Archive for Uncategorized – Page 2

Miracles Do Happen

Last week a miracle happened. The darkness that had held my family in its grip for almost five months was Moon risedispelled by a sudden, dazzling burst of light. Of all the outcomes we had imagined, hoped for or feared, this was the least likely of them all. And it felt like resurrection, a gloriously unexpected divine intervention, an outpouring of abundant grace. It seems so apropos that it happened during this season of Lent, as we ponder the events of another darkness, a time when the promises of Jesus regarding the Kingdom of Heaven seemed lost, when his death on the cross seemed like the end of a peoples’ hopes and dreams. It is a time when we are reminded of the earth-shattering events of Easter Sunday that turned upside down all pre-conceived notions about life and death, light and darkness.

I think the story of Easter is the story of us all. We have all entered times of great darkness, experienced a death of one sort or another. A former pastor of mine once said, “We all experience little deaths every day.” We know the truth of that, don’t we? The loss of dreams, the loss of little bits or big chunks of self, the loss of relationships, health, or vocation are all deaths of one kind or another. And we make the mistake of believing that death has the final word. We keep putting periods at the end of these sentences, thinking life as we know it is over. But just as seeds are still lying dormant under the snow, waiting for the perfect conditions to emerge, so God lies waiting in our darkness, waiting to surprise us with life and light.

Our God is a God of surprise. I must confess, though, that I’m a lot fonder of surprises at Christmas, when I’m relatively sure that what is held inside a beautifully wrapped package is something I will enjoy. But when a problem package is randomly drop-kicked into my life wrapped in dirty brown paper and emitting a foul odor, I’m not so willing to open it up. We are pretty picky about what we are willing to receive from life. Jesus attracted a lot of people when he fed and healed them, but there weren’t too many followers still lingering at the foot of the cross that held his battered and bloody body. Nonetheless, Jesus rose from the dead, burst from the tomb and changed the world. And even with that evidence of God’s power to overcome all odds and even death, we still doubt.

I doubt. I doubted God’s ability to transform the situation in which my family found itself. I feared the worst. Oh sure, I prayed a lot, and I tried to trust, and I wrote a blog about not being afraid. My problem was that I was thinking too small. I was putting limits on what was possible. My hopes were human-sized, not God-sized. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” God admonishes in Isaiah 55. How is it that I keep forgetting that? Thankfully, God keeps reminding me. God doesn’t let my humanness stop God from continuing to bless me with astonishing miracles. God doesn’t answer prayer because I am worthy. God answers prayer because God is good. And so I give thanks for God’s abundant grace, for the divine love that keeps loving, no matter what, for the Light that keeps overcoming the darkness, for the spring that always replaces winter, every time. I pray that, like the dawn that burst forth in my life last week, God may bring light into your darkness. May this time of Lent and Easter also be a time of little deaths being conquered by Life through the abundance of a surprising and gracious God.

 

 

Fear Not

“Do not, fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1b-2

 I’ve been thinking about fear a lot lately. The life circumstance that has brought this about doesn’t need to be shared in order for most of my readers to relate. I don’t know very many people who don’t experience fear, sometimes mild, sometimes paralyzing, sometimes for their own safety, but I think more often for the safety and well-being of loved ones. I am much less likely to be tied in knots by my own problems than I am by the difficulties in the lives of my spouse, children, grandson, friends and extended family. The dilemma lies in the scriptural admonition to “Fear not!” As believers, our faith is supposed to cast out fear. According to an internet source, there are 116 verses in the Bible that tell us not to be afraid. But if you count passages that don’t use the words “fear” or “afraid” while conveying the same basic message, the number rises to 365, one reference for every day of the year. And apparently, we need it!

 When we are afraid, our brains seem to go into overdrive, running through all the possible outcomes of the fearful situation, processing the “what-ifs” until we are about to go mad! And every imagined scenario cranks up our anxiety and fear a little more and a little more, eventually turning our bodies into a quivering mass of tight muscles, tension headaches and upset stomachs. The Bible promises a peace that passes all understanding, but we don’t know how to get there. How do we claim the promises of the Bible like the one above when we know that we live in a world where bad things DO happen to good people?Golden eagle

 In a recent conversation with my spiritual director, she told me that I needed to radically trust God, letting go and giving the situation to God multiple times a day if that’s what it took. So I tried that, and it worked to a certain extent. The problem was, every time I let it go, I took it right back a few minutes later. At least I was getting practice! Another thing that helped was remembering all the times when fearful situations in my life were transformed by a surprising outcome, something unpredictable and completely of God.

