imagination

Echo

On my other blog (lovewithacapitall.com) I write about documentaries and songs and tv shows and politics – it’s not that much different than here, I suppose. This post will be a break from our Gospel response series and might be posted on both sites. It’s about a documentary and it’s about creativity and Jesus and should be required viewing for anyone who has ever loved a song or another person or being alive.

The documentary is called Echo In The Canyon (on Netflix) and deals with the music of the 1960’s. It’s mostly American music, barely touching on English bands like The Rolling Stones or the Zombies, focusing on the Laurel Canyon scene and the Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield (whose members refer to as THE Buffalo Springfield), and the Beatles (who were English, but they were the focus of everything musically and culturally, it didn’t matter where they called home). 

Oooh baby, the songs!!! 

We’re not talking about how great the songs were, though. We’re talking about the daily news and our Facebook feeds instead in the context of the 1960’s southern California folk rock movement.

Producer Lou Adler describes the time: “You just felt like you could do anything, you know. You just felt like there was nothing stopping you.” And in the most inspiring moment, Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash asserted that the “power of music is undeniable. I truly believe it can change the world.” 

These hippies, in the middle of the consuming fear of a totally out of control world, made the revolutionary choice to imagine a new reality, one marked primarily by love. In the face of   tremendous social unrest, war, violence, all of the -isms (sound familiar???), they chose beauty and creativity. They chose imagination. 

Think about Adler’s words, “you felt like you could do anything…like there was nothing stopping you.” He was, by most accounts, wrong. There were an awful lot of things stopping him, so many obstacles. And Nash, “music can change the world?” – silly words of a dreamer who didn’t understand the complexities of the times. What resistance could poetry and a guitar possibly offer against the swinging wrecking ball of hate?

I know, I know. You can already see how I’m going to say they were right, can’t you? Well, I am.

I actually believe in the power of art, too. In the words of Frank Turner, 

“And I still believe (I still believe) in the sound, That has the power to raise a temple and tear it down. And I still believe (I still believe) in the need,  For guitars and drums and desperate poetry.  And I still believe (I still believe) that everyone, Can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won. So just remember folks we not just saving lives, we’re saving souls, And we’re having fun. And I still believe.”

I believe that when a song breaks your heart with the first words “all the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” it shows us that if something could sound like that, anything might be possible. That in the compositions on Pet Sounds, maybe the complexities of the times were no match for the soaring imaginations of a small group of brothers and sisters bent on peace and love, man. That “Fast Car” and “Hey Jealousy” and Thriller and Adele and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Panic! At The Disco are actively re-making the world around us.

I recognize that I could be mistaken about this, after all, it’s only music, right? It’s only an album or a song, right? But here’s where I’m right. All through this film, I saw utter selfless devotion to an idea based on faith, hope, and especially love. What I know now that I didn’t know when I was 12 or 22 or even 42 is that the idea that sparked my faith in songs & films and made me think that yes, absolutely all we needed WAS love wasn’t actually the chords or strings or drums, it was Genesis 1. It was Jesus. It was grace. It was the empty tomb of the resurrection. It was a New Creation.

And I still believe.

What We Hold Close

This is a post written by Natalie Roy called What We Hold Close. I don’t usually share emails or posts here unless I do, and this is one of those rare, special times. And then, next week, we’ll talk about “dirty fuel” and “punishing ourselves,” in the service of transformation. (We are already very familiar with the broken concept of “negative goals.”)

“I love a clean house.  I  clean and clean and clean some more especially when hosting guests at home.  I would notice when my partner would walk into the house I would get agitated… “take your shoes off!” and “make sure to not mess anything!”  Yet, the moment the guest would arrive, it would be “don’t worry about your shoes! Come on in and make yourself at home!” 

Oh yes.  Sometimes I am so very out of touch.

But don’t we ALL do this? 

We treat those on the periphery sometimes with much more compassion and grace than those we hold dearest and closest.

