December 28, 2009
December 6, 2009
I love the above John O'Donohue quote that reminds us that beauty is often found in the things we avoid. No one chooses to suffer. No one wants to walk into something that is seemingly "unbeautiful" and painful. But when we find ourselves in a situation that seems to be a struggle, we need to surrender to it and let it run its course in us and use the experience as a teacher. Then our surrounding darkness can be infused with a bit of light, which translates into beauty, and we can watch it transform us.
October 22, 2009
September 22, 2009
It had been at the end of a particularly emotional week for me when I came upon this heart, which is part of the natural coloration of the old cedar tree. I was surprised to have never noticed it before, because I pass it very often. Just as the saying goes: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," the heart appeared in my field of vision when it was the right time to hear its message. It illuminated my path when I was feeling concerned about some life situations. It sent the clear message that "All is as it should be" and that God is always mindful of me. I felt that even though my day had started out with a general sense of loneliness and lack of clarity, I am never alone . . . ever. Reflecting on the world of spirit, I began to remind myself of the invisible world that is always working and weaving in my life: the Holy Spirit and angels, all working to remind me Whose I am. And I'm constantly thankful for the natural-world illuminations, such as hearts in nature, to direct my thoughts to a higher place.
I also noticed the significance of the fact that my "found" heart was on a tree, a cedar tree in particular. In Native American traditions, the cedar tree was thought to have strong protection and cleansing properties for people. Also, the cedar is a tough survivor, withstanding less-than-perfect environmental conditions; therefore it can teach us to anchor ourselves onto a secure foundation and reach not only toward the foundation (which for the tree would be the ground), but to move up, stretching to new heights. A wonderful contrast of darkness and light. This darkness is not the sort to be wary of. The tree does amazing things under the surface of the earth. In the darkness of the soil, it creates, receives nourishment, and prepares to enter it's journey upward. Through these silent roots, so much is taking place in the darkness of creation. Through this dark silence, the roots navigate instinctively, running as long and deep as the tree will need for support. Growth is slow, but steady. To much growth above the surface, and the tree will not be properly supported. Too many roots and not enough action above ground never allows the tree to reach its potential, denying the animals and humans it's canopy, fruit, nuts, beauty, and wood. The ecosystem benefits when a tree has a harmonious balance of darkness and light, silence and growth. They are essential for the success and growth of the tree.
Light and darkness. A wonderful contrast because they actually work together to create life. So when I'm experiencing my "dark" days, I can now understand that they will be perfectly balanced with light-filled ones in which I will come away from the dark circumstance closer to God and, just as important, closer to my true self.
July 10, 2009
The other rock, the gray one, has many large, deep holes. It's really interesting to look at structurally. And it makes me wonder what caused all those holes millions of years ago. Rocks really are ancient masterpieces and windows to the past because so much history can be revealed by the study of their composition. Rocks are timeless, really, because they carry a bit of all time within their makeup.
When I saw the large, gray rock, I had a feeling that my half heart-shaped rock just might complete some visual picture of completeness for me if I worked with it a little. And almost effortlessly, I joined the two, creating what you see above . . . a picture of wholeness. The craggy, orange rock was released from its broken, unfulfilled state and realized its heart potential by joining with another seemingly broken, gaping rock. I think the match is beautiful, actually, even though the textures, colors, and ancient journey of the two rocks couldn't be more different.
Kind of reminds me of how God uses His people to heal one another. We all come from different backgrounds and have different wounds within us (represented by the craggy and gaping rocks). He is still the orchestrator of the restoration, but by people interacting with each other, sharing their brokenness and uniting on this journey, we can find moments of beauty and wholeness . . . even if it's not perfect beauty or perfect wholeness, which will only be found when we move on to the new earth that awaits. So, the imperfect union of our souls suffices, as I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come.
