Jacob in the Morning: Surely God is in this place

Every moment sacred. Sedona sunset in Sue's hand. SJG photo.

For this cold Sunday morning, I offer a retelling of a story from Genesis 28…a story that challenges us to consider that the holy is all around us — not merely in temples and churches, not only in sacraments and to the accompaniment of soaring music or while standing in inspiring places of natural or human-created beauty. The holy is where we are at any given moment of our day, if only we’re willing to look for God in that moment. Imagine Jacob, the morning after his dream:

It’s the “morning after” as I tell this story to myself, hoping that speaking it out loud will allow me to remember everything I experienced last night…

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When we walk in faith, each breath is a prayer

Doe Mountain Trailhead, near Sedona, AZ. SJG photo.

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from.”  – C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Over the past four days visiting the beautiful red rock country surrounding Sedona, Arizona, Sue and I have taken a hike each day. It’s easy to do here, for there are trailheads at the end of just about every road and many, many hikes of varying lengths and difficulty from which to choose. So, whether you are occasional enthusiasts like us looking for “easy to moderate” trails, or more experienced (and fit!) folks looking for something much more challenging, Sedona is a wonderful place to put one foot in front of the other and take a hike.

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Today’s Word: Wonder

Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona. SJG photo.

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”  – Socrates

When the heroine of E.B. White’s classic children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web” first writes “SOME PIG” in her web in an attempt to save her friend Wilbur’s life, she was creating more than a PR campaign. She was creating wonder. She was making everyone who saw her web stop in their tracks, stand back, scratch their heads, and try to contemplate something they couldn’t fathom. That seems like a pretty good way to go through life.

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The Creative Spirit: The Human Necessity of ‘Being Moved’

One in bloom, one on waiting. SJG photo

Over the past week, I have been reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’ve seen the B movies and a very good theatrical version years ago at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre, but I’ve never read the book. It was assigned reading this year for all the first-year students at the university where I work, so I thought I would join the throng of readers.

We all read books, poems and sacred texts with different mindsets and personal histories, of course, so these words purposefully and creatively strung together by the authors affect each person differently. As regular readers of my blog no doubt know, I write often on the idea of paying attention to the world around us, of leaving ourselves open to being moved by the things in our lives and, ultimately, by the looming presence of God. So I was delighted to read this passage below, spoken by Dr. Frankenstein about his hike through the woods and mountains, during which he observed the desolation after an avalanche, dangerous and deep ravines, “somber” pines, the distant valley with mist rising off the river and the mountain summits shrouded in clouds. In short, he was paying attention and was deeply aware of the human necessity of being moved. He says:

“Alas! Why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings. If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst and desire, we might be nearly free; but now we are moved by every wind that blows, and a chance word or scene that the word may convey to us.”

Mary Shelley was still in her late teens when she began writing Frankenstein, so this kind of insight seems all the more astounding. And then the cheeky girl does a little promotion for her poet-husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, following her own words with some of his poetry:

We rest: a dream has power to poison sleep.
We rise: one wand’ring thought pollutes the day.
We feel, conceive, or reason; laugh, or weep,
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away;
It is the same: for, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free.
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but mutability!

Nothing lasts, they both remind us, except for the constant changing of the world around us. And our job is to pay attention. For people who have faith in a creative and creating God, that means being ever on the watch for the stroll of God through our lives.

Coming into bloom. SJG photo.

This weekend, Sue and I are in southern Wisconsin, and yesterday I walked through a broad swath of wildflower prairie adjacent to the place where we are staying. I stopped in amazement of what was before me: a noisy, ever-moving and always changing sea of grass, flowers, bees, birds and shifting light. When we stand in the midst of such natural glory, we stand at the center of creation, and we can begin to find our place in the world. We are human and we are loved by God, and this sets us apart from the “brute,” but nevertheless we need the rest of this to remind us of who we are and from whence we come. For this mutability continues whether we pay attention or not, but it is our calling and responsibility to pay attention. As the poet Mary Oliver writes:

Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished.

Here’s a 30-second visit to that wildflower prairie:

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The Creative Spirit: Conversation and Storytelling

Opening the door to conversation and storytelling. SJG photo.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll certainly see a few repeating themes, among them the importance of living in awareness and gratitude of God and the critical nature of silent, contemplative prayer to do that. But there’s more, of course. As much as we need our times of silence, we need times of conversation and storytelling with friends new and old.

