Sunday, December 28, 2008

Natural Sea Serpent


Special note: This is Cannon Beach Log's 101st post.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

HYMN FOR HOLY INNOCENTS

On December 28th, the followers of Christ remember the slaughter of the innocents at the hand of Herod in Bethlehem, and offer prayers for all children who suffer on earth. The following hymn, written in Latin by Bede in the 8th century reflects upon the holy innocents.

A Hymn for Martyrs sweetly sing;

For Innocents your praises bring;
Of whom in tears was earth bereaved,
Whom heaven with songs of joy received;

Whose Angels see the Father's face
World without end, and hymn His grace;
And, while they praise their glorious King,
A hymn for Martyrs sweetly sing.

A voice from Ramah was there sent,
A voice of weeping and lament,
While Rachel mourned her children sore,
Whom for the tyrant's sword she bore.

After brief taste of earthly woe
Eternal triumph now they know;
For whom, by cruel torments rent,
A voice from Ramah was there sent.

And every tear is wiped away
By your dear Father's hands for aye:
Death hath no power to hurt you more;
Your own is life's eternal shore.

And all who, good seed bearing, weep,
In everlasting joy shall reap,
What time they shine in heavenly day,
And every tear is wiped away.

Hymnum canentes martyrum, The Venerable Bede, 673-735
Translated by Joan Mason Neale, 1818-1866
Drawing by Agostino Carracci, Italian, Madonna and Child, c.1580

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snowy Ecola

I WONDER AS I WANDER

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die

For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
~John Jacob Niles

Perhaps the greatest loss we experience as we move from childhood into adult is losing our sense of wonder. Children are full of wonder. As children, our lives are naturally alert to the surprises, pleasures and beauty of life pulsating all around us. Children are quick to take delight in little things, like shiny stones along a river bank or the winter thrill of snowflakes.

Every year, our family returns to Olympic National Park in the summer for a week of hiking in the backcountry, usually journeying fifty miles on foot. That single week has done more to nourish my soul with a profound sense of wonder than any other week of the year. A few years ago, as we came off the trail, I picked up a copy of the Olympic National Park newspaper, “The Bugler”. There I found a quote from Socrates the Wise, who claimed, “The beginning of wisdom is wonder.” Months after returning from the high-country of the Olympics, I’ve feasted richly upon the sounds and sights of that week of wonder.

Wonder most often comes as a surprise. We wander into it unknowing. We gaze and gaze attempting to take in the sight of glory. Our words fall short; yet, our hearts well up with an inner sense of wonder. Thus, wonder is a twice blessed gift, giving delight in our first encounter with such fullness; and once again as we look with that inward eye, as Wordsworth wrote, ‘which is the bliss of solitude’. As we take time to reflect upon the vision of wonder, our hearts fill once again with pleasure and we discover ourselves dancing ‘with the daffodils’.

Besides summer hikes in the Olympics, the other time of the year that seem as charged with a sense of wonder is the month of December, during the season of Advent. As we celebrate the coming of Christ, our home begins to fill with those delights which come out only once a year. We cut snowflakes to put up on every window. We bring a fresh cut fir tree inside the home, decorating it with traditional ornaments, including Danish flags in honor of my wife’s cultural heritage. The air is filled with smells and sounds of the season, including spiced wine, Christmas cookies. Bedrooms become places full of delightful wonders, hiding gifts that will be wrapped and placed under the tree.

During Christmas, we expect the unexpected. We become children once again. We take time to wonder. In our return to childhood, we share together the delight of wonder. We look up into the clear December sky and think of that Bethlehem star that once led wise men to the place of wonder. There, they laid down their gifts before the Christ child, kneeling to worship and honor the child who would be King.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

On Christmas eve, we gather together, joined by a common sense of wonder at God’s generosity. We sing carols celebrating the coming of God into our darkened world to save ‘poor on’ry people, like you and like I’. We are all in need of saving grace. Instead of gratitude and wonder, we rush through our lives, taking little time to fall on our knees and hear the angels singing. We surround ourselves with layers upon layers of technology insulating our senses from the glory of creation, buffering our lives from being surprised by wonder. We’ve given up our innocence, trading in our childhood wonder for an office cubicle crammed with machines and worry.

How can we return? How can we find our way back to that five year old age of innocence where we might once again take delight in rain drops falling on our faces? Every year, I take a few teenage kids around our village, home to home, on a dark night in December to sing carols to widows. This event has helped recall for me the way back into wonder. We can travel together to that place of wonder. The way is illuminated by poetry and song. Sing together those lovely Christmas carols, even in July as you wander through a natural cathedral of ancient trees and allow your heart to wonder as you wander out under the sky.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Behind the Waterfall


Waterfall in the Olympic National Park at Elip Creek

Saturday, December 13, 2008

GRACE UPON GRACE


In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God,
He was with God in the beginning,
In the beginning was the Word.

