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

Accomodation, Affirmation, Creation, death, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, Forest, hiking, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Parasites, Pilgrimage, Religion, Sacrifice, Serving Others, Trees, Uncategorized, wisdom

The Plover and the Crocodile

Last month, we hiked through a mixed forest of beech, oak, pine, and hemlock. It is evident all through the north that these hundred+ year-old forests are stressed; the ash still standing are all dead from the ash borer, the beech are ringed with deadly fungus, and the hemlock is next, expected to succumb to the wooly adelgid in Michigan as the tiny insects migrate from the east.

When we came across this tree (pictured), I began to think about the nature of parasitism, that form of symbiosis between species in which a squatter takes advantage of a host. The deer tick is a good example; it sucks the host’s blood, and transmits Lyme disease. Obviously, there is nothing good in the relationship for the host. The photo is of a hoof fungus on a decaying tree. It is a true parasite, attaching to a vulnerable place on the tree and causing stem rot, which eventually kills the tree.

Other symbiotic relationships can be mutually beneficial, in which both host and parasite benefit one another. In Egypt, the plover and the crocodile have made peace for millennia. The crocodile opens wide, the bird flits in and eats the rotting food stuck in the croc’s teeth, and, in apparent gratitude, the croc doesn’t eat the plover. Voila!  The bird eats and the reptile gets a free dental cleaning.

I think the most interesting of these relationships is that of commensalism, in which a parasite attaches to a host for a free ride. One benefits, while the other is not harmed; think barnacles on a whale. Or a person who has asked for prayer.

This has had me thinking mostly about human relationships.  I am people-shy by nature,

in a lifelong struggle to reconcile scriptural demands to love my neighbor with the fact that I prefer solitude. Instead of open arms that welcome “the inconveniences and suffering that love requires,” [1] I tend to flee into myself, wrapped, not in apathy, but in a dread-frosted cake of isolationism.

I do not want to be needed. I do not want my energy to be sucked dry like a tick sucks blood. I do not want to be used. And, to be sure, there are people who are parasitic on one’s time, emotions, money, and good intentions. Thus, most of my freely-given time goes to things like making the coffee, offering to pray for people, serving a meal, helping people move across town, even recover from a hurricane. I can do these things without much chance of exposing my inner self to the deep, sometimes twisted, often long-term (even endless) neediness (especially emotional neediness) of others. It is as much as I can do to avoid parasites while agreeing to a time-constrained spell of commensalism.

I guess, if I am honest, I dislike sacrifice.

And that’s too bad. Here, Nature is such a good teacher. I know that, like the plover and the crocodile, the Church is full of people who both need and love God.

I know that people will come alongside me to model what it means to love without dread, to give without constraint, and to be the hands and heart of God to someone who is hurting-even when that someone, someday, is me.

We always want our relationships to be mutual, in which both parties benefit. I see this naiveté all the time when young people head out on a mission trip; it’s less about sacrificial service than they like to think.

Truth is, the foundation of faith is sacrifice. And bloody.

Freely given that we might be greedy takers of forgiveness and salvation.

But, once freed from our wayward living, the expectation is that we follow. All the way to our own death if necessary. I believe this, but I have to continually pray that God helps me in my unbelief.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]www.desiringgod.orgaccessed July 13, 2019. John Piper. Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God.  pp. 283-284. 2012.

Affirmation, beauty, Birds, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hope, joy, Light, Nature, Praise, Silence, sunrise, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

Litany of Praise at Dawn

Yesterday I was awakened at dawn by an oriole’s soft, sweet whistle. He’s been haunting the hummingbird feeder, and seemed to be quietly reminding me it was time for breakfast (we pull feeders in at night to outsmart greedy raccoons).

With hot coffee in hand, I stood with the trees to watch the sun arrive, lighting up the treetops, then soon angling down to swathe the forest floor. With a penchant for keeping my nose in a book far too late at night, I rarely catch the sunrise anymore. But, yesterday, it caught me…in wonder and hope.

How rare it is to greet the day with God’s creation, and for the confirmation that, for today at least, life goes on.

I was treated to a feast of birds at every point of the compass- the oriole and the hummingbird, the pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, those ancient cousins. A pair of indigo buntings timidly nipping a few sunflower seeds, and a scrum of blue jays laughing and nattering in the maple.