I received an email from L’Arche St. Louis this morning that helped drive this idea home for me, for the email contained this quote from Henri Nouwen, who lived in a L’Arche community for many years:

“Pay attention to the people God puts in your path if you want to discern what God is up to in your life.”

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Today’s Word: Gasp

Springfield (Mo) Botanical Garden. SJG photo.

“You were within, but I was without. You were with me, but I was not with you. So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.” – St. Augustine, Confessions

I am up early this morning sitting on the back porch because, well, I can. Yesterday the St. Louis area was hit with a record 108 degrees, and the ever-present St. Louis humidity made it feel somewhere up around 113. Not fit for man or beast. It was hard to catch my breath and find good oxygen. Perhaps I need to evolve some gills to better snatch the oxygen out of the air. Yet I know this will pass, as this morning it already has…for a while at least.

Heatwaves, snowstorms and other extremes of nature have a way of getting our attention. They smack us across the face and remind us of the power, majesty and unpredictability of the earth. They recall for us of the continuing cycles of nature, of the gentle spinning and revolving of the earth around its axis and around the sun, taking us into and out of our days, nights, seasons and years. If we think we’re in control, we need to stop and think again. We’re along for the ride.

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Today’s Word: Turns

Garden Path near Santa Fe. SJG photo.

There are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths.” Mark Nepo

I was talking to a friend recently who is trying to make a big life decision – one of those seemingly huge choices that appear to be riddled with opportunities for both success and failure. In the words of those sage rock ‘n’ roll philosophers from The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go?”

He is going about the discernment process in all the right ways, I believe. He’s talking to trusted friends and advisors. He’s doing his homework on the new place. He’s considering what he will be leaving behind. He’s praying and trying to leave it all in the hands of God, who knows him better than he knows himself. Still, it’s a tough decision. He’s not hearing any voices. He’s not receiving any divine telegraphs. As it so often happens in life, we have to make these decisions for ourselves, hoping and praying that it’s the right one. It can be a scary and confusing time.

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Today’s Word: Discovery

1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. SJG photo.

“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

This past weekend, Sue and I visited Washington, D.C., taking in some of the sights and museums. I usually enjoy just about any kind of museum, but I am often drawn to history and science museums because they present the discoveries and innovations of the world in such a graphic and accessible way. And whether some man or woman of the past conquered flight or disease, whether he or she discovered a new way of seeing the world, governing its people, harnessing the power of its natural resources or uncovering its ancient past to better understand our present, a museum gives us in a snapshot what a good book does in more depth over hundreds of pages. Both are important, of course, but a museum has the opportunity to grab our attention and nudge us toward the deeper end of knowledge. What we see in an exhibit can and should lead us to read, to research, to create, to think deeply and share with others.

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Today’s Word: Silence

Growth happens in silence. George Washington's apples, Mt. Vernon. SJG photo.

This morning, we are sharing our outdoor space with a doe, who has been feeding herself on our friend and neighbor Gerry’s decorative grass and lying quietly in the shade of two small maples, paying little attention to the two humans behind the screen. Together, we seem to all be enjoying the silence of the early Saturday morning before the rest of the world wakes up and begins mowing lawns and puttering around doing the things we humans do.

It’s not really silent, of course. The birds are a noisy lot, and then there’s the distant traffic. Not much we can do about that. But relatively speaking, it’s pretty quiet. Silence, we sometimes think or come to believe, is a “nothingness.” It is the absence of noise. It is the hushing of talk. It is the musical void and even the quieting of our inner voices. And so it is. But it is so much more.

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Today’s Word: Tempo

Slowing down enough to see this. SJG photo.

On this lazy Sunday morning, Sue and I are sitting on the porch doing “nothing,” although that’s never really true, is it? We are reading and writing. We are listening to the birds and staring at the stems of all our flowers that have been eaten by the deer and the rabbits (argh!) We are enjoying a cup of coffee and some fresh fruit. We are being present to one another even when we don’t speak. We are praying and being present to God. Is all that nothing or something? I think it’s something important.

So caught up in the business and busy-ness of our work and lives, we can all sometimes feel guilty about doing “nothing.” But, of course, it is exactly this nothingness that we need. We need time to unplug, time to refuel, time to remove ourselves from the rest of life so that we can be, in fact, better for the rest of life, better for those who need us, better for the work that needs to be done.

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