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Mother

Posted on May 18, 2018 by Rose

***trigger warning: the writer touches upon difficult subjects like childhood abuse, systemic racism, and forgiveness***

So last weekend was Mother’s Day, and I was tempted to write an essay about the day, my experiences thus far as a human being with a complicated relationship with a woman I do not even see.  It isn’t easy having a disrupted relationship with your own mother.  People are very quick to judge you, shushing you and clucking their teeth, as to why you choose to remain distant.  Attempting to explain the reason for the distance is sort of like trying to explain verbal language to the surreal aliens that Amy Adams encounters in the recent movie Arrival.  In this scenario, I am Amy, trying my best to help the other humans understand the aliens who access reality in vastly different ways from them.

Who is my mother in this metaphor? It can’t be taken too far, of course, but metaphors are one of the things that help us, human beings, process our daily experiences.  Metaphors fill the earth, our religions, school playgrounds, and civil discourse. I hear them everyday in the counseling room, in my own head as I think of poems and stories to write, as I read words on a written page in a beloved memoir, or in daily conversation with others.  It is part of being human, I think, to use poetry to express the ineffable, the mystery of being human and being alive in a jarring yet beautiful world.

The week leading up to Mother’s Day, I experienced increasing panic and apprehension about the day, and I had good reason.  I am in a Twelve-Step recovery group for people affected by the disease of alcoholism, in which a few woman have advised me to connect with my mother, in spite of the physical assaults, emotional abuse, and sexual misconduct.  Several of them wail and lament the loss of contact with my mother, perhaps projecting their own tiny insecurities about losing their own mothers or whatever, onto my life and advise me, repeatedly, to make contact, to try and engage her, to make her want me.

Sometimes people in Twelve-Step groups can be so helpful, well-intentioned, and exhausting.  Sometimes I wish they would check their “help” at the door and simply accept that sometimes some parents do unconscionable things to their children.  It is not their job to fix anyone, but to listen well, to support and encourage, and to stay in the solution.  The problem is that sometimes the solution is respectful, prayerful distance, and that usually doesn’t sit well with most folks.

***

When I was a little girl, I lived on the outskirts of a small country town with my father and mother, isolated from our New England family.  Our nearest neighbor was a young couple about a mile down the white gravel road that led to their double-wide mobile home.  Mother was the social one of my parents’ marriage, and there were many happy times I remember us driving to the five-and-dime store and the closest library (about a thirty minute drive away), and swimming at the local community pool.  Mother and I would often visit the ladies who lived around the small town, with my mother listening to their tales of woe and heartbreak.

I loved both my parents very much, but I was very aware that my mother was different from the other mothers.  It was mostly due to her skin color, which I loved: milk chocolate brown (due to a birth defect).  The atmosphere in North Texas in the early 1980s remained steeped in White supremacy and it continues to remain so.  I know because I experienced it, along with my mother.  Growing up, many times people thought my mother was my nanny. I would proudly exclaim that no, indeed, this woman, was my own beloved mother, but I would wonder why they would assume she was the help.  It only increased my anxiety that something was very wrong with the world and led to an early racial awakening and very real understanding of how racism continues to thrive in our country.  It is madness and creates isolation, leads to mental illness, mass incarceration, and tears apart relationships including the one we have with ourselves.

I cannot imagine what stress living in North Texas in the early 1980s put on my mother.  She was a gregarious person, charming with a huge toothy grin, and all my friends loved her for her warmth, affection, and humor.  Sometimes when I am with little children now, and I make them laugh and smile and see how they do not judge my beautiful (yet unruly) curly hair, my large glasses, and my height, and think to myself, This is why Mother loved working with children. They are precious gifts, beams of light that do not judge you but only welcome you in with love.