In your beginning is the Word,
And the Word is with God,
And the Word is God,
He is with God in your beginning,
In your beginning is the Word.

The Word became flesh,
And made his dwelling among us,
We’ve seen the glory of the Son,
Shining in the night,
Full of grace and truth.

The Word becomes flesh in you,
And makes his dwelling with you,
We see the glory of the Son,
Shining in your life,
As you live in grace and truth.

From the fullness of his grace,
We all have received,
Grace upon grace,
Grace upon grace upon grace.

From the fullness of his grace,
Your life of love will receive,
Grace upon grace,
Grace upon grace upon grace,
The grace of our Lord be with you.

(from John 1:1-2,14, 16)
--by David Robinson, December 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Passing Vibrance

ADVENT CALENDAR

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
one night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like the frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

~Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Five Triangles in Galway

TAKE FIVE

In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet released Time Out, featuring jazz songs which experimented in use of alternative time signatures. Included on this album was the song Take Five, a tune that quickly became the quartet’s signature song, with its mesmerizing 5/4 beat. The album was wildly successful, propelling the well-known quartet into the national limelight of jazz stardom.

Behind that signature song sits a signature human activity. Rest. Settle into an easy chair. It will only take five minutes or so to finish reading this little essay. Nothing to it. Take five. As a jazz pianist, I’ve attempted many times to play Take Five, a song easier to hear than to play. For a while, in graduate school, I played with a great drummer who had the 5/4 beat down. As a result, I was able to settle myself into the offbeat piano jazz vamp of Take Five and enjoy some 5/4 improvisations of my own.

Taking time off is a common offbeat activity for many humans. As a culture, we usually evaluate our worth by what we produce or by what we do. One of the first questions asked between strangers is “What do you do?” with the answer revolving around our jobs or careers. Even when the question is more generic, such as “Tell me about yourself”, we find ourselves describing our professions, ‘what we do for a living’, as the way we speak about our identity to others.

When we do take time off, we often fill our weekends with physical activities or home chores, allowing ourselves little time to “take five”. The phrase “take five” refers to more than merely napping on Saturday afternoon during a football game on television. It involves stepping intentionally into a whole new way of living, an offbeat, alternative approach to life that allows for “time-off” in the middle of activity.

Take five. In other words, stop doing. Let the music play on, and just kick back and listen. Take some time to reflect, to rest, to settle down inside. While the instrumentalists play on, enjoy the echo of the words you’ve just been singing to repeat their phrases inwardly, to penetrate your soul and do their wonderful work in you while you do no work at all. It’s a whole new way of living. Right in the middle of a business management meeting, hear that song inside your soul. Take a slow breath and rest. While on the cell phone, speeding down the interstate on your way to the next appointment, hear that haunting offbeat melody calling you to rest. Take Five. Try turning off the cell phone, relax your shoulders and take Brubeck’s wisdom to heart, literally.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Wave

CRACKS


Every day is filled with them. We face so many cracks in a day that we hardly even notice them underfoot. Until when we have to wait for a few extra minutes on hold, or sit waiting for a few extra minutes for a webpage to download, or wait a few extra minutes in rush hour traffic, or wait while someone slides into the parking space we’ve been waiting to fill. Cracks. Little slices of every day.

Remember the childhood saying, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? The English language fills in cracks with a variety of meanings. Humor: “He cracks me up”. Measure of quality: “Not all it’s cracked up to be”. Measure of distance: “Open the window a crack”. Emotions: “Wear him down until he cracks”.

Waiting cracks up no one. There are kinds of cracks that aren’t funny and they’re not pretty. There’s a common occurrence in contemporary life I’ll call “spontaneous cracks”. It is a little like spontaneous combustion but different. Instead of flames, you get smoke. A spontaneous crack is a brief encounter with unasked for waiting; a little unfilled crack of time in which you find yourself feeling impatient, resentful or frustrated.

Filling cracks. If our days are full of cracks, what can we do to smooth things out? First, welcome cracks. See spontaneous cracks in your day as little unasked for gifts. Who doesn’t enjoy received an unlooked for gift. Rather than curse a crack, welcome the crack as an unopened gift. Returning and rest is nothing more than a receptive approach to life allowing us to experience empty places in the day with gratitude instead of grumpiness.

Second, fill in the cracks. Step right into those little spaces of time with special material of your own choosing. Make something creative happen in that specific minute of your day. What am I talking about? Try smiling at the crack. Fill the crack with a little bit of humor. Tell a joke. Laugh silently at a rude person who is making you wait. Your smile just might be the seed crystal which transforms the whole chemistry of the situation.

Here’s another cracked idea. Meet gift for gift. Give a quality part of yourself to the crack. Fill the crack with one of your favorite wise sayings. Recite poetry while you wait. Carry with you a few hand-written cards with wisdom sayings, proverbs, great life quotes, a sentence or two from Scripture. Work on memorizing one of those in that crack.