 Then, during my devotional time one morning, out of the blue I got the urge to lie on the floor in a yoga position that opens the chest and heart. As I breathed into this position, the idea came to compose a breath prayer. What immediately entered my mind was “God of light and peace, be by our side.” And so I prayed, over and over, letting my body open up to the presence of God and God’s promise. Gradually, peace washed over me and replaced the racing thoughts in my head with a quiet confidence that God would indeed be with our family and that all would be well. Not that it wouldn’t be a rough road, for the Isaiah passage doesn’t promise that, but, as Paul writes, “all things work together for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28, NRSV)

 Later that day, I saw a golden eagle fly down and alight in the field behind our house. In over three years living in this valley, this was only the second golden eagle I had seen. As I watched, it took off again, its beautiful golden brown wings and unmistakable silhouette captivating to see. It flew to a nearby tree where it stayed for nearly half an hour. As time went on, I began to believe this was a divine visitor. Remembering a friend who is interested in Native American power animals, I decided to look up the eagle’s meaning on the internet. My feeling was confirmed by what I read there: the eagle signifies divine presence and connection to the Creator.

 What I learned from this experience may be helpful to others who find themselves consumed by fear. First, pray. Not the kind of prayer that is full of words and pleas for God to make the bad things go away, but a prayer of opening, offering oneself up to God and quieting the mind so that God has room to speak. And then wait. Wait for the promise that God will be faithful to give, a promise of presence and peace. God’s message to you won’t necessarily come in the form of an eagle, but it will come if you are patient and paying attention. May God’s grace and abundant love be evident in your lives today and every day.  Fear not.

 

Underneath it All

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that the annual Christmas ad campaigns have begun in earnest. My husband and I record a lot of our shows so that we can fast forward past all the commercials, but football games are the exception to the rule. On Sundays, I am forced to watch the glut of ads that are bloating the airways with their claims of “New! More! Bigger! Better! Faster!” These ads are bright and sparkly invitations into a fantasy world where finding a luxury car with a huge bow on top parked in your driveway on Christmas morning is not only possible but deserved. Ad-makers promise a Wonderland of all the things they believe will make our holidays merry and bright, while actually emptying them of any deeper meaning. In fact, that’s the one thing these ads don’t promise—“deeper.”

The season of Advent is approaching and along with it the challenge for people of faith to find a depth of meaning while still tending to all of the tasks that sustain our Christmas traditions and bring joy to our families—shopping, baking, sending greetings to loved ones far and wide, participating in holiday festivities, the works. But just like shallow advertising, these activities can also drain our holidays of meaning if we let them.CIMG0034

I’m reminded of an experience I had years ago that might speak to this issue. My husband and I were in Tucson visiting our son at the University of Arizona and decided to go on an outing to Kartchner Caverns. The trip took us through the dry and barren hills of the Sonoran Desert, miles and miles of not much to look at other than tumbleweeds and cactus. As we approached the visitor center, it was more of the same. I was having a hard time imagining that anything beautiful could exist underneath this arid landscape. Then our tour guide led us toward a large metal doorway set into the base of a hill. This doorway opened into a tunnel that vacuumed the particles from our clothing and protected the cave’s temperature. At the far end of the tunnel was another air-locked door, which, when opened, was a lot like falling down the rabbit hole. We had entered into a wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites, glowing formations that resembled waterfalls, thrones, wavy bacon growing from the ceilings and even the Madonna. It was truly magical and awe-inspiring. I found myself entering into an attitude of prayer without forming an intention to do so. I was surrounded by Mystery. This was confirmed when the guide, a retired science teacher, pointed out some small formations that looked like coral growing outward from the cavern walls. “Most cave formations are caused by the dripping of water from the limestone ceilings. In other words, the main force working to create them is gravity. Yet these particular formations have tentacles that grow outward and upward. Scientists have no idea how this happens.” Mystery. Something that the most brilliant scientific minds could not explain.  It gave me goose bumps.