The darker side to the story includes things that may make you uncomfortable: beatings, hair-pulling, brutal criticism for most anything I did that was not perfection.  This is the sort of thing we usually like to read about in scary stories, but when our lives are scary stories, we seek solace in a variety of ways, some of us through drugs or alcohol, some of us through controlling others, and some of us by cultivating the very Death instinct we received from growing up. The latter was my addiction, and for many years, I chose darkness, actively participating in my own death through various ways. Then, a few years ago in the middle of my work in the Twelve Steps, I woke up. Both God and the Twelve Steps saved my life.

***

The last time I saw my mother was in 2004. I was in the midst of my twenties, a lonely time for me, as I was trying my best to find stability in a variety of areas.  One of my friends suggested I try again to cultivate a relationship with my mother.  His recommendation touched a deep chord within me, so I found her phone number, long buried in a stack of papers near my living room computer, and gave her a call.  She was not happy to hear from me.  This should have been my first clue, but a frenzied desire to restore and reconcile our relationship compelled me to push an encounter with her, which I did but at my own expense.

Dear reader, it did not end well with hugs and kisses and amends made for past mistakes.  I had huge dreams and expectations that it would end in harmony. (In counseling circles, we call this magical thinking.)  It had the opposite effect: it sent me back in my own healing, practically damaging any chance there would be for a restored relationship with my mother.  Unbelievably, I totally forgot about the assault until last year when I completed my Fourth Step, a grueling account of sorts in which you analyze your life, looking for any fears, resentments, and past hurts and discover your part in them.  The goal is to free you from victimhood and help you embrace ownership in your life choices.

The question is where does a child find her contribution in the participation of physical and emotional abuse from parents?*

***

One of the most freeing things I receive from being in a  Twelve-Step community is that I get a glorious opportunity to detach with love from the hurt people in my life, including my own mother.  Detachment is simple: you remember that the hurt person is one of God’s kids and that this is the truest thing about them, beyond their weird behaviors, difficult mannerisms, and strange ways of relating.  It’s the royal road to forgiveness, which folks in Twelve-Step groups say is letting go of all hope for a better past.  It means I get to take off the lenses of denial, face the swampland of my own soul (Carl Jung), and realize the negative self-talk I struggle with comes (in part) from my mother.  However, it is something I choose to reject on a daily basis, and embrace healing and the long road of forgiveness, compassion training, and actively wishing my mother well.

And here is the real deal, friends: I do love my mother. I wish her all the best, health and happiness, and most importantly, I wish her peace.  I wish her all good things and know that if or when God intends for us to connect, that He will do it in his own time.

A Scripture that brings me comfort when others are trying their best to get their “help” all over me is from 1 Corinthians 13.  In The Message, Paul writes “love does not force itself on others. . . but keeps going to the end.”  So I smile calmly as the chorus of women try their best to fix me, reminding myself that I am worthy of love and being helped (even if it pisses me off now and again) because these women truly care about my welfare.  They are the mothers I always longed for and now have, thanks to a program of ragamuffins and spiritual vagabonds who want recovery and freedom from the past. I remember that I often fall into wanting to fix others, my help getting in the way of their dignity, and I pause and breathe deeply, knowing that the long slow work of redemption takes time.  I trust that God knows about our complicated relationship and that wishing her well is the best Mother’s Day gift I can offer to my own mother.

*To clarify, there is nothing that a child does that warrants parental abuse.  Children are by their very nature helpless and dependent upon their parents for security, safety, warmth, and love.  When parents engage in physical violence, emotional taunts, and sexual abuse, then children suffer greatly. It is never the fault of the child to receive such abuse.

(Photo by Jasper Boer on Unsplash)

 

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    The Only Way Out

    Sometimes the only way out is through. (Anonymous)

    There are so many things swirling in my mind right now, so much pain that lives close to the edge of my social mask I wear daily. I try my best to keep the pain at bay, forcing myself to smile and be grateful for the blessings of others. I try so hard to be grateful for the little things, like holding a newborn baby, seeing big puffy white clouds in the brilliant blue sky, and petting my cats’ furry bellies.

