Archive | March, 2016

Inevitable Beauty

28 Mar

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Someone told me recently that the wonderful poet Mary Oliver advises that each day you and I “Pay attention!”, “Be astounded!”  and “Tell about it!”  I can’t verify the attribution, but if she did advise it, then “Thank you, Mary Oliver!”

 

About a week ago I walked into my backyard in the early hours of morning light, gazed around to make sure everything had stayed in its proper place during the cool Arizona night, then, turning to the raised flowerbed along the north wall, heard myself gasp at the gift offered by a very ugly cactus plant.  I was astounded.  It was one of those blink-twice moments to make sure it’s real.  Let me tell you about it.

 

This delicate creation that overnight had popped out of a squatty, very average, run-of-the-mill cactus plant, was breathtaking.  Radiant in the morning sun.  Gleaming white tinged with soft pink around the edges.  The symmetry in the center.  One long golden arm reaching out to invite and welcome pollen gatherers.  The circular inner pool lined in peaceful green.  Petals that seemed spun of cloud and mist.  And then astonishment slowly turned into awe.  For here before me was a glorious example of the interrelatedness of life, the coming together in one moment of elements and substances that produced the tangible reality of beauty.  For a moment I was no longer admiring a lovely flower, but looking instead at the conjunction of air, and wind, and rain, and sunshine, and rich soil, and living nutrients, and molecules, and atoms, and mystery.  For about two days these quiet elements have come together to be transformed into the visible manifestation of sheer beauty.  After two days, the cactus flower will be gone.  It will dry up and droop, eventually fall off its host onto the ground, then disappear into the dirt.

 

But in the months to come I will be watching…paying attention, because I know that one day the flower will reappear, and I will be astounded all over again.  It is inevitable.  The same constant friends will again embrace each other.  It is their nature and their delight.  And their mysterious dance will create an astonishment and a reminder about how life works.

 

All things are related.  Pay attention.  Be astounded.  Tell about it.

 

 

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Wired Up!

18 Mar

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In the long corridor of my memory, I revisit a white frame house on Miller Avenue, the exact floor plan of the modest structure,  two windows next to my bed in the little room added on to the back of the house, and the decals that I had stuck to the glass at the bottom of the windows.  Each decal was the logo and name of a Southwest Conference football team: Rice Owls, Baylor Bears, SMU Mustangs…there used to be a Southwest Conference.  The walk down the corridor took me to about 1950.  A long walk, but a good one because lots of wonderful memories were made in that house.

For instance, when the sun set behind the china berry tree and darkness quietly swallowed up the white stone barbecue pit near the purple irises, I anticipated the the sound of my mother’s voice: “Roger, about time for bed.”   Those words set into motion a certain routine that had developed in my childhood.  Did I mention that I lived with my mother and my maternal grandparents?   Hearing the first call to bedtime, I knew there was no purpose protesting.  It never worked.  So I took step one of the familiar routine.  Slip into my pajamas decorated with the Texas A&M logo and lots of footballs, find my blue toothbrush and the tube of Ipana toothpaste, take care of any other physical necessities, kiss my mother and my grandmother, try to kiss my grandfather who would usually bear hug me and tousle my hair, then disappear into the warm and welcoming little room at the back of the house.

I walked down that memory path recently, and intentionally, when I was getting ready for bed right here in the 21st century.    Is it necessary to say that “times have changed” and “they aren’t like they used to be.”  Of course not.  But bedtime preparation the other evening shocked me, like dropping a rock on my big toe.  I was jarred when I realized that while some elements of the routine have remained the same as in the innocence of childhood…toothbrush…necessities…hugs and kisses, etc., there is an element that would have seemed like Flash Gordon come true to that nine year old in the little house on Miller Avenue.

