Monday, December 27, 2010

CHRISTMAS RAIN

The orange-red fronds
of dead bracken ferns,
glisten in the ambient light
from this grey-skied afternoon,
as rain descends in long lines
drawn by hesitant hands
with heaven’s choir
singing water music.
Two days past birthing
and refugee babies cry for milk,
with Mary’s song echoing across years
as mothers glance heavenward,
seeking signs of showers.
Divine grace descends like rain,
falling steadily soaking trees,
as earth echoes songs of rain.
The streams of God are full,
cascading with playful prayers
towards the misty lake.
Barrenness and drought call out
to those living in lands of rainfall,
asking for aid beyond a cup of water.
Parched human hearts
look skyward for signs of rain
while drenched souls stumble
in watery grace-soaked lands,
even their trail maps soaked
with the fullness
of grace upon grace.
~fern photo and poem by David Robinson, Dec. 27, 2010

 

Monday, December 20, 2010

HE WILL COME LIKE THE FROST

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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.
Socrates claimed, “The beginning of wisdom is wonder.” Months after returning from hiking in Olympic National Park each eary, 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’.
For many, the month of December, and the season of Advent. are times reminding of us of childlike wonder. As we celebrate the coming of Christ, our home begins to fill with those delights which come out only once a year.
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’. Too often, we’ve given up our innocence, trading in our childhood wonder for electronic entertainment or trivialities.
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? 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.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

LOVE'S PURE LIGHT


 Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
 

May you know love's pure light, the radiant beams from the face of God, filling your heart and home with heavenly peace!

Lyrics by Joseph Mohr, 1816


Monday, November 29, 2010

THE STREAMS OF GOD ARE FILLED


You care for the land and water it; 
you enrich it abundantly. 
The streams of God are filled with water 
to provide the people with grain, 
for so you have ordained it. 
You drench its furrows and level its ridges; 
you soften it with showers and bless its crops. 
You crown the year with your bounty, 
and your carts overflow with abundance. 
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow; 
the hills are clothed with gladness. 
The meadows are covered with flocks 
and the valleys are mantled with grain; 
they shout for joy and sing. 
~Psalm 65:9-13 

This Psalm is a harvest hymn of thanksgiving, likely sung during the Jewish autumnal festival of Tabernacles. After our national (USA) feast day of Thanksgiving last week, we’ve had opportunity once again as a people to consider the good gifts of home, family, friends, food, feasting! What a sweet joy it is to raise our voices and sing songs of thanksgiving together as a people!

Psalm 65 celebrates “streams of God filled with water”. Translate that as the gift of rain. On the north Oregon coast, it is a favorite pastime of locals to complain about rain. We certainly have an abundance of this gift! We average 76 inches (over six feet) per year. God has ordained rain as a gift given to all creatures to remind us of heaven’s abundance. Next time it rains, go outside, turn your bare face skyward, and soak in the gift of God’s presence in the “streams of God”. Offer a silent prayer of thanks for the wetness of grace.

If you’ve ever traveled to an arid climate, you’ll know what a gift rain is for people, land and animals. The meadows, the fields, the valleys, the mountains, the flocks, and the people all sing for joy at the sight and sound of falling rain, the “streams of God”. Psalm 65 offers a beautiful vision of creation “singing for joy”. The Bible tells us creation sings for joy. See for example, Job 38:7, describing this celebration at creation, “while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”

According to the ancient songwriter, God’s goodness is so abundant that all creation flows forth with the song of God’s goodness, as rains fall from heaven, drenching furrows newly plowed and planted by farmers. The “streams of God” level the ridges and soften the land with showers.

A decade ago, we hiked by a gushing spring coming out of the side of a mountain ridge in Olympic National Park a mile above sea level. This spring emerged just below the top of the ridge, sending pure water cascading down the mountainside, watering the valley below, allowing myriads of wildflowers, shrubs and trees to prosper in the gift of water. I’ve been deeply moved by that single spring, evidence to my soul of the abundance of water pushed a mile upwards within the heart of the mountain by the upwelling water table of God’s goodness.

May the streams of God fill our life this Advent season, softening hearts, leveling our ridges, filling our hurting furrowed hearts, and germinating the good seed of God’s Word planted in our hearts, overflowing our lives with God’s gift of abundance!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mountain of Gratitude

Tusind tak ("two-sen tak") is the Danish phrase for a thousand thanks. Thank you for following this blog and all the encouragement along the way. A Tusind Tak.