    The truth is that today, dear reader, I am so damn lonely I can barely see straight.  Even being around people has not helped because there is this thing between me and them. I do not know how to explain it, but it’s a barrier of sorts.  I hear the words of others and make all the appropriate facial expressions one is supposed to make in order to lift my mood and elevate me, but it is not working.  Again.

    I do not know whether it is loneliness, depression, lingering sadness, grief, or hormonal fluctuations.  I try not to figure it out because as Henri Nouwen once wrote “demons love to be analyzed”  but let’s be clear, the grief is here.

    So many things in my life have not turned out the way I planned them.  I have so much to be grateful for and yet there are some very real things my heart desires that I fear will not come to pass.  What is there to do? Where do I go when things are this intense?

    I am lucky enough to have a found an anonymous blogger whose voice speaks to me and reminds me who the Great Someone is that will never leave me but longs for my good, who is trustworthy, is aware of my struggles, and is transforming my heart.  Many things that happened to me, that have shaped the woman I become are in the past.  They no longer exist in the outside world but they linger on in my memories, both real and imagined.

    My work, it seems, is to keep moving forward, to acknowledge the demons of depression, despair, grief, and loneliness but not to feed them any longer.  This is where the real work of transformation occurs.

    It also calls me to trust God, and surrender all of me to Him.  Radical trust. Radical grace. Radical acceptance of my life, just as it is today. What a tough concept to swallow when we live in an instant-gratification and me-first-now culture.

    So I will say it again: today has been hard for a variety of reasons.  Nine years ago my father died and left me to pick up the pieces. It hasn’t been easy. I have made some beautiful and terrible choices along the way, but I strive to keep on going, trusting that God has my back all of the time and that this transformation is messy, time-consuming, but will ultimately result in my freedom from despair.

    We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. (Maya Angelou)

    Bibliography:

    Nouwen, Henri. 2016. Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life. New York: Convergent.

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    Riding the Waves

    Posted on April 16, 2018 by Rose

    I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might / I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens. (Psalm 77:1, The Message)

    I’ve been struggling with a bout of chronic pain, and it’s making things difficult for me to believe the best, to hope, and to trust in the basic goodness that resides in life and in others.  I’ve been having to let myself feel all my feelings and have realized how much I over-identify with some of my more so-called negative feelings like sadness, anger, and fear.

    In his teaching on Emotional Sobriety, Richard Rohr talks unashamedly about how our emotions are reactions based on early conditioning, personality, and cultural upbringing and his words on the sharpness of strong emotions echoes Brene Brown’s findings in her seminal work on shame resilience.  His call to action is to look to God for our needs for affection, emotional security, belonging, and identity.  They will not be found in others because we are limited human beings; we simply cannot be god to others because we do not have the capacity. I breathed a deep sigh of relief as I listened because I am actively wrestling against the instinct to find my identity in pleasing others, in working so hard that I have to take time off to recover, and in making things look perfect for others so that I can feel good.  That’s my old program for happiness and it no longer works for me.

    So the thing to do, of course, is to lean into the sharp edges of emotions, just as they are, and move through them. I find it helpful to think of myself surfing when I find myself in the midst of a strong feeling. I remind myself that feelings are like waves and sometimes they are so strong we do get hurled into the water and thrown off course.   The beauty of waves is that no matter how large they are is that they will indeed pass away eventually.  The trick for me is to focus on God in the midst of the strong waves and listen for his voice rather than reacting to the clamor within.

    This sounds so easy but as usual, theory is very different than practice.

    My weekend has been a challenging one due to the chronic pain episode.  Many feelings have surfaced and much is related to grief and loss.  I mourn the loss of my ability to lift weights as it was something I remember doing fondly when I was a teenager and young adult.  My physician has advised me that lifting weights is probably out, but that I can do resistance bands, but still, the pull to the past me, the one who was stronger and healthier, who used to  be able to lift, is enormous.  The call, of course, is for me to let go of the past and embrace this new way of being.

