a Narnia encounter (3)

along the beach[This is a continuing meditation. Part 1 is here; part 2 is here.]

I wait … and fidget … and wait some more.

Too often my mind rushes ahead of my day and I leave the real moments of my life behind. I have not learned to stay put; to live life as it comes, rather than waiting to live until my plans develop. (Which, of course, they never quite do.)

I think of the giant who brought me here as a simple soul, but he is wiser than I have realized. He seems content … or rather, he seems quite pleased … to do his part and trust that the rest will unfold as it should. That is not so easy for me.

And what is my part in this adventure? All I’ve done to this point is to ride in his pocket and sleep beside the fire. Oh, and keep the fire going in spite of fear. That, too. But what will I be asked to do from here? That is the part of the fear I have not quite vanquished.

So, I wait and I fidget.

I get up to walk along the beach, along the smooth wet edge close to the water. I watch the faint bubbles that form as my feet press the water out of the sand with each step. I breathe in deeply and smell the salt air. The smell of the salt tells me that this must be an inlet from the sea.

As I walk, I come upon a large flat rock that juts out into the water – a finger of rock that reaches out from a large rocky cliff that towers up above. I crawl out on the rocky ledge and let my feet dangle. The slap of the waves reaches to my feet with every undulation. There is a rhythm there that soothes me. I am caught and released with each pull of the waves, as if the sea, itself, might be having a wordless conversation with my soul.

Perhaps, if I can just release my urgency, I can learn to live in simple trust, like my giant friend.

My toes catch a strand of seaweed.

Suddenly the weed climbs up my leg and tugs me into the water. I try to hold on to the rock, but this all happens too fast and I am pulled down, down, into the cold. After my initial panic I notice that there is an opening under the rock I had been sitting on – an entrance to a cave that, surprisingly, is lit within. I reach down and loosen the seaweed from my leg and move forward into the cave. It isn’t long until I come out into an inner cavern, with its own beach, its own hidden cove.

I sit for just a moment on a twin rock on that shore. I look around and listen for any clues about what will happen next.

And then, beside me on the rock, there is a presence. It is a presence that I know. Not so clear, perhaps, as the voices on the wind … but very definitely there. I take in a breath, slowly, and let it out, letting my soul settle a bit into this presence.

“Hello,” I venture.

“Hello,” is the whispered reply.

“Is this the meeting I was called to?”

“It is one such meeting. There are many.”

“Ah.” I wait a bit. “It takes a lot to get my attention, doesn’t it?”

The presence smiles, though I don’t know how I know this. I have no real vision of this One. But there is a smile, and a reply, “It does take a bit, sometimes. That is the way of things. It is so easy to get lost in the rush of activity.”

“There is so much to do,” I try to explain. “There are so many people who depend upon me.”

“Ah,” again the smile. The very silence helps me see the silliness of this response.

“I don’t know quite how to do this.” I try again.

“Ah,” another silence and then the presence reaches out to my hand, which is resting upon the rock, wrapping me in a warmth that travels up my arm into my heart. “Knowing is not always necessary.”

I try to be content with this answer. I try to remember the peaceful acceptance of the giant. I try, but to no avail. I don’t know what to do with the quiet. It always seems that my mind wanders off somewhere on its own, or chatters on with anxious energy. I keep trying to pull it back to where we are.

The presence begins to sing, slowly, softly. It is as if I only hear it with my soul. Yet, its rhythms begin to smooth the wrinkles in my heart, the furrows on my brow. I lean back upon the rock and let the song sweep over me. Each measure is a pulse of steady comfort.

When I wake, later, I can tell I have been here quite a while. The presence has gone … or at least is not so palpable. I feel deeply rested – a feeling that I have not felt for a long, long time. It is as if I have put down a burden that I did not know I was carrying. I sigh. I smile. I roll over and slip back into the water and find way back to the beach of the giant’s island. I sit in the sun, feet in the sand of that beach, at peace.

Now, at last, I may be ready for the meeting the giant heard about on the wind. Ironically, I am ready, but no longer anxious, no longer feeling restless.

Because I am ready, I can wait.

[This soul story continues, here.]
[image by Susan Murtaugh per cc 2.0]


circle dancingThe Holy One has need of nothing,
Not even me.
(No great surprise to anyone but me.)

Yet . . . the Holy One desires my love.

It isn’t needed.
It adds nothing to that Holy fullness.

Yet, She yearns for my gift of love.

And when I give it,
And sometimes I do,

I am more.

This dance always seems so unfamiliar
until the very end,
when I know
that I have danced it always.


