Affirmation, beauty, Burnout, Creation, Creator, death, Faithful Living, Heaven, Henry David Thoreau, Home, John Muir, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outervention, Pilgrimage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saint Augustine, Travel, Uncategorized

Are Your Feet on the Right Road?

As a publishing company launch team reviewer, I have been reading a colleague’s forthcoming book about Saint Augustine . [1]  It has been the most important read of my life so far, and I hope you will read it!  Why? Because it returns me, yet again, to the wisdom of Augustine, a 4thcentury bishop, whose young life was stained with aggressive ambition, relentless restlessness, and sordid living. All he wanted from life was the freedom to be, to go, to escape. Repeat.

We leave in a few days for Lake Superior. The brothers will canoe while I keep camp (in the RV). I have too great a respect for the Ojibwes’ gichi-gami to contemplate 2 weeks on its unpredictably stormy deeps. But, with Augustine ringing in my ears, it puts me in the mindset of trying to understand human restlessness.

Lately, an outdoor sporting goods company called Backcountry has been running Instagram ads about burnout, beseeching people to get outside every day, to take long weekends in Nature,

to answer chronic workplace stress with big seasonal doses of “outervention.”  [2]

Even Augustine wrote about burnout, about the vanity of the chase (so did Solomon for that matter in Ecclesiastes). And you will find all kinds of advice to get out and “GO” in the works of Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Abbey, Leopold, Dillard, and other nature writers.

Their collective point? Humans are restless, and Nature is the balm.  But, none of this deals with the fact that escapism only delays the inevitable.  That our love of the road, of its freedoms, and that the destination is usually vague and indefinable.  Think of the way people dream about throwing off the shackles of work to take to the open road:  retiring young enough to travel; taking a year off to see the world; developing a bucket list.  Always, the focus is on escaping one’s present circumstances, and none of us is immune. And almost always, the goal is to master and revere creation rather than to revere the master Creator.

Augustine would argue most vehemently against our propensity to flee, particularly when the destination is not well-understood. 

The truth that is buried in our subconscious is that this earth is not our home. That nature is not our mother- it neither cares for us nor nurtures us in tender protection-it simply is. That death is the final outpost.

So, where is our real home? Augustine would encourage you to think long and deep about this;

that all the roads we desire on earth will lead to nowhere; that the only true road is the one that leads us home to God.

Christians believe this road is the way of Christ’s gospel, and it’s not a vacation, but a vocation-a lifelong endeavor to be about God’s work.

Feeling the burn of your workaday world? Dreaming of the beaches in Jamaica, the Grand Canyon’s wide-open arms, or sightseeing in Europe?  All wonderful things, to be sure.  But none of them set your feet on the right road.

As you prepare to enter winter through the colorful gates of autumn, I pray you can find some time to sort out why you feel so restless, and Who it is that can lead you to the road of peace. And, paddle on, even when it’s into the wind in rough waters.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Smith. James K.A.  On the Road with Saint Augustine. Brazos Press. Available October 1, 2019.  #OTRWithAugustine.  More info available at See more about Jamie’s book here:

[2  Backcountry Info

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

beauty, Birds, Creation, God, Heaven, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Peace, Praise, sailing, Silence, Sounds, Uncategorized, wilderness, wind

What Are You Listening To?

It is not a quiet morning here on the bluff.

Last night’s storm blew the haze and humidity away, bringing a stiff north wind and choppy whitecaps on the big lake.

I haven’t been awake long, but already two sailboats have bounced past, sails full, hulls thumping the wave crests. A cardinal has hopped close with a chip-chip to peek in the screen. The hummingbird has been buzzing at the feeder. And two bald eagles have skimmed south on the breezy uplifts like stealth bombers.

It is easy to write about what we can see, but trying to convey the sounds is a distinct challenge. The leaves in the maple dervish in ecstasy to the gusts, their bodies swishing like so many petticoats. The waves themselves thrum in the ancient rhythm that pushes them ever coastward, and crashes them ashore with a distinct split-second of surprised gasp before sucking back out and under the next swell.  The crows and jays jabber and scold as the eagle approaches, while the breeze tells them to hush their hyperbole.

I asked my husband the other day if the wind would sing aloud in the absence of obstacles.  The trees stand before it to give it voice and treble. But, what if it were blowing in the middle of a vast desert? He said

even the grains of sand would joyfully lift to the wind’s call to give it speech.

Creation is rarely silent.

Even in the stillest of nights, the owls hunts, its prey screams. The mole’s paws scratch the dirt, and the deer snorts.  In August, the cicada sings, and the cricket plays its dusky violin.

I think it is good to listen. Here is the still, small voice of God, lifted on the breeze of his creation, burrowed in the rabbit hole, slithered in dry leaves as the snake creeps. But, we rarely pay it much attention, going around with our ear buds, always blotting out the beauty of the music already all around us. Oh, what the music of heaven must be like!

What have you heard lately?

~J.A.P. Walton

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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