It is now absolutely necessary to gather all the charging wires and all the electronic devices, sort out all the fittings and find enough wall sockets to put them all to bed.  I mean, who wants to wake up to a 14% charge in the morning…it would ruin the day.  There is a rule somewhere that says:  “Thou must charge thy electronic devices nightly without fail.”  In my case that means wires and sockets for two phones, an ipad, two e-readers, and my little Shuffle music gadget…oh, and the Fitbit.   I certainly have to charge that one so I can tell if my heart is still beating in the morning and how many steps it takes me to go from the bedroom to the coffee pot.  Life’s essential information.  I am wired up every night, and it’s not from too much caffeine.

Don’t get me started on all the LED lights glowing in the nighttime darkness.  It’s like we live in a blue haze.  It’s like…never mind, I just noticed that my iphone is down to 23%.

Dark Places

15 Mar

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The Thunderbird Trail in the Tucson Mountains sounds like a challenging and exciting stroll through the desert, but actually it’s rather tame.  The rocky path climbs slightly from the trail head, then levels out in a smooth opening where you have to make a choice…this way or that way…the Thunderbird or the Sweetwater.  Thunderbird sounded much more glamorous on that brilliant morning, so to the right.  Sweetwater another time.

Most trails in the mountains surrounding Tucson offer spectacular vistas.  The desert really can be astonishing, especially when the shadows are just right and the mountains glow in the breaking sun.  Up a slight climb.  Down across a very rocky basin.  Around a gentle curve between meadows of sugaro giants, now a bend to the left….wait a minute.  The marked trail winds off to the right.  Did I miss a sign?  What’s this little path curling into a patch of unfriendly cholla?   And that’s when I found it.

Standing in front of this black hole in the mountain offered me another choice.  Do I peek in, maybe even step inside?  But it’s so dark and who knows what might be living in there.  Mountain lions and temperamental javelinas populate our desert, not to mention rattlesnakes waking in the warm spring sun, and I’m not equipped to come face to face with any of them.  Just a peek.

In summary, it was dark!  Very dark!  So I decided to rest on a large stone near the entry and recall some of the articles and books I’ve read about “dark places”.   Not cellars or my bedroom at night when I was a little boy, but the dark places that we all carry around with us day after day.  Deep internal darkness is the source of so much of the pain that we endure each day.  And, like the yawning cave just off the Thunderbird Trail, the darkness calls to us and invites us into places we’d rather not visit.  Old wounds.  Betrayals or failures.  Bad decisions and broken dreams.  Those things feed and fester in the darkness, and they never let us go.   Unless.  Unless they are revisited and relinquished.  No, it’s not easy.  In fact, it can be scary and painful, but dark places don’t deserve the right to direct our lives.

I’m actually glad I made the wrong turn early in the hike.  The dark cave would have remained hidden in the background, always there but always just around the corner.  I plan to go back soon and sit on the rock again.  No, I’m not going to explore the black tunnel, but just looking into it is a place to begin.  It’s a start.

 

OK! I Got it!

8 Mar

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Ok!  I got it!

I have a theory.  It goes like this.  When something unexpectedly interesting happens in my life, I take notice.  If or when that same thing is replicated or reinforced a short time later, I think about it and wonder about similarities.  When the third similar experience knocks on my door, I pay closer attention and reflect more deeply.  “What’s going on here?”  Finally, when the fourth visitor comes with the same message, I decide that I’d better sit down and connect the dots.

Ok!  I got it!

A couple of months ago, well into pondering some personal questions about my own spirituality, I paused for a moment in the fine book I was reading and wondered about the topic on the page.  It was a description of the Desert Fathers and Mothers who, in the third to sixth centuries, decided that the wildness of the desert was the place they would find a fresh, deeper connection with the Sacred.  I filed that somewhere on the backside of my brain.

A few weeks later I received a gift from a friend.  I’m not sure he knew anything about my wandering and searching, but as an act of friendship he presented me with a book for my library.  It was “In God’s Holy Light: Wisdom From The Desert Monastics.”  What an interesting coincidence.