June 16, 2009
I learned that nest building is instinctive; birds cannot not complete the task. They rest when their hard-wired building impulses have been satiated through completing the task. Birds even instinctively know what building materials to use: mud, spider webs, caterpillar silk, leaf mold, plant fibers, and saliva, which are then intertwined with twigs, leaves, grass, and/or straw. Hundreds of trips are made from their building site to various places to gather all of the supplies needed. All done with a beak! . . . pretty resourceful, if you ask me.
I started wondering what instinctive behaviors I have, besides the basic ones: survival, sleeping, eating, language acquisition, sense of right/wrong, and so on. I wanted to think outside the structured scientific definition of "instinct" and look at what is unique to me. What instincts do I have (even though scientifically they might not really be instincts)? What is hard-wired into my being that I try to fight or deny as being a part of me? Well, an obvious one is the creative flow. I'm hard-wired to unleash my creativity in various ways: writing, decorating, gardening, even parenting. Yet so often I lack the confidence to let the creative process flow. I stifle it. I think what I create isn't good enough. I undersell my natural skills to myself and others. Or I become envious of others' skills that are seemingly better than mine . . . creating the comparison game, which only paralyzes me from any creative action. Instinctively I know that being creative resonates with my being. But my human nature fights the process out of, well, I guess you'd call it insecurity. Or fear of failure. Or fear of not being good enough. But the birds don't play that mind game with their nest-building. They get up, perform their God-given instinctive duties, and get it done.
Even with my poor first attempts at something, I need to remember that those early efforts always lead to the next step. Thus the opposite is true as well: No steps lead nowhere. And that's not gonna work for me. Each attempt at the creative life builds momentum to propel more energy into the next project. And as a whole the constant movement is all a success. The failure only lies in the lack of movement. The "frozen moments" as I call them. Or "creative paralysis".
Again . . . nature always sends us such simple messages about how to achieve inner wellness. By the way, the momma bird in our yard went on to have two baby birds. One flew away with ease and dignity; the other bird took days and days and DAYS to get the whole flying/worm catching thing accomplished (it was quite a sad sight to see, actually). That poor momma bird was just as persistent with her (rather large at this point) baby as she was with building her nest. She tirelessly fed it worms and encouraged it to fly, only getting a weak attempt from her baby to try these things on its own. Hours and hours (believe me, I had nothing better to do than keep up with this, so I know) were spent following her "big" baby all over the yard, while it simply hopped everywhere, waiting to be fed. After five days there was triumph. The birds left the yard, and the circle of life continued: the baby bird finally succeeded in flying.
Just like that momma bird who stayed the course for her baby while it was developing its skills, God is here for us as we stumble through our weak attempts at accomplishing our life's mission. And then one day it clicks in us. We get it. We are confident enough to carry on with the instinctive skills for which we were created to use in this world. And help was always by our side . . . in the form of many things God chooses to use: people, angels, nature . . . . Just keep your heart open to the encouraging messages around you.
June 3, 2009
Focusing on the water element all morning while combing the creek for rocks brought all sorts of water symbolism to mind. For instance, water itself is a wonderful example of a transformer. It changes shape to fit the environment it is in. If water is in a well, it runs deep into the earth at the source. If it is poured into a container, it will take on the shape of that container. If it is allowed to flow and spread, then it will do so, as in a creek. This reminds me to be flexible in life, yielding and bending and adapting to the life situations that arise in which I often tighten up and fight against, not allowing things to just happen . . . not surrendering and trusting God to be in control of each moment.
If you stop to consider that our bodies are approximately 80% water, then each of us basically operates as a mini ocean, full of water, salt, and oxygen, with everything constantly flowing and and maintaining life within us. Without water, there is no life. Likewise, without Jesus, the Living Water, there is no life. Through God's promise of the Living Water He provides for us, which is Jesus, we have hope that we will always have life . . . eternal life. And we will be eternally restored.
For now, though, it is enough to simply be on this earth, with a dear friend, in a creek, collecting rocks, listening to the ocean-like sounds of the leaves rustling. And when the water from the creek starts to fill my boots after taking a step in an unexpectedly deep spot, I welcome the elemental feel on my skin as a reminder to allow myself to adapt to situations with ease and fluidity.