[photo by Julie Pimentel per cc 2.0]

a Narnia encounter (2)

peaceful giant[a continued meditation … part 1 is here.]

Suddenly I wake. I have dropped off to sleep beside the giant. He is breathing softly, at least softly for him. I find that in my sleep I have moved toward him, edging toward the warmth of his bulk, though I am a bit fearful that he might roll over on me.

I look toward his face and see that he is awake. Lying on his side, with his head propped up on one hand, he waits for me to open my eyes. He sees me look at him and smiles. “So you wake up, do you? You are ready to start our day?”

I smile back and scramble to my feet. I walk over and stoke the fire, still burning, quietly, slowly. Just barely more than glowing coals, the tiniest of flames dance in the inner chambers of the fire formed in the spaces between the logs. With very little work the fire is strong and warm. I pull up a waiting log for a seat and warm my hands and stretch the soreness out of my body. Some logs were added since last night. I wonder about that briefly, but the giant’s movements catch my attention.

The giant reaches toward the oilskin bag in which he carries his provisions. He pulls a piece of manna from the bag. It is wrapped in a cloth, which he unfolds onto a stone beside him. He breaks a corner from his large loaf and hands it to me. This act, this simple gift, seems very like communion. He shares with me this gift. We break bread, together.

He has a water-skin, too. But he is not sure just how to give me something to drink. I have no cup and this water-skin is far too big for me to lift. Finally, I cup my hands and he pours some water into them. I drink and then rinse my hands with what remains.

“Shall we go?” I ask the giant.

“Go? Why go? We are here, we are.” he replies. “Where do you want to go?”

“Yesterday you said something about taking me to a meeting….” I begin.

“That’s right, a meeting. That meeting is here. Here is where we hold the meeting.”

“Oh.” I’m really a little disappointed that we won’t be moving on. I am filled with a dancing energy from the bread and water, from the fading memory of the night’s adventure. (Was that a dream or was it real?) I pace around the clearing. I reach into my pocket and touch my lighter. “What is this meeting? Who will be coming?”

“I don’t know,” the giant replies. “They sent me to get you and bring you here. They said there was to be a meeting. They sent many to look for you, but I found you, I did, and I brought you here.”

“Who are they?” I ask. “Who sent you for me?”

“The voices on the wind,” he says.

I stop, struck cold. The voices on the wind? I rode in the pocket of this giant far from where I was, because he heard voices on the wind? I’m not so sure about this. But then I remember Aslan. He was here last night, wasn’t he? Sometimes it seems like morning makes things less clear.

I turn to the giant. “How often have you heard these voices?”

“Two times before I have heard them, I have. This time makes three.” He holds up three fingers and seems to be quite proud of himself.

“And who is coming to the meeting?” I ask.

“They didn’t say,” he shrugs his shoulders, “They just said to find you and bring you here.”

I’m a little frustrated by his satisfaction with these incomplete answers. “When is the meeting to begin?”

“Tonight I think…. or tomorrow. They will know when to begin.” He looks at me, curious that I should be so insistent on all these details.

“So what do we do till then?” I ask. I can tell my voice has a bit of an edge.

“We wait.”

We have reached an impasse. The only one who can give me any hints about this meeting is quite content to let it happen on its own. He rises and strides off toward the stream to wash his hands.

I am left to wait, questions unanswered, trying to hold my impatience at bay. I don’t much like waiting. But sometimes that is what is required: to wait.

The difference between me and the giant, here, is that the giant seems, somehow, to trust the unfolding of experience. It’s not so much that he trusts the plan. Indeed, he seems unaware of any plan – or even of any need for one. Instead, he trusts … what? The voices? Perhaps it is that he trusts the one who calls.

I manage a wry smile. Can I trust a call, rather than a plan? I think I’ll plan to do just that …

[this soul story continues, here]

[image cropped and adjusted from photo by Ron Frazier per cc 2.0]

Small Wonder

Lichen itThis morning, this photo and its clever title (Lichen it) shook me with a smile. That simple smile allowed me to realize that I had, once again, been holding tight to serious duty.

Like a sudden breeze on a sultry day, it woke me to a bigger reality – one full of surprises in the tiniest places.

In a world that holds such wonder, I am continually surprised at my ability to place blinders on my own eyes, trying to avoid the very ‘distractions’ that would feed my soul.

Small wonder I am tired and dry.

Small Wonder and once again I find the whisper of life in simple beauty. It waits with lovely patience for my glance.

Thank you.