MELODIOUS THANKS


I think my thought, and fancy I think thee.--
Lord, wake me up; rend swift my coffin-planks;
I pray thee, let me live--alive and free.
My soul will break forth in melodious thanks,
Aware at last what thou wouldst have it be,
When thy life shall be light in me, and when
My life to thine is answer and amen.
~from Diary of an Old Soul, November 22, by George Macdonald

George Macdonald (1824-1905), Scottish writer of fiction & poetry composed a 366 stanza poem known as Diary of an Old Soul, each stanza containing seven lines of iambic pentameter, with a fixed rhyme scheme (ABABCBC, though the rhyme scheme of the final three lines varies from stanza to stanza). This book length poem offers an insight into Macdonald's faith and theology, as each stanza is written as a daily prayer, often a cry for help, a confession, a lament, a struggle or striving with God in prayer. Known simply as A Diary of an Old Soul, this poem's full title is A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul. This poetic work had a profound influence upon C.S.Lewis in his conversion to Christianity as seen in his letter of October 1929, where he declares he had been "slowly reading ... Macdonald's Diary of an Old Soul....I strongly advise you to try it. He seems to know everything and find my own experience in it constantly" (quoted from "A Brief Analysis of the Content of George MacDonald: An Anthology by C. S. Lewis", by Paul F. Ford). For an online version of Diary of an Old Soul visit http://www.online-literature.com/george-macdonald/3538

We offer our "melodious thanks" to all you who have taken time this year to visit CANNON BEACH LOG to enjoy photography and read spiritual thoughts from the north Oregon coast. 

With our gratitude!  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wave and Haystack

THE LAW OF UNDULATION

 Excerpt from The Screwtape Letters, chapter VIII
" . . . Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation? Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. . . As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it. 

"Now it may surprise you to learn that in [God’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. . . 

"And that is where the troughs come in. . . . Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all . . . supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. . . . He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. . . . [The Devil’s] cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
 The Screwtape Letters (1941), by C.S.Lewis

Monday, November 8, 2010

FOR LIBERTY


The monks are praying Psalms at this dark hour,
Their vigil chant awakening the dawn,
I too this night am wakened by the power
The will to live to see the morning sun.
Our cat has caught a mouse with vigil care,
From some unknown dark corner down beneath,
With mouse in mouth she prays her vigil prayer,
Her prey still praying, begging for release. 
Survival beats a drum in every heart,
The cat and mouse, the lion and the lamb,
We all desire another dawning start,
To raise our praise to Abrams' captive Ram.
I caught the mouse to set it forest free,
With beating grateful heart for liberty.

(Sonnet written by David Robinson, November 8, 2010, at 4:30a.m.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Universe in a Pond

THIS SITE IS RESTING

In a society so often driven by productivity and profit, it may seem counter-intuitive to view resting as a beneficial way to live. Nature tells us otherwise. On this first day of November, as we head into late Autumn, we turn once again to a time of less activity, learning the hard lesson of our need for rest. John Keats described Autumn as a "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness".

This Fall, while hiking in Olympic National Park, we came upon the sign in the photo above expressing succinctly our soul's need. The beautifully crafted, weather-worn sign was placed next to a former campsite along Hoh Lake (4500 feet elevation).  Occasionally, the national park service will close a campsite for a season due to overuse, allowing a site "rest". The rain and snow continue to fall; the sun and moon continue to shine; the deer and black bear continue to wander through (we saw both at Hoh Lake this year). Life seems unchanged.

Yet, something vital is happening while "this site is resting". Boots, backpacks and tents are absent. The small, wild things are allowed to spring up undisturbed without being trampled underfoot. The snow falls, burying the site for months. The late spring sun melts the snow, overflowing the lake, running off the mountainsides into the great Hoh valley below. New shoots of life spring up from soil once beaten down by campers.  New life springs forth, and bare soil is replaced with alpine meadowland glory. Mountain blueberries cover the ground, along with John Muir's favorite wildflower, Cassiope, white heather with her luminous bells blooming in late summer. 

