Monday, May 31, 2010

Maroon Bells


There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, ‘Natura naturans’. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fountain of action and of joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being … (Thomas Merton, ‘Hagia Sophia’) 

Thomas Merton (1915—1968), Trappist monk and author, was also a contemplative photographer, an observer of the inward nature of life as seen with the eyes of the heart. “Merton’s approach to photography, and one of the reasons his photography is truly personal, lay in his use of his lenses primarily as contemplative instruments” (John Howard Griffin, “A Hidden Wholeness: the Visual World of Thomas Merton”, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 3). His photography sought to capture the “play of light, the ambience, and the inner life of the things he photographed” (Griffin, 4). Merton loved the silence surrounding the art-form of photography. “He struggled toward an expression of silence through the visual image, in photographs that communicated the essence of silence without any implied sounds” (Griffin, 4).  In selecting images, Merton cared little for traditional aspects of photography such as photo journalism, composition or capturing a moment of significant time. “He selected only the frames that expressed his contemplative vision....He worked for photographic images which, when viewed without haste or pressure, might accomplish the slow work of communicating ‘a hidden wholeness’” (Griffin, 4).  

One of the qualities we've sought to offer on Cannon Beach Log week by week is this “hidden wholeness”, inviting viewers and readers of this blog into the inner landscape of the soul to gaze upon the “unseen roots of all created being”. One of Thomas’ gifts as a photographer is to see the illumination within creation, using his camera lens “primarily as a contemplative instrument”. Much as icons and rose windows have been used within ancient church buildings, we offer these posts, including contemplative nature photography, as a way to see into the hidden wholeness of things. To accomplish this does not come naturally to humans, but comes to us as a gift, much like waiting for the light to illuminate a scene before clicking the shutter. We hope you will invite a friend to come visit Cannon Beach Log sometime this year, and also that you will keep coming back to mediate here among these pages. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010


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, violence, crime and corruption. Who doesn't hunger for a little peace and goodwill in the face of such news?  

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 objects you’ll find in these tourist shops 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.(1) 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. In so doing, we'll join with the angels in singing, peace on earth, goodwill to all. Pax et Bonum.
(1) Luke 2:14.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Take a look with me at a fascinating language pattern. I didn’t learn this until well into my twenties. The pattern I speak of involves actions. In language, this 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 active/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. 

Though few truly enjoyed grammar lessons in public school, try taking this grammar lesson and sending 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 voice speaks in your life most often? How does that voice feel to you? 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 voice 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.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rainbow over the Trestles


Of the lead characters in the original Star Wars movie, 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, 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 but you are so busy there's 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.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


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.