and over again, these two point the way for us to let go and trust, let go and trust, and the more we do it as they did, the more that inner freedom grows within us and we too become dangerous to the status quo of life.

Even in his proclamation of faith Peter, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, speaks a truth that goes beyond even his own understanding or of his own power. It is of nothing temporal that this has been revealed to you but by my heavenly Father. At this point of the Gospel it’s safe to say that Peter doesn’t even know what he’s talking about; Jesus will go on to tell him, “get behind me Satan” in about the next verse! It comes from within and he will learn as time goes on truly what that proclamation meant and the inner freedom and awareness that it will bring to him.

As we celebrate these two iconic figures of our faith, yes, we recognize them as holding the keys and the defender of the faith, but they are much more than that. Together they represent what we seek and desire, inner freedom and a reconciliation of head and heart. It doesn’t come easy as they could attest, but the more they let go of what has bound them interiorly, the more free they come, the more space that is created for reconciliation and oneness, the more they become that dangerous duo of our faith, so often threatening all that we try to hold onto, all that holds us back, and all that keeps us from growing deeper in love with Mystery and being the person we’ve been created to be. We pray today for their intercession that we may become one of mind and heart and a force to be reckoned with in a world that is so in need of their and our witness.