adventure, Aging, Aging and growing in character, beauty, Creation, Developing good character, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Hardiness, John Muir, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Living Faithfully, National Parks, Nature, New Year, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Prayer, Retirement and bucket lists, sailing, Sierra Nevada, Silence, sunsets, Swallows and Amazons books, The rivers of Wales, US National Parks, virtue, visit the Roman Coliseum, what is mutual affection?, What is on your bucket list?, wisdom

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

Autumn, beauty, Birds, Creation, Faithful Living, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Perseverence, Seasons, virtue, Winter, wisdom, worry

The Junco

When the sun is at a certain angle, birds see a reflection of the vast expanse of trees and lake in the west windows here at the bluff. A junco flew into a window just last week, falling onto his side, eyes shut tight, tiny talons stiff and thrust laterally.

It is rarely good news when our feet go out from under us.

As the junco lay stunned and panting, I wondered at his presence. Why is he here so early? It is sunny and delightfully warm for early October. 

Around here, on the edge of dune and dense forest of maple, beech, and hemlock, the junco is a harbinger of winter. A flock will stick around all winter scrabbling the earth for seeds. Dressed in drab, dark coats with a buff white undershirt, they forage and flit in the cold, short days. They are as colorless as many of the cheerless gray days of the far north in winter, and as hardy as the cedar and dune grass and snow-bound trillium patiently waiting for spring’s warm kiss.

Still, they hold a fascination. I like that they flock together and am reminded of the reason God calls his church to be serious about fellowship. In that community we are afforded a measure of safety, companionship, and encouragement. The society we keep is a salve to some of the drag of winter’s bleakness. 

The juncos’ cheerless plumage makes me appreciate their contentment at keeping a low profile, nothing flashy, no brash “look at me” behaviors. They are happy to wear what God designed and shun being the center of attention. I marvel at my own lack of such inherent humility and contentment with what God provides.

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matt 6:25-27.

Basically, the junco is a bottom feeder, a forager snuffling through grasses and low foliage for insects and seeds.

I inherently like anything or anyone who is willing to work at the bottom rung of the ladder in humility, without compunction to produce or hoard. For me, the junco is a perfect example of the difference between the innate drive to work and thrive, and the big lies we swallow when we become driven, competitive, and overly ambitious. I am reminded that I must not think more of myself than I ought.

I most especially enjoy the juncos’ indifference to the cold and snow. Like their chickadee cousins, they seem to embrace the loveliness of that stark splendor only winter can serve up. I always resonate with any creature that welcomes winter’s caress and finds beauty in the sharp coldness of vapory breath and tingling cheeks.

Within minutes my tough, determined little junco had rolled onto his feet and opened his eyes, his milky breast pillowed and fluffed on the deck. It wasn’t long before he flew off to nurse his headache under the umbrella of the low-lying bluestem at the edge of the dune.  An omen of winter?  Perhaps. But I prefer to believe that the juncos are here as a God-given reminder to be humble and content and quietly diligent in all circumstances and seasons.

Thanks for reading,

J.A.P. Walton, Ph.D. 

email: jpraywalton.writing@gmail.com Instagram: jpraywalton_writing Facebook: Julie Pray Walton Image by JackBulmer from pixabay.com

Affirmation, Blessings, Creation, Creator, Cycling, Faithful Living, God, Hardiness, Hope, Life's Storms, Mountains, Perseverence, Pilgrimage, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, virtue, wilderness, wisdom

Test Your Mettle

Lately, I have been thinking about the notion of testing one’s mettle.  It’s an old-fashioned way of explaining resiliency, the capacity to soldier on through tough times, and drawn-out challenges. I think the key concept is that we grow in character by stepping out of our comfort zones, and enduring hard experiences. This happens to us as an individual, and to “we” as a community.

We test our own individual mettle to see if we have the courage, tenacity, and inner strength to climb the mountains in our way.

This is jarring, because our world is oriented towards personal comfort, faux strength, and instant gratification. And, because testing oneself is so disorienting, we rarely welcome a chance to see what we’re made of.

First, we don’t want to appear as if we’ve stumbled, splayed out publicly in our weakness, hurt, disbelief, and despair. We often fail to test ourselves because we are too busy acting as if we don’t need to.  Second, such testing is uncomfortable. 

We lay ourselves bare for the blacksmith’s hammering, a tempering that flattens and smashes our beliefs and suppositions on its way to forging strength and stamina.

Third, we are afraid of failing the test, of running the gauntlet only to find ourselves worse off than when we started.  When has your life been at a place of testing?  What was your response?

As a timid kid with little self-confidence, my first tests were all physically-difficult enterprises that pushed my fragile mental and emotional stability to-and beyond- their limits.  Climbing a 13,000 foot mountain while hampered by asthma and anemia was beyond difficult, always served up with a mental side dish of “I can’t do this.” But I did.

Taking a graduate biochemistry course without having the undergraduate requisite of general and organic chem was insanely challenging, my mind constantly gnawed with “I can’t do this.”  But I did.

Biking long distances, when the legs were dead, the seat numb, the fatigue’s lie of “I simply can’t go another mile” an unwelcome inner whine. But I could, and I did.

When we could not have more children, the emotional ache was unbearable. When confronted with “you can’t have kids” I finished my doctorate and taught for 20 years. I had thousands of wonderful kids over time.

