Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.


Someone gave me the word for it. I’m cloistered. I’m not “quarantined,” unless you insist on a sterile medical definition. I’m cloistered. For a man of the cloth it seems appropriate.

But maybe for more than just people of the cloth. I could choose to be quarantined; I suppose. I could choose to sit in my quiet house, looking out at all the things I can’t do and the places I can’t go. I could sterilize my life down to the bear elemental basics. I could hold my breath until Saturday when I can come out of quarantine and “be normal again.” I think that’s how many of us feel about the pandemic worldwide.

Or I could be cloistered—a chosen retreat from the distractions of the world to focus on really important things, which are probably not found out doing those things I can’t do, nor in the places I can’t go. They are found within, where the real struggles of life are fought. A quieter routine, a slower pace, more time to breathe and look at the things right in front of me, truly look in long, loving contemplation. Maybe this can be a time of renewed prayer—a pandemic leading to prayer. How redemptive is that?

I may no longer be quarantined after Saturday, but I may not give up my cloister. There’s something I really, really need here.


Picture Credit: The Cloister at Iona,

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Three days ago, I was in the presence of someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. We were all masked, and I maintained my social distance, but you don’t know, and so I’m going in for a test this afternoon and I’m going to monitor myself for symptoms. Nobody meant to. We were all doing the right thing and had no clue the person was carrying the virus. But now, all of a sudden, all those numbers on the TV screen don’t mean much. It’s personal.

Oh, they mean a lot, really, because they remind us that the death rate of this disease in the US is about 2.4%, and the vast majority of us will not suffer unduly. Yet the numbers of people with lingering effects, and the uptick in cases nation-wide, make it the one thing you don’t want to admit into the realm of the personal—yet sometimes it does anyway. Such is living in community. There are risks. The risks of living alone are a hundredfold greater.

The dance of society is a delicate one. There is no dance without each person stepping out; yet the dance requires more than one. It’s not the individual vs. the communal, it must be both, each in their roles and respective realms. Ken Wilber would say the community transcends and includes the individual.*

And so, we do contact tracing and advise all the people we need to, take precautions and change plans. And I get tested and watch myself and stay home for a while. Personal and communal, each in their roles and respective realms. This, too, shall pass.

* Wilber, Ken. A brief history of everything. Shambhala Publications, 2001.

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Fog sat low on Little Mountain this morning. At least it’s no longer mixed with smoke, like this time last month. The fog lifted as the morning wore on, leaving us under a blanket of grey clouds. The rainy season in the Pacific North West has begun, and fog is of the order of the days. It’s OK. As a kid growing up in the jungle, overcast days draped a mantle of grey over the dry season, and fog in the mountains was only noted by its absence.

For much of the month of September my mind was in a bit of a fog as well. So many things seemed uncertain. Where the coronavirus was heading, where our national politics was heading, where our church is heading, where I am heading…everything long-term seemed out of sight behind a curtain of fog. Much is clearing now. The coronavirus is here for as long as the CDC and WHO originally predicted—well into next year. We might as well get used to it. National politics seem to be clarifying a bit, with one presidential candidate with a substantial margin over the other in the polls. Our church’s commitment to social justice, racial equality, and building community has seen some new initiatives. I am back in my office, and it feels like I’m back at work again.

Fog drifts in and drifts out. In the midst of the fog we ask questions we don’t ask when the sun is shining, questions that are probably more important than we think; questions that, when taken in the light of day, may seem foolish, but maybe actually invoke wisdom the sun hides from us.

I welcome the fog.

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Let us never forget:

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One Earth

We just spent three days on the shoulders of White Chuck Mountain in the northern Cascades. When the clouds blew out of the way we could see craggy, snowy peaks north and south of us. The rock which is White Chuck jutted up just beyond our campsite. The dogs ran until they collapsed to sleep in patches of sunshine. We hiked up the trail to the mountain a ways and I found a snowbank in a swale. Water trickled out of the low end of it, adding its moisture to others, that joined others and flowed downhill to the Sauk Suiattle River below, that flows into the Stillaguamish and into Puget Sound. We stood at 5300 feet at the source of the sea.