    What does that look like in the midst of chronic health conditions that make it difficult to think straight sometimes?  For me, it looks like talking back to the messages within the feelings but putting them in their place.  I no longer need that old storyline.  In fact, I need to focus on what I do have and what I can do to take good care of myself.  It means positive self-talk, actively saying out loud what the truth really is instead of listening to the old storyline of gloom, doom, and despair.  Paradoxically, it also means that when someone asks how I am doing, rather than putting on a cheerful face and pretending that all is well I say the truth like “I’m doing okay. I’m in some pain today. How about you?”

    I think we do a grave disservice to our humanity when we constantly try to put a positive spin on many things in our lives and then, consequently, the lives of all of those around us.  Cognitive reframing, while an important tool in counseling, can cut off an honest exchange a person shares in order to process his or her feelings.  It is an example of cognitive rigidity, really, because the focus it does not allow the presence of grief, of sadness and loss, of unrelenting sorrow that happens in our lives.  These are perfectly normal responses when bad things happen to us.  Can you imagine sharing something heartbreaking with someone only to hear that person respond with “Well, you should be grateful you have been beaten by your husband/have cancer/lost a child/have chronic pain/etc., because it makes you are stronger?”

    Well, thank you for sharing, but I’m not buying your fix today.

    God wants our honesty and if that means a cry-fest, then go for it. If that means talking angrily to God, then go for it. If that means, mourning the loss of the past, then by all means, do it.  Our emotions are precious messages telling us to pay attention to our bodies, minds, and souls.  As psychologist Susan David said in her recent TED talk on emotional agility, emotions are “data not directives.”  They tell us crucial things about ourselves that we would not normally have accessed before, directing us to take action in accordance with the values we hold most dear.

    So for today I will allow my feelings to rise and pass away, remembering that it is always okay to feel first, and then focusing on the things I can change.  It means I have to actively practice trusting God in the not-knowing future, which is scary for me.  It’s scary to walk through life’s uncertainties on my own, but I don’t feel nearly as terrified when I put my focus on trusting that God will get me through.  And for those of us who have a hard time admitting that it’s okay to feel all of our feelings and yet walk the balancing act of not allowing them to control us,  take a look at Psalm 77 in the Message. I think it gives a great template for how to feel our feelings and then move to God and gratitude to keep going.  In the Psalm, David raises his voice in anger to the Divine, but he reminds himself of the works God has done for his people, which redirects his “stinking thinking” to a more balanced perspective,  And balance is just what I’m looking for when it comes to riding the waves of this strange, wild, raucous, and beautiful life.

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    A Cup of Gratitude

    Posted on March 27, 2018 by Rose

    It has been six months since I began this blogging adventure, and I have learned much about myself through the process of writing, the sheer terror and thrill of putting my work out there for anyone to see, and the process of letting go of the results.  This has not been the easiest thing to do, but it’s been one of the most freeing and life-giving things I have ever done, next to psychotherapy, flying in an airplane, and serving the poor in another country.

    Today, the only thing I want to write about today is my gratitude for you, the dear readers who take time out of your busy days to read my little essays.  Thank you for reading my work, for posting uplifting comments, for your encouragement, friendship, support, investment, and love.  Some of you persuaded me regularly to keep writing and posting, no matter what happens.  Some of you read my blog and think about what I have written and share no comments, which is also fine, as technology can be a double-edged sword of pleasure and annoyance.

    I totally get it and thank you anyway.

    For me, writing is not only an activity to do in solitude but one that pulls me into the embrace of humanity, the embrace of a God who works in the economy of grace, through others, nature, community, and time.  I write because I long to connect with others whose lives reflect the desire to rise above the difficulties they face each day.

    So just imagine you and I are having a cup of tea together at my house. I put water in the electric kettle in my front room tea station and grab a couple of my favorite mugs off the black rack on my wall above the painting of the joyful woman, and you and I sit down together over a cup of tea, a meal, and we break bread together.  Truly, this is what writing feels like, and I have no better explanation than that.

    I am nothing if not a bit earnest and serious in my love for God and for others and and writing, and I thank you, again, for going on this journey with me.

    Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. (Philipians 1:3-4 MSG).

