Affirmation, beauty, Blessings, Cancer, Creation, Darkness, death, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, Heaven, Home, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Storms, Trees, Uncategorized, vigil, wind, wisdom

Soldiering On

There is a dead calm in the trees today after a string of gusty days. The calmness amplifies animals’ movements; looking out just now, I can see a doe raise a front foot, then continue her slow browsing in the woods across Trout Creek.

Though a calm is often just a comma between storms, we should pay attention to it, because it invites introspection and watchfulness, a time heavy with anticipation like a maple leaf just waiting for the wind to ask it to dance.

I am at a point in life of watching and waiting. Watching sick loved ones cling to life, waiting for God to answer prayer. My eyes see misery clawing at hope. My pulse drones in my ears and pacifies the waiting like an undisturbed river flowing deep and sure.

Vigil is the gutsy response to life’s gusty times.

It is a posture of watching with loved ones, and waiting for an outcome while in the eye of the storm.  Every day I see adult children in their 60’s and 70’s visiting aged parents at the nursing home.  The visits are difficult-many residents can’t even remember their kids’ names-but the children soldier on out of respect, accepting the duty to honor the last days of a parent’s life. There is calm, and order, and rightness in the watching and waiting.

Vigil gives time for forgiveness and reconciliation, for sharing old memories, and for meditation on the way all of life soldiers on.

At the bluff, there is a lone cedar tree about 10 feet from the dune’s edge.  The dunes along this stretch of Lake Michigan have been unstable since the ice age created them, crumbling in the constant onslaught of waves and winds. The property my grandparents bought has lost 88 feet since the early 1960’s. This means that the cedar soldier was once deep in the forest at the back of the dune, playmates with the grand, towering beech, the stately ash, and the playful maple.  But, time has marched on with unstoppable force. The other trees succumbed to the storms of disease or the loggers’ saws. The dune continued to roll into the deeps.  So, now this cedar stands alone and bent, facing its inevitable demise with deep roots and grace in its vigil of watching and waiting. Each morning it greets the eastern sun and takes delight in the jays and cedar waxwings that haunt its branches, and the bald eagle who hunts from its crown. At night, it lifts its face westward, basking in the sun’s glow, a view it never had in its youth.

Today, my dad would have been 90 years old. But, like the ash and beech, disease took him before he could have a better view, a vigil cut short. Like the cedar, my mom stands at the edge, soldiering on through the indignities of Parkinson’s disease, in a vigil for glimpses of heaven.  Watching. Waiting. Praying.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, beauty, Blue Skies, Cancer, canoeing, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, Hope, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Rain, River, Storms, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness, Wilderness Paddling, worry

It’s Going to be All Right

The weather along Lake Michigan has been noticeably unsettled this summer, like a nervous groom before his wedding.  We are missing the long stretch of sunny days under high barometric pressure that bring such deep blue skies and the warm assurance that winter is still far away.

What we need is a really good storm.

Of course, the weather takes special watchfulness in paddling situations. You don’t want to be caught out on the water in wind and lightning when a big blow rises up. It’s one of the rules of paddling: to pay attention to the signs and barometer when heading out.

Once on a paddle on the Au Train River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we got caught in a late afternoon storm. The lightning was too intense to safely shelter under the big trees that leaned over the water. Paddling furiously back upstream, we returned to hunker down under a bridge we had passed earlier. The fury of the storm flashed and crashed all around us as the wind was funneled under the bridge. Trees came down, and grasses were flattened while the sedate river of just minutes ago became a roiling, angry maelstrom in pure, unleashed cacophony.

Life is filled with unexpected blows.

Things are sunny and pleasant, and we loll happily in our unwary hours. Then out of the blue, the skies darken, the storm threatens, and we are caught unawares. Examples abound: the day of 9-11; a cancer diagnosis; an accident; a death.  There seems nowhere to take shelter. Nowhere to turn. Nowhere to hide, or huddle.  Life’s storms can be terrifying, and sometimes they pile up and train down on us one after another.

All I can say is that with perfect predictability, all storms pass. In our canoe, after 30 long minutes of hanging on by our fingertips to the overhead girders, the tempest grudgingly moved on, leaving the river to calm its nerves, the trees dripping with diamonds, and a permeating whiff of fresh-bathed forest in every direction- abrupt silence, achingly beautiful crystal lighting, and a newly-birthed loveliness.

God himself set up the physical laws that create storms. He also has his reasons for allowing them to roil our lives.

But, no matter what assails us, God works only good for those who love him.  He is always for us, so that the storms of trouble and hardship cannot separate us from his love.

Not storms. Not evil. Not hate. Nothing high, nothing low, nothing in all of creation can separate us from how much God loves us.*  The most oft-written phrase in the Bible is,
“Do not be afraid.”

In a storm?  Let God be your bridge. Your shelter. Your hope. It’s going to be all right.  Don’t be afraid. Just hang on and let it blow.

~J.A.P. Walton

* loose paraphrase of Romans chapter 8 in the Bible

Affirmation, Cancer, Cancer treatments, Creator, Darkness, death, Desert, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Heaven, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Mary Oliver, Pilgrimage, Uncategorized

Pilgrim

Another brother has cancer.

We are not stunned like we were with Hugh. All the same, it’s another round of watching and waiting and praying it through.  It is true: our body ages and decays in this broken world. I have never stopped wondering at the marvel: that we are created body, soul, and spirit together. An amalgamation of identity and being. It isn’t an integration where one is a receptacle for the other, like lock and key, but blended, so tangled up together that they cannot be distinctly teased out.

It is a ONENESS that defies full description, almost impossible to appreciate or embrace but for a blind faith in God who is himself three yet one.