 

So what does this story have to do with Advent? Perhaps it is this. Beneath the barren surface of our society’s focus on a Christmas that is all about materialism and devoid of any deeper meaning, there is a door. Compared to the surrounding landscape, it’s not a very big door, and you really have to look for it. But when you enter it, you find what lies underneath it all, a chamber of mystery and wonder, the story of the Christ child, sent to bring light to darkness and love to all humankind. And once you’ve found it, there are portals everywhere, even in department stores and on busy city streets. You just have to go deeper. You can see beauty and mystery in the kindness of strangers, bell ringers on cold street corners, the shining faces around your holiday table, the hug of a child, the music on the wind singing comfort and joy. Every Christmas chore is transformed into a sacred task, the practice of sharing the light and love with everyone you meet. No longer does Christmas have to be about more, bigger and better, just about deeper. Find the door to the Mystery and enter in.

 

Grace in the Ashes

There is nothing quite like the sight of a helicopter parked in your back yard to catch your attention! Well, OK, it was in my neighbor’s field, but literally only a stone’s throw from our back fence. And smoke—that grabs your attention too! That was almost a month ago, on August 19th, when a forest fire sparked to life about a mile or so away from our house. Initially, this felt like it would just be an exciting break in my day and was not immediately alarming. I mean, the helicopter was really cool! It wasn’t until my Chicken Little husband came home and started throwing stuff into boxes that I realized this was going to have a direct impact on my life. And on our daughter’s wedding that was scheduled to take place in our back yard in less than two weeks!

Fire  (7) resized

Later that afternoon, a sheriff sauntered to our door with our Level 1 Evacuation Advisory that says, basically, “Hey, just letting you know there’s a fire in the area.” As if we hadn’t already figured that out by the helicopters and smoke jumpers we could see out our window. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that we got the Level 2 Evacuation Advisory, which is just a tad more urgent. It says, “HEY! There’s a fire in your area, and you need to pack your s*** and load your cars NOW in case you need to leave at a moment’s notice.” That’s when the adrenaline really kicked in! Adrenalin is a wonderful thing that allows people to accomplish an amazing amount of really hard work in a short period of time. The problem is that adrenalin wanes once the work is over and the waiting begins, leaving one exhausted and increasingly irritable. And stressed. That was one thing I learned from this ordeal, but fortunately, it’s not all I learned, nor was it even remotely the most important. So here are some of the other lessons I learned from the Eagle Fire of 2013.

We can never be grateful enough for the firefighters who put their lives on the line for us every time there is the tiniest spark or flame that puts people and their property in danger. Watching two hot shot crews use our neighbor’s field for a rallying point two days into the fire just made me feel so safe and warm and fuzzy. They are amazing people, and I want to hug them all.

I’m not as attached to my stuff as I thought I was. When you have to pack and load your vehicles with the things you hold nearest and dearest, you really learn what’s important and what’s not. So in went the pictures and computers and some treasured belongings of my deceased parents, but none of my books. We packed important papers, but I really didn’t care about the silver and china and jewelry. They all got put in the truck anyway, because we ended up with too much time to think about it, but I could have done without them. Nonetheless, our initial instincts were telling. We want to save our memories more than we want to save our stuff.

At times like these, you learn who your neighbors are. People came out of the woodwork to help us out. The phone rang off the hook with offers of a place to stay should we have to evacuate, storage space for vehicles or boxes, suggestions for alternate wedding sites if necessary. Many of these were from people in our church—wonderful, good-hearted and genuine people to whom I am extremely grateful. Other calls came from our actual neighbors wanting to come help us hose down the house and yard. Even friends from 4 hours away wondered if we needed a place to stay. All told, we could have stayed in at least 10 different homes from Leavenworth to Wenatchee to Spokane.

It turned out that we never did have to evacuate, but a friend up the road did, so we took her in along with her four-year-old son, Mychal, and two dogs to add to our own menagerie. Having Mychal around was a lot like mainlining caffeine, but he’s so smart and adorable, it was hard to be annoyed when he pushed the buttons on the phone for the umpteenth time. His mom also happens to be my hair stylist, so my pre-wedding hair color actually took place in my kitchen. This allowed me to stay relatively on-track with the wedding timeline while I tried to keep my distraught daughter calm during frequent phone calls.