Salmon do not reach these heights, but they do swim up the Sauk Suiattle and its minor tributaries. They die after spawning, and bears, racoons, eagles, ravens and who-knows-what-else eats what remains of them. What is not eaten rots into the soil and is taken up by trees, sometimes hundreds of feet into the air. I can imagine a grain of pollen from a Douglas Fir on the river’s edge being blown by the wind all the way to that snowbank, joining sea and mountain the other way.

And I breathe the same wind, and am made of the same rock and soil, and I, too, will add my nutrients to the earth one day, for its truly one Earth.

The snows are not what they were. The banks are not as deep, nor do they last as long. It’s high time we took care of this one Earth.

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I saw a news article recently about protests against the mandates to wear masks in public. One young lady held a sign with a crossed-out mask on it and the words, “My Body, My Choice.” While I respect her desire to protect her freedom, I profoundly disagree with her statement. It misunderstands masks and it misrepresents the reality. Since she could be a non-symptomatic carrier (I doubt if she knows) she may actually be a vector for the coronavirus, and she has no right to infect others with a disease that is now the #3 killer of people in the United States. What if (and I would never wish it on her) her own child or her grandmother came down with the illness and ended up in the emergency room? What if that person survived, but suffered long-term impairment? What if she found out that the most likely vector of infection was her own uncovered face? Wearing a mask is an act of love that one does for the good of others more than for oneself. A better, wiser slogan would be, “Your Body, My Choice.” But then, the ego is much better at loving oneself than loving others. What we need is Spirit.

How quickly we shoot ourselves in the foot, pushing back against precisely what we need. Such push back is hugely seductive at times of uncertainty like now, but whatever its source, it is ultimately ego-driven and unwise. The spiritually wise path walks bravely down the path of descent, allowing the ego to suffer for the sake of love, that we might learn to live from Spirit instead. Perhaps the final answer to the pandemic is the spiritual path it invites us on—but it doesn’t happen automatically. We must choose.

(I wonder how I am pushing back against what I most need….)

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On the 10th of August, 1809, the first call for independence from Spanish rule was made in Quito, Ecuador, the city of my birth. It launched, along with a good number of other Spanish colonies, a series of wars for independence, partly capitalizing on the destabilization of Spain by the Napoleonic wars. By 1829 all the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America had won independence. Mexico tried on monarchy for a little less than a year, but the Enlightenment pushed them all toward republics, as we see today. However, the DNA of European colonialism is not easily cast aside. Classism persists, even to this day. Essentially, the more indigenous blood you have in your veins, the further you are from centers of power. True freedom for all is an inconvenient ideal for those in power.

Yet even that is changing now. The oligarchic clans are losing their grip on the people. The Roman Catholic Church, that historically has helped rule, hand-in-hand with the oligarchies, is losing members to the Pentecostal tradition, about as far from classist religion as you can get. More and more, people who identify as Indigenous are becoming wealthy, hammering out influence, and even finding seats in national government. Native tongues are being recognized. Like in the US, racism has been driven underground, where it persists as a cancer that eats away at social integrity. This hemisphere-wide movement has found traction lately here in the US in the popular Black Lives Matter movement. But I wonder if there isn’t a certain inevitability in it. There seems to be a need in the heart of every people for social integrity, and if freedom is the basis of it, then the story of a people must somehow weave together the stories of all its members, not just some.

Otherwise, there is only oppression.

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Mount Baker sits 30 miles to the north east of my house in northwestern Washington. On clear days, her white head shines in the sun, seemingly perched on the closest hills between us. She reminds me of snow-capped peaks in the Andes of Ecuador where I grew up. My best friend is a mountain climber who has summitted many of those peaks.

Over this last weekend some friends and he climbed Mount Baker. One of them took a bunch of pictures. In one picture there are crevasses on either side of the climbers and the sun hitting a peak ahead of them, making the snow shine, while they are still in the pre-dawn blue. They are roped together for safety. If one slips, the others can stop what would otherwise be a catastrophic fall.