April 26, 2009
Jesus is often referred to as the Lily of the Valley for many symbolic reasons. But I'll share my favorite reasons why this flower links so closely to Him:
With their heads bowed toward the ground, Lily of the Valley blooms represent the humility that Christ modeled. I struggle so much with this, being very stubborn and strong-willed at times. I constantly remind myself that humility is not weakness but the highest form of inner strength. We can most effectively serve others when we put away our false pride and humble ourselves. I love one definition I found for humility: "the absence of vanity." That about says it for me.
Lily of the valley, I learned, is an extremely fruitful plant. One root can produce fifty bulbs! That's a lot of lily! Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He bears much fruit, and He glorified the Father by doing so. I am called to do the same. To bear fruit in His name by how I live my life and how I love others. This often produces a ripple effect in the world. As one good, humble deed often leads to other good deed by applying the "pay it forward" philosophy.
Another fact I learned about Lily of the Valley is that it exceeds other flowers in whiteness. This links to Jesus in His purity. In His lack of sin. And it's only by His purity that we are made clean and pure. I used to struggle with the teaching that we are truly made clean--white as snow--in God's eyes by His grace through Jesus. It's mind-boggling that anything so dirty could ever come clean again (although I've seen pressure washers do some good cleaning!). But I just have to come to grips with the fact that there are just some things that are true no matter how well I understand them. And becoming pure is one of those things.
Such wonderful symbolism from a little plant like Lily of the Valley. God always seems to get His message across in the simplest things and in the simplest of ways. He really doesn't work through layers of obscurity and confusion . . . He quietly plants His seed within us and lets the answers unfold through our experience of the world, but only if we care to notice. That's the key. Because it's always our choice to listen or not.
March 11, 2009
February 23, 2009
After I found my first brachiopod, I started seeing more deep in the woods--I only noticed them where I expected to find them. But one day I happened to look down at the edge of a gravel road and saw a whole brachiopod fossil among the chopped rock. I realized that I never would have expected to find one in such an "unnatural" environment. After all, gravel doesn't seem like anything natural or ancient. But it is . . . it comes from the broken-down, millions-of-years-old rocks. Even though we use it for our roads and such, its source is the same as any rock. And all rocks are VERY old.
This got me to thinking . . . again. Sometimes I gloss over things that are of value. I only expect to see valuable things in certain places, so I've trained my eye to NOT see the valuable things of life in the unexpected places. By living in this narrowly focused way, I miss out on so much beauty and joy and growth. I love the John O'Donohue quote: "Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore." Everything deserves a second glance, a gaze even. The gaze allows our hearts to open a little more and let something that is often times unnoticed get a second chance to shine, to share its truth. The gaze slows us down and allows us to connect to our world in a more intimate and connected way. If you look into someone's eye's long enough, for example, you can't help but feel connected to them in a way that makes words virtually powerless. Eyes connect . . . the gaze connects. It activates the heart and soul. If we really take the time to stop and look at something or someone, we will hear a message or learn something that is valuable to our life. God will use that moment of connection to speak. That small moment of the second look, the extended gaze, will hold much power and importance. Try it. I know you'll be amazed at what you really see and how your soul is touched.
Finding beautiful, ancient fossils in unexpected places also reminds me to never limit God. Don't expect to only find Him in the usual places: church, funeral homes, and such. God is everywhere. He is in the leaves that fall to the ground in autumn. He is in the nurse who comforts a patient with cancer. He is in the handicapped person who is longing for human contact. He is in the marriage that has become unraveled but is finally coming back together with humbling honesty and forgiveness. He is in the coffee shops of the cities among friends, who get together for a moment of confession. He is in our greatest achievements and our most disappointing failures. Gaze into the present moment and see where you find Him in any given situation. His presence will not disappoint. It's only we who disappoint ourselves by not letting the holy and divine reach into every moment.
