Inexhaustible