And often, the one we treat the worst, is ourselves.

We are hard on ourselves.  And don’t we do this under the false guise that if we are hard enough on ourselves we will stay motivated or be fixed or be better or more.  It is something called “dirty fuel”, when we are motivated in opposition to something such as our own unworthiness.  

Do we not trust that without such strict force we would evolve?  Do we think we are only as good as how much we are willing to punish ourselves into it?

Motivating towards negative goals is both harming and unsustainable.  Motivating from a place of needing to be better will always lead to negative consequence or giving up.  It will lead to “what’s the use” or “why me”, “nothing is ever enough.” 

Something interesting came up in my yoga class today.  I was thinking about anatomy and how our extremities can move faster than the body parts closer to our core.  So I can move my fingers more quickly than my shoulder, and my shoulder can move more quickly then my heart. 

So we can discern that lasting change, on the things we REALLY care about can sometimes be a long game.  Transformation takes time.  It happens choice by choice, day by day.  The idea of an overnight success is a fallacy.  What can shift (and lightening fast) is your perception, your mindset, and your feelings.  And those we have to continue choosing each and every day. 

We change our lifestyle to change our lives.”

I guess this snuck up on me and hit me over the head so hard is that I have lately been running on “dirty fuel” so much, and when she writes that it will lead to a mindset of “nothing is ever enough,” I am laid bare. I’ve never met Natalie Roy, but I think there’s an above average chance that she knows exactly who I am. Maybe she has been reading my email or my journals – the parts I don’t let anybody see. (Ok, just kidding, there aren’t any parts I don’t let anybody see.) The point is, I don’t know her, but she certainly knows me.

We’ve been exploring our response to the Good News of the Gospel. It’s a motivation based on who we are and what we can do – not the opposite. It’s a “clean fuel.” It’s a yes. This is an absolutely vital distinction and I owe Natalie Roy a big, sweet thank you for helping me remember what I already knew.

What Would You Say?

Last time we discussed the prosperity gospel ‘if-then’ proposition, and the opposite ‘if-then’ that the actual Gospel invites us to experience. IF He loves us, accepts us, rescues us, blesses us, THEN we are free to respond in love. But what does that response look like? We’ve been rescued, given an incomprehensible gift, now what??

This can easily (mis)lead us into a ‘what do I have to do now?’ posture, which is evidence that we’ve missed the point. It’s not a ‘have-to,’it’s a ‘get-to.’ So, what do we ‘get to’ do now? If you were truly free to follow your passions and gifts and dreams, where would that lead you? If you could plug into those things that give you life, what would those things be?

Some of the saddest moments I’ve ever had are when I ask those 2 questions with wide eyes and breathless anticipation and they are met with silence.

There’s a story in the Bible (and probably countless more not in the Bible) where Jesus asks a blind man, “what do you want me to do for you?” I think probably we’re in one of 2 places. The first is where we don’t realize we’re blind, or where it’s just “what it is” and we can’t even conceive of any other reality. The second is when we know our condition very well, but we have believed the lie that we aren’t worthy of anything better, certainly not the best-case (in this case, sight), so we ask for a cane or a walker or new sunglasses or a better attitude about our blindness.

If I were to ask you, what would you say?

I have this friend I’ve known since I was 7 years old (who is becoming a much better friend now), who wrote this to me in an email: “Rendering Physical Therapy services is one of my love languages. Encouraging people who are hurting to help themselves by restoring strength and function is a gift I love to share over and over again. I truly feel called to this profession (even if that sounds hokie), it’s about making personal connections with people, figuring out what is important to them (not me or the doctor) and developing a plan to achieve their goal- LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT!” What a gift, for her and her patients. How many of us would say that about our jobs and careers? If not, why not?

I recognize that there are never shortages of reasons why we stay – some of them are very very wise and important and some aren’t. I’m simply asking the questions so we can hopefully tell the difference.

