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.

adventure, Backpacking, Costa Rica, death, Dying to Self, Forest, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Outward Bound, Perseverence, Rainforest, Risk Taking, River, Uncategorized, Water, wilderness

Over, Under, Around or Through?

It is a fact that the human being is easily dehydrated, because our physiological thirst mechanism is not very reliable. So, often, we go through a day thirsty for water without even knowing it. The brain can override the thirst signal so that we can keep on chug-chugging without stopping for water. The headache and fatigue we attribute to stress and overwork may just be the natural fallout of being dehydrated. In the longer term, it becomes downright dangerous.

When we went to Costa Rica on an Outward Bound trip (see blog post of Feb. 6, 2018), our weather was hot, humid, steamy and stifling. All of our drinking water had to be tediously filtered. One day my group hiked high along a rainforest ridge, then descended quickly to find our way blocked by a swiftly moving river. The only bridge was up and over a mountain a ways downstream. After walking up and down the riverbank looking for a place to cross, our guide taught us how to cross together. We hitched our backpacks as high onto our shoulders as possible, squaring off our appearance so that we looked like so many Sponge Bob Square Pants characters. This left our hands free, but she warned us that this also raised our center of gravity and, when in the water, buoyancy, in itself an added challenge to balance. We sent one person far downstream with the emergency rope bag to throw in the event someone lost footing and was swept away. Then we lined up, interlocked forearms, and walked-in our boots- one by one into the icy river at an angle to the current. I thought the challenge quite enjoyable until the water rose to meet my rib cage and the footing among boulders dicey. But, the tight grip on and of my nearest companions was enough to stay upright and walk across and out of that river. It was an altogether exhilarating experience to test those waters.

My husband’s group leader later reached that same spot and decided a river crossing was too dangerous. So they went up and over that high mountain, short on drinking water, on the hottest day yet of the trip. It took them a long time in unrelenting sun, and it was a desperate slog. My husband, the oldest in that group, became severely dehydrated, and, at one point simply had to lie down unable to breathe.  He recalls that he very nearly panicked. He was suffocating.  The guide plied him with fluids, and about an hour later he was able to continue.

Water. Life-giving. Life-taking.

There are always decisions we must make when faced with daunting barriers; do we go up-over-around, or just plow right on through?

Do we take the long view (and route) though ill-equipped for the endurance and time required, only to be forced flat onto our back unable to breathe, living in breathless panic? Or do we risk the shortcut, get floated off our feet, maybe even swept away?

Either way, it is our companions in life that make the difference. They hold us tight, guide us as wisely as they can, recognize our needs, and offer assistance. They hold out their hands, to steady us or offer us a drink. This is one reason Jesus established the church, so that we’d never have to face our challenges alone.  So we’d have others who could recognize our deep thirst for love and belonging, and hand us the only water that satisfies.

Keep a tight grip on your life companions. You need each other along the way.

~J.A.P. Walton

 

 

 

Affirmation, childhood, Faithful Living, Fathers, Fishing, God, Growing Up, Lessons from the Wilderness, Nature, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Praise, Uncategorized

Fishing for Praise

I have spent the better part of the last two years cleaning out my mom’s and mother-in-law’s homes. This time last year, I came across two fishing pole carriers, and inside one of them I was delighted to find the salmon pole my dad bought me 48 years ago.

My dad and I always had an iffy relationship. He disliked my temerity, and I distrusted the deep chasm between his public and private personas.

To others, he was affable, fun, and social. Inside our family space, he was irritable, short-fused, and prone to what he thought teasing, but was, in truth, mockery wedded to scorn. He knew I distrusted him, not because he was abusive, but because his personality was so discordant and unpredictable. I learned early how to walk on eggshells around him.

I have to give him credit though, because he tried mightily to find things we might enjoy doing together, and we managed hours of good times playing gin rummy and Yahtzee, and watching pro golf and football on TV while sharing a Budweiser (I was allowed my own small juice glass of beer starting quite young-one of the things about my dad that will always bring a smile). We also endlessly tossed baseballs. And we fished.

We discovered that fishing was the one activity that could unite us- in mind, in the hunt, in the murmured debates about which lure to try and at which depth to fish, and in the relative silence that accompanies the chase. Fishing sanded off the rough edges of my dad’s anxious personality. He became a contented, calm, loving man when he had a fishing pole in his hands, and since I was the only member of our family to really “take” to fishing, the two of us spent many dark, cold, early mornings on the Frankfort pier, and out in boats. He always brought 2 large thermos bottles, one with coffee, the other with Campbell’s tomato soup, because according to him, “Nothing beats a cup of hot soup in the cold autumn dawn.”

I will never forget his pride the day 12-year old me caught my first coho salmon- he so badly wanted to reel it in for me, but he let me fight that fish on my own terms. It weighed 17 pounds, it’s beautiful silvery sheen like a candy wrapper around a hidden treasure of delicious rosy flesh. He told everybody about it over the next week, and I was so pleased to hear him publicly praise me.

It is a truth that children desperately need to hear heartfelt, sincere praise from their parents without having to fish for it.

I think it is one way we learn to praise others.And an attitude of praise should be a permeating aroma of the life of a Christian.