Fortitude is an odd virtue. It digs deep, finds strength we didn’t know we had, keeps us moving forward, upward, and outward.  It is gas on the fire when our tank is empty. It is a second wind.  Each time we overcome some unpleasant or challenging circumstance, we carve another notch of confidence in our belt. But, I say fortitude is odd because for people who know and trust God, the real story is not in our own strength and endurance and ability, but in our weakness, our exhaustion, and our inability. All of creation glorifies the Creator.  When we manage to do something we thought impossible, and credit ourselves with fortitude, we take credit for something God did in and through us, trying on God’s glory for size.

We are fallen and always falling. The strength to stand is not our own. Nor is the strength to endure. Those who trust in God know this secret: we don’t have to survive these things alone in our own strength.

God will test your mettle. He will allow some uncomfortable, disorienting, heart-rending chapters to be written in your life. How you respond is up to you. Just know, you don’t have to go it alone.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, Birds, Creation, Creator, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Hardiness, joy, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Peace, Perseverence, Praise, Prayer, Sigurd Olson, Silence, Uncategorized, virtue, wilderness, Winter

Bring on the Ice!

It is icy at Trout Creek this February morning from the overnight sleety rain suspended in millions of icicles off branches and eves. I have the window open a crack to soak in the music of the silence.  The creek riffles on, but the rest of the landscape is a still life, no deer, and no squirrels. Perhaps it is too early yet. Perhaps they ‘ve hit their own version of the snooze alarm, and are rolled over in their roosting cavities for another 10 minutes.

I go make coffee, and sit back down to marvel at the way nature stills itself. The trees have nothing to say, though they are adorned in crystal gowns just waiting for the dance to begin. The tall grasses are bent in prayer. You can feel the hush, as if you are in a great, empty cathedral. The silence is pregnant with expectancy.

Just then the bold, brassy wren who habits the tamarack tree chirrups his, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m heeeerrrre!”

Over and over  he chants his solo, as if inviting the world to join the chorus. Maybe he’s shouting, “Wake up, wake up, wake uuuupppp!”

The wren’s chatter works: the squirrels are carefully heading downtree.  The titmice family swoops in to the feeder for brunch. The deer are out there pawing the snow in the fallen maple’s atrium to belly down for a morning nap.

In his book, The Singing Wilderness,  Sigurd Olson writes about the winter blue jay, with its “brazen call, more of a challenge than a song, a challenge to the storm and cold.

There was a jauntiness and fortitude, announcing to me and to the whole frozen world that where there is wine and sparkle in the air, it is joy to be alive. I liked that jay and what he stood for; no softness there, pure hardiness and disregard of the elements.”

I think that’s how I want to embrace this cold, frozen world we live in. With a cheerful fortitude and strength of character that encourages people to wake up from their numbing technology, their frozen minds, their careless thoughts, their selfish motives. To embrace the joy that life brings, whether it be storm or stillness.  I want to be hardier, and heartier in the face of both challenge and delight. Perhaps, though, a bit less brazen than the wren or jay, with a meekness learned from saints, and a thankfulness wrought by God’s great mercies.

Bring on the ice! (May it give us pause).

~J.A.P. Walton

Affirmation, Blessings, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, New Year, Uncategorized, virtue, Winter

A Voice in the Wilderness: “Prepare!”

Ah, the end of another year! I always enjoy looking ahead to a new year. For me, there is a certain pleasure to be found in getting things ready and in order. We do it every time we pack for a paddle or camping trip, make and shop for a week’s worth of menus, or stock up on necessities (nothing worse than finding out the hard way that you’re out of toilet paper!).

How do we prepare for another year? Usually we don’t to be honest. We shuffle along without looking back or forward, content to use these last vacation days to eat, sleep, and play with loved ones. Still, there is precedent for preparing oneself, for understanding the lay of the land in our heart, mind, and soul. To do that well, we need to study history. In warfare, the best leaders know from history how to confuse the enemy. They know to send out a vanguard to spy out the situation. They draw up plans of attack.

In our own life, the way the past year transpired can be instructive for directing our future steps. The year’s end is a good time to do the hard work of review. I have lately been thinking about the virtues-beautiful concepts like love, honesty, courage, hope, steadfastness, kindness, chastity, charity, humility, temperance, prudence, justice, and diligence to name a few. I have been wrestling with the question: which virtues do I regularly display in my life, and which are weak?  If I wasn’t humble before, an honest survey like this will help develop humility, because there is much work to be done in the arenas of the heart, mind, and soul.

Our family cottage in the woods is not winterized, so it sits shuttered all winter, mantled with snow, empty of life except for the mice that squeeze in through the cracks. Each spring, someone takes on the task of making the place habitable. Opening the cottage is a yearly ritual of “getting ready”- airing out the dank, musty rooms, sweeping away dust and cobwebs, washing windows, baiting mousetraps, making beds, turning on the water, and setting wood in the fireplace for the first fire.

I think it’s a good analogy for what we should do at the New Year with our own insides.

Where have we been lazy? What needs airing, sweeping, washing?

How have we been treating others? How can we smooth our roughest edges to be more hospitable, more just, more charitable, more loving? How can we be wiser about finances? About the way we use our time for the greater good instead of our own numbing leisure? It all starts with the virtue of honesty. How honest are you willing to be about your own shortcomings? And, how willing are you to accept the responsibility for growth?

God has the future in hand. We look forward, yet are sometimes too fearful and protective about our lives. Yet Jesus and the angels’ most frequent reassurances were always, “do not be afraid.”

Can we be bold enough to believe God, and to understand that our own shortcomings and sins, when dealt with honestly, become a faith-filled path toward virtuous living? As the ball drops at midnight, listen for the voice of one calling in a wilderness to make way for God in your heart. Be honest with yourself, make plans, and you’ll be surprised what the New Year brings!

~J.A.P. Walton