Finally, think of cracks as soul time. Take those brief moments handed to you every day and zero in on the state of your soul. Breathe a few good slow breaths. Focus your attention for a few moments each day upon the cracks. As odd as it sounds, those are the places where wonders happen, the creative spaces which help you become a radiant human. As Leonard Cohen sings,

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Lyrics by Leonard Cohen, Anthem, off his The Future album, 1992.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cathedral

MONASTIC FROGS


By the pond, in the dark,
'neath the trees, chanting

Raising voice, rhythmic song,
joining force, rejoicing

Stillness now, 'neath the trees,
silence hangs, gently

In the dark, one brave throat,
breaks the night, boldly

By the pond, vigil's choir,
chanting frogs, communing.

- David Robinson, 1995

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rock n Rock

THE ALTAR



A broken ALTAR, Lord thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with teares:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workmans tool hath touch'd the same
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy Name:
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctifie this ALTAR to be thine.

The Altar, by George Herbert (1633, from Herbert's poetry collection, "The Temple)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Starry Night

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS


When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

By Wendell Berry
Collected Poems
(North Point Press, 1985).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Toadstool

BALANCE


Have you ever happened upon a wilderness lakeside or mountain stream and discovered human built stacks of stones? You’ve been in the presence of an international, informal club of stone-stackers. Better yet, wade right into the wilderness, choose out a good sturdy base-stone and join the club. You’re well on your way to spending a carefree afternoon, wasting time in the sun by the lake. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in improving life's balancing act from stacking stones.

Find the Center
Most everything has a center. The earth rotates on a central axis. From the center of that axis radiates a modest little force we call gravity, drawing all other objects towards the center. Try a simple test. Balance a yardstick on your finger. Lay the number 17 or 19 on your finger and watch the stick fall. Then place your finger under the number 18 and watch it balance easily. Stacking stones calls a person to the center. Simply put, the spirituality of returning and resting in God quietly moves us to the center, to the balancing point where impossible loads become possible to bear. 

Allow for Failure
I remember one sunny afternoon at a lakeside a few years ago. One of our sons spent several hours on a single stack of stones. Over and over again, he would raise one stone upon another and over it would topple. He allowed for failure, and finally stuck the stack into a thing of improbable beauty, seven large round stones raised to a height above his head. No two stones alike. Stone stacking requires plenty of trail and error. Find a stone you think will work. Find what you think is the center. Set it gently upon the stone beneath to see how its weight is received by the stack. Make adjustments. Who cares if it knocks the whole stack down? Try it again. Learn the patient art of allowing for failure.

Get Support
One of the little tricks we’ve often used in stone stacking is the use of little stone wedges, or chinks, to help support uneven stones. Part of the delight of stone stacking is the lack of uniformity in a pile of stones. Stacking bricks holds little interest for me. But why not add an odd wedge of stone here and a prop there to give the whole structure more stability. Often, I’ve been propped up and found my center by the chinking support of a wise word from a friend, a friendly gesture of a stranger or even from a circumstantial event that filled the gap at the right time. Look for these little supports in the day.

Step Away
After you’ve set a few stones on the stack, take a few steps back, and look. Admire the creation. Inspect the angles. See how the sun plays on the faces of the stones. Get a feel for the whole. With most tasks, we get so caught up in the labor that we forget to take time to step away for a moment, just to pause, look, take a few breaths, and admire our work. Often, within this pause, I’ve felt the sense of where the stones are heading and plunged back into the lake with renewed vigor and clarity to finish the stack.

Enjoy Yourself
Take delight in stacking stones. You will not be entering the Pacific Northwest regional championships with this pile. There is no first prize. Your boss will not be writing up a performance review at the end of the day. There’s no deadline. Just you, the lake, and a pile of stones. Splash about, get wet, pretend you’re a child all over again, and set another stone on the stack. The first year our family began stacking stones on the north shore of Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Park, people walked by to gawk at the odd stone statues lining the shore along a rocky point. “What are they?” people would ask. Our answers varied from year to year. To be honest, I’ve never quite understood what they are or why we build them. Part of the answer lies in the wonder of childhood, in the delight children take at playing with the good earth at the edge of the water. The other part comes from that mysterious side of every human, no matter the age, language, culture, nationality or tribe. We all have an inner compass for the center and find delight in the beauty and challenge of keeping our lives in balance.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Corn Lily" Abstract I


also known as False Hellebore or veratrum californicum

CELTIC RUNE OF HOSPITALITY



I saw a stranger today.
I put food for him in the eating-place
And drink in the drinking-place
And music in the listening-place.


In the Holy name of the Trinity
He blessed myself and my family.
And the lark said in her warble
Often, often, often
Goes Christ in the stranger's guise.

O, oft and oft and oft,

Goes Christ in the stranger's guise.


NOTE:

This anonymous “Celtic Rune of Hospitality” is from the Isle of Iona, Scotland, discovered in the Iona Community gift shop on an art card, September, 2005. The painting is "Christ at Emmaus" by Rembrandt. Though a Dutchman, and not a Celtic painter, Rembrandt captures the spirit of Celtic hospitality in his earthy welcome to the Stranger who is Christ.