Megan's wedding (135)

 So here’s the happy ending: the fire was declared 100% contained with four days to go before the wedding; the winds continued to favor us by blowing any remaining smoke in the opposite direction; and the big day dawned bright and clear. Friends pitched in big time to make it an event that we will cherish forever. The wedding was the fulfillment of a long story that includes hurt and loss, healing, patience, prayer, unexpected plot twists, love, transformation and finally joy. And it all comes down to this: no matter what life brings you, God’s grace is there, pressed down and overflowing more abundantly than we could ever imagine, a gift in the midst of every trial by fire, if only we pay attention. And are grateful. May God’s grace be present in your life this day and every day.

 

The Cheerleader and the Brain

High school. For most, it is a difficult time when we are consumed by our desire for belonging and identity among our peers and the often conflict-ridden struggle to separate and individuate from our parents and siblings. The halls of every high school are full of invisible lines that divide students from one another due to the stereotypes that are created to separate the in-crowd from the nerds, brains and druggies. Individuals are placed in boxes that are painful and frustrating, and the desire to escape the confines of categories is usually only satisfied by the diploma that allows new adults to move onward into college, the Armed Forces or the work force. Is it any wonder that graduates are reluctant to attend their class reunions?

I just attended my own 40-year reunion (a fact I am more than a little reluctant to share)! And I must confess that even though I have grown leaps and bounds in terms of self-esteem over the years, I did approach this event with a touch of anxiety. I was looking forward to seeing old friends, but I wasn’t sure how I would be received by the school “elite” who had largely ignored me during high school. Imagine my surprise when a number of home-town classmates approached me to express their condolences on the loss of my father this past spring. Somewhere along our paths to maturity and adulthood, it seemed, the boundaries had fallen away and been replaced by an understanding that life happens to all of us, the struggles and the joys, and that life is truly the great leveler.

One particular encounter brought this home to me and challenged me to look at my own biases in a new way. On Saturday afternoon, I went to a friend’s lake cabin to go kayaking. Another of her friends, a former cheerleader, was there as well. I was greeted warmly, and the three of us paddled off together down the lake. Our conversation ranged from news about other classmates to where life had taken us to light-hearted complaints about our husbands to matters of faith and politics. Like most relationships, there were times when we bumped into one another (literally!) and times when we rowed in unison, gliding across the lake in perfect harmony. It was a time out of time, as though we were in a bubble, cocooned apart from the world for a few hours. Over lunch, the talking continued—memories of our parents now gone, the challenges of family, the pain of strained relationships. I discovered that the cheerleader had father issues like mine that were now being replicated between her husband and daughter. And then she changed everything by confessing that her senior year was one of the most painful and isolating times of her life. One of the other popular girls had turned on her, because my friend had called her out on inappropriate behavior that was hurting another person. Other friends turned against her, unkind names were thrown like arrows, and she was left virtually friendless. Thankfully, there was one friend who stood by her and is still a blessing in her life.

Suddenly, I was face to face with my own reverse bias. I had perceived a bias on the part of the “popular” kids while ignoring my own negative bias towards them. I had believed them to be shallow, narcissistic and uncaring, but my friend put me to shame with her integrity despite negative consequences. She had suffered a great deal in order to stand up for what she believed in. I had also thought that the in-crowd led a charmed life, absent any of the angst the rest of us outsiders experienced. Clearly, I was wrong.

I have thought a lot about that experience in the past few days. I have become more aware than ever that labels harm us all in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend. In a polarized society where labels are the primary weapon, we become more and more hopelessly divided. When the lines are so tightly drawn between left and right or conservative and liberal, how can we even begin to have the kinds of conversations that might heal our relationships, our nation and our churches? Until we are ready to let go of our own judgments, we will not be open to hearing what those who are different from us have to say. I am reminded of Paul’s statement to the churches in Galatia who were experiencing a bitter dispute, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” To paraphrase, there is neither jock nor geek, brain nor Goth, Republican nor Democrat, Muslim nor Christian, for we are all one in the God of creation who loves us all. God calls for us to erase all harmful division and remember that our primary belonging is found in our universal humanity. And as old labels fall away, just as my experience with my classmate has planted seeds of a growing friendship, I pray that others might experience the blessing of new relationships that lead to greater unity and understanding. May it be so.