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    What Some Families Do to You

    Posted on March 2, 2018 by Rose

    So much of my own recovery has been unlearning the sick ways of being that my parents taught me.  I wish it were not the case. I wish that I had been born to normal, well-adjusted parents, who gave comfort, solace, and support instead of verbal assaults, beatings, and uncaring silence.

    In the deepest part of my soul, I know that they truly did the best they could with the skills, tools, and willingness they had.  However, their best was absolutely shitty.

    This is not exactly comforting news.

    But make no mistake: I am better, healthier, and more alive than I ever have been before.  I feel loved, cherished, and cared for by the God of the universe who offers boundless grace and peace by the mysterious circle of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I’m reading through the Divine Dance by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell and know, in the marrow of my bones, that there truly is a celebration going on inside of me ALL THE TIME, and I am invited, and have been, since the day I was born.  The same invitation extends to you.  There are no exceptions.

    But sometimes it is nice to read something and laugh out loud as you realize, yet again, how long it takes to undo some things.  This poem by Philip Larkin captures how I have been feeling lately, and as I keep moving forward in my own recovery I remember that it is okay to be angry and okay to forgive. Maybe even in the same breath.

    Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse”

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    Bibliography:

    Larkin, Phillip. (1971).  This Be the Verse. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse.

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    Rest – Part 1

    Posted on February 19, 2018 by Rose

    You let me catch my breath / and send me in the right direction. (Psalm 23:3)

    I was never one to choose a word to cast vision for the year, and I scoffed at the idea when others engaged in this practice,  mentally shutting myself down from a potentially life-changing practice.

    But something changed at the end of last year, and I think it was an new openness to experiences outside my understanding. In short, I was desperate, and so I gave up trying to figure everything out and relaxed into the unknown.  This is terrifying for those of us with tiny control issues, but I decided to try and prayed for a word.

    After a day of praying, last year’s word came to me, unbidden, as if from a dream: surrender, and it was incredibly timely and a practice I clung to for dear life.

    The year of 2017 was filled with joy and pain, and lots of surrendering to things outside my control, one of which were a couple of stints at a government-funded behavioral health agency. (Graduate school failed to prepare me for the depth and breadth of human suffering and how it can negatively impact healers.)  I took a step of out of direct care only to enter into an administrative context in which gossip, ridicule, slander, and ongoing criticism were regular fare for the work week.

    Depression, anxiety attacks, and nightmares became a regular part of my life, and I had to surrender to the sad truth that my expectations about this job could simply not match up to reality.  I imagined the position would allow me the chance to heal from working in direct care and pursue writing. However, I discovered to my great horror and dismay, that many of the sickest people I worked with were the burn-out healers whose behaviors suggested that the world was merely a garbage dump in which to dwell.

    They were so happy and peaceful about two percent of the time.  It was a real bummer.

    Life did not make any sense at that point, but capitulating to God and the truth reminded me that most things in my life are outside my control, including how other people behave, even especially if I behave respectfully towards them.  Sometimes a job does not work out, sometimes those in the helping professions grow bitter and cynical, and sometimes a government system is so toxic that it cannot be mended by all the efforts of one single person.

    I was reminded yet again of my tiny God-complex issues, and at the time, one of my friends in recovery reminded me sweetly, “Honey, another name for “God” is “Not me.”

    Who talk likes this, I ask you?

    I gave her my best disappointed-Kermit-the-Frog face and sighed out loud; she was right, of  course, and walking away from the poisonous job was one of the best things I ever did.

    ***

    And yet throughout the year of 2017 I noticed there was a darker side to my practice of surrender.  I found myself submitting to compulsive activity, not allowing myself to practice being still.  Even when I meditated, my thoughts drifted to my to-do list and ongoing evaluation of whether or not I was doing enough.

    You see, I had turned my word “surrender” into a Pharisee, a judge to endure instead of a balm to aide in times of trouble. As the year went on, I noticed I used the word “surrender” to give into commitments that I loved but even when I was exhausted and needed to just sit for a moment and catch my breath. I said “yes” when I needed to practice saying “no,” and tried hard to live up to self-imposed expectations.