[photo used with permission from Mike Bizeau, the author of the lovely blog, nature has no boss.]

defining grace

Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace.    – Frederick Buechner

Grace enters my life quietly – gracefully. It comes on the smile of a friend and the warm embrace of my spouse. It arrives on my kitchen counter, in a basket of garden vegetables delivered by a neighbor. It comes as I watch my 2-week old granddaughter, stretching and yawning and trying to focus on this world she has just been given.

Buechner reminds me that I cannot acquire grace on my own. I cannot buy it, earn it, or demand it. Even when I’ve been my very best self, I cannot presume to deserve it.

There is, however, one volitional thing I can do with grace. I can give it. I can be the smile or give the hug or offer the gifts of friendship. I can be a neighbor. I can become the conduit of grace.

The mystery is that most often, in giving grace, I get it in return. When it is truly myself I give and not the duty-driven, obligatory gesture – it is then I find the grace of soul-to-soul relationship. That holy space of encounter is the birthplace of grace. And the birthplace of the me I truly want to be.

Even as a grandma, I feel newborn in the world of this mystery. I cannot always focus on its wonder, but somehow I know that I am held. And that is grace.

a new world

predictable grace

through the tent door

I peek out the flap of my tent door.
Is there manna again, today?

Yes, there is manna.

I am amazed every morning at the miracle of this gift.
Yet, just before the morning,
I wonder,
Can I dare to hope that it will come again?

This quiet and consistent blessing
Builds my faith one morning at a time.

Here it is, again.

Thank you.

[photo by Ishai Parasol per cc 2.0]


An English Garden

peaceful garden
I am in a garden, an English style garden with hedges dividing plots of flowers and woven through with stone pathways. Benches are scattered throughout. I am sitting on one of those benches, smooth oak ribs on an iron frame. The air is cool. There is a pervasive quiet to this place. It is interesting to feel peace within this sculpted nature. I am more accustomed to seeking peace within the wildness of a forest.

I sit and drink in the measured, purposeful consolation of this place. It is for this that it was designed. It is for this that loving hands have tended beds and trimmed the hedges. This is a place of intentional rest.

On old woman comes down one of the stone paths toward me. She has a shawl wrapped around her shoulders and she walks with a cane, but her steps are confident. “Hello, my child,” she greets me. She seems very familiar, but I am not sure who she is.

“Good morning, grandmother.” I use the term as a title and not as a name.

“First time in this garden?”

“Yes ma’am, it is beautiful. Do you know whose it is?”

“It is ours: yours, mine, anyone’s who will come.”

“A public garden then.”

“No, a private one. One where privacy is carefully cultivated and given space.”

“Of course.”

She joins me on the bench and we sit together for a long time, not speaking, but not at all awkward in the silence.

“Such gardens require time,” she says at last. “They must be cultivated slowly and with discipline. That’s why the very young don’t come here often. The children can find their peace in wilder places, and are not hindered by the climb to the high mountain or the scramble through underbrush. I need the stone pathways to help me.”

I glance at her cane and wonder at the limits of the loss of movement.

“Don’t feel sorry for me, my dear,” she says, following my eyes. “I am not limited by my years, but freed. The journeys I have taken still inhabit my heart. But sometimes the thirst to continually see more can distract you from taking the time to understand what has been already seen. I have time for understanding now, in ways I never had before.”

“Why am I here?” I ask.

“It is not given to me to know the lot of others,” she replies. “But I began to come here when I was younger, before I felt the limits and liberation of my cane. It was a familiar spot to me, one of great comfort and joy even before the wilds became too hard for me to find. Perhaps it is the same for you.”

She continues, “Growing older in a world which values not the wisdom of silence can make the changes seem as if they were losses. You see the gray hairs and feel the frailty in your step and start to mourn. Yet, it is only loss if you refuse to move forward. There are new tasks for each age. Learn to pick up the next, and your hands will not be empty from the loss of the previous ones. I am closer to eternity than you. I feel its breath more clearly…not as a specter of evil, but a curtain of hope, which will rise on a beautiful and wondrous new place. Do not deny the passage of time, do not delay maturity. But welcome it as you welcomed childhood from infancy and young adulthood from adolescence.”

“Well, I must admit, I have never been very eager to grow. At least as long as I can remember, I have resisted the responsibilities of each new stage…. preferring the comfort and assurance of where I was. I was never quite sure I could meet the challenge of growing up.”

“You never meet the challenges until you are there, my dear. They are part of the process of change, they don’t precede it. It is as natural as physical growth, if you will let go of what has been.”

“I haven’t done all I need to do where I am.”