We have been given this gift of life and to treat it so cavalierly that we don’t consider how we’d answer Jesus is, frankly, pretty dismissive of the gift.

The Bible also says the human heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t put our desires first, without question and without the guidance of the Spirit. I’m just suggesting that we are often asleep in and to our own lives and the question “Now what do I get to do?” is pointless without an examination of our own hearts and a deeper understanding of the way He “created my inmost being…knit me together in my mother’s womb,” respecting the the way we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We’ll talk about obedience and sin in this context next week, but give an honest second to Whose you are, who you are and what you’re about. I already know you’re beautiful – I bet you will, too.

Princess Poppy

Yesterday I was working out and a song from the animated movie Trolls came on my playlist, “Get Back Up Again.” I’ll give you a second to find it and listen.

…. 

It’s great, right? But it isn’t the most masculine thing (or progressive or in any way ‘cool’) you’ve ever heard. Usually, I listen to punk rock and Morrissey and, well, right now I have a new song by Beck playing. My taste in music is exemplary, I take great pleasure in finding new and exciting artists and records. Then there is this embarrassing Trolls song that I repeated 4 times in a row during my workout. Just a sweaty dude listening to Trolls. 

If you were to know only that about me – that I LOVED “Get Back Up Again” – you could draw certain conclusions about me. Conclusions that would probably be wrong.

Todd Snyder wrote in one of his greatest songs, about a woman referred to by another as a prostitute: “I’m sure she is, but that’s not all she is.”    

She was all kinds of other things, too. So am I, and so are you. 

I write so much about this lately, (and in every election cycle), because I pay an inordinate amount of attention to social patterns and culture, and it’s impossible not to notice how we’ve been divided into groups based solely on 1 facet of ourselves. We’ve been sold the lie that this one facet is the only thing about us that matters. Now, this has always been a temptation, from the beginnings of history. In the Bible, a man asks (about Jesus) if He knows “what kind of woman she is.”

As Todd Snyder would say, “I’m sure she is, but that’s not all she is.”  

Yes, we are addicts, alcoholics, abusers, prostitutes, mask-wearers, non-mask-wearers, Republicans, Democrats, cheaters, liars, vegetarians, pescatarians, Keto, nurses, pastors, punk rockers, jazz elitists, smokers, non-smokers, people who read books on a Kindle, even people who LOVE an Anna Kendrick song from Trolls.

But that’s not all we are.

We are Children of the Living God, created in His image – Republicans and Democrats alike (gasp!!!) – and we’ve been created by, in, and for, love. This terrible lie has caused us to forget that simple, monumental fact. Almost nothing that is happening can be called love. Instead, it’s the same old violence, rained upon each other and upon ourselves.

I keep writing about it because I’m so sad to see how easily we’ve been manipulated into believing that we are so different, that these differences are irreconcilable, and that these differences are so fundamental to our existence that we would behave so awfully towards one another. I’m just so sad, the heartbreak compounded by the largely ignored truth that each act of violence originates from an unbearably deep reservoir of fear and pain in the violator.   

It’s another page in the us/them fictional dogma we accept. Huge segments (maybe all) of the things we see and hear are grounded in a desperate need to draw battle lines, where “we” are 100% right and “they” are 100% wrong. This pandering rips at the fabric of human decency and the only real desperate need is for revolution.

So, let’s do that. But it’ll be a revolution of love. We will show up to love each other – no matter who the ‘each other’ is. Our Each Others will be our neighbors and our enemies, our co-workers and our brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats.  

It’s an unlearning of centuries of curriculum, a complete overhaul of the theology of comparison and competition, and I can’t imagine that it’ll be easy or smooth or without some real setbacks, but as Princess Poppy sings, “Hey! I’m not giving up today. There’s nothing getting in my way. And if you knock knock me over, I will get back up again.”