Sunday, October 12, 2008

Misty Mountains

BUT YOU KNOW THE WAY FOR ME

God, gather and turn my thoughts to You.
With You there is Light,
You forget me not.
With You there is Help, and with You there is Patience.
I do not understand Your Ways,
But You know the Way for me.
~Prayer by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Bonhoeffer, German Pastor, Theologian and Writer, was executed by the Gestapo on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the Allied Forces liberated that concentration camp.

This prayer is also a beautiful song composed by the Taize' Community in Taize', France.
See www.taize.fr/en

Saturday, October 4, 2008

THE TAO OF THE EMPTY CHALICE



Several evenings a week, I arrive home from work before my wife. I get out two wine glasses, set them on the wood countertop in our kitchen, uncork a bottle of Pinot Noir, and wait for my wife’s return. I love the expression on her face when she comes up the stairs to be greeted by those two empty wine glasses. As she sets down her things, I pour the wine, we clink our glasses and raise a toast of gratitude for the goodness of life.

The Tao of the empty chalice. A couple of thousand years ago, an elderly Chinese man, weary with the world, walked through the eastern gates of his town, abandoning human society to live out whatever years remained in the wilderness of solitude. The legend tells us that a young person called out to him, begging the sage to impart a word of wisdom before he departed. The Tao Te Ching, a collection of Chinese wisdom poems written by Lao Tsu was the fruit of that brief encounter at the city gate. According to these poems, the Tao, the source of all life, is described in many ways, including as an empty chalice, a bellows, the hollow center of a wheel, a doorway and a window.

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled.

The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows.

The shape changes but not the form;

The more it moves, the more it yields.

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel; it is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room; it is the holes which make it useful.[i]

The emptiness of the chalice anticipates the filling. Without the empty hollow within the glass, there is no filling. In the mystery of the emptiness is the wonder of fullness. But how are we to discover that empty space within the chalice of our souls? What about all that other material things of this world that fills that empty space? What happens to all that stuff? And what about the filling? When does that happen? The Tao of the empty chalice reveals three great movements of the human soul.

The first movement of the soul is acceptance. Accept the present moment as an empty chalice awaiting your return. Accept the soul truth, as uncomfortable as it may feel, that you’ve filled your chalice with rocks rather than with good wine. Taste the thirsty condition of your soul and tell yourself that you were not put on this planet to drink rocks.

The second movement of the soul is abandonment. Abandon the fears you’ve held, the fears of letting go of your control of selfhood. Abandon the utilitarian approach to life, which demands that everything be useful and practical. Abandon your need to control your future. Try letting go of the gripping anxiety which comes from knowing you have little control over your future. Set down your briefcase, filled with your important functional tools: your laptop, your business calendar, your appointment book, your palm planner, your checkbook, your pager, your cell phone, all the tools of your busy self. Give your busy self away to the moment, the present moment. Empty the chalice of your soul.

Try a simple physical exercise. Tense up your shoulders by raising them as high as you can. At the same time fill your lungs with air. Then, as you slowly release the air from your lungs, slowly drop your shoulders and breathe out a long, audible sigh. Let it all go. Let your body go limp from the waist up, finishing as a rag doll hanging down. Have a little chuckle at the oddity of taking life so seriously. Self-denial. Self-sacrifice. Self-emptying. Self-abandonment. Self-renunciation. These are the words used by the religions of the world to describe the interior spiritual discipline of emptying the chalice of your soul. Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam. The globe is circumscribed with such faith practices of emptying. The Greek word for empty is keno, the name chosen in Oregon for one if its lotteries. While lottery tickets will indeed have an emptying effect upon your wallet, the real soul work of kenosis, of emptying our lives of self-centeredness, lies at the heart of the great faiths around the world.

The third movement of the soul is receptivity. It comes as a sheer gift, the gift of grace. The odd thing about this gift is it can only be given to an empty chalice. Here’s how Thomas a’ Kempis expressed this truth in his spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ:

The sooner you resign yourself with your whole heart to God, and no longer seek anything according to your own will or pleasure, but totally place yourself in His hands, the sooner you will find that you are united to God and are at peace.[ii]

In returning and rest, we allow our chalice to be filled. We open our souls to the gift of indwelling, of soul renewal: the gift of goodness after corruption, of peace after disjointedness, of rest after a stressful day, of quiet after too many words. The pinot noir is uncorked ready to be poured out. Clay is molded into a chalice. Because of the Tao of the empty chalice, the hollow, empty place deep within our soul may be filled with Christ’s gift of new wine.

[i] Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1972), 4, 5, 11.

[ii] Thomas a’Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, A Translation from the Latin by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J., (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1998), 209.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Love at Sunset

In God's Wine Cellar


Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfume,
O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
until Your left hand is under my head
and Your right hand will embrace me happily
and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth.