 

Lake Thomas

Lake Thomas

Sacred Spaces

A couple of weeks ago, exhausted and numb from four months of non-stop activity and emotional upheaval, I finally carved out some space in my calendar to drive to a local lake and just sit. And breathe. It was a beautiful day, the sun shimmering on the water, the mountains still showing patches of snow on their greening flanks. From the moment I sat down, I felt the tension leaving my body, making space for an awakened sense of the holy. It seemed appropriate to take off my shoes and dig my feet into the warm sand. A toddler whose family was picnicking nearby had done the same and was trundling across the beach with no apparent destination. The walking was its own reward. I smiled, because my sitting was also its own reward.

After a couple hours of blessed aimlessness, I picked up the book I had brought with me, John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara. I had only read a few paragraphs when a sentence jumped off the page and stopped me in my tracks. “It is interesting that in Hebrew one of the original words for salvation is also the word for space.” Wow! Space and salvation are the same thing??? The truth of it smacked me right upside the head.

Breathing space at Lake Wenatchee

Breathing space at Lake Wenatchee

Hadn’t I already been discovering the salvation of space for the last two hours? In fact, hadn’t I always known it?

I have been pondering and writing about the concept of soul space for several years after being confronted by my penchant for such extreme busyness that it ultimately prevented me from occupying my own soul. I believe there is much to discover about the significance of spaces in our lives and what we can learn from them and in them. Soul space is the counterpoint to life, the being to our doing, the silence to noise, the stillness to activity. It is the place where unseen things dwell, the place where the music of life resonates and echoes in the soul. It is within these spaces that we find communion, peace, wisdom, insight, surrender, rest, awakening and yes, even salvation. When we live into these spaces, they give rise to divinely inspired action. We are able to act in tune with the Holy Spirit, because we have time to listen.

In creation, spaces gives shape to whatever surrounds them. In human terms, spaces give shape to our hopes and dreams, to our values and to our selves. It is in the spaces of life that we find true self, something which is often elusive in the mindless rush of daily living. Spaces are the keyhole to heaven, the means to unlock a doorway between this world and the next, liminal space in which we open ourselves to the presence of God and are allowed to touch the holy mystery. As we open our lives to times and places where soul space is possible, it enables us to be restored in body and soul, so that we may joyfully love and serve God and others with our whole hearts.

I put the book down, remembering a line from the Book of Common Prayer, “O God of peace, You have taught us that in returning and rest, we shall be saved…” I turned my face to the sun and felt the warmth of salvation drenching my soul.

 

My father looked up at me from his hospital bed, eyes glazed and feverish. “Is this my deathbed?” he asked. Even though my thoughts echoed his, it pained me to hear him say it out loud. It was New Year’s Eve, and the double whammy of congestive heart failure and pneumonia had brought him to this point. Yet nearly two months down the road, a recurrence of pneumonia and at least two strokes later, he is surprisingly still with us, his tenacious grasp on life holding him back from the brink.Dad's 95th (1)

The days and weeks in between have been filled with long drives to visit him and hours and hours on the phone with siblings, medical staff, administrators, service providers, and on and on. Ten days ago, we were finally able to transport my father from his small town in northeast Washington to a convalescent center 15 miles from my house. Now the phone calls have been replaced by daily visits to sit at his bedside and consult with his nurses.

None of this has left much time for a spiritual life. Ash Wednesday came and went without me noticing, much less formulating an idea about Lenten discipline. When I expressed my regret about this to my spiritual director last week, she said, “Sue, caring for your dad IS your Lenten practice!” The moment the words left her mouth, I knew she was right. Even in the midst of the mind-numbing exhaustion, I had been aware of the sacredness of this journey with my father. Simple tasks like massaging his feet, feeding him or fluffing his pillows seemed imbued with a sense of the holy.

Suddenly, giving up chocolate or spending less time on Facebook felt so inconsequential when compared with walking a road that runs parallel to the Via Dolorosa. Certainly my prayers had become Gethsemane prayers. “God, I’m dreading the loss of my father, yet not my will but yours be done.” And thanks to the death and resurrection of our Lord, I did know that my father’s death would not be the final word. Indeed, death would be the doorway through which Dad would enter a place of ultimate healing and peace. Gone would be the desperate yearning for belonging, the deep need to be special and admired. I also knew my mother would meet him at the threshold and escort him into Divine Union with the One whose Perfect Love fulfills every longing.

