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

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

adventure, Affirmation, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, God, Lessons from the Wilderness, Light, Nature, Peace, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Silence, Starry Skies, sunsets, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

The Unsaid Nightly Prayer

When you are simultaneously reading books about wisdom, nature, and brokenness, your mind swirls in eddies of hope-drenched enchantment.  This despite so much evidence to the contrary; seeing our world with despair-tinged eyes, where the sights only confirm our overlord mentality in regards to creation care; studying the metrics that confirm a warming planet and melting polar icecaps; watching ‘progress’ chew up farmland and forest for pre-fab, over-mortgaged, faux-rich plywood houses.

Yet, I remain swaddled in hope.  It is a hope born in an infantile understanding of creation as beauty, of nature as God’s artistry, of the stranger’s face as an image of God.

As a physiologist by training, it is natural for me to misunderstand the “whole” of things for spending too much time in the weeds of all the contributing parts. A stunning sunset becomes a thought-train of the influence of polluting forest fires to the west creating atmospheric conditions for super-red hues; a cloudbank over the water wraps the sunset in royal robes of purple and crimson, while my mind delves into the barometer’s dive signaling an approaching storm.

Truth is, the beauty of the whole of creation is best appreciated not when you can reduce each strand to its explainable source, but when you can understand that it is a cosmic marriage of what we know (reason) with what we cannot know (holiness). That sunset? It is love, and Spirit, and unity that only my lack of understanding tries to fracture into discordant parts. Paul Griffiths calls this the “vice of curiosity.”[1]

And that gets us to the notion of understanding, something we humans almost never achieve because we are too engrossed in overstanding. By this I mean that, in our drive to subdue the earth, we take on a superior stance that towers over all creation in ruthless domination rather than a shepherding dominion. To stand under something requires a willed humility, acceptance of the role of steward, caretaker.

So, when I see a particularly lovely sunset, I must hush my instinct to overstand it, to explain it, to force its harmony into vile little shards of scientific reason. Instead,

I remind myself of the holiness of the moment, as God prepares both me and his creation for rest while the sun withdraws on tiptoe, because everything I see, in its wholeness, is painted glorious with hope for a new and better day to come. It is an unsaid nightly prayer…

, a “sally of the soul into the unfound infinite…kindl[ing] science with the fire of the holiest affections…[in which] the invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”[2]  Oh, that I could be that wise.

~J.A.P. Walton

[1]Paul Griffiths. The Vice of Curiosity: An Essay on Intellectual Appetite.2005.

[2]Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature. 1836.

Blessings, Creation, Darkness, Forest, hiking, Lessons from the Wilderness, Light, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Silence, Trees, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter, wisdom

The Days Grow Short

The snow is drifting down at Trout Creek, but the squirrels and juncos pay it no heed. They stay busy burrowing and flitting, feeding.  Even so, it is quiet.  Too quiet. The pair of great horned owls we’ve had in the tall cedars for several years have not returned. Perhaps it’s too early, or they’ve wandered further north in search of denser forest. Their absence is palpable, even though we rarely saw them.

The color palette is hushed this time of year too. Brown is the primary hue, only brightened by the snow. Most signs of life are dampened too; no green leaves to dance in the breeze, no delectable tender shoots for the deer to eat. A six-pointed buck roamed by last week in a futile search for greens.  He was hard to spot in his winter camouflage of bristle brown.

We took a walk last week, up north on the Old Indian Trail, part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear info  It too was silent, the only sign of wildlife in the form of prints and scat. One lone, blustering blue jay pierced the calm, but even it preferred to remain hidden. No other sounds but the wind sighing up high in the firs, and our footsteps crunching on snow-crusted, ice-rimmed leaves.

Silence and beauty are soul sisters, each one weaving purpose and meaning into the other, that we can wrap ourselves in them.  It is one of the gifts of the wilderness to be able to experience both together.  The pulsing of the mute northern lights. Silently spreading ripples on still water. The shadow of an overhead harrier flitting across your path. The flick of the white patch of a deer’s tail.  The sun on its daily trip across the sky.  How nice that the tick of the clock, that slave driver of modern life, cannot contaminate the wilds.

The days grow short. May you find some silence in them, in the falling snow, the lighted tree, and the smile of a loved one. God once broke the winter’s silence with a baby’s cry and an angel’s song. It was cold and dark then too. May you embrace the quiet spells with wonder and delight.

~J.A.P. Walton

Thank you for reading along, and sharing with your friends.

Autumn, Blessings, Darkness, Faithful Living, God, Home, Light, Nature, Silence, Uncategorized, wilderness, Winter

The Way of the Turkey, Deer, and Squirrel

The leaves are nearly all down now at Trout Creek. I love late autumn in Michigan, ever grateful to live where the slow turns of the seasons nourish and nudge our souls to look ahead. Here, we embrace the changes a new season brings, even when it is winter on the near horizon.

The signs are everywhere. Squirrels are hoarding acorns and fortifying nests with newly fallen leaves. Sow bugs and spiders are tunneling into the house in search of warmth. Just this morning, a buck out back was rubbing his antlers on the tamarack to get off the last of his pesky velvet.  Even the wild turkeys come in closer in their hunt for food.

At the store yesterday, the mother behind me had a cart overflowing with toys for Christmas, and people were stocking up on bread and milk with the news of imminent snow. I have a loaf of bread rising, and a brand new soup pot sitting on the stove awaiting its first of many assignments.

When we get back to Trout Creek, we work as hard as squirrels to be ready for winter. The split wood supply is renewed. Lawn tools are cleaned, oiled and stored even as the snow blower and shovels are readied. Gutters are cleaned, the car’s winter emergency kit is thrown in the trunk, the furnace is serviced, and the gas fireplace turned back on. Another blanket goes on the bed, and the boots get a new coat of waterproofing. Boats are hosed out, stored upside down on their rack, and covered.  Paddles go into the tall storage can. Ski poles are moved to the front. The bird feeders are restocked, while the downy woodpeckers and jays greedily cackle for more suet.

The short days mean more lamplight to illuminate those corners of our lives the sun seems to have forgotten. Now, instead of bright sunny picnics, we gather around the old family farm table. It’s soup, fresh baked bread, and fruit cobbler in place of burgers, beans, corn on the cob, and watermelon. I spend time arranging this year’s crop of canned and frozen foods. The anticipation of asparagus soup and a bubbly cherry cobbler on a cold, snowy night makes all the summer’s industry worthwhile.

It’s a time for being thankful, making ready, and taking delight in the slowdown. The long days of summer are filled with extended hours of play and work. It is now that we can give ourselves permission to hibernate for a time-to peruse that never-opened stack of summer reading, sit and pray with friends around the fireplace, study to learn something new, or simply curl up in a blanket with a hot mug of tea to watch it snow.

There is much to be learned from deliberately coming in out of the world, from slowing our hectic lives, and filling up on God’s wisdom. 

The wilderness will wait for us while we rest, regroup, reorient, and renew. The winter is for maps and making plans. Before we know it, we will be out on the water again-ice fishing, winter camping and canoeing, or learning to ski, or snowshoe, or curl on an outside rink. But these short, dark weeks of late autumn are for savoring the getting ready.

~J.A.P.Walton