    I had forgotten that God made rest for a reason.

    In his book “Sabbath,” Wayne Muller explores in-depth the much-needed practice that modern Americans struggle to set time for.  He writes that “Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true.”

    Rest does not mean that I relinquish all my duties, give up work, and stay in my house and hide from the world.  However, it does mean that I set the intention to find time to practice sabbath rest every single day.

    Perhaps the greatest thing to know about rest is that God modeled for us how to engage in the practice.  He created the whole world, and then he rested, allowing himself the chance to renew his mind.  He calls us all to do the same.

    And let’s be clear that we are all living in a world that is in deeply entrenched political, social, economic, and spiritual crises.  This includes the madman in office, the environmental catastrophes, and the breakdown of civility, all of which play a part in stressing out interactions with ourselves and each other.   So remember that in dealing with enormous cultural stressors like these, it is even more imperative to practice rest as a bold weapon of resistance to the pernicious lies that certain skin colors, busyness, more money and possessions, and more prestige will buy you happiness.

    The truth is that God loves diversity, which is why we have so many different kinds of people, animals, plants, terrains, and languages, to say the least.  As Pastor Greg Boyle writes, the dance of rest allows us to “aspire to a glad and delighting union offered every moment, right here, right now”

    Could it be that part of the promise of rest is that God actually wants us to take a step back and delight in creation, our joy, our friends, family, loved ones, the earth? Could resting actually provide us with a holy vehicle to remind us of our origins, our status as beloved children of God? 

    So the next time you decide to say okay to something when you really mean no, or keep performing and producing beyond your capacity, do me a favor and listen to the quiet voice inside that beckons you close and whispers “rest.”  Remember that the God of the Universe wants us to enjoy this life and thereby through resting we can savor life, to find the good in all our moments, even if the rest is simply breathing our very own breathe, the breath of the Almighty.

    PRACTICE

    Sit in one place daily, with your legs out and your arms relaxed lightly by your side.  This could be outside or laying down with your child or animal or sitting in your favorite chair.  Get into whatever context you need that will bring you a sense of peace and calm.  Have the cell phone on mute (or better yet have it turned off).  Make sure you are in a comfortable position, close your eyes, rest for fifteen to twenty minutes, doing nothing at all.  Farmers plant crops and let certain parts of their land lay fallow for a season because the ground needs to rest in order to produce nutritious, fortifying food.  We are like plants too. We require an ongoing balance of rest, time in the sun, exercise, and work to feel fulfilled, so do what one of my friends in recovery does every single day: lay down and rest.  Give yourself the chance to let your soul catch up with your body as the African proverb goes, and let me know how it goes.

    Bibliography

    Boyle, Greg. (2010).  Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. New York: Free Press.

    Muller, Wayne. (1999). Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. New York: Bantam Books.

    (Photo by Jonathan Fink on Unsplash)
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    Church of Nature

    Posted on February 13, 2018 by Rose

    It is better to go skiing and think of God, than go to church and think of sport.
    – Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer

    Yesterday morning, sleet and snow fell from the sky and the world for a while was drenched as the dark grey clouds scuttled quickly across the sky. My heart leapt inside my chest, happy and exuberant as a child seeing the first snow of the season. Eventually, the snow stopped falling, and disappointed, I drove to church, torn between the desire for worship and time in nature.

    After arriving at church, we waited at the entrance of the impossibly large sanctuary and listened to the trance-like music fill the air, which did not feel like church, did not feel like God at all. I am a loyal customer, a Christian since age nineteen, and the music at modern-day evangelical churches is loud and brash. (This is only my opinion, of course.) I do not come to a feeling of worship after a time at this kind of church, only of sheer exhaustion and annoyance, of loud cacophonous noise, of music so loud that my eardrums hurt by the end of the service.