“Perhaps not, and I don’t believe your presence here means that it is time for you to leave your current stage. But I know that the tasks assigned to you in each stage of your life may be different than the ones you take up on your own. You may not always be able to judge when you are ready to move on. If you can trust, though, and know that the one who moves you also knows your path, your tasks, and your time. You have no need to fear or mourn. Enjoy the garden. You will no doubt come again. Do not fear the loss of the wild. It is not lost to you, but given greater depth as you move on. He will take your hand when it is time and lead you on.”

“Thank you, grandmother.” I reach out and touch her hand. It is small and covered with light brown age spots. Her skin is frail and thin, but when I touch it I am warmed and comforted. She places her other hand on top of mine and I realize that this is my grandmother Byrd, my true grandmother as well as my spiritual one. She smiles at me with love and with very knowing eyes.

“You make us proud, your grandfather and I. We are glad to see your journey and will wait to welcome you when it is done. We wait with the host of those who love you.” She rises to go and at the turn in the path, she is met by my grandfather,  Lawrence Lee. They lean toward each other, wrapped in common love and experience. He smiles at me, too, and they are gone.

3 5 95

[photo by Bill Barber per cc 2.0]

Growing in Faith

flower[From a talk given on Laity Sunday, 2000]

Its Friday morning after a really long week and I’m struggling to wake up. I can barely open even one eye at a time to find the coffee pot in the kitchen. I sink down into my corner of the couch with my coffee and my muddled head and try to find a way to face the day.

Then Tim comes in. He’s been up at least an hour. He’s dressed and ready for work and he leans over the couch to kiss me goodbye and he says, “I love you.” And he is out the door.

It’s not the coffee that makes the morning. It’s the kiss.

We go on youth mission trip and we spend – what? – maybe 12 hours in a bus. By the time we get where we are going our clothes and our spirits can be pretty rumpled. Often, when we go on these trips, we sleep on the floor in a space made for half our number and 50 of us share a couple of bathrooms and then go out to sweat in the sun.

Then I see one of our kids running down a dirty street in a barrio, playing soccer with the kids from that neighborhood. They can’t really even speak the same language – but they are connected by the sheer exuberance of the game. Or you see them, late that night, doing some funky break-dance or playing a silly card game and you see the way they give each other the full freedom to be who they are.

It’s not that they don’t know each other’s faults and foibles — they’ve been together long enough to know those pretty well. But in their time together, their hearts have grown large enough to handle that. They hold within their friendship a grace that gives each one the room to grow.

You go to Sunday school, and week by week it doesn’t seem like much. You greet your friends and eat a donut and listen to a lesson and maybe duck when they ask for volunteers to teach next week. Then someone says something that opens a window to that very piece of reality that you were trying hard to ignore. Or two or three in conversation build an idea that resonates with more than logic – it rings true.

You have a group of friends you meet with regularly.  There is no real agenda to your meetings, except that you are together. You listen to each other’s stories and share each other’s hopes and disappointments. You simply enjoying being in the presence of consistent friendship. It shores up your soul.

And, when times get really tough, you find that the accumulated time together helps you hold the shattered pieces of your soul in place. When you can barely breathe for the pain, you find this fellowship, somehow, is breathing for you – they lend you their faith and hold you on.

So … just what is faith?

I’m not sure I can define it, but I can tell you what it feels like. It’s a mystery and a miracle – built upon the mundane. It’s life, peeking through the dailyness of our days.  It’s less about what is in your head, and more about what steadies your heart.

Now, I have to admit that I don’t think you can make faith grow any more than you can make a flower grow. But you can put a flower in the sun. We can put ourselves in places where growth is likely to be nurtured and then open ourselves to the possibility.

Of course, these kinds of experiences – the things that I’ve described, these chances to grow – can be found in many places. I don’t have to go to church or go on a mission trip or join a Sunday school class or a small group to touch these things.

After all, God wants flowers to grow. If they don’t grow, they wither. The Christ sneaks it in in every way he can. He is that interested in making the connection. He’s often comes in human form. Once fully, and many times in pieces, here and there. He is the sun, seeking the flower – he can make it grow.

But I have to tell you that there are places where it is not so safe to open yourself to whatever may come. There are places where the touch of other lives is not so gracious. There are those who would cut the flower to use it for their needs.

When you find a place that you can trust – it’s worth coming back to. And come back you must, for it is the coming, again and again and again, that provides the sunshine that grows your faith. Growing takes time.

So, I encourage you to look for a place where the flowers grow.

Look for the places where the soil is rich for the flower’s toes and where there is sunshine to kiss the flower’s cheek.

If you need some help to make it through the muddle of your days, look for these places, these times, these people. Take the time to dig your toes into the deep, rich soil. Turn your cheek toward the sun.

Remember, it is the kiss that makes the morning.

[photo by Steve Walker Photography per cc 2.0]