None of this would have been possible without the gift of rest. The prophet Isaiah invited ancient Israel to come back to a time of rest. In returning and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15). Often, people today will have none of it as well, preferring the well-trodden paths of productivity and profit-making. Nothing wrong with being productive or earning a decent living. But all campsites, like all people, need their times of rest. In this gift comes the saving grace of God, quietly renewing our soul, strengthening our frame, and bringing back the beauty of meadowlands to our inner world.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rock Well


Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy

ANDY GOLDSWORTHY: A COLLABORATION WITH NATURE

 An excerpt from Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature (NY: Abrams, 1990)

"For me, looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. Place is found by walking, direction determined by weather and season. I take opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches.

"I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. I might have walked past or worked there many times. Some places I return to over and over again, going deeper -- a relationship made in layers over a long time. Staying in one place makes me more aware of change. I might give up after a while. My perception of a place is often frustratingly limiged. The best of my work, sometimes the result of much struggle when made, appears so obvious that it is incredible I didn't see it before. It was there all the time. 

"Movement, changes, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. I want to get under the surface. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just that material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave, these processes continue."

Note: If you have never heard of this artist, we wanted to introduce you to Andy and one of his many excellent photographic art books, A Collaboration with Nature. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

THE WINEPRESS

 
The Winepress
A Sonnet
Prepara te ad pressuras, advised
Augustine, knowing well the way of strife,
‘Prepare yourself for pressures’, heed the wise,
By yielding heart and body, soul and life.
With clusters hanging heavy from the vine,
September’s sun sends sweetness to the lush,
While harvesters move slowly down the line,
In vats the grapes to gather and to crush.
Of old did Jesus trod by Galilee
In Cana changed the water into wine
The first unveiled sign of life divine
The winepress on the road to Calvary
'Let every one of you, your pressures fetch
Good liquor from the winepress so to catch’*
~by David Robinson, October 2007

The image of pressing grapes in a winepress was commonly used in the Middle Ages to describe the work of God in the lives of believers who were facing pressures and troubles. While the work of pressing grapes is an autumnal event in the northern hemisphere, in February, the vineyards are being pruned back in preparation for the growth of grapes for the fall harvest. Most of the European grape harvest was just completed a few weeks ago. In past years, as we've helped in the vineyard during harvest, I've thought of the hard labor of pruning the vines, which is usually done in January or February, in the cold, wet months of winter. As Jesus taught, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2).
 
*quote in final couplet of sonnet from a Doctor of Ministry lecture by Dr. James Bradley on spiritual formation in the 17th century, Fuller Theological Seminary, October 2007. Photo by David Robinson, from vineyard overlooking Botzingen, Germany; Spat Burgunder grapes in early October.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rain on the Lake


One might consider this as level 10 rain - showers.

17 WORDS FOR RAIN

17 WORDS FOR RAIN
  1. Fog
  2. Light Mist
  3. Heavy Mist
  4. Mizzle
  5. Spit
  6. Drizzle
  7. Sprinkle
  8. Light Rain
  9. Rain
  10. Showers
  11. Squall
  12. Downpour
  13. Sheets
  14. Torrents
  15. Cats and Dogs
  16. Buckets
  17. Monsoon—“Frog-Choker”

Where we live, it rains plenty (average of over 6 feet per year). Rain falls in many patterns, so we've compiled a "Rain Scale", 17 stages of rain with "fog" the lightest form of rain. Some may question fog as a category of rain, but sitting in the thick fog all day in September on the High Divide in Olympic National Park, we were soaked!. Monsoon (aka "frog-choker") is what we're calling the heaviest rain. This is a work in progress, so feel free to comment and add your ideas. Also, check the Beaufort Rain Scale from the Brits (another rainy place) which breaks rain into a scale of 11. See the Beaufort Rain Scale.

Monday, October 4, 2010

AT HOME, AT EASE, AND WELL

The frog with lichened back and golden thigh
Sits still, almost invisible
On leafed and lichened stem,
Invisibility
Its sign of being at home
There in its given place, and well.

The warbler with its quivering striped throat
Would live almost beyond my sight,
Almost beyond belief,
But for its double note-
Among the high leaves a leaf,
At east, at home in the air and light.