~St. Clare, written 1253, at age 60, a few months before her death

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Olympic Pathway

CREATIVE PATHS TO RENEW YOUR SOUL


  • Sit in an empty theater, library or a park and bask in the quiet.
  • Pray naked, literally.
  • When there is an option between words and silence, try silence.
  • Step aside and yield the path to another.
  • Develop the habit of napping without guilt.
  • Open your hand and heart to willingly receive something good.
  • Live with peace and goodwill towards all you meet today.
  • Practice solitude.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mount Hood

COME AWAY


In meditation we should not look for a "method" or "system", but cultivate an "attitude", an "outlook": faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy. All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ. ~Thomas Merton, from The Climate of Monastic Prayer

The snow was lightly falling through the evergreen forest as I awoke. I knew the road over the coastal mountains would be winter trouble if I tried to drive the two hours to the monastery. We live at the beach in northwest Oregon coastal village, a place not known for severe winters. I called the Abbey, cancelled my room and gave myself a gift of a monastic retreat at home.

Once a year, I treat myself to a retreat at a monastery. I withdraw from the busy schedule of family life and professional life, drive two plus hours over the Oregon coastal range to Mount Angel Benedictine Abbey and spend a few days in silence, solitude and prayer. Sometimes, I stay at the coast and enjoy a retreat at home. Our children are grown and away, allowing me to enjoy a day of silence and solitude in our home without much extra effort.

Taking a spiritual retreat is nothing new. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to spend time alone with God in prayer. He invited his followers to do the same: ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.[i] The apostles had just returned from their first preaching tour, excited about what God was doing through them. Hundreds of people were healed and set free from bondage to sin and evil. News spread. More and more people were “coming and going”, wanting access to Jesus and His disciples. Right in the middle of this ministry success, Jesus did the unpredictable. He called people to withdraw from the crowds to refresh themselves with time alone with God.

Through this single sentence found in Mark 6:31 we can discover a simple guide for treating ourselves to a day retreat. In the next few weeks, we’ll look into this verse to discover a pattern for spiritual refreshment through the gift of a day retreat.

[i] Mark 6:31.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Low Tide Peace

Pax et Bonum


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

~Franciscan Peace Prayer

I don’t read the newspaper very often. When I do, I’m reminded why I’ve given up the habit. Page after page, we read stories of wars, violent deaths, crime and corruption. Who doesn’t hunger for a little peace and goodwill?

In my travels, I ran across a Latin phrase scattered across the hilltop town or Assisi, Italy. Home to the 13th century saint, Francis and his friend Clare, the village of Assisi is a contemporary hot spot for spiritual pilgrimage. A swift walk down Via San Francesco from the Piazza del Commune you discover store after store crammed with tourist trinkets honoring the memory of Francis and Clare. One of the most common trinkets you’ll find is the letter Tau, a “T”, hanging on a leather cord. Francis loved the letter Tau, claiming it portrayed the cross of Christ. The letter Tau is widely recognized today as a symbol of St. Francis, a symbol of his selfless and joyful way of life, his spiritual vitality, his peace and goodness. Pax et Bonum.

In addition to the letter Tau, observant pilgrims find a Latin phrase, Pax et Bonum. all over Assisi, carved in stone on pillars, painted on the ceiling of the community hall in the Mayor’s palace, emblazoned upon flags and banners, adorning postcards and hand decorated ceramics. The letter T in the Latin word et is most often found capitalized to emphasize the Tau representative of Franciscan spirituality. Pax eT Bonum.

Peace and Goodwill. This is the dual gift sung by the angel choir to shepherds “watching over their flocks by night”, at the birth of Jesus: Peace on earth, goodwill towards all.[i] Frances revealed the way to find these two gifts, personally, in our daily lives. First, we strip away our arrogance and our self-centered attachment to material security. Frances is said to have stripped himself bare before his parents and the Bishop, handed his clothes to his father and walked naked through Porta Nuova down through olive orchards to the ruined church of San Damiano. The rest of his life he wore the course brown clothes of beggars. He is widely recognized as one of the most selfless humans who have ever lived, bringing peace to his world through the emptying of self.

Second, we celebrate the goodness of God discovered every day in the ordinary lives of creatures and nature. Sun and moon, wind and rain, bird and beast. These are our brothers and sisters. They teach us to live more fully in the simple gift of life. Peace comes by laying down our life for others. Goodness comes by picking up the gift of each day through living more intimately connected to God’s good creation. Pax et Bonum.

[i] Luke 2:14.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Natural Cathedral

A VOICE FROM THE MIDDLE


Take a look with me at a fascinating language pattern. I didn’t learn this until well into my twenties. The grammatical pattern I speak of involves verbs. As we all know from our elementary education, the verb is the action word in a sentence. The “voice” of the verb describes the quality of movement of the action. In the active voice, the subject acts upon the object. In the passive voice, the subject receives the action from the object. In the middle voice, the subject actively participates in the action as a recipient. The actively—receptive quality of the middle voice in grammar makes it tricky. It is the voice of mystery and meditation and the contemplative voice. It’s also the voice of relationships.