The Spider-Verse

We watched Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for the 10th or 20th time last night. It is an animated film. Technically speaking, that’s all it is. As my wife would say, it’s a cartoon. She’s wrong, though, it’s much more than that. It is an hour and 57 minutes that rearranges the notion of what is possible in film, story, technology. Historically, there have been movies that mark a clear before and after. An easy example was Pulp Fiction. Before its release, cinema followed certain accepted structures. After, those walls had been bulldozed and filmmakers, writers, actors were all free to run and chase their imaginations into spaces previously thought nonexistent.

This creative explosion happens in every area of humanity; athletics, architecture, music, education, even religion. I remember many instances that blew my rational mind, profoundly changing my tiny idea of what God could and would do in any circumstance. I’ve seen people transform seemingly in front of my eyes, organizations metamorphose into the butterflies we all needed but whose creators couldn’t have conceived.

These seismic shifts invite us to dream, to exorcise the despair that says what was will always be, that believes “it is what it is,” that lost the childlike hope of faith.

Then there are other moments that confirm that our wildest dreams of what is possible were not misplaced. Against all evidence to the contrary, our fantastical visions are validated and that gives us the strength to take one more step into the darkness. 

Yesterday was one of those for me. 2 young women, aged 19 and 20 (!!!), organized a protest to respond to this abhorrent racism that we all see and feel all around us right now. It’s a divisive topic and I can’t even begin to figure out why. Life is the most sacred gift we have, why would we not want to protect that for all of God’s children? Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. And it’s painfully obvious our silence hasn’t fixed anything, as if it ever could. Why would we not gather to express our collective pain?

Because it won’t work, or it’ll turn violent, or whatever. There are so many ‘because’s, so many ‘why not’s. When I asked my boys if they wanted to go, they were afraid of the riots on tv, the burned out stores and city street chaos. I guess it’s fear that mostly keeps any of us from challenging what has always been. We’re often scared to leave unfulfilling jobs, abusive relationships, unhealthy pattern because the unknown can be more terrifying than the now that is dismantling us. 

We went anyway, because we follow Jesus and that requires us to believe we’re all brothers and sisters , and that tomorrow can be different from today. That everything matters and we can…no, that we are called to bring, to make, peace. 

There were many colors and a sacred energy that what we were doing was vital to the healing of our world. It did not turn violent. Of course, there were reports of some regrettable behavior, which will happen when people get together, but no violence. There was kindness and kinship in our shared goal. Maybe it won’t work, but it certainly won’t work if we all stay home.

Now. Here’s what I have to tell you. We are not wrong. Our faith is justified, what we imagine possible, is. We can make a difference, we can change the world. It won’t be in our silence and it won’t be in violence. It will be in presence and love, and like yesterday afternoon, it will be amazing.

Panem & Pennsylvania

The Hunger Games was a wildly successful trilogy of books that was adapted into 4 movies. They were so successful that a brand new prequel novel is/has been released this month – wildly successful things aren’t ever left alone to age gracefully, every cent must be ruthlessly squeezed from marks whose only crime is appreciation. They were so successful that I protested their popularity and avoided them at all costs. I imagine I would be avoiding them still if it wasn’t for the woman who lives in this house. You make all sorts of compromises when you get married, right? Watching movies you would never watch under any other circumstance is just one. (Letting your sweet bride hog all of the covers is another, but that isn’t really the point here.)

We are spending the quarantine watching lots of movies, and my lovely Angel has been wanting to see the entire Hunger Games series, so we spent 4 days with our heroine Katniss Everdeen. I won’t go into any reviews or explanations here, but I will potentially spoil the ending. 

(Incidentally, I did like it a lot, as it turns out. But I like everything. Except the band Coldplay, I don’t like Coldplay.)

So stop here if you care, if 5 years just wasn’t enough time to see it.