And I, through woods and fields, through fallen days
Am passing to where I belong:
At home, at ease, and well,
In Sabbaths of this place
Almost invisible,
Toward which I go from song to song.
By Wendell Berry, from Sabbaths (North Point Press, 1987), pg. 32.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Raven Flight

CONSIDER THE RAVEN

Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you new courage....Brothers and sisters, have no fear of men's sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. ~Father Zossima, from "The Brothers Karamazov", by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
 
Crows are communal creatures. They communicate in complex social patterns of speech, live in intentional social structures, and they submit their lives to the corvid pecking order. Ornithologists have studied crows at play, at work, at community gatherings. They’ve discovered them storing food for the winter, playing together and posting sentries to guard their camp. They have attempted to decipher their language and understand their communal way of life. Some odd bird-brain facts. A domestic chicken brain accounts for one tenth of a percent (0.1%) of its body weight. The American Crow’s brain is two and a half percent (2.5%) of its body weight compared with the human brain weighing in at one and a half percent (1.5%) of our body weight.(1) Every time I meet a crow I think to myself, “there must be something remarkable going on inside that head”.
A minister friend told me an odd crow story he witnessed at a wedding in Santa Barbara, California. The bride and groom wanted to share communion on their wedding day. So my minister friend provided a dinner roll as a communion loaf, along with a chalice of wine. During the outdoor ceremony, a crow flew down from a neighboring tree, landed on the edge of the chalice, nearly tipping it over, and with one quick motion, the large bird pecked at the loaf of bread and flew off with it to a branch above the heads of the wedding guests. Then the crow sat for the next few minutes, in full view of the humans below, enjoying its own form of corvid communion while the minister hustled off to obtain another loaf.
I love talking with crows and ravens when I meet them in the village or in the forest. On a hike a few winters back with friends in the Olympic National Park, a raven followed us for several miles, high in the treetops overhead, keeping us company and tracking our progress with deep throaty “Krawwk” calls that echoed through the forest.
I had an odd encounter with a crow a few years ago, while spending the weekend at a retreat center on the north coast of Oregon. Sitting on a park bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset, I was meditating on a sentence from the Bible when a crow flew up, perched on a nearby telephone pole and started its brash calls. Caw! Caw! Caw! I continued my quiet reflection on the story. Caw! Caw! Caw! I was thinking, “Hey bird, knock it off! I’m trying to enjoy some quiet time down here.” The crow kept up his calls: Caw! Caw! Caw! “Quit already. Can’t you see, I’m trying to enjoy the quiet here!” Caw! Caw! Caw! My eyes returned to the sentence I was pondering. Caw! Caw! Caw! It was only then that I discovered the crow’s secret hidden in the sentence. There they were: three verbs tucked away in that sentence I had been reading and rereading. Go! Close! Pray! When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:6).
Go! Close! Pray! An “Aha” ray of spiritual light penetrated into that 1.5% of my body weight also known as my brain. At that exact moment, the crow flew off. I watched its flight across the dunes, offering a prayer of thanks to God for sending that bird to point out a basic pattern for wise living. Go! Close! Pray!
Go! Getting away from distractions requires some forethought. I’ve found it difficult to engage in soul work of meditation in the middle of the muddle. Better to remove our bodies, even just a few steps from the thoroughfare than to be perpetually frustrated at the many irritating interruptions.
Close! Just because you’ve gotten away to a corner chair in a back room doesn’t mean all the distractions cease. What happens is an actual intensification of interior distractions. Quietly closing the door on these takes some soul work as well. I’ve found it helpful to place into my awareness a simple focusing tool, like a candle, some meditative music or a paragraph of sacred writing. Then my eyes, my ears and my mind have something simple to focus upon. Giving in to distractions is not bad. It’s normal. But why not try to settle in to enjoy a few minutes of quiet without them for once.
Pray! Going and closing are merely prep work for the grand event. Enjoy an encounter of intimacy with God. Dwell together. I love the visual way Psalm 23 teaches us to pray. Lie down to rest in a verdant meadow. Sit down next to a cool mountain stream and quench your thirst. Walk together along a path, experiencing guidance, comfort and protection along the way. Feast on a grand banquet, letting your cup be filled to overflowing with good wine. Dwell together with goodness and loving-kindness every day of our life. That’s what I’d call the good life.
Jesus tells us to "consider the ravens" (Luke 12:24), to learn from these amazing birds how to live, including how to live before God. It doesn’t take bird brains to figure out what prayer is all about.  Recently, we fed left over communion bread to the ravens while out on a weekend prayer retreat. We had heard ravens that weekend up in the conifers. I don’t know if crows and ravens are prayerful birds.One thing I do know. Whenever I’m out in nature, they will always be invited to my table to enjoy a grand feast in the forest.
(1) See Bernd Heinrich, Mind of the Raven, (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999), 326-331.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Elowah Falls

