Difficult Silence

Sitting in the quiet of the morning was hard today. A hundred issues and questions flooded my mind with issues that would have to wait until later in the day anyway. Over and over again I called my heart to silence. Feel your body in the chair, your feet on the floor. Remember where you are, facing north-northeast, halfway between the equator and the pole, on the edge of the water, with Mt. Baker hiding behind a veil of mist. The dogs in their crates, the doves flying overhead, visible through the window, are all part of now, their relevance in the next moment irrelevant. Those questions can wait until I rejoin the dualist world of every-day. Right now the unitive oneness of everything in the Now of God is my only concern. (Why do I have to convince myself of that over and over again…? There I go again. Come back to the center. Back to the center. Breathe, count, feel the chair and the floor, see the mountain. Remember where you are.

Sometimes silence is difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. But the prize is worth the effort—that resting place where all dances around the still center of the heart of God. If it were easy it probably wouldn’t be worth doing.

Picture credit: https://learntomeditate.org/


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Silver Headed Wisdom

Living in downtown Burlington, WA is like living in a High School gymnasium. Between the trains, the semis, the motorcycles and the hotrods, the noise constantly reverberated around us. Now we’re out on aptly named “Pleasant Ridge.” Karisse brought home some chicken from the store and, since we now have a portion of outside space for our use, we grilled chicken, vegetables and fresh corn from Schuh Farms and ate a quiet meal, watching Mount Baker’s silver head, majestic on the northeastern horizon. It took me back to my youth in the Andes, where on a clear day and from the right vantage point, one could see at least three major snow-capped peaks, silver heads against the blue, standing ever-so-still against the movements of human endeavor.

Such silver heads are full of the wisdom of the slow. Though the winds blow around them, the snow come and go, hikers and climbers plant their footprints on them over and over again, the mountain sits there, its heartbeat on the scale of centuries and millennia, putting our frenetic seconds and minutes like a few raisins in a very, very big bowl.

And yet there is another stillness, born not of slowness but of eternity. It knows every moment to be Now, that steps off the timelines of our lives into the ever-present eternity of God. That eternity is our truest home. The silver heads point us in that direction, if we will but let their slowness stop us long enough to know the Now. Touching that all-encompassing realm teaches our hearts the wisdom to live in loving justice on the timelines we share with one another.

It is good to see the mountain.

Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Baker


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The city of Deming, NM, 30 miles from the Mexican border, is becoming a staging place for refugees from all over the world. Recently it has been Iraqis. The younger Christian men among them have tattooed crosses and wear crosses on chains. The older ones are more subdued. A father and son bought a washing machine at a garage sale for $100. It turned out to be a piece of junk. They took it to the Maytag Repair Shop, run by a crusty old friend of mine who, despite his exterior, is one of the most generous people I know. He could not fix it.

When getting their money back from the seller proved fruitless, they returned to my friend and asked, “What are we supposed to do?” The repairman made the sign of the cross, folded his hands and bowed his head. The older man broke out into a belly laugh. Then he, too, made the sign of the cross, folded his hands and bowed his head.

Now, a couple of times a week the old Iraqi comes to visit the Maytag shop. They both make the sign of the cross, fold their hands and bow their heads, and the Iraqi pats the repairman on the back and says, “Friend!”

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I had just finished picking a generous quart of wild blackberries, some of them as big as the end of my thumb. Blackberry seeds were stuck in my teeth where I had helped myself to some…they were just too delicious to wait for a pie. The Jack Russell was busy finding dragons in the bushes or trying to dig them out from under logs. I was tossing a big spinner half-way across the small lake, trolling it back slowly just off the bottom, down where the cold water and big trout lie. A bite feels more like a hang-up. The lure just stops. Then, when the hook is felt, the hang-up begins to move. Soon the rod-tip is shaking and bobbing as the fish fights not to come into the light. Dinner is on the end of the line.

It’s just 30 minutes from our apartment, but if I look in the right directions, I can see only the mountains, trees, waterlilies and the rippled surface of the lake. A Blue-winged Teal zips past and skids into the water at one end. A Great Blue Heron ponders by to the other end of the lake to do his fishing. A beaver head wedges a wake. I can imagine I’m a hundred miles from anywhere “civilized.”

“Civilized” comes from the Latin, “civitatis,” and the related “civitatem,” from which we get the word, “city.” It refers to the socio-political and economic systems we build and live in as human beings. Being in the “wild” is being somewhere where those systems don’t hold much sway. Mountains, trout, ducks, herons, beavers and this particular lake are not “civilized.”

