beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Hope, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Silence, Sounds, The sounds of nature, The still small voice of God, When God speaks, Winter Water Sports

A Rare and Precious Nothing

It is unusually still at the bluff this morning, as if the trees and waves are playing Red Light-Green Light, stuck in a frozen, statuesque posture. We had a similar day last week after a powdery snow. Walking up the wooded section of dune through the stilled maple , oak and hemlock, we stopped to listen. And other than the blood pulsing past my ears, there was complete silence. No cars on the distant highway. Not a whisper of breeze in the tree boughs. No timid chips from a bird. No jet skis ripping up the day on the water below. 

A rare and precious nothing.

Our regular lives are noisy. So many things clamor and clang for our attention that we thrust our earbuds in deep in a futile attempt to choose our own noise. We are so accustomed to the noise that real silence is often uncomfortable. And yet, Scripture tells us that God often speaks into silence. If you can believe that, then a life without silence might be one that thrusts God aside, forgoing his presence and wisdom.

Out in the silent snowy forest, I began to think about the times nature is silent. The noise is there, but it is tiny, inaudible to us. I think of mama mouse in her cozy nest of mewing pups. Of the mole busily tunneling beneath my feet. The turtle suspended in the pond with just its nostrils showing. The pinecone and milkweed pod splitting open to disperse seed. The stars making their way across the night sky. The blink of eyes watching silently for a meal; the bobcat and the sharp shinned hawk, the owl and the snake-each patiently, moodily, warily silent.

All of nature speaks without words in a lyrical, melodic fashion with an unuttered language our plodding words cannot describe or comprehend. The rose, for example, nods silently; its sound is beauty and fragrance and silkiness. We know that the trees communicate, yet we hear nothing.

It’s said silence is golden. So why is it so hard for us to be silent? Why must our own thoughts and endless chatter fill the void? In my teaching I was fond of throwing out questions that required thought, massage, analysis, and synthesis. It took a while for students to learn that those would end up being the same questions on an exam. Students were so busy sounding out answers, waving their hands in the air to put voice to the answer, that they never thought to write down the question in their notes. And I refrained from rewarding the “bunny rabbit” responders, because they wanted to answer without the harder work of deep thought in silent rumination. I would ask them to think a little longer. To sit in the quiet with a quieted mind. To marinate on the question. That was where the learning would take place.

We can all learn from the quiet. The questions are where to find it and how to patiently sit in it? How to still the voices in our heads? How grasp the truth that God speaks into the silence?

My prayer for you today is to find a quiet spot where you can stop talking long enough to listen to the silence, blanketed in the comfort of a rare and precious nothing, for that is where you will learn the most about yourself, your world, and God.

Thanks you so very much for reading. My goal is to be hospitable to my readers, giving them ideas and words that delight and challenge. If you want, you can click on the blue FOLLOW button to receive blog posts in your email. Feel free to drop me a note at the email below.

~J.A.P. Walton, PhD

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

adventure, Aging, beauty, Blessings, childhood, Costa Rica, Creator, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Growing Up, Heaven, hiking, Home, Hope, joy, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Mountains, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Perseverence, Petoskey Stone, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Rainforest, Religion, River, Trails, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, Wales, wilderness, wind, wisdom

At Home in the Here and Not Yet

It has dawned a clear, crisp early November day at the Bluff following two days of gales on Lake Michigan. As I sit at my desk writing, Mark is out with his chainsaw helping saw up the neighbor’s fallen ash tree. The whipping wind pushed it right out by its roots.

There’s something doleful yet timeless about a tree’s newly exposed roots- it is death, and homelessness, and loss, and capitulation and rebirth all rolled into one.”

I have been thinking about home lately-all the places I have called home, making a new home here at the Bluff after pulling up our lives at Trout Creek by the roots, and all the years my heart was searching for a home when what it really needed was God himself.

Being at home is a sense, a feeling of being nurtured yet challenged, content yet ever searching, with a pillow for your head and loved ones within reach. I have been at home in hiking boots on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the rain forests of Costa Rica, and the stony paths of the French Alps. I once had a home in Wales for a semester, rope-climbing the steep cliffs that face the Irish Sea, and paddling the wild Welsh rivers. I have made my home in a flat in Paris, writing for a whole blessed month while my daughter was at work. I was at home for many years in my calling as a college professor, enjoying the gift that thousands of students unknowingly gave me to fill the emptiness of infertility.

Nowadays, having endured the moving of the house back from the bluff’s edge and reconstructing the entire lower level, we are finally settled into home at the Bluff. Since I was five years old, I knew I would live here someday. That is because it has always been the place I come back to; on this side of the river, this has always been my one true home. This is where I set down roots and made lifelong friends, clothed in the balm of nature’s call and care. Here, I am embedded in forest and dune, blissfully at home on the long, lonely stretches of beach with a cherished petoskey stone in my sandy pocket. Here is the delight of slowing down, of welcoming the unplanned coffee and conversation with a new friend, and of taking the time to read, and reread some timeless favorites.

We are one short step from heaven here, figuratively, and literally.

 I know full well that this home is as temporary as all the others.”

Even as I wait on God in prayer and obedience, he too waits for me to finish my upward climb to my last and forever home with him. On that day, that most glorious day, my physical body tumbled like a dead ash tree by the gales of age, my soul will be loosed to heaven, my new and forever home. I can’t know from this side of the river what that will be like, but I suspect the surprise outweighs the not-knowing.

Keep climbing-your home awaits.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Contact me at jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Accomodation, Advent, Affirmation, Aging, Autumn, beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Praise, Prayer, Seasons, Trees, vigil, Winter, wisdom

The Advent of Aging

The fall winds have picked up intensity here at the bluff, mercilessly stripping the bluff-top maples of their leaves. Although I welcome the changes autumn brings, I must steel myself against the knowledge that winter will be fast on fall’s heels. 

The nakedness of the maples always shocks me, and that jumpstarts a sort of nesting instinct. The to-do list is long. Wash and store the outdoor furniture and bird baths. Do a final weeding. Pull and compost the garden and plant the winter greens in the greenhouse. Ready the tiny milk jug “greenhouses” to plant the saved milkweed, butterfly bush, and black-eyed Susan seeds for overwintering. Get more firewood split and stacked and top off the propane tank. Fertilize the evergreens and blanket their hems in fresh mulch. Make applesauce and apple butter. Start up the soup pot. Get the outdoor Christmas lights up before the polar vortex takes its first frosty bite. Lay in the baking supplies-all that butter, and flour and sugar and cocoa that the holidays will demand. Waterproof the winter boots and get out hats and gloves. Re-dress the beds with flannel sheets.

I am, obviously, just a giant squirrel with lists.”

And the lists seems endless. Still, it is good to have things to do that anchor us in the present while preparing us for the future. But I must yet do the harder work- to see the coming of winter as a gift, the advent of salvation as the real hope that it is. 

How incongruous that the maples shed their clothing just as I reach for more; I cannot go naked into winter like they do.

And all this reminds me to hold fast to my hope in the future God has ordained. We watched our parents leave us. Dust to dust. God gave them first breath, and gently helped each one to take their last. Naked they came, and naked they left. We have had to wear our hope like a stole to fend off the snows of grief. 

It has always been human nature to understand aging as decline, as the loss of robust strength and youthful vigor. To see it as a descent into nothingness. My own entry into my elder years has me thinking much differently, much more hopefully. 

This aging is not a mournful descent but a peeling away of the things that keep us from God.”

It lightens our souls for the glorious ascent to heaven. God removes our health, our energy, our ability to will an outcome through sheer hard work to strip us bare in preparation for “next.”  

Aging is not descent but an advent. 

Entering our older years is the beginning of something mysterious. A victorious yielding of what was and what is to what will always be

May you find your own aging less about mourning what you lose, and more about an ascent that promises to be breathtakingly beautiful.

Thank you for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

jpraywalton.com

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Autumn, beauty, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, joy, Light, Nature, Pilgrimage, Praise, Religion, Seasons, sunrise, sunsets, Uncategorized, vigil, wisdom

The Light that Counts

I have been thinking a lot about the nature of light as autumn days descend into their routine darkness. Three years of grief, lament, and difficult decision-making have finally yielded to time, and my heart again swirls with light, and words, and reborn delight. It is like coming up for air after a long, deep dive. It is like coming out of shadows into soft, arms-wide-open light.

I have never liked to drive at night-especially on rainy nights. I am oversensitive to oncoming headlights, and I must rely heavily on the white lines on the pavement. Faded paint is my nemesis. Headlights cast a garish glare, a harsh light that overpowers. Pity the deer or driver confused yet mesmerized by the twin moons flashing by.

The world’s light can be blinding.”

As a student of the sunset, I find myself trying to find words for the varied nature of light and color at day’s end. Most times, the sun is simply too bright to peer at directly, so strong in fact it is dangerous. I often think of God as this kind of fascinating but dangerous light-one direct look and you’ll fry. After all, Moses could not look upon God and live. Light like that can kill. Still. Jesus is God, and we can look directly at him. 