KEEPING GRACE

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces. 
~by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Olympic Mountain Goat

Olympic Mountain Goat in front of Mt. Olympus

BOWING TWICE

At a retreat this past weekend at a nearby Benedictine Abbey I once again observed an oddity: in the evening, monks walk into the sanctuary for worship together, side by side, two by two. As they approach the center of the choir, the pairs bowed in unison twice, first forward to God, second side to side to one another. What’s all this funny bowing business? Monastic life never did appear sensible to busy people. Every time I head off for a weekend at the Abbey, my friends look at me like I’m heading back in time a thousand years. In some ways, I am.
The first bow I understand completely. After all, they’re monks. Isn’t the monastic life a total surrender of one’s life to God? Monks bow with their possessions, their time, their careers, with their whole lives, declaring in that gesture, “It’s not about me. It’s about God.” When you go into the sacred place next time, give it a try. Take a bow. A few years back, I started doing that little bend at the waist when I entered a sacred place. Strangely, something inside my soul brightened. It was like opening the window blinds and seeing the light of morning for the first time. God is already here. That slight bend of the waist simply acknowledged the wonder-filled presence of the Creator of the universe. One little bend of the waist and out flows all that spiritual stuff which gives our spines the shivers of wonder and reminds us what the wise sages have told us all along, that the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
That second bow is a bit more troubling. I’d prefer my sacred encounter to be just between me and God. We’re into private practice of faith. We’re American. Just me and God. Don’t ask me to walk in together with a stranger. Don’t ask me to bow to the man in the black robe. I hardly even know the guy. That’s the whole point. Acknowledge the presence of God in the face of a stranger. You’ll find this same expression in the customary greeting in India, “Namaste”. As two people meet, they bow and offer that greeting, which literally translates, “the sacred center of my soul recognizes the presence of God in the sacred center of your soul.” My life is connected with your life. My soul is a sacred space I open to you. I welcome you as a fellow faith pilgrim. Let’s walk together, worship together, learn to love one another. That’s what the second bow is all about. 
After that second bow, the monks file quietly into the choir stalls, take their seats and the service begins. Most of what transpires during “the divine office”, as monks call their daily times of worship, most of what happens is antiphonal chanting of the Psalms. They face each other, reciting in simple song the words of ancient prayers, back and forth, line by line, alternating from one side to the next. 
Do you see the genius of this arrangement? Five times a day, a monk goes to a sacred place together with other monks. During those services lasting 15-30 minutes each, they worship in intentional community, with God and with one another, like an ancient dance, but with words, voice and soul. Daily they encounter God in the face of the person sitting across the choir simply because they’ve been willing lay down their souls out of love for God love for neighbor as they bow twice.

Monday, September 6, 2010

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. Selah. A word stuck right in the middle of many Psalms, a word scholars believe simply means, "take five".

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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pegmatite

CRACKS

Cracks. Every day is filled with them. We walk over so many cracks in a day that we hardly even notice them underfoot. Until we are put on hold, wait an extra minute for a webpage to download, sit in rush hour traffic, or stand in line at the checkout. 

Little cracks appear every day. The English language fills in the cracks with a variety of meanings. Superstition: “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”. Humor: “She 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”.

There are some kinds of cracks that are not funny and some that are not pretty. Waiting typically cracks up no one. Consider spontaneous cracks, those brief encounters with unasked for waiting. Such little unfilled cracks of time often leave us feeling impatient, resentful or frustrated.

If our days are full of cracks, what can we do to smooth things out? 
1. 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 it as an unopened gift. Welcoming cracks moves us into a receptive approach to life allowing us to experience empty places in the day with gratitude instead of irritability.

2. 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. For example: try smiling at the crack. Fill the crack with a little bit of humor. A smile just might be the seed crystal which transforms the whole chemistry of the situation.

3. 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 wisdom 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.

4. 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 full attention on God, and upon God's love. For those few moments each day within the cracks, let love pour in. As odd as it sounds, those are the places where wonders happens. Those are the creative spaces helping 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.