The Discipline of Wandering

Summer affords me the easy rhythms of wondering and wandering. Here in Colorado we’ve had loads of rain- so these days I’m wandering hip deep in clover. Pulling it up out of my garden and wandering it over to grateful goats and one stubborn horse.

Most mornings I wander out the kitchen door, to sit on the deck and watch the cat wander herself into my lap. After a while I wander over to a spot gone wild from neglect and rummage around for a few asparagus shoots.

Sometimes I wander alone, other times I wander with my kids. They lead; I follow.

We wander in search of spring’s new flower. We wander abandoning our sight and leaning heavily on sound in search of baby blue birds, the percussion of grass gone to seed and the syncopated cicada.

Wandering, by most accounts is aimless. The idea that anything in the Christian life is aimless might trigger some push back. I mean for crying out loud, this is a purpose driven life.

For just a minute, hold the trigger and ask yourself…

Just what would happen if I release my aim?

What would happen if I release my goal?

What would happen if I release the rat in the rat race?

In my wandering this summer, I am doing just that. Know what’s happening?

Grace. Rest. Wandering in the space of be-ing.

Hard as hell[1] for a driven person to refuse to drive. Requires the discipline of wandering.

 

What would it look like for you to submit to the Great Wanderer? He’s a pretty good guide.

Try wandering outside, leave your watch in the house, bring a child.

 

 

[1] I do not use this phrase glibly. Hell is hard. Like driving a stake in cement, like pounding our heads on brick walls. Heaven, however, is a bit like wandering into a pasture gone wild looking for asparagus shoots.

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Making Space for Grief

Last week I wrote of the death on our little farm. Folks have asked how I helped the children people grieve.

Here is my response.

 “That is it isn’t it? The rub, the hard bit is communicating this paradox of life and death with those we love. My eldest daughter, 14 years old, was with me when all this was going on. We talked about it. This isn’t our first death on our little farm, but it was significant in that we didn’t remove the loss. Her way of grief was so bodily. She wanted to dig the hole and she wanted to bury him, in the rain- no less. Later, she told me she gave him back to God and the creation he came from. “

 I am no therapist and most days I’m barely as wise as our basset hound who regularly eats horse poop, but here are few things I’m learning.

  • Talk about what’s happening. I don’t mean lecture. I mean enter into a conversation about what is happening. An easy opener could be “What do you think is happening here?” Stay away from any philosophical or theological answers. Be simple, be honest, be present.
  • Ask questions. What do you think is going on? How do you feel about what is going on? What does your heart say?
  • If you are sad, be sad. Pray aloud. If you are anxious, be anxious. Pray aloud. We parents try to hide these emotions, but we’re fooling no one. The children know and probably feel the same. Together go to the Spirit whose great gift is comfort.
  • Make a space for grief. Children are so very bodily. (Adults are too; we’ve just grown old and forgotten.) They will need to grieve with their bodies. They may need to kiss the departed. When our cat died our youngest daughter held his dead little body wrapped in a towel and rocked him for over an hour. They may need to lie on the floor and cry. They may need to create a picture of the one gone, or paint a memorial stone. They may want to do this alone or they may want you with them. Ask, they will tell you.

Let’s learn together, how have you helped children to grieve?

Lewis, de Cassade and a Goat

This morning as I was making breakfast and preparing my daughter’s lunch for horse camp, I was informed that our elderly goat was kidding. (Not cracking wise, but having babies.) We had hoped that she might have one more batch of kids, but her due date was two weeks past.

The next hour flew by with preparations of one child off to horse camp, trying to calm the horse who was left behind, Lady, preparing for goat birth all the while reminding small humans to eat their breakfast and brush their teeth.

Finally when the camp people and horse were feed and departed, I sat next to our goat, Sally, and held her head in my lap as she labored. I thought of Jean-Pierre de Cassade.

“Every current, every technique, thrusts us onward in our voyage to the Infinite. Everything work to this end and, without exception, helps us towards holiness” (Cutsinger, 35).

How could I be a calming presence to Sally and Lady? “Where is the holy in this?” I wondered. I thought of C.S. Lewis “The objects around me, and my idea of “me”, will deceive if taken at their face value. But they are momentous if taken as the end-products of Divine activities. Thus and not otherwise the creation of matter and the creation of mind meet one another and the circuit is closed.” (164).

Sally was struggling. She had been in labor too long and we both knew it. “How, Lord, does this thrust me onward in my voyage to the Infinite?” I rubbed her belly and under her chin. When the first kid came, we breathed a sigh of relief. Breathing. Bonding. Check.