The gods of the church are civilized, tamed and bent to serve the society that invents them. The Ground of All Being evades all attempts at domestication. At its roots, existence is wild, and so must the believer be.


Photo credit: Paul Moore

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Curled Fingers

We usually speak with curled fingers.

We were checking out a house to buy yesterday afternoon and the current owner had a big bumper sticker on the back of his bubba truck alleging that all Democrats are spineless wimps. Knowing some very principled and active democrats, the lesser part of me wanted to take it up with him. (Wisely, the lesser part of me did not get the better part of me.) During my morning mediation today, it dawned on me that such a judgment comes from inside his corner of the world. Democrats, as he sees things, do not pursue his political agendas, and are therefore wimps. To flip the coin, one could say that Republicans are wimps because they meekly toddle after a rogue President who has co opted the Republican party to sell it to the NRA. However, that flip of the coin would fall to the same criticism.  It, too, speaks from a corner of the world. Both accusations are hurled with curled fingers—you know, the three fingers that are curled back toward the speaker who is pointing at someone. When we speak about others we do so from our own corner of the world, and so we reveal much more about ourselves than the one about whom we speak.

Maybe the solution is to uncurl the fingers and extend the hand in greeting rather than accusation. Then, perhaps, we can muster the courage to step outside our corner and see how our own hands have built it, and what an illusion it really is.

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My father-in-law’s favorite word is “togetherness.” It’s all about “togetherness.” “We spent some good time in togetherness;” “The togetherness we shared was really wonderful;” etc. I like the word. “Togetherness” has become more and more important to me as well. Maybe with age the need to achieve begins to give way to something deeper.

Still, it’s nice to be doing something while enjoying togetherness. This morning about 8 of us tackled the task of moving a full-sized grand piano up two steps into the chancel area of the church and maneuvering it over chipboard sheets to where it belongs after having the wood floor refinished. Everyone had ideas for what to do. As each challenge presented itself a natural kind of brainstorm happened that eventually rained out a workable solution. What seemed like it wouldn’t work did, and what didn’t work—well, we never got around to any of those, thanks be to God. We were like a bunch of worker-bees with no clear queen, each one busily giving their all to the task at hand and finding, almost by accident, that together, it worked Clearer leadership and someone with some real engineering skills might have made the job go more efficiently and predictably, but as it was, WE did it. We don’t have to share the lion’s share of the glory with anyone in particular. Each of us contributed something important and indispensable. All of us are grateful to one another. The congregation has reason to be grateful equally to us all.

“Togetherness” became for me today a way of talking about that underlying sense of community that draws us to tackle jobs of common concern by joining forces. Undergirding the community is the mystery of synergy, the fact that together we are more than the sum of our parts. Ken Wilber, the philosopher, would remind us that each greater level of being includes and transcends the previous level. The community is categorically greater than the individual, though the individual cannot be lost in community or the community itself falls apart. As a Christian, I would say it’s about spirit and Holy Spirit, that place where the great mystery within and the Great Mystery without become one.

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Depth and Breadth

Saturday night I sat in a crowded hall with a hundred people of all ages. The name of the hall was “Sons of Norway,” and there was a painting of a fetching blond in Norwegian garb looking coyly between two white birch trees, but the faces in the room were all brown—except for ours and one other couple. It was the party after three little girls were baptized at Resurrección Church, and as the officiant at the rite, my wife and I were invited. The older ones spoke in hushed tones in Mixteco, the middle-aged conversed in Spanish, the teens were all cyber-communicating, and two little boys ran from the hall giggling as one called after the other in English, “I’m gonna get you!” There, in front of us, was a whole shift of generations, from First Nations of Mesoamerica to one of the emerging colors in the Great American Mosaic.

The dancing finally started. First, the parents of the three girls and the godparents, with the children, all got up to dance the “Baile de los Padrinos,” (The dance of the godparents.) This officially opened the dance floor. The next dance was for all the padrinos, those who had contributed in some way to the expenses and work of the lavish party. Finally, the rest of us had a chance, at our discretion, to go out and bob in the middle of the crowd. It was an easy step, a quick waltz rhythm, with a simple shuffling of the feet. It was a dance for everyone, as if the significant percussion element in the music nudged hearts to beat in unison for a time. In a stretch of 20 minutes we celebrated the joining of two families in compadrazgo, a recognition of all the rest of the combined effort for this event, and the melding of peoples old and young, brown and white, into one bobbing pueblo, celebrating a spiritual ritual of life. The death and destruction, the threat to Hispanic people of the previous weekend, was somehow forced far, far away for a moment of life and unity.

Life is deep and broad, if you just open your eyes and hearts to see what’s going on!

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