If you’re still here, it’s your problem now. Anyway, the last lines of the movie are spoken to her baby: “ Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

It’s an awesome moment, but why am I writing about it? There are many, many awesome moments every day. (Hugs, kisses, magic tricks, chocolate, pushups, walks, People’s Court, when my boys wake up, when my special lady comes home, great songs…so many awesome moments.) This one, though, was particularly relevant. We have nightmares. We’re caught in a global nightmare in addition to the nightmares we face every day. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken bones, lost jobs, divorce, war, anger, bitterness, fear, inadequacy, illness, headaches, anxiety, fear, and on and on… and what we all want to know is how do we survive them? How do we move through them? How do we keep waking up and getting out of bed in the morning???

And Katniss has the same answer that the apostle Paul had 2 thousand years ago. He writes in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Now, Paul has been through much pain, suffering, an almost endless string of trials, and he says he knows how to be content “whatever the circumstances.” I think this is the why and how that Katniss has figured out.

I know we are all dealing with so much – whatever our specific nightmares are – and we are all desperately searching for a why and a how. And we have been looking to contemporaries for answers. Maybe our search is too limited. Too often, the Bible gets mistaken as outdated, ancient words for ancient people in ancient times that has no use for us here, now, today. But this Divine wisdom might be exactly what we’re looking for, if only we have eyes to see it wherever it shows up. Maybe it was the answer in Philippi & Jerusalem then, in Panem & Pennsylvania today.

Last Dance

I hope we are all watching the 10-part ESPN documentary on the Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance. If you’re not yet, you can (and should) start now. Maybe you should watch the Catfish movie first, but then, for sure, The Last Dance.

What always stands out to me about Michael Jordan (besides his transcendent talent) is not that he always, always gave all he had in games. Anyone can do that, when the seats are full and the electricity is in the air. (I say “Anyone” but I suppose I don’t really mean that in a world where stars sit every few games in the service of “load management.” You understand, though.) Games count in the standings, count for measuring statistics, count for endorsement deals. Michael Jordan played all the games at 11 (on a scale of 1-10), but by all accounts, he played all practices there, too. He lifted weights with the same passionate drive as Game 7 of the Finals. Practice? Not a game. Practice? (That’s an obscure reference to Allen Iverson, who also had a transcendent talent but chose to see practice as an optional obstacle that was to be avoided at all costs. Michael Jordan has 6 championships and Iverson has 0. Jordan is a legend, Iverson is a cautionary tale.)

We aren’t all the most talented NBA players, not the greatest basketball player in history, not global icons. But the principle is the same in Cleona, as a husband, father, friend, neighbor, pastor, dancer, workout-er.

“I get to choose every day how I show up.” (I wrote this down immediately after I heard it, but I didn’t write down who said it. I’m pretty sure it was Hank Fortener. If it wasn’t, I’m super sorry I can’t give appropriate credit.)

I never know who I’ll see, talk to, touch and where they are in their heart, soul, and mind. If they are depressed or desperate, if they are hopeless and searching for the smallest nugget of light in a world that may have, for them, become increasingly dark. I have been them, and many of you have made the choice to show up and connect in a way that forced me to question if it would actually be dark forever. Those who show up speak the fresh words of Jesus, of possibility.

If this were a Sunday service, I’d ask how we’re showing up? Are we showing up too busy to pause, too self-obsessed to look and listen? Are we MJ (this doesn’t mean in our talent or giftedness, but in our commitment to presence) to our spouses and children?

But it’s not a Sunday service, so I’ll just tell you that even though I recognize how important it is, that I don’t always show up in a positive way. I don’t always show up at all. But I’m changing. I get to choose – and that is the first step in anything, to acknowledge our role. It all matters, everything matters. Sunday morning and Tuesday late afternoon. Friday lunch and Monday at 10am. Everything matters. Every interaction, every conversation. Of course, we can have “load management” days, but they must be intentional. We have to acknowledge our role, our ability to choose – and more importantly, we must wake up to the impact our presence can provide.

We so often believe the lie that what we do is of little consequence, that we are a tiny drop of water in the ocean. But we can be the drop that affects the surrounding drops, and when enough drops are moved, those drops can become a tidal wave, capable of rearranging even the most immovable structures. But that outdated, unimaginative, oppressive furniture is only uprooted if we show up.