But the second kid didn’t come for a while, and when he did, I knew. As best as I could, I helped, but he was gone before he got here. I wanted, as I have done in the past when these lifeless ones are born, to hide him away from his mother. This time though I thought of de Cassade, “Our only satisfaction must be to live in the present moment as if there were nothing to expect beyond it.” (35).

I laid his little body before her. She licked him, working to bring him back. She called to him, working to call him to life. But he was gone. This present moment called for both celebration and grief. Two sides of the same coin, it seems one cannot exist without the other. A paradox of presence perhaps, (too much alliteration?) where what “thrusts us onward in our voyage” is the encounter of the Infinite, (what is more infinite than the cycle of life and death?), who is not only in the present, but is Presence.

References are from Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism compiled and edited by James S. Cutsinger

Seeking the Speed of Soul

While Dallas Willard is correct in saying that “reality is what you run into when you’re wrong,”[1] sometimes it feels more like a sneak attack than a running into.

In our current season of life, life looks like busyness. I have studied the dangers of busyness, written about the dangers of busyness and professed never to fall into the camp of busyness, but here we are. I confess, we are busy.

“However,” I argue with myself, “these things we are doing are good.” Soccer-good. Orchestra- good. Seminary-good. School-good. Track- good. Piano- good. Violin- good. Worship team- good. Community-good. Spiritual direction- good. Goats- good.

All- good.

The sneak attack came one Tuesday evening as I sat to center down and engage in Ignatian Examen of my soul.

“For what was I most grateful today?” Like looking for lost keys, I began rummaging around my memory for the events of the day. I had a hard time coming up with concrete details for a solid something. Sure I was grateful for my kids, but what specifically for today? What did we do today?

Perhaps a different question, “For what was I least grateful today?” I could always go for the finitude of the human person, but maybe there was something deeper going on?

Next question, “When did I most connect with God and others, or myself?”

And there it was. Busyness, good or bad aside, lacks the power to connect. I couldn’t answer any of the questions; because although I was there physically my other bits were absent- in fact we might say I wasn’t even aware that my body was having a Tuesday.

The parts of us are interconnected, influencing each other and guided by our spirit connected to the Spirit. In the state of busyness, these parts disconnect and go on autopilot. While we can be thankful that breathing is on autopilot, we can easily slip from present to absent. My body can show up, but the rest is out to lunch or more accurately on to the next task or managing my To Do list.

In the past I’ve had a great desire to find hard and fast rules of simplicity. I’ve had trouble nailing down those that don’t lead me into legalism when it comes to time, until the sneak attack.

Perhaps presence is a good thermostat for busyness.

Today, the number of items on my list is determined by my capacity to show up to them. Really show up with all my parts.

I am present at my daughter’s soccer game in body, feeling the grass under my feet the sun on my face and using my voice to cheer her on. I am present in mind and heart as I listen when a parent tells of their struggle with the school system. I am present to the Spirit as she whispers in the wind her great love for every child on the field.

Perhaps this is the speed of the soul.

May the peace and pace of Christ guide us.

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=66

In Their Own Words… Or Pictures

“Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears” –Arthur Koestler. I have found this to be true on numerous occasions, yet I only began to truly understand what it meant a few days ago when I began to ride my horse, Lady, again.

Last spring, when I was really beginning to enjoy riding, I was riding my horse Lady up to the barn when she threw me off. Now this was not a big deal, I was a little sore but could easily get back on the next day. A week passed before I could get back on her again, and for a while everything seemed fine. Then Lady bucked. I went flying over her head and landed on the ground. Now normally this wouldn’t have been a problem either, you get up and get back on. But after being thrown twice in a row, I was scared. For a month I wouldn’t get even close to Lady. And for nearly eight months I didn’t ride. My fear made me oblivious to the possibility that, perhaps, it wasn’t Lady’s fault.

Then, last fall, my grandfather and sister where riding in the round pen and I asked if I could get on Lady, just for a little while. I only stayed up there for less than a minute, yet that minute helped me push away some of my fear so that I could see just a little better. Now it is spring again and we took the horses out to ride, but just before they left I asked to get on one more time. And as I put my foot in the stirrup it felt like a whole other world was opened. I was still scared, yes, but I could conquer that fear. And even though I was terrified at being up again I felt that, maybe, I could do it again. Just one more time.

-Aidan, Age 13