Take this grammar lesson and send it into daily life. The Active Life performs the action. The Passive Life receives the action. The Middle Life actively welcomes or encourages the action to happen. Every day, we participate in all three forms of action. Whether it is a result of upbringing, personality character, birth order or just the mystery of life, we tend to spend much of our time one of the three camps and call it home.

Take a look at life from the Middle: here lies the inner courage to willingly allow stuff to happen which may not feel good at the time but will help me get healthy and grow. We don’t do much. Most of the action is done by someone else. The movement comes from something external to us. All we’ve agreed to do is to open our mind, our heart or our will to let something happen which otherwise probably wouldn’t happen.

Life in the Middle. Middle way people can be accused of being wishy-washy. They can seem a tad indecisive. They are more like Horatio than like Hamlet. More like Sancho than Don Juan. More like Watson than Holmes. The Middle way people have no problem playing supporting roles. Such people actually find great pleasure in supporting the main action. Middle voice folks love company. Come on in, the water is great. There is a natural invitation from the Middle to join together, live together, and form significant relationships.

The voice from the Middle tells us that relationships are not seen as means to some other end. They are gifts in themselves. The Active camp wants to climb up the ladder of relationships and take the lead to accomplish higher ends. The Passive are reserved, shy, a bit too withdrawn to step forward into relationships or leadership. The Middle voice reminds us that we are made to love. To be human is to love: to love God, to love ourselves, to love others. The Middle voice shows others the way of love by compassionately serving others. Middle folks find themselves laying down their lives to help for others. That is the meaning of compassion, the willingness to suffer on behalf of others. This is the voice from the Middle.

Reflect upon these three voices of action: the Active, the Passive and the Middle. Which camp do you find yourself in most often? How does that camp feel to you? What troubles does that camp present? If you discover you are a take charge Active voice person, try spending a 24 hour block of time laying low, moving out of the spotlight, allowing things to happen rather than controlling everything, just to experience life from the other side. If you know you are a Passive voice person, see if there is any resentment or bitterness built up inside you from feeling that you’ve been walked on, used as a doormat and not appreciated for who you are. Try letting go of that stuff. No matter what camp you find as home, try becoming more aware of the other types of action within the human family. Above all, take a little time this week, in daily life, to pay more attention to the voice from the Middle.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

C3PO SHUTS DOWN

One of my all time favorite films is the original Star Wars movie featuring Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and those two endearing robots, R2D2 and C3PO. The quirky C3PO captures the pinnacle of new computer technology, a robot that is fluent in over six million forms of communication, able to interpret diverse linguistic data across the galaxy and logically give you the exact odds of survival as you face impending disaster. The only problem is you can’t get the guy to shut up.

C3PO is a literal motor mouth, offering non-stop practical suggestions for every situation, arguing with R2D2 about every move, and forever worrying about his joints rusting. In one of my favorite scenes in the film, C3PO offers a delicious alternative to all his normal fussiness. During hyperspace travel, he informs the crew he’s going to take a mechanical break. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll shut down for a while.” With the push of a button on his metallic frame the machine shuts off. Like C3PO’s metal body, the silence is golden.

Where can a human get one of those switches? Ever had one of those days when you arrived home from work exhausted, settled into the newspaper on the couch, drifted off for a brief ten minute nap and woken up three hours later, wiping drool from your mouth wondering if it’s time to get up for work, confused why it’s dark, only to realize it is ten at night. You’ve found the C3PO button.

Actually, shutting down involves more than merely taking a nap. That’s the easy part. Anyone can take a nap. Kids do it. Grandpa does it. Cats and dogs do it. Oddly, when you’re five years old, adults force you take naps and you resist. When you’re an adult, you want to take naps and the kids in your life keep you so busy you have no time for such luxuries. Even adults who have no kids have a hard time taking naps. Overworked adults consider naps the proper activity of children and the elderly. Active American adults who nap are viewed as lazy or sick. Pretend to doze off during your lunch break in your cubicle at work and watch your workmates raise their eyebrows and talk behind your back. Naps are for babies. Naps are a waste of time. Maybe you should have stayed home if you have the flu. Why don’t you just take the rest of the day off.

Busy people get embarrassed when they see you napping. Instead of asking questions about their own workaholism, they jokingly shame you about activating your C3PO button. Fortunately, as C3PO well knows, there are other options in the galaxy. Consider the Italians. Every working day in Italy, the banks close from noon to two. Most workers head home for a two hour midday break, including a plate of pasta and a nap for dessert. The afternoon shift begins around three and lasts until around seven. This is the norm for big corporations, little family run business and for rural farm workers. It’s the Italian way.

