What an unexpected joy it has been to visit the churches of Santa Cruz; to peak in on their congregations and taste the flavors of each community.  It has been a long time since I have payed a visit to so many different houses of worship.  My first year of college, I flitted around the worshipping communities of Seattle with other eager freshman.  For the next 3 years, Bethany Presbyterian was my dwelling place, a community I look forward to returning to in the coming year.  For the present season however, I am content in my wandering and searching…it speaks to the state of my heart.

Some places I have visited feel more like home to than others.  It is good to recognize what words, practices, songs and sacraments cause me to linger longer.  Some communities and services are harder for me to engage, and yet there is something rousing about entering worship and not feeling immediately comfortable.  Walking with Jesus is often uncomfortable, I’m realizing.  In these places, my pride is broken down and I am reminded that I am not God.  I remember that God does not need my approval to work and move in a place.

In a year of much wandering and wondering, visiting these differing communities has brought peace to my heart.  With each week, I can feel myself moving slowly from despair to delight in my spiritual peregrination.  Last week, among a congregation that expressed an “extravagant welcome to people from all walks of life,” we were led in worship by local Jazz musicians.  I was refreshed and enlivened by the sounds that danced around the room.  May I just express that more churches should incorporate Jazz?  It is a wonderful expression of worship.  This is the prayer we offered at communion, one that I’ll tuck away in the pages of my journal and I leave you with this.  May we continue to find the peace and courage to journey onward.

A Prayer in the Spirit of Jesus
from the Maori People of the South Pacific

“Earth-maker, life-giver, pain bearer,
Source of all that is and all that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God in whom is heaven:

May the hallowing of your name echo through the universe.
May your heavenly will be done
by all creatures great and small!
And may your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth!

With the bread we need this day, feed us.
For the hurt we inflict on one another, forgive us.
Through times of temptation, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love.”

Amen


Photo credit: Church of Rodel, Outer Hebrides.  Jim Richardson. 
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“What does hesitation mean?” Alex often does this.  He will pull a thought out at random from the corners of his 6-year-old mind.  Only seldom are these emerging thoughts related to the moment at hand.

“Hmm.  Hesitation.” I answer,  “Well, it means pausing before you do something.  It means stopping and thinking instead of just jumping right in.  Like if you were on a diving board and you paused before you jumped.  You hesitated.”

“Oh, OK.” And on we go.  In classic older-sister fashion, Abby then uses the word “hesitation” 2 or 3 times throughout the day.

Translating big words and large quandaries into 6 and 8 year old speak has been one of my chief tasks as a nanny this summer.

But whittling down my time with these kids to, “I was a nanny this year,” hardly expresses it.  We’ve spent a year together.  Each season has seen us together, collapsing in giant leaf piles, sledding down the block, building tent forts when the rain kept us in,  exploring new parks in the waking of spring, and reading in the grass with our popsicles when the true summer warmth finally found us.   These two are my loyal comrades, my adventure partners, and my joyful friends.  And so as I approach saying goodbye, I hesitate.

I felt in that moment of query with Alex that I could also present myself as definition for the word.

I am packing up once again to move.  Soon I will wave goodbye to Seattle and take the long road to Santa Cruz, CA, another place I have oft called home.  In years past I have hesitated briefly on that proverbial diving board and then leapt into the unknown.  Other years I have run off, without indecision and eager to greet what was before me.  But today I am that child, crawling the length of the board and crying at its edge.  Not eager to jump, I’ll slowly lower myself off the edge and drop only when it becomes too hard to hold on any longer.  I know I’ll find the water cool and welcoming and yet that doesn’t pull me in as it has before.  I hesitate to leave the shore where those two wonderful kids, those cherished friends, and that beautiful man that I love so dearly are all standing. . . and staying.

And so I move.  I step forward and try to trust.  But not without great pause.

redwood |ˈredˌwoŏd| noun.  either of two giant conifers with thick fibrous bark, native to California and Oregon. They are the tallest known trees and are among the largest living organisms. • Two species in the family Taxodiaceae: the California (or coast) redwood ( Sequoia sempervirens), which can grow to a height of 325 feet (110 m), and the giant redwood ( Sequoiadendron giganteum), which can reach a trunk diameter of 35 feet (11 m).

This will be my first summer in 4 years not living and breathing beneath these great giants.  I will miss them.  Beneath the redwoods I’ve been watered with love and have sunk down my own roots to intertwine with theirs.  Here I have grown, in the shadow of their arms.  They have taught me to be still, to listen.  Their tiny beginning has gently reminded me what great big beautiful things can come out of the seemingly insignificant moment or small child.  These trees have been my teachers, my friends and under their watchful eye I have flourished.  From them my roots cannot be unwoven.