So, as Father’s Day approaches, I have been thinking a lot about fishing. I got a new pole and re-rigged the old one. Bought a fishing license. Got a refresher course from cousin Dave. Went fishing. Caught a northern pike, a beautiful coho, and lots of rock bass. Lost the perfect lure to a “big one that got away.” Enjoyed a deeply gratifying fish dinner. Felt all of my own agitations related to mother-care melt away. And all that time, my long-dead dad was here, praising me. This will, indeed, be a Happy Father’s Day. I think I’ll go fishing.
~J.A.P. Walton

Thanks for reading and sharing!

adventure, Camping, Close Quarters, Creation, Faithful Living, Forest, God, Lake Michigan, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Nature, Prayer, Rain, River, Uncategorized, wilderness

A Golden Prescription

I went camping last weekend at a state campground along the Lake Michigan shore with 21 other women and girls from church. Group camping presents me with an immediate conflict- I seek out the wilderness for its solitude and quiet, as a salve to an agitated personality, but the building of intimate community through group experience is a critical component of faith formation and practice. Let’s just say it pushes me out of balance to be in the woods with so many people and so much chatter.

To ensure some semblance of quiet time apart, I took a solo tent so I could bookend the day with thinking and prayer, zipping myself inside a tiny cocoon of solitude while the junior high girls laughed and squealed in a tent as big as a 2-bedroom apartment.  We were each having fun in our own way.

The second night, there was a long, slow, low rumble of thunder from far out on the big lake as I zipped up for the night. While rain in camp makes for muddy messes, and complicates the packing up of tent and fly, being snug and dry inside your tent as a thunderstorm rolls in, over, then onward is a singular thrill.  The flash of lightning, the bass thrum of thunder, and the percussive rain all around is like a cleansing bath for the soul. As I lay on my back, a gentle storm all about me, I was reminded of the way the spirit of God stills us even in the grip of life’s gales. The prophet Isaiah wrote that from the heavens above, clouds rain down righteousness; they shower it down to earth so that salvation can spring up, a salvation God creates and showers upon us. (Isa 45:8, paraphrased). In truth, all restoration and flourishing come from God.

But, our life is usually too rushed to feel like it is flourishing, restorative, and life-giving.

The present often seems more like a flooding river hurtling itself downward, always rushing in multiple directions, void of any sense of calm, hungrily sucking in those unaware and unprepared, flinging everything in its path down, and under as the waters close over, drowning all light and life. We are constantly trying to catch our breath, to hear God’s voice in this wilderness, and to spend a quiet moment alone with Him, that His Presence fills our present.

Who needs to worry about the future with a present like that?

If you are tired of your to-do list a mile long, I highly recommend a solo night under the trees in a rainstorm as a golden prescription.

~J.A.P. Walton

adventure, Affirmation, childhood, Creation, Creator, Darkness, Dying to Self, Faithful Living, God, Growing Up, Lessons from the Wilderness, Life's Storms, Outdoor Adventures, Peace, Religion, Risk Taking, Uncategorized, wilderness, wisdom

“It’s OK, I’ll Catch You”

Wilderness conjures up a sense of wildness, of things untamed. We typically think of wide swaths of forest, desert, or sea that have remained relatively untouched by people, and left in their natural state. Going into the wilderness is something we tend to do by choice, being well-prepared for survival of the physical challenges of weather, and the lack of shelter, clean water, and walk-in urgent care centers. It can be risky to enter into a wilderness adventure, but we control that risk with the right equipment, training, clothing and companions.

Still, taking such a calculated risk is beyond most people. There are certain characteristics associated with people who won’t take risks. They are not comfortable with any degree of discomfort, physical,emotional,or spiritual. They tend to only undertake activities that they can control. They are too easily afraid of the unknown…fearless would never describe their nature. And lastly, they are often too self-obsessed to intentionally step into that scary unknown.

Now, in the physical wilderness of outdoor adventure, common sense should dictate our behaviors. It would be foolish to paddle storm-tossed Lake Superior when you could hunker down safely in camp for the day, or to leave food and dirty dishes around camp in bear country.  But what can be said about our ability to navigate the emotional and spiritual side of the wilderness of life?

I was a timid child-so much so that my father often expressed mild disgust in wondering if something was seriously wrong with me. People frightened me.  So did the dark. And the Bambi movie, carnival rides, crowds, tornado warnings (my assigned spot was under a big desk in the basement), fireworks, nuclear attack drills, people shouting, and swimming in deep water. It was, frankly, a very big, and extremely scary world. In my middle years, I gained confidence by learning the ropes of sailing, paddling, climbing, backpacking, tennis, archery, and mathematics. As you might infer, I gravitated toward the solitary and quiet pursuits. These taught me a lot about myself- that I should focus on moving forward, not on failure, on problem solving, and developing a tougher skin more impervious to judgment. It slowly dawned that I could, and should-on purpose– be willing to try new things that made me uncomfortable, because being fearless is not the same as being reckless. As an adult, while my temerity can still arise at inopportune times, I am much better adapted to being open-minded to others’ opinions, and more willing to do the hard work of self-assessment- that uncomfortable dissection of one’s beliefs and attitudes and assumptions that need serious and studious attention.

I think the key words are LEARNING and WILLINGNESS. This is how we avoid always doing and saying what we have always done and said. It is how we cultivate a new, and godlier mindset.

As people in step with God already know, He seems fond of directing us to take big steps into very dark territory, into situations we cannot control, cannot predict, and for which we have few skills to offer. My guess is that God works this way to teach us dependence on Him. We have much to LEARN, and it is our WILLINGNESS to leap obediently into a new wilderness that, in the face of our common, culturally-dictated sense of things, makes no sense at all; to us it seems foolishly reckless. To God it makes all the sense in the world.  Fearlessness comes from complete trust, and a willingness to relinquish control and comfort and fear of failure to the One who makes all of life a wilderness. What has been holding you back? It’s time to drop your self-obsession and push through to a higher plain. The wilderness of life may be scary, but it is also indescribably beautiful. Make the leap. God will catch you.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

~J.A.P. Walton