So, when our body gives way to time, disease, unlucky genes, and the random tragedies of this earthly life, we spend most of our resources on trying to eradicate the physical dis-ease with drugs and surgery, while often ignoring the impact this all has on our whole self.

It’s easy to forget that the wilderness, which we seek out for its inherent beauty, quietness, and solitude is also constrained by the world’s brokenness. We tend to think, wrongly, that the wilderness is eternal, unchangeable. But, even its fullness is stained by decay, predation, random fire or flood; dangers lurk in its untamed, and indifferent beauty.

Upon hearing her own cancer diagnosis, poet Mary Oliver wrote,

Why should I have been surprised?  

           Hunters walk the forest without a sound. 

           The hunter, strapped to his rifle,

            the fox on his feet of silk,

            the serpent on his empire of muscles-

            all move in stillness,

            hungry, careful, intent.

            Just as the cancer entered the forest of my body,

            without a sound.*

The same goes with us. Though God promises us eternal life –conditional on our recognition and acknowledgement that we cannot save ourselves- we walk as pilgrims through (rarely around) life’s wilderness and dangers. And, for each of us, there is an appointed day in which the shroud of our whole self is forever torn by death, our body returned to the dust from which it came. What was once whole is now separated, that our soul and spirit can rise unburdened to God. Who can explain it?

And so we go forward, hand in hand in the hope of healing for our brother, the one who’s “got next”. If God is for us, who -or what- can be against us? We call the treatment of cancer a battle, and its eradication a victory. A curious thing, that it is couched in war language. But, it’s not just our physical self that is saved is it? All through the wilderness of living is the battle, often unseen, for our soul and spirit too. God wants, he demands that we yield all of what and who we are, cancer or no. On this side of the river, you just can’t be whole without it.

~J.A.P. Walton

* Mary Oliver. “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” in Blue Horses.2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds, Creation, Creator, Darkness, God, ice, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Silence, Starry Skies, sunrise, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter

The Joy of Paying Closer Attention

On a short trip to the Bluff to retrieve our old RV, we spent last night at Crystal Lake.  Stars were molten silver in an inky sky that capped the iced-over lake from end to end; a crisp, clear, late winter night. This morning, up before the sun, hot coffee in hand, I walked down to the shore to await the wakening world. How odd to see all the docks, lifts, and boats so lifeless, drawn high up on the sand.

There’s ice all the way to the opposite shore, with visible pressure ridges all along the drop-off where the coho and rock bass are down, deep and drowsy. The ice shifts, warming up its voice in a throaty “boom, boom” that carries for miles like a tympani  solo at the symphony.

A peachy pink blush caresses the eastern end of the lake and the stars begin to fade. I can see the water ripple just underneath where ice meets shore. There are tiny minnows swimming there in just three inches of water, and I shiver to imagine how bone-dead cold it would be to swim with them.

Quickly now, the world awakens, yawning into the dawn.  A cardinal flutes in salute to the sun, adding to the crows’ staccato calls like novice oboe players. The chickadees flit overhead in the birch tree, jabbering like teenagers. Honking geese are somewhere out over the ice, while a downy woodpecker trills a nasal ‘thwank-thwank’.  And the ice booms on, the bass rumbling accompaniment as yet more voices join the song.

Then a car rushes past, spoiling the music. Someone headed to work, I suppose, listening to the radio, oblivious to the music the sunrise has wrought in this icy paradise. And I smile to think of the thousands of mornings I too hurtled half-awake through the dawn to work. Though I always was, and still am thankful for that work, how joyful it is now to slow down and pay attention to the beauty orchestrated by God in nature. It is gratitude as deep and wide as the mystery behind the dawn.

Thank you for listening along with me.

~J.A.P. Walton

Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, God, Heaven, Starry Skies, Uncategorized

When Mercy Begot Grace

It’s fair to say that I am a fan of what my writing workshop instructor cautiously termed “strong verbs,” (she didn’t like my writing, but wanted to say something encouraging).

Words can evoke a visceral response in the same way a simple whiff of (fill-in-the-blank) floods the mind with childhood memories… right now I am conjuring up the smell of crayons, peppermint Chiclets gum from the bank, of Fels-Naptha soap, and a cigar box of writhing, doomed earthworms waiting to bait some fat perch.

The words for this time of year are powerful too.  Darkness. Brokenness. Cold. Despair. Hope. Joy. Salvation.   These last three are worth dwelling on.

Last night we hunted the comet 46P/Wirtanen slowly cruising way out in the outer black void of space, tucked in a lane between Taurus and the Pleiades. It’s always a wonder to look upon something 7 million miles above and know what you’re seeing- in this case, a fuzzy, Christmas-green ball decorating the twinkling night sky. I love comets for their predictability and promise of return, knowing that people long dead and those not yet born have seen, or will see what I see.  Comets, like sunrises, and tidal ebbs and flows, and spring hounding the heels of winter make us hopeful that the world will go on.

Last night, the darkness could not hide the light of the moon, stars and comet. The cold could not penetrate the happy warmth of stargazing. The despairing news of the week could not harden a seeking heart set on hope and joy. Because, of course, it is the season we celebrate the best news of all. God come down from the heavens, heralded by a star to light the world with Wisdom that bids us seek the Lord while He can be found. It’s the same Light that split the silence and the temple curtain when mercy begot grace, and sacrifice rebirthed an inheritance long rejected. Like the crisp night sky of winter, it can fill you with wonder. Because He is called Wonderful. Everlasting. The Prince of Peace.

Wishing you and yours a Christmas of wonder, light, joy, peace, and the resurrection of the Word in your hearts.

~J.A.P. Walton

Photo credit: S. Zetterberg