The stories of George MacDonald have blessed and washed my imagination this year.  Language is pliable and responsive in his hands and he renders common experiences in such a way as to cause the reader to feel she is experiencing the thing for the first time.  This is an excerpt from my favorite scene in his short story, “The History of Photogen and Nycteris” (or Day Boy and Night Girl) in which a girl, Nycteris, who has been held captive indoors all her life, first encounters the outside world:

And with that she fell on her knees, and spread out her hands to the moon. She could not in the least have told what was in her mind, but the action was in reality just a begging of the moon to be what she was—that precise incredible splendour hung in the far-off roof, that very glory essential to the being of poor girls born and bred in caverns. It was a resurrection—nay, a birth itself, to Nycteris. What the vast blue sky, studded with tiny sparks like the heads of diamond nails, could be; what the moon, looking so absolutely content with light.—why, she knew less about them than you and I! but the greatest of astronomers might envy the rapture of such a first impression at the age of sixteen. Immeasurably imperfect it was, but false the impression could not be, for she saw with the eyes made for seeing, and saw indeed what many men are too wise to see.

As she knelt, something softly flapped her, embraced her, stroked her, fondled her. She rose to her feet, but saw nothing, did not know what it was. It was likest a woman’s breath. For she know nothing of the air even, had never breathed the still newborn freshness of the world. Her breath had come to her only through long passages and spirals in the rock. Still less did she know of the air alive with motion—of that thrice blessed thing, the wind of a summer night. It was like a spiritual wine, filling her whole being with an intoxication of purest joy. To breathe was a perfect existence. It seemed to her the light itself she drew into her lungs. Possessed by the power of the gorgeous night, she seemed at one and the same moment annihilated and glorified.

Why, she knew less about [these things] than you and I!  But false the impression could not be for she saw with eyes made for seeing, and saw what many men are too wise to see. It seems to me that those parts of ourselves that we or others deem unacceptable, inadequate, not suited for the task at hand are often, in fact, the parts that grant us fresh eyes and provide the perspective deeply needed.  How we need the voice of the outsider!  How we need the voice of the unheard!  How we need the perspective of those who have long endured the darkness.  Their portrayal of the light is worth its weight in gold.

May you find yourself in places where you are blessed with the ‘eyes made for seeing.’  May you find yourself always surrounded by those who experience the world differently than you and by them may you find yourself rediscovering the newborn freshness of the world.


 

The ruach of God is with us.  Spirit. Breath. Winds…

There is nothing quite like the sweet, clean air of the ocean, the cold, velvety inhale of open-air.  I have been thinking a lot about breath lately in my studies of Acts and the Holy Spirit.  I’m enchanted by the Hebrew, ruach, meaning spirit, breath, winds…  While English detaches these meanings from their relationship to each other, the Hebrew holds all these tenderly together–the ruach of God.  Recently I was blessed with a time of withdrawal to Widbey Island for a theology retreat, befittingly entitled “Breathe.” And breathe we did, drinking in the freshness of new people and the rareness of repose and rest.

Ruach was strong and persistent there on the island, summersaulting with the waves and toying with our hair.  In the morning, a few of us flew down with the wind to the water, running across the field and having reminiscent sensations of childhood burst from within.  I was but dancing on the breath of God.  As we raced to meet the waves, the wind pushed and pulled at bodies.  We were dragged about and could hardly keep our footing.  At first we walked aimlessly about, trying to keep our balance and just playing with the wind’s advances.  Then we ventured a new course, turning to face her hustles and blows.  Sand stung our faces as we struggled to move forward, walking into the wind.  We were at odds with the urgings of the wind, resistant to her prodding.  On we walked, only very slowly making headway.  We were set dead against the current, fighting to move onward.

And then…we stopped.  We turned.  You cannot stand still with such a wind at your back.  The urgings of the wind moved me suddenly forward without my conscious consent.  I laughed at the urgency and gave in to her persuasive efforts, beginning to walk with the wind.  And then, as she prompted, I ran.  It felt close to flying.  Great exertion was replaced with great exhilaration.  Running was effortless and each time I would slow a new gust would push me onward.  At this, pure delight bubbled up from within me.  What burst from within met the wind and they were one.  The song and laughter that sprang from my lips was one with the breath that encircled my body.  Eventually I slowed my forward movement and then stood still, relaxing into the arms of the wind.  I leaned back and the strong breath held me fast.

Reclining in her might, I was struck that this wind was someone I knew…someone I had met in other places.  I had wrestled with this wind before.  In another sphere of experience I had resisted her prodding.  And in that other realm of being I had also been alive and sensitive to her mighty motions.  Leaning back into the arms of the wind was a deeply familiar feeling.  As I inhaled her breath, feeling it brush the deep and tender places of my soul, I could almost hear her whisper rushing past me…”Be still.  Know.  I AM.”

Emmanuel, grant me the grace to be ever stirred by your breath.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.