And so, as I watch the light fade from my father’s eyes and hear his breath weaken within him, I remain present to him and to Christ who strengthens me, even as we all draw ever nearer to Jerusalem. I know that I am blessed to carry this cross, and I pray that your Lenten season will be blessed as well. And so, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way to sing to my father.

 

 

A New Annunciation

            As sometimes happens, life has been particularly messy lately.  The physical decline of my aging father, family squabbles, unexpected expenses and the sudden lay-off of a friend who was already living on the edge all contribute to my sense of dis-ease.  One of the harsh realities of life is that one can be tripping happily along one moment and have everything turned upside-down the next.

            Perhaps no one knows this better than Mary, the mother of our Lord.  One moment, Mary is a happy teenager, dreaming about the life she will share with her betrothed husband, Joseph.  The Bible doesn’t tell us what Mary was doing when the Annunciation took place, but I imagine that she was practicing her future last name or weaving linens for her hope chest.  Then Gabriel appeared, and suddenly those hopes and dreams were cast into grave jeopardy.

            Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid, but this crazy talk of a virgin birth is not exactly conducive to the absence of fear.  So much for the perfect wedding Mary had planned!  Joseph would surely send her packing for bringing such shame upon him.  And this pregnancy could put the unwed Mary in danger of stoning.  Life couldn’t get any messier than this!  Yet, in spite of the fear and apprehension, Mary decided to say, “Yes.”  She somehow found the faith to trust that a child conceived of the Holy Spirit and announced by an angel, would be nurtured in Love and protected from harm.

            Perhaps Mary knew that messiness is the petri dish for new life.  Birth itself is a messy and painful process, yet couples continue to choose the rocky road to parenthood knowing that the life to which they give birth will be worth the trouble.

            As I enter into this Advent season, I wonder what new life might come from my present state of messiness.  What seed might already be embedding itself into the womb of this current darkness?  We are continually called to engage with God in the co-creation of a new heaven and a new earth.  The journey to the Kingdom, just like the journey to Bethlehem, is never smooth, but the life we find at the end of it is worth the turbulent ride.  The angel Gabriel announces to us all, “Don’t be frightened, for God has decided to bless you!” (Luke 1:30, NLT)  May we, with the trust of Mary, respond, “May it be with me according to your will.”  And may you find and nurture the new life that God has planted within your soul this Christmastide.

Light shines in the darkness.

Firestorm!

I took my dog for a walk this morning. It was one of those beautiful autumn mornings when the fields are awash with golden light and the chill in the air awakens your senses. We sauntered along, not hurrying, so that Maggie could sniff all the intriguing scents that greeted her—evidence of the deer, bears, and coyotes who share this patch of earth we call home. I scrunched through the growing piles of pine needles and breathed in their tangy aroma. We startled up several birds from the roadside underbrush, and they flitted on ahead of us like a reverse wake that marked our passing. The air was hazy with smoke from nearby wildfires which were started by a mostly dry thunderstorm almost a month ago.

These wildfires have been big news, inducing much fear for those who live close to the encroaching flames. I ponder the dread that seems to be aroused in us humans at the threat of fire. Just like the residents of Tornado Alley or the Gulf states, who live in fear of destruction from tornados and hurricanes, we denizens of forested mountains fear the onslaught of the flames. Wildfire is seen as our enemy, a threat to our homes, communities and our beautiful habitat.

As with most things, humanity fears that which it cannot control, but in some ways, we have also become egocentric. We expect the created world to bend to our will and to limit its more destructive processes to the remote places where we will not be inconvenienced by their action. We forget that we are the interlopers, relative newcomers in the long march of earth time. We forget that the earth developed ways for healing itself long before our first ancestors were raised up out of the primordial ooze. We conveniently repress our knowledge that fire is a healer, a purgative, and a catalyst for new growth.

Periodically throughout the ages, fire has scoured the forests so that they might renew themselves. After years of carefully protecting the redwood forests from fire, forest rangers became alarmed at the lack of new seedlings that could continue to populate these rare and majestic trees. Then there came a fire which could not be controlled and burned fiercely through a section of the sequoias. Shortly thereafter, rangers noticed a proliferation of seedlings growing up to replenish the forest. Research revealed that sequoia cones will only release their seeds when a specific temperature is reached, a temperature that only fire can accomplish.

