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.

Fall

Sometimes things intuitively know what the coming weather is going to be like and respond accordingly. Last week Karisse and I fixed up our bikes and took a little ride in the sunshine. We noticed that a parade of expensive sports cars went roaring by. The rag-tops among them had their roofs down. Then, boom, it started to rain Sunday, and all of a sudden, the little tinges of colors on the edges of trees are sweeping across the leaves as chlorophyll fades, having done its summer’s work, and the latent colors of the tissues emerge. The nights have a chill about them. Last night Karisse had the fireplace going. Fall is here. It’s like it fell out of the sky overnight. The sports cars are gone.

It has changed not just the trees and the temps, but the quality of the air. A quiet resolve has set in, as we lose 3 minutes of light a day. Pumpkins are orange. Apples are sweet. Ducks are piling up on open water, and soon the swans will arrive. A last planting of cold-weather crops is up in the fields, lettuce and radishes, and cabbage and carrots are waiting to be harvested. Winter’s grey days are around the corner, but before them, the cornucopia of Autumn is pouring itself out without heed upon the land, almost in a hurry. Some things know intuitively what the coming weather is going to be like and respond accordingly.

Picture credits: Paul Moore©

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Hunting

I returned last week from an elk hunt with my best friend from High School. The elk are none the worse for our presence in the mountains. We, on the other hand, are changed. One cannot be in the mountains and not be changed unless one is only there physically, and not mentally and spiritually. I could say we were on a hunt, but not really for elk. We were on a hunt for the change we found—we were successful.

We returned humbled. The territory up there is big. It takes a while to get anywhere. We refused to fudge on the rules and drive where we were not allowed. We walked. All of it is either uphill or downhill. Jim Shockey, renown outdoorsman, says the Yukon will bring out the best or the worst of you, and you get to choose. The mountains are the same way. Choose to fight it and the mountains will win every time. Humility is the only real option.

We returned stronger. My friend

is a mountain climber and in very good shape. I sit on my butt most days typing on this computer, or talking with folks, or puzzling out sermons and meditations and things. I take the stairs rather than the elevator at the hospital when I go on visits to get exercise. The ups and downs of the mountains at 5000 ft. elevation make you stronger. But we grew stronger in other ways. We grew closer together. We strengthened one another’s faith in prayer and conversation daily. We deepened our capacity for compassion.

 

We returned hungry. No, there is no elk meat in my freezer, but that is not why I am hungry. The deep longing for the mystery of creation is only strengthened when exposed to it. The deep longing for meaningful and vital relationship is only deepened when tasted. For all that is good, beautiful and true there is a vacancy in the human heart, and when one slips something into one of those voids the echoes of the yet-empty spaces resound in the ear of the heart.

I’ll go hunting with my friend again. I can’t not.

Picture credits: Paul Moore©

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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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Friends

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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Wild

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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