Catfish, pt 2 (or 3 or 4)

COVID-19 is now a fully political issue. Of course, it has always been a political issue (alcohol- and smoking-related illnesses kill far more than this virus could in any worst-case scenario, but they have much better public relations, more effective lobbyists, so we’ve decided we don’t care too much) but now we have straight party-line protests and “Republicans are now pro-choice” memes. Ah yes, the meme, an ultra-modern genre that feeds on generalized oversimplifications. This particular meme obviously goes both ways but the point of politically generalized oversimplifications is to ignore all that doesn’t support the opinion of the writer. Our hopes that this was a human issue that would bring us together and not a left/right issue have been dashed on the rocks of partisanship, replaced with the usual political maneuvering and more of the same acid-tongued sniping. It’s super depressing and has driven me to posting Red Hot Chili Peppers and Billy Idol album covers on Facebook just to break up the vitriol – I am now that guy. I swore I’d never be that guy, yet here we are.

Everybody knows I loooove the tv show Catfish, about people employing fake profiles online. They do this for any number of reasons (from romance to revenge) and the hosts/detectives track them down and expose them. The show began as a movie, also called Catfish, where the soon-to-be host of the tv show was himself “catfished.” He had fallen in love with a woman that turned out to be a married, middle-aged mother of 3. She had created several fake profiles to interact with each other on Facebook to add depth and reality to the deception.

When you watch the movie (or the show), as the ruse begins to unravel, you’ll feel some level of indignance – “How could they do that????!!?” – decide they are “monsters” and wish for their just desserts. You will get angry at their inhumanity, their vicious callousness at breaking another’s heart. They are the villains in the story, and we along with the victims are the righteous innocent.

In the movie, the filmmakers show up at her door and she continues to lie, as my mom says, like a rug. Finally, she is forced to come clean and the narrative transforms, as do our easy characterizations.

Earlier, I wrote that they do this “for any number of reasons,” and that’s not really true. They mostly do it to find a personal connection that has been lacking.

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We’re created for personal connection – this is undeniable, especially now.

But why have they decided that who they are isn’t good enough for this connection?

Well, why have we? Think of all the ways we compromise or cultivate an image that might be more appealing to him or her…because we aren’t satisfied with who we are, because we have believed that we aren’t good enough.

This woman, the “monster,” is a talented artist, 2 of the 3 children are severely disabled. In fact, they are step-children, she chose to marry a man and care for those 2 boys for the rest of their lives. She is intelligent and soft, empathetic and funny. She is terrific. She made a very poor catfishing decision out of loneliness and disconnect that she will regret forever, but it is something she did and not who she is.

I think Catfish should be required viewing for every human being living on earth. We easily fall into the trap where we think those who believe differently are dumb, inhumane, ignorant, misinformed, heartless, but they’re not. (Well, maybe they are, but not always;) Usually, they are exactly like you and me, formed by experiences, wounds, mistakes, ideas, environment, education, suffering, and on and on.

Every Catfish follows pretty much the same arc. Fingers crossed that the person is actually the person we think it is. This wish melts into broken-hearted sadness that what was hoped for, isn’t the reality. Finally, we rebound into a deeper understanding, where we see the other as they are, not an idealized picture on a screen and not the 2dimensional generalization based on their behavior and our fear. This last space can also be called love, where it’s not about control or our wants and desires, not about us at all. Love because it is free of our fearful boxes and labels, free of The Other, free of the desperate need to win (and for someone else to lose.)

Maybe this COVID-19 crisis is like that, too. Maybe this IS a human issue, a global act of grace, but we first have to get past the fearful grasping for what we want, what we think, what we need, before we can discover the love that has been there all along, just waiting for us to arrive.