One of my favorite Italians, Francis of Assisi, was known for withdrawing from the 13th century rat race and “shutting down for a while”. He found solitude in abandoned churches. He feasted on silence by fasting from speech. In the biographical film on the life of Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Italian filmmaker Franco Zeferelli captures the essence of the life of a saint found in silence. One of Francis’ life long friends, Bernardo, has come down to San Damiano church to try and convince Francis to give up his foolishness and return to Assisi. As Francis listens to the lengthy discourse he continues what he was doing, rebuilding the ruined church building, stone by stone. Finally, Francis looks up and speaks. “Words, words, words, Bernardo. I too once believed in words.”

When we are dead and gone, what will people remember from our lives. I doubt it will be our words. For better or worse, they’ll remember our character. Francis was known to say, “Preach the love of God, and if necessary, use words.” We communicate our lives through our character, lifestyle and our actions long before a single word emerges from our lips. Listen to the wise words of the ancient sage from the Book of Ecclesiastes: Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.[i]

There lies the real challenge to shutting down. Find that button and you’ll make C3PO look like a rusted pile of scrap metal. For thousands of years, people have shut down by simply knowing when to zip their lips. Who hasn’t offered “the sacrifice of fools” and regretted it later. Better to learn to listen. Better to value silence and let our lives speak for themselves without the need to fill the gap with words. Cultivate the holy and healthy habit of napping without guilt. Like C3PO, on occasion, we are wise to value the golden silence among the crew as we zip across the galaxy at the speed of light.

[i] Ecclesiastes 5:2.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

THE TRAIL TO HEART LAKE

Crest the mile high ridge, descend down switchbacks, through a stand of mountain Hemlock, and suddenly, sparkling there in the setting sun, lies Heart Lake, glacial blue-green thirteen acre gem of the high country in the high country of Olympic National Park. Months of planning, weeks of shopping, several days of hiking finally bring us to our destination. I have an odd sensation as we hike the last quarter of a mile down the north slope leading to the lake: I’ve been here before. Déjà vu? Not really that. Something like déjà vu, but different, as though I’m returning. This is no first time arrival.

I have few regrets about the physical pain involved in the twenty-five miles of hiking to get to this lake, from near sea-level at the trailhead to sub-alpine high country a mile high in elevation. We set up camp beside the lake and I can’t get the sense out of my mind. I’ve been here before.

Upon closer examination, I see a blue-green glacial lake there in the heart of the mountains within the human soul. With a modest effort and a nose for mountain air, take the trek up and over the ridge into that high country alpine cirque and you too will be dazzled, not only by the golden jewels of sunshine scattered across the surface of cool blue, but by the sense of coming home.

Heart Lake is never dry, ever filled and renewed. Mountain springs well up within the lake, keeping these alpine waters at a constant level. I walk over to the outflow just to see how much water pours over the edge, cascading down the mountain slopes to feed into Marmot Lake, three quarters of a mile below, pressing on into the valley to join with the Duckabush river and flow to the east into Hood Canal. Somehow, up here in the sub-alpine high country, by an unseen design, the amount of evaporation and outflow match the amount of upwelling from deep below the surface.

In the heat of summer Heart Lake water is brisk. My plunge into the lake upon arrival took my breath away with the intensity of the cold. The wind from the surface of the water is always refreshing, balancing the heat of the midday high altitude sun. It is an amazing study in contrasts and balance. The guidebook comments that hikers will often find snowfields around the lake with chunks of ice floating along the north shore well into July. The summer we arrive followed on the heels of a dry winter with little snowpack to show in late July. Still, the lake offers a weary hiker plenty of sources of refreshment.

To find your way to Heart Lake, ask Hazel, the park ranger. We bumped into her twenty miles back, along the East Fork of the Quinault River. When I asked her if there was a sign along the trail directing hikers to the Heart Lake way trail, she thoughtfully described the way: “Follow the O’Neil Pass Trail for several miles until you come to the base of a meadow with a rock outcropping, the kind of place any hiker would consider as a stopping place to enjoy lunch along the trail. Head uphill at a big fallen log. Keep your eyes open and you’ll soon spot the trail, darting up alongside a little creek bed. You can’t miss it.” We nearly missed it. We would have missed it if Hazel hadn’t clued us into the secret of finding the Heart Lake way trail.

You’re invited. Come on up the O’Neil Pass trail a few miles until you come into a broad meadow with a scattered rock outcropping. Take a few moments to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery. Check out the ridge high above. That’s where you’re headed. Find the fallen, rotting log. Step up and up, keeping your eyes out for that elusive ascending trail, making your climb across dry creek beds, into the dense gauntlets of mountain Hemlocks, silver Fir saplings, upward along narrow switchbacks to the ridge, then over the edge and the easy descent along the rocky scree, over the wooded rim of an alpine cirque, and there it is, your soul’s Heart Lake, the high country source of your creative spirit, waiting in all her blue-green wonder to refresh you with a renewed sense of wonder.