All of this makes me wonder what might happen if we were to courageously unleash a spiritual wildfire in our lives. This sounds like a scary idea, and it is. It would require radical trust in the beloved Creator to masterfully guide the flames into those dark places where dense undergrowth chokes out new sprouts of growth, and too many old trees crowd together and block out the sun. We all are in need of a good purging at times. What might happen in your life if the fire of the Spirit scoured away all the busyness, unhealthy habits, and toxic emotions that smother the possibility of new growth. What are the old, dying trees that need to go? And what seeds are awaiting the burning heat that will stimulate germination? Perhaps it is time to embrace the holy fire and let it burn.

 

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to spend two days with some dear soul sisters of mine, a foursome affectionately dubbed the Juicy Crones. We had rented a cozy cabin in the woods near Mt. Hood, a place that holds an almost mystic significance for me, as it was the place my parents first met and wooed one another. When my friends heard this, they immediately determined that we needed to make a pilgrimage to Timberline Lodge where this momentous event in my life had occurred. I had never been there before, so it seemed like a great opportunity to see a slice of family history firsthand. And off we went!

Timberline Lodge

Upon arrival, I was immediately captivated by the view, a stunning panorama of undulating green hills and mountains dominated by Mt. Jefferson off in the distance.  Even more breathtaking was the massive bulk of Mt. Hood rising up immediately behind the lodge.  But as soon as I caught a glimpse Timberline Lodge, I felt drawn to it, as if by some unseen force – drawn to its imposing stone entrance, drawn up the twin staircases to a stone patio outside the second floor entrance, drawn into the heart of the lobby where a massive fireplace pulled my eyes up to the ceiling far above which was supported by huge cedar beams.  At some point, I realized that I had begun to cry.  I had entered into a thin space where past and present met, and I was living into my own story, a story that began long before I was born.  I felt my late mother’s presence powerfully and imagined my parents walking these same floorboards and sitting on the chairs of a lounge that looked out to the mountain looming above.  I could hear both the music emitting from discreetly hidden speakers as well as the music of yesteryear.  Among the contemporary visitors wandering the large central room, I could see the ghosts of a bygone age, dancing and laughing as they swirled around me.  I felt rooted in something deep and real, a connection to my history, to the parents who made me who I am.

In the same way that my personal story began long before I was born, our spiritual story began long before we consciously entered into relationship with the Divine.  In Psalm 139, we are told that God knit us together in our mother’s wombs, that God knew us before we ever came to be.  This story is one of loving and personal relationship, but it is also a story of a people seeking to find their way to God.  I believe that when we embed ourselves in this recognition of the macro story of who we are as God’s children, we enter into a thin space where past and present merge and give us a sense of deep belonging, a connectedness with a story that is greater than ourselves.  Timberline Lodge was the thin space for my personal family history, and I believe that worship and spiritual practice can be the thin space for believers who seek to remember who they are, reconnect with their heritage and live into the story that draws us ever closer to the Divine narrator of that story.

Despite an almost universal longing to delve into our spiritual roots, time for things like Sunday worship and regular prayer and spiritual practice is hard to find.  It is so easy to succumb to today’s culture of busy-ness, to put spiritual matters on the back burner and tell yourself, “I’ll get to church next week” or “Maybe I can pray while I’m stopped in rush hour traffic!”  Then there’s the oft-quoted, “I can worship God just as deeply in the woods as I could in church.”  I’ve probably expressed that thought myself from time to time, and it’s certainly true that God often seems closer when we are immersed in the beauty of God’s creation.  However, that should not be the total extent of our communion with God.  Since humankind’s earliest beginning, we are a people hard-wired to live in community.  My experience at Timberline Lodge was made deeper by the presence of my soul sisters.  Faith communities not only enrich our lives, they ask something of us in return.  Faith without community can easily become a self-serving head trip that separates us from a deep connection to the story of who we are and where we’ve been as a people.

 

Mt. Hood

The history of spiritual struggle has something relevant to say to those of us who are seeking to make our way through these troubled times.  We don’t have to go it alone with our self-doubts and our questions about God and the spiritual journey.  We have companions along the way, both from the stories of the past and the seekers who share the path with us today.  They are all around us, weaving in and out in a mystical dance between the past and present.  By attending worship, engaging in prayer practices, or journeying with a spiritual director, you can become more aware of the thin places where you can connect with an epic story of what was and is and shall be.  You are part of a story that is unfolding still and that leads to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.  Hear the music.  Join the dance.