Word Offering

After a desperately needed week off – though it wasn’t a week free of drama and chaos, it was a week off from this space. I do love this space (the imaginary blog space and the psychological space of work, as well as this actual physical space of chair and computer) but stepping away gave me the opportunity to respond quickly and without reservation. It gave me the opportunity to answer the phone and quickly say yes, and that is something we (at least that I) don’t get the freedom to do nearly enough.

I’ll touch on last week soon enough, but I do want to dive into the Visio Divina poem from 2 weeks ago. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please take a second to read my last post, ‘This Branch.’)

So. This branch – “This branch is blowing, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, moved, led, a dance of differing tempos. This branch, before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines, connected to the tree, (the Vine), healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying, it is beautiful, an extension of the tree, it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely. As it is.” – is me. You. Him. Her. Us. We are beautiful, lovely, at our deepest essence. Exactly as we are. (Despite the lies we believe distance us and make us something less, we remain made in the image of God, after all, made in, by, and for, love. As Rise Against sings, “We are far from perfect, but perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken, but we are ** works of art.”) Exactly as we have been created, joined, connected to the Tree that gives us life and vitality. We are acted upon by our environments, consisting of the world around us. This takes many forms, none intrinsically good or bad, like neighbors, work, viruses, winter, pizza, sex, money, the ocean, etc. The environment that blows us, weathers us, and threatens to sever us from the Tree that sustains us as it reminds us again and again that we are these amazing works of art.

Now, the condensation: “But a stripe from the window, a separation, condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch, the branch loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.” As the environment simply exists, it can engage with itself or other environments in many ways, some of them in conflict, which can change the perception we have of ourselves. We become unrecognizable (I mis-typed and was corrected to “unrecognized” but that is no correction at all, it’s 100% wrong. The Tree recognizes us, no matter where we are, how far we go, or how much condensation separates us.) and confused. We own the notion that we are re-defined by this blur, so we re-define ourselves, which encourages us to re-define others, as “sinners,” or some other broad-sweeping generalizations that reduce the beauty of the branches and the Tree for one unfortunate aspect or behavior.

I don’t have any idea how coherent this explanation of this Visio is…probably not very. Maybe it’s so difficult to convey because any revelation, any truly soul-altering experience, is ultimately a personal exchange between you and the Divine. An intimate moment beyond words… that we try to use words to catch and maybe in the attempt to capture, loses its nature or its heart.

Maybe I should delete this whole thing, maybe sharing it profanes it’s purity. But you already know I won’t. I won’t delete it because maybe its purity is instead magnified in the overwhelming goodness of a God who would meet us in a branch and smudge on a window. So, on that chance, I will post it gladly, in all of its jumbled inadequacy, His goodness displayed in my weakness, as a Word Offering (like a drink offering of the Old Testament) to the God that so thoroughly provides.

This Branch

At our contemplative retreat last Saturday, we engaged in a practice called Visio Divina (Latin for “Divine seeing,” or a phrase I loooove, “praying with your eyes.”) We find a picture or an object or, maybe, anything at all and we focus on that object and ask the Spirit to guide our thoughts. We have spent quite a bit of time in a sister practice called Lectio Divina, where we spend time with a Scripture passage and ask for the same sort of guidance of the Spirit. This was our first time with the Visio part.

(I wasn’t sure I would be ready today, that I had lived with and processed enough, to share this, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe it should feel immediate and unfinished. Maybe that is part of the journey, and a valuable part.)

My object was a branch seen through a window of the Bridge, and here is a poem that I wrote about that branch:

This branch

is blowing,

sometimes gently, sometimes violently,

moved, led,

a dance of differing tempos.

This branch,

before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines,

connected to the tree, (the Vine),

healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying,

It is beautiful, an extension of the tree,

it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely.

As it is.

But a stripe from the window,

a separation,

condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch,

This branch

loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.

It could be a million other things, none as wonderful as the branch itself…

It feels good to simply leave this here and return to it next time.