The way trail to Heart Lake is for busy people who have sensed there must be more to life than the daily grind. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.[i] So sings the ancient songwriter of the life of the soul. If the depths of your soul call out to the depths of the soul of God, then keep climbing the Heart Lake way trail. The first few visits will seem difficult, even wearisome, leaving you a bit out of breath, dry mouthed and muscle sore. Keep returning and the Heart Lake way trail grows shorter and shorter until you find yourself on the shores of the lake without even noticing how you got there, even in the midst of a hectic stressful day in the middle of Manhattan madness. You’ll settle yourself down among the flowering heather, hear the swallows twittering in quick circles above, smell the sweetness of alpine wildflowers, and feel the cool breeze begin to refresh your whole inner being. Strangely, you’ll sense it too. You’ve not only been here before. You’ve been here all along.

[i] Psalm 42:7.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stars Trails Over Haystack

STEPPING ASIDE


The five villages known as Cinque Terra along the north Italian coast sparkle like ‘proseco’, the local sparkling white wine grown on terraced steep hillsides plunging to the sea. Connecting these five villages is a narrow trail ten miles in length, ascending up stone steps through terraced vineyards, into olive orchards, across rocky headlands, then descending along narrow switchbacks into overgrown fern grottoes and ravines, step by step over foot worn marble down into the next village by the sea.

As you walk this narrow way, you are sure to meet hundreds of hikers coming in the opposite direction. Europeans seem to be less concerned about liability, lawsuits and legal hassles arising from people falling off steep public trails. There are very few handrails along Cinque Terra, a three feet wide trail tracing its way along cliffs rising 1000 feet above the sea.

Over and over, a hiker along Cinque Terra trail has the opportunity to offer grace by simple stepping aside. Allow someone else to have the path. Smile as they pass you. Greet them in one of a dozen languages. You choose. Italian, French, German, Swiss German, Polish, English, Japanese. The world is walking past you as you step aside to wait.

One bright faced Australian man stopped momentarily to thank us for stepping aside. He then commented on the day, declaring the day a perfect day to be alive, marveling at the sheer gift of being alive to enjoy the vista.

The views from the headlands of Cinque Terra are spectacular, with rugged rocky headlands jutting into the pristine aquamarine Ligurian sea, the sun scattering silver diamonds across the vastness of the water. Take a whiff. The warm salt air brings hints of rosemary, lemons and olive. Step aside. For one brief moment, let someone else have the path, the power, the position of control. In that moment, look around and see the goodness of the day spread out before you. There is more to traveling than arrival. Today is a gift, a marvel simply to be alive. As Cervantes quietly declared long ago, The road is better than the end.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pacifique

ELECTED SILENCE

Elected silence sing to me,
and beat upon my whorle’d ear;
pipe me to pastures still and be
the music that I care to hear;
~Gerard Manley Hopkins [i]

Do yourself a favor. Just for fun, turn off the radio, the television, the CD player, the DVD player, the computer, the iPod, the MP3 player, the cell phone and any other sound making device. On this day, choose silence.

Once those pesky external distractions have been removed, try shutting down some of those internal voices, the songs and sounds clamoring for your attention. Elect silence. Listen. Listen to the song of silence. The rhythm of world noise beats upon our ears, incessantly filling our souls with the demands, values, philosophies and clamor of this temporal realm. Ever thought of it? Our ears are shaped like little satellite dishes, pressed against either side of our head. They are wired to pick up signals of the world beat. 360 degrees surround sound, from every possible direction, noise beams constantly into our soul.

Deep within each one of us is hidden a control room with the coordinates we choose to focus those two receivers, our ears. There in the soul’s control room, we can select which signals will fill our lives. As we tune into the song of elected silence, we allow ourselves to be transported to a place of refreshment, even in the busiest of environments. Pipe me to pastures still.

We heard the sound of the highland pipes echoing across the fields, ascending the steep slopes to enchant our ears as we walked along the high promontory of Stirling Castle, Scotland. That classic Celtic sound transported my soul to a place of quiet delight where I could lie down and chew my cud like a contented sheep.

Silence transports us to another space, to another time, to that inner realm beneath time and space where our soul can repose. Perhaps we are afraid, afraid of silence. If we remain silent long enough, we may discover the barrenness within. We may find ourselves admitting to superficiality or to addiction to noise. To give admittance to silence may be an invitation to unveil the broken and disjointed pieces that make up our inner world. Better to drown out this inner uncomfortable reality with an outer cacophony of noise.

Choose silence. The music that I care to hear. Once you’ve tasted a morsel of that sweet food for the soul, you will find you yearn for more. The first strains of that quiet song continue to beckon, calling us to return. When we heed this call, we find lives beginning to be attuned to the inner song of silence. There comes a time for all those who have allowed their lives to enjoy silence, that we discover it was not we who chose silence but rather the other way round. The silence of the cosmos has been waiting for us. That canopy of stars overhead nightly reminds us of the One who brought forth the galaxies while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.[ii]


[i] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose, (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1963), 5.

[ii] Job 38:7.