In the lane, a doe limped across my way, hindered by a broken ankle. I tenderly told her to take her time, because time would heal the pain. Not long after, the turkeys started gobbling… why the word for bolting down food is used to describe a turkey call I will never know.

The point is that dawn reveals the vitality and fecundity of the world, particularly when you are in a place that is undisturbed by the human awakening of car, horn, bus and garbage truck.  Why would God make such beauty, with its threads of genetic similarity woven into complex cloaks of myriad colors and distinctive sounds?

Why wasn’t one bird, or even three enough?  How did God know when to quit creating?

I guess I liken it to the simplest delight we get when we see something we think is beautiful. It catches our eye, pauses our hurry, and interrupts our breath.  Perhaps God created beauty to arrest our souls that we might, even for a moment, think and thank the creator, to marvel in this glory, which is his glory.

Glory comes in many forms, but the best is in a litany

of praise that rolls off our tongues. 

May your days be filled to overflowing with eyes to see, and ears to hear.

 

~J.A.P. Walton

beauty, Creation, Creator, Forest, joy, Nature, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Herald of the North

The trillium are in full bloom at Trout Creek,

wearing their white petals like a regal ermine stole.

They blossom early here in southern Michigan; their northern kin won’t be out for another few weeks.

When we first began living in Michigan in the summers, Memorial Day weekends were set aside for the work of opening up: raking, splitting wood, fixing potholes in the 2-track lane, and getting fresh linens on the beds. My clearest memories of those times, aside from the uncontainable thrill to be up north on the cusp of school letting out, was the deep green of the woods carpeted with hundreds of the pink-tinged white of the trilliums’ nodding heads. Like the first robin, and the April earthworm escaping a flooded tunnel, the sight of trillium throughout the forest was

a beauty almost too tender, too holy to behold.

Even today, it brings on a euphoria like few other experiences can.

Maybe that is because northern Michigan has always represented freedom (from the tedium and demands of school especially), and the beauty of lakes and dunes and deep, blue skies (suburban Chicago was a spidery, tentacled cage made of steel and cement and insipid cookie-cutter subdivisions). Even today, turning the car northward sparks a tiny flame of delight that fans itself into joy with each passing mile.

Trillium. A three-petaled lily. (Did you know that flowers with just 3 petals are rare?). Protected. Herald of the north.

A triune beauty that speaks to the nature of God. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the trillium, nodding to greet the longer days and welcome the wanderer, the seeker, the tired and worn.

Thanks for reading along! Enter your email to follow along!

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

Affirmation, Birds, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Religion, Silence, Spring, Uncategorized, wilderness

Manifold Witness

We are briefly back north at the bluff to open the house and plant the garden. It is always a “hard work” kind of week-clearing sand out of gutters, raking leaves, sweeping and dusting every horizontal surface, washing windows (a never-ending list really…when was spring cleaning ever easy?).  At the same time, it is curiously restful because we are surrounded by beauty in every direction.  The distractions are natural ones, instead of manmade. No highway or airport noise, no sirens, no teens driving by with thumping base, no door-to-door salesmen. Not even cell phone robo-calls, since the cell signal in the north woods is so weak. The Internet here is iffy too, and our monthly plan severely so limited datawise that we must, by necessity, trim the sails of online time.

Away from town, it’s easier to pay less attention to the news and its tendency to dampen the spirit. There is just something about finding yourself isolated from the noise of the world that is settling. Calming. Affirming. It layers on a balm of hours to get to work with grateful hands, despite the creaky knees and shoulders.  Here, the distractions are different- the screech owl and red-bellied woodpecker. The drumming of an amorous ruffed grouse, a deer prancing by, and the fog rolling in over the lake. Just like in town, we aren’t alone.

The manifold witness of all of nature* reminds us minute by minute of the love, creativity, faithfulness, and constancy of God, maker of heaven and earth.

The bird chorus at dawn, the pregnant bobcat, the mist heavy over the bog, and the waves pounding the foot of the bluff- these are God’s way of assuring us that he is here, ever-watchful, always waiting.

The good news is that you don’t have to go to the north woods to hear and see God’s goodness.

It is my prayer that you can find a space this week to let the beauty of creation enfold you right where you are.

There is glory in the daffodil, marvel in the work of the ant and wren, and a delight in the unfolding of tender new leaves. See if you can silence the distractions wrought by this worrying world long enough to go outside and enjoy what God gives to all so freely.

~J.A.P. Walton

* from the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness