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The Kind of Bucket Worth Filling: A Divine Recalibration

In my youth I had a long list of the things I wanted to “do” someday: build a log home in Alaska, climb China’s Great Wall, explore the Roman Coliseum, watch Wimbledon from center court eating strawberries and cream, and complete a host of nature-conquering escapades. I most especially wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, hike in New Zealand and Scotland and the Pacific Northwest, kayak the wild rivers of Wales, visit every US National Park, trace the ghost of John Muir in the Sierras and recreate the sailing adventures of the Swallows and Amazons in northern England. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallows_and_Amazons

Today we would call this a bucket list-making plans to “do” things before we die (as in kicking the bucket). Creating such dreams takes little energy, and I think we each have a natural longing to “do” and “see” as much as possible in our short lives, particularly now that global travel is so easily accomplished.

There’s an inbred alter ego that lifts us out of everyday humdrum life with fir-scented visions of creation’s beautiful, seductive allure.

Some people so over-romanticize their bucket list that the end (checking it off the list) is more fulfilling than the process (actually doing the activity). I have seen people race up to the sign outside a national park, snap a picture next to it, then turn around and drive away without even entering the park. Taking pride in having the deepest bucket but the shallowest mind is an ugly thing.

Lately, I have been doing a great deal of thinking about the folly of the bucket list.

True, in retirement we have visited several national parks and seen things we’d always hoped to see. But life has also narrowed for us, as naturally happens with aging. The parameters of the list have been newly dictated by life’s interruptions: our only child moved to France, our aging parents sorely needed us, the family home required maintenance and stewardship, and visits to the doctor became more frequent.

I do not resent the smaller bucket.

Moreover, I am thinking of remaking the bucket list altogether. It is a divine recalibration of sorts. I am no less adventurous (though Covid did do a gut-check on me), but my goals seem to be changing. Now it is less about the glory of doing and seeing, and more about the humble delight of being. Sunrises are stunning. Noontime is energizing. But the

sunset of life calls me to a quieter, more contemplative mindset, with a silent nod to the deep need to be present and prayerful.

In the Bible Peter encourages us to make every effort to add a 7-fold list of character qualities to our living, each built upon its predecessor like a great crescendo (2Pet1:5-8). He tells us that to possess these qualities in increasing measure will keep us from being unproductive in a life of faith. Goodness-right living and thinking; add to that knowledge-stay informed, and develop a deeper knowledge of who God is; add to that self-control-expunge petty selfishness and self-glorification; add to that perseverance-the patience of waiting on God’s timing for everything; add to that godliness-wise and moral thinking, speaking and devotion; add to that mutual affection-truly loving without judgment and fostering a kind and benevolent outlook; add to that love-the deep delight of living out the two greatest commandments to love the Lord God and to love your neighbor. I wrote earlier about the later years being an ascent toward heaven. https://jpraywalton.com/2022/10/25/the-advent-of-aging/

Practice this music of Peter’s teaching, and your life will awaken to the very kind of bucket that is worth filling.

Thank you for reading,

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

jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com

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

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The Bear who wasn’t Sleepy

We live in lower Michigan not too far south of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. https://www.nps.gov/slbe/index.htm The Sleeping Bear is a 400’ silken sand dune famous for its shimmering white presence in the afternoon sun and glorious lake views of the two Manitou Islands. People love to run down it to Lake Michigan. The climb back up-not so much.  Anishinaabe (Ottawa/Ojibwe) legend has it that a mother bear and her two cubs fled a great famine in Wisconsin by swimming across Lake Michigan. When Mother Bear reached shore, she turned to watch her cubs founder and drown in the waves. The great dune marks the Mother Bear’s place of vigil, and each cub one of the Manitou Islands.   https://www.nps.gov/slbe/learn/kidsyouth/the-story-of-sleeping-bear.htm

And Mother Bear sleeps on. As a child here, the legend did not much resonate with me because we never had any bears in our forests. That has changed in the last several years. Mamas, cubs, and boars are now routinely spotted, and their tracks are common. Here in the northwest tip of the county, we’ve had a large boar by the name of Buttons roaming from cottage to cottage for about four years. Buttons is, most definitely NOT a sleeping bear. Around here, we like to joke about the bear who isn’t sleepy! He has a regular site visit schedule, meandering from bird feeder to bird feeder, from trash can to trash can. He may be upwards of 400 pounds. Just last month he tore through the screen on our cousins’ porch trying to get at a trash bag.

A bear that doesn’t hibernate? Is that normal? Doesn’t it go against what bears are supposed to do?  Our friend Alan, a retired DNR game warden says that hibernation is less a deep sleep than a nap, and that “boars, in particular, are not powered by the maternal instincts that drive pregnant sows to ground, often resisting slumber as long as there is ample forage- an unprotected garbage bag rings a bigtime dinner bell in a bear’s little brain. So does a well-stocked bird feeder that is within reach.”  https://summerassembly.org/stories

Still, I find myself ruminating on what makes anyone go against their better instincts. Why do we go against our own nature sometimes to take risks, to do something totally out of character, to fly in the face of everything that’s been done before?

In my late thirties I left a good, fulfilling, and secure job to accept a temporary two-year post as a college professor. People thought I had lost my mind. But for me, there was an inner nudge, a very small, still voice saying, “Go ahead and try it out-you will like it!” And I never looked back, having jumped impulsively with both feet into an unsecure and unsure situation. I was the bear who refused to sleep.

Now, sometimes we need the respite and the dormancy. We need to give ourselves permission to enter a temporary torpor that we might recover from a particularly stressful season in life. The pandemic was a hibernation of sorts, where entire populations joined the turtle, frog, skunk, and groundhog in a metaphorical winter of forced inactivity. But now, maybe it’s time to rise up, snuffle around for some goodies, and get busy not sleeping-more like the energetic chickadee and the lumbering Buttons the bear than the sleeping bees and bats. Happy lumbering!

Thanks for reading along! If you click on the BLUE FOLLOW button (top and bottom of site) you will automatically receive blog posts by email. I truly wish for my writing to be easily and freely accessible for any who can use the encouragement. 

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

Send me a note at jpraywalton.writing.com

Buttons the bear
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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

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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