About 10 days later, at a Monday morning meeting of like-minded pilgrims discussing and probing their faith, the group leader asked if I had ever heard of a rather good book that just might shed some light on my walk.  Anxious for any thoughtful insights, I welcomed the title:  “The Solace of the Fierce Landscapes:  Exploring Desert and Mountain Spiritualities”.  That’s puzzling.  The desert again?  Ok.

Two days ago, in the crowded dairy section of the supermarket near my home, I noticed a person who looked familiar from a distance.  When she turned around, it was, indeed, my friend I had not seen in months.  She recognized me.  We hugged and began the easy path into conversation.  “How are you?”  “What have you been doing?”  To which she answered, “I’ve just come from a wonderful retreat day with a group of people who are exploring their spiritual lives.”  “Wonderful”, I said, “what was the topic or approach for the day?”  “Oh, it was a remarkable look at the desert fathers and mothers and how they went into the wilderness to encounter God.”  “Desert?  Did you say desert?”  I felt like sitting down on the edge of the yogurt cabinet.  What’s going on?

In the order of appearance:  my own casual, unexpected brush with the desert seekers; the gift from my friend; a recommendation from the group leader; and the chance meeting with my old friend in the market.  All unplanned.  Each one linked to the other.  A common invitation?

As I write these words today, I feel some level of purposeful confirmation and I happily observe that I live in Arizona, which happens to be in the midst of the Sonoran Desert.

Ok!  I got it!

Five

4 Mar

IMG_3145    A few weeks ago I read about a man who decided to identify several essential ideas that he would turn into practices everyday.  Each day, perhaps in the evening, he would reflect on these items and ask himself “was I aware of them during the day?” and “did I address each one in some practical way?”  He held himself accountable.

Sounded like a good idea, so I thought about my own list, coming to rest on the number 5.  I chose five emphases that are particularly important to me at this moment in my life, and, with a measure of humility and the assumption that you might be interested, I share them with you.  Each day, I promised myself, I will remember these five things and I will make every attempt to move them from ideas in my mind to actions in my experience.  Then, just before turning out the bedside lamp at night, I will ask myself “did you really do them?”

Be Kind – Kindness is such a simple thing.  It comes through as a smile, paying attention to someone, listening, simply acknowledging another person as valuable and important.  Being kind can be done in a quick moment or over a cup of coffee with a friend.  At least once in my day, I want to be kind.

Do Good – Turn the kindness into a specific act.  Opportunities flood my life everyday when I can do good without prior plan or scheduled event on my calendar.  They pop up.  They whiz by unnoticed most of the time, so I have to be better attuned to the moment.  At least once in my day, I want to do good in some specific way.

Learn Something – I find great pleasure in learning something new.  Just when I think I know it all, along comes some other insight or piece of wisdom or revealed truth.  I don’t want to be like so many people who have closed the door on learning, seemingly satisfied with what they have stored in their mental file cabinets.   At least sometime during my day, I want to learn something new.

Remember – I’ve lived a long time and I have lots of things to remember.  Some of them aren’t worth the effort, but some are special.  They remind me of glorious moments of joy, times when I’ve messed up big time but still survived, very important people who have influenced and touched my life deeply.  I have more to remember than I have days left on this earth, so it’s important to reconnect with yesterday.  At least once each day, I want to walk back down the road of memory.

Reflect – I love to reflect anyway, so this one isn’t hard at all.  It seems so important for me to integrate and synthesize experiences, to look for deeper meanings, to more and more see the wholeness instead of the parts.  Everything is connected in some way, so when I reflect I invite all the diversity, the individual elements, the pieces of my life to sit down for a quiet conversation.  They usually show up.  At least once in my day, I want to thoughtfully and patiently reflect.

So, there you have it.  My plan is working fine so far.  I feel good about doing it.  But, I’m not proposing the adventure to everyone, certainly not the number nor the identity of the essential elements.  Maybe it’s not what you would choose to do.  That’s fine, too.  Just thought you might like to know.