Think of it this way. The setting sun presents a giant, fiery orb low to the horizon that burns its image into the eyes that watch it. But turn away from the spectacle and discover that all things the sun touches in its last minutes of the day are warmed and softened by the sun’s reflective glow. Not gaudy or brash, but luminous, suffused, burnished and aglow. The sun’s last rays are reflected and golden instead of white hot. Captivating. Lovely.

Jesus confused people when he taught that seeing him meant you had also seen the Father because no one had ever seen God. Until Jesus that is, a perfect and perfectly beautiful reflection of the Father, like a setting sun on a sandy shore or bank of trees. Perhaps that is why we have this marvelous Creation at our fingertips-that we might get a tiny glimpse of God’s light in the things and people around us.

God-given art and love.”

People who “die” but come back to life speak of a transfixing light that beckons irresistibly. It is a light you can trust. They describe it as a soft, white, shimmering, welcoming light aglow with an abiding sense of love and rightness. It is the same type of light I look for in this life because light is part of God’s very essence. Now, when THAT light shines on our secrets and shame, it is fearsome. But, Jesus said, “I AM the light of the world.” He was, and is, and always will be the light of God that overcomes the darkness of all that is lost, broken, sad, and sinful. He reflects God’s great love and mercy to us as that resplendent, radiating, captivating light that says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”  May the light that counts shine in your life today.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Blessings, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Hardiness, Home, joy, Lake Michigan, Life's Storms, Peace, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Seasons, Silence, wisdom

Picking up the Pen

Dear Readers,

The desk is cleared. I am ready to write again. My prayer is that you will be willing to read along once more after this very long span of silence.

What do you do with silence?

There is so little quiet in our easily-agitated lives. And though my writing voice has been silent, my life most assuredly has not, so I relish the thought of sitting quietly at this desk. 

Why have I not been writing? That would take a long answer over a deep cup of tea, extra sugar. A short version would be a chronological list: 

  1. Mom died (late 2019)
  2. I settled her estate
  3. We inherited the family home on the Lake Michigan bluff in northwest lower Michigan
  4. Covid and its severe restrictions in Michigan created a literal standstill
  5. We sold our Trout Creek home, and moved ourselves to the Bluff in a pandemic 
  6. A one-time bluff cave-in of 20-25 feet, brought the bluff house to within 55 feet of the edge in a high-water climate
  7. Prayer-lots and lots and LOTS despite the physical separation from our church of over 25 years 
  8. We decided to keep the property and initiate moving the entire house back 110’ to the rear of the lot
  9. Built a barn to hold house contents during move 
  10. Remodeled the kitchen 
  11. First Christmas at the Bluff 
  12. Removed and stored everything from ground floor then demolished the entire lower level of the house ourselves (friends and family helped) 
  13. Removed 50 trees (a very tearful day to lose our little forest)
  14. Found somewhere to live for 8 months (thanks family and RV!); moved out (homeless)
  15. Moved the house (see photo) 
  16. Daughter Molly, our only child, was diagnosed in France with a blood clot in her brain (let’s talk sometime about how you can be calm and in a panic simultaneously); (clot still there, but she is better)
  17. Re-built the ground floor walkout side before winter
  18. Moved back in (spring ’22)
  19. Remediated the entire lot with new native planting and 24 trees (in a drought)
  20. Rebuilt the lakeside deck
  21. Celebrated with a spur-of-the-moment Happy Hour on the new deck with 40 friends, family
  22. Settled in (this has been nothing short of lovely over the summer)
  23. Molly and Stéphane visited in August and were engaged to be married
  24. Today: the house is nearly finished. At 82, our contractor moves slowly, so the back deck off the kitchen may have to wait until 2023. We also await EGLE ‘s (Michigan DEQ) sign-off on our permit. 
  25. God and Mark have gently nudged me to start writing again. So, I have joined Redbud Writers Guild, a diverse group of women who write about faith in community and culture (link) I am hoping it will help me be accountable to regular postings!
  26. SO! Time to write!

I will be setting down to write some of the pent-up things that have been swirling in my heart and mind, and

I invite you to come alongside and share with friends.

Some will be written here at the beautiful and flourishing bluff space-to which you are all invited for respite. Some from an RV trip to the southwest in search of sun. Some from writer’s retreats. Some from trips to France. No matter what, I hope to present you with heart-and-mind-filled pieces that bring God close, that describe his revelation in and to our world, that provide words of both comfort and challenge, and help create in you a refreshed desire to look for him in your daily life and relationships. 

May it be a blessing to you as you stand on this side of the river.

~J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

Feel free to email me directly at my email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

Find me on Instagram: jpraywalton_writing

Find me on Facebook: I will create an author page on my regular Facebook page under Julie Pray Walton