    Are they doing this kind of singing to gain attention? To look holy? Aren’t the hikers and bikers at parks as holy as they explore the earth? Why do I feel like I just went to the movies?

    (I have a somewhat complicated relationship with the evangelical church, that is to say that I, most likely, complicate things with my mind, but I miss the old days of hymns, of sacred pauses between music and prayers. It is in these spaces that Spirit can wedge Herself into our hearts, I think.)

    So we fled church and left the trance music for the restorative quiet of nature. It takes awhile to get out of the city of concrete, but finally we arrived at the small deserted nature preserve park and noticed only two other cars in the enormous empty lot. This oasis is part of the Dallas Audubon Society, and is situated in the low hills of East Dallas and surrounded by fir and pine trees that look imposing and majestic against the blue bowl of the sky.

    The small ice pebbles gleamed shiny and white against the trail-head as we entered the forest, quiet and still. I snapped lots of photos as we walked on, amongst the small pine trees lining the trail, the slender mesquite trees, dark grey and barren. Eventually, I stopped taking photos and practiced being in nature, a temple, a doorway to worship.

    The ice pellets were in the shaded hollows of the trees and as we walked slowly and silently through the forest we saw saw tiny sparrows and wrens flitting down to the moist forest floor and singing. The trail twisted this way and that through the forest and the small wooden logs that formed man-made stairs were covered in white as we stepped gingerly down. The slowness forced us to pause and breath, which is a good thing to do every few years or so.

    Everyone that we encountered seemed to be a part of the unspoken agreement to maintain the reverent quiet. No one said hi to us. Most of the hikers simply waved or only looked at us intently, eyes bright and alive. Perhaps they, too, sensed a kind of worshipful silence amongst the cold and quiet landscape.

    At one point, I looked up and noticed a slim fir pine tree which had bent its limbs across the trail path to meet another tree, as if they were holding hands, saw how their small emerald green limbs twisted together to form a union. What would it look like in spring, summer, and fall? How long would it last this way?

    Don’t ever stop wondering and wandering.

    And always remember to take lots of pauses and smile in the forest. Your heart will expand in lightness.

    The trail we took led us downward to a small pond, filled with turtles in springtime, surrounded now by hills of barren trees and a few bright evergreens. The oceanic sky turned from cloudy dark grey to pale blue in what seemed like the blink of an eye and we were bathed in light. One small man, all in black, broke the silence with a hand up and a cheerful “hi” and then we returned another way, walking up the trail surrounded by halos of dead prairie grass, white stones crunching under our shoes, and then back into the shady glen of the congregation of trees, of cedar and elm and mesquite, of oak and pine.

    Sometimes the only thing that restores me to my senses is a trip in nature. It is church for me, in the deepest sense of the word, of homecoming with the Divine, of knowing deeply that I did not create the forest but I can look around and know that a Great Someone did and longs for me to enjoy it. The great poet Mary Oliver writes “stepping out into the world, into the grass, onto the path, was always a kind of relief. I was not escaping anything. I was returning to the arena of delight.”

    Before we returned to our car that day, basking in the glow of pumping our legs against forest floor, delighting in the cold crisp air, we took another quick turn through the woods, and as we came out into a clearing, we saw a brilliant red cardinal fly to a barren cypress tree across the way. It looked at us, with those bright and alive eyes, and watched us watching it. The cardinal looked at us and did nothing as we stood and drank it in. It eventually turned and flew away but I knew I received the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, that day.

    PRACTICE
    Find time this week, if not daily, to practice stepping into nature regularly. This does not need to involve a cross-country backpacking trip but can be as simple as going to the local garden or the town river trails, the park across from your job, or your own backyard. Before you begin, take a deep breath and pray. Begin with thanks and walk slowly on the path, whether it be grassy, hilly, or pavement. Walk with your head held up and look at the trees, as they stand in bold relief against the brilliance of blue and white sky. Remember where you come from and whom you belong to, for the great miracle that you are alive today.

    Bibliography:

    Oliver, Mary. (2016). Upstream. New York: Penguin Press.

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