January 23, 2009
LAO TZU (570-490 BC)
As I walk these paths, I am reminded of how the seasons mirror our spiritual and physical journey. Spiritually winter symbolizes stillness, silence, and often the experience of "the dark night of the soul." Physically it reminds me of the reality of earthly death and slow movement. Spiritually spring symbolizes renewal, answered prayers after a dark time of waiting, and hope. Physically spring shows me the reproductive nature of the flowers, plants, animals, and all of life. This rebirth fills me with increasing energy and hope for the days ahead. Spiritually summer can feel like God is right by my side, even though He never left. Faith is brought forth again within me, allowing me to get into the flow of my spiritual side. Physically summer represents energy, productivity, and movement. Spiritually fall calls me once more toward introspection as the energy slows down toward stillness once again after the harvest of my spiritual pursuits have been brought forth. Physically fall reminds me that everything in this physical world has a birth and death cycle, which can often bring much emotional as well as physical pain. And then on to winter again, to experience the dark night of the soul . . . stillness . . . and silence within.
The path we journey on represents a physical as well as spiritual voyage. All of humanity is walking this path together . . . alone. I love this contradiction! Together/alone. Together/alone. We all have an individual identity that separates us from one another, a purpose we are meant to fulfill in life, an ancient message we are trying to remember. But always know that we are part of a whole . . . united. Yes, we take our earthly voyage in seeming isolation because no one really knows the workings of our minds and souls. But by remembering that we are part of One Source, it allows us to pay attention to the people around us and see that we all have the same goal: becoming reunited with the One Source.
Often I get so narrowly focused by only looking at my path. The way it winds and straightens, taking me through all four physical and spiritual seasons. I need to be aware of my surroundings and do a 360, looking for others who might have stumbled off the path, or who are falling behind, or who are too weak to go on. Those people are there. Heck! I'm often there! If I become aware, I will see that I'm not all alone on this path, though often it's easy to have tunnel vision and let my sense of momentum keep me from looking around at who might need some attention.
God is in all of the "off the path" details. Some of His most miraculous works are done "off the path," wouldn't you agree? "Off the path" might look like sitting up all night with a friend who is detoxing; or confronting a business partner about his white-collar crime, offering to love him through his repentance; or providing a safe place for a child who you know lives in danger, possibly putting yourself in harms way while finding a solution to the problem. "Off the path" is not often found in church. It's in the most unexpected places. So be an open channel to let the work of God be done through you. You will thank God when a divine encounter comes along, filling you with a peace and a knowing that that person was sent to do His work . . . to help you on your path. It's all part of the cycle, the circle. We will all need help; therefore we all must give help.
Remember: The goal is not to get to somewhere on our path. The goal is the path.
"Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart.
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars.
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear.
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares."
Loreena McKennit "Dante's Prayer"<
January 6, 2009
The Bible mentions feet often throughout both the Old and New Testament. I did a search for feet on biblegateway.com and was surprised not only to find the disciples washing Jesus' feet (serving), but Satan being crushed under our feet by "the God of Peace" (empowering): "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." Romans 16:20. When I realize all that I am able to do through God's strength, I am so comforted. My strength alone is so frail. And if I ever think my strength alone is sufficient, I am painfully reminded of how human and unequipped I am to do battle on this journey.
I love Psalm 40:2: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." To me, this is a promise from God of redemption and salvation. The slimy pit represents my sin. He rescued me from that part of my life. He then takes hold of my feet and sets them on a rock, better known as Jesus, the Rock of my salvation. Jesus is the anchor where my feet will settle, without getting sprained, twisted, or snared. Notice that the word "stand" is used after Jesus has rescued us. The scripture says "a firm place to stand" (not sit). There is no shame in the rescue and redemption and former sin. There is only a God who is proud of my coming home to him, who wants me to stand tall in his love and grace.
And for that kind of love, I should gladly and eternally
FALL AT HIS FEET
in humble praise and thanks.