To Wander Slowly

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photo by Emily Gibson (Dark Hedges, Ireland)
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photo by Joel DeWaard (Whatcom County, Washington)

 

For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
~Mary Oliver from “Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way” from Felicity

 

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photo by Emily Gibson (Mt. Stewart Gardens, Ireland)
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photo by Ben Gibson (New Hampshire)

God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.
~Meister Eckhart

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photo by Emily Gibson (Ireland)
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photo by Emily Gibson (Scotland)

Sometimes going for a walk is too much like a sprint, as far and as fast as possible.
Sometimes it is a spontaneous trek into the unknown, just to prove it can be done.
Sometimes it is a climb into the dark, with precipices and crumbling ledges under our feet.
Sometimes it is simply a journey of curiosity to see what may be around the corner.

No matter why or where or how far we wander,
or how slowly,
the path home shines just bright enough
to show us the way back to His glory
when we are ready.
He is there, waiting.
He keeps the light on for us.

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photo by Emily Gibson (Vancouver Island)

Diffuse Light of a Foggy Sky

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And then in the falling comes a rising,
as of the bass coming up for autumn’s last insects
struggling amid the mosaic of leaves on the lake’s surface.
We express it as the season of lacking, but what is this nakedness
— the unharvested corn frost-shriveled but still a little golden
under the diffuse light of a foggy sky,
the pin oak’s newly stark web of barbs, the woodbine’s vines
shriven of their scarlet and left askew in the air
like the tangle of threads on the wall’s side
of the castle tapestry—what is it but greater intimacy,
the world slackening its grip on the veils, letting them slump
to the floor in a heap of sodden colors, and saying,
this is me, this is my skeletal muscle,
my latticework of bones, my barren winter skin,
this is it and if you love me, know that this is what you love.
~Laura Fargas “October Struck” from Animal of the Sixth Day

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Something about the emerging nakedness of autumn reassures that we can be loved even when stripped down to our bones. We do make quite a show of shedding our coverings, our bits and pieces fluttering down to rejoin the soil, but what is left is meager lattice.

But when the light is just right, we are golden, illuminated and illuminating, even if barely there.

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This Gray October Day

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Praise the wet snow
       falling early.
Praise the shadow
       my neighbor’s chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
               Praise
the invisible sun burning beyond
      the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney’s shadow.
Praise
god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our hand,
our murderous hand,
                   and gives us
still,
in the shadow of death,
           our daily life,
           and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.
Praise
flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.
~Denise Levertov from “Gloria”

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Yes. It is true.
Our murderous hand
is not stayed nearly enough.

We continue to witness the deaths of the innocent, the homeless, the refugees who may not believe as we do, those who do not look or talk or act like us.

Yet shadows are cast on the grayest of days
only because there is light still there,
hidden though it may be.
Be illuminated by mercy without the shadow cast.
Be mercy.
Be stilled by the pulse of life in others.

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Fog Fleece

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The sun-dipped isle was suddenly a sheep
Lost and stupid, a dense wet tremulous fleece.
~George Mackay Brown “Fog” from The Weather Bestiary

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When I was young, fog felt oppressive,
as mournful as the fog horns sounding continually in the nearby bay.
Now in late middle age,
I appreciate fog for slowing me down
when life compels me to rush too fast.
When forced to take time,
I begin to notice what I missed before:
clouds descend to hug and kiss the ground
to bejewel everything they touch.
The dead and dying
become glorious in subtle beauty,
the farm all gossamer garland and transparent pearls…

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In Solitudes of Peace

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Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim
Of twilight stares along the quiet weald,
And the kind, simple country shines revealed
In solitudes of peace, no longer dim.
The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light,
Then stretches down his head to crop the green.
All things that he has loved are in his sight;
The places where his happiness has been
Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good.
~Siegfried Sassoon from “Break of Day”

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Move away from reading morning headlines
or being crushed in the masses at rush hour,
ignore the politics of power
or striving for market share~

instead, come home to this:

the reality of peace brought to earth.
A day breaks fresh each morning
and folds gently and quietly each evening.
And we are glad,
so glad,
that it is good.

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In the Driver’s Seat

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I heard an old man speak once,
someone who had been sober for fifty years,
a very prominent doctor.
He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago
that his profound sense of control,
in the world and over his life,
is another addiction and a total illusion.
He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars,
in those car seats that have steering wheels,
with grim expressions of concentration on their faces,
clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car
to do whatever it is doing,
he thinks of himself
and his relationship with God:
God who drives along silently,
gently amused,
in the real driver’s seat.

~Anne Lamott from Operating Instructions

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I pray because I can’t help myself.
I pray because I’m helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping.
It doesn’t change God — it changes me.
~C.S. Lewis

 

We want to steer life in the way we want it to go:
our plans, our timing, our chosen destination,
our hopes and dreams matter first and foremost.

And then life happens and suddenly the road ceases to look familiar and we don’t seem to be going the direction we intended.

Who is driving anyway?

In my work in a University Health Center, I am see an epidemic of an illusion of control:
a tremendous lack of resiliency, an inability to ride the roller coaster of life without panic. One of the most common responses to the unexpected is uncontrollable anxiety that interferes with eating, sleeping, working, studying. A common response to anxiety is to self medicate in any way easily accessible: video games, social media, alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, sex, a friend’s prescription drugs. A little isn’t working so a lot might be better. The anxiety is only compounded and becomes deepening depression.

The sadness and hopelessness, even anger stems from discouragement over our lack of control of circumstances, feeling there is no way out and being unable to find another path to a different future. This leads all too frequently to thoughts of ending one’s life as it seems too painful and pointless to continue, and thankfully more rarely, taking others’ lives at the same time in an attempt to make sure everyone else understands the depth of the pain.

There is an epidemic of hopelessness and helplessness among our society’s young people that I’ve never before seen to this extent in my thirty five years of clinical work. To them, their debts seem too great, their reserves too limited, their foundations too shaky, their hope nonexistent, their future too dim.

Relinquishing control by giving up the driver’s seat is not in our nature. We want to be seen as competent and feel as though we are prepared to be the captain of our fate.

Instead we need to give up our carefully planned-out life to the God who created us and has it all planned for us.

We turn over the steering wheel saying: may it be to me as you say.

May it be.
Your plans, Your purpose, Your promise.
Let it be.

Even if it may pierce my soul as with a sword:
You are there to plug the bleeding hole.

And I will follow wherever you steer me.

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Understanding the Difference

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…the essence of sin
is man substituting himself for God,
while the essence of salvation
is God substituting himself for man.

~John Stott from The Cross of Christ

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Try as we might
to make things in our image,
no matter what discontent we feel,
we fail to understand
we are not God
and never can be.

Try as we might
to pick ourselves up when we fall,
no matter the anguish we feel,
we struggle to understand
He fell to earth to catch us:
bled our blood,
shed our tears.

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