We walk in predawn blue between the parallel crevasses of white privilege and COVID-19. If we look up, instead of at our own feet, we will see the sunshine of the hope of justice and health in the distance. We can’t really judge how far it is, but it shines nonetheless, beckoning us onward.

Unlike the climbers, there is no going back. Efforts to do so only end in violent darkness. The way forward is toward the light, roped together lest we suffer a catastrophic fall.

Picture credit:  Mordechai Treiger, used with permission.

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After Our Own Image

If you haven’t watched United Shades of America, you should. As the website calls him, “comedian and political provocateur W. Kamau Bell” travels the country, giving voice to minorities in the United States, especially African Americans. He tells their stories, and they are worth hearing. Recently he aired a show about a black man whose mission in life is to rescue white supremacists from their violent movements. He’s got 200 now, Klansmen, neo-Nazis, you name it. He had four of them on the show, and the stories they told of their previous life were chilling, their new life, exhilarating. I’m sure it cost these men to find freedom, and it may still.

Take a giant step back: Every people creates the world in their own image. For example, the people I grew up with call themselves, Tsachila, (The Normal People.) Their language is Tsafiki, (The True Word.) Everyone else is a variation on that theme. These United States of America began this building process in a particular way, where “normal” involved white people owning black people and either removing or killing people of color. Black Lives Matter is an attempt at a seismic shift, an intentional earthquake, where “normal” gets redefined in terms of what the words of our constitution say, in spite of what they have been interpreted to mean: All are created equal. In other words, it is a herculean effort at integrity.

So, of course the resulting world will feel not-normal to white people. It will feel not-normal to Black people and Indigenous people and People of Color, because the old way of white domination will have gone with the wind. Another way is emerging. We don’t know what it looks like yet, but the Pew Research Center documents that most of us believe that the life stories of Black people must have equal place in the social story we tell. I would add that integrity is not achieved until the stories of people who are Indigenous, Brown, Asian, Of Color, Trans and LGBTQ+ are also included. However, if in the anxiety of not-normal, we allow another group to assume the same dominant role as today’s whites, merely returning us to the old story with different actors, then the whole effort is lost.

It begs the question, What image of ourselves do we want to build society after? Our ethnocentric, cultural selves, or our deep, divinely-inspired essential worth that includes and transcends cultural and racial identity? To do so we have to first get in touch with that deep worth, and that is a spiritual endeavor whose end is full humanity. Integrity is a path whose only alternative is inhumanity.

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Wow, we were away over the weekend and when we got back it was HOT in the house! We quickly opened all the windows to let the breeze waft away the stale air. I glanced at the inside readout on the weather station. It was a whopping—get this—an unbearable 90 degrees! How quickly we forget! We spent some time in Dallas in 1980 when a record-setting 69 days in a row saw triple-digit temps. Living in south Texas, there were three months in which we never saw the 70’s because it never cooled off that much. How quickly we forget.

How quickly we forget when politicians do flip-flops, break promises or walk back something they said. One would think they would at least acknowledge their duplicity and offer an apology, but that rarely happens. We just glide on and elect them again.

How quickly we forgot Columbine and didn’t do anything that might have avoided Las Vegas. But even Columbine forgot. Wikipedia lists the following in an article titled, List of Mass Shootings in the United States:1

May 31- June 1, 1921    GreenwoodTulsa, Oklahoma

Deaths: 36 – 300[171][172]

Injured: 800+

Total: 836+ (exact number disputed)

Tulsa race massacre: When white mobs attacked the black residents and business of the Greenwood District in Tulsa. The attack was carried out using guns, fire and private aircraft and aided by the United States National Guard. The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district – at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”.[173]

(Note: I reformatted this information from table to text and added the labels, “Deaths” and “Injured,” that are listed at the top of the whole table on the Wikipedia page.)

There are those who do not forget this horrific moment. Such remembering is important, especially to those who would forget, for if we forget, then we will forget that we are all human, and that only together can we struggle toward full humanity. We will forget that this planet is one, and that destroying it destroys ourselves. Those who remember remind us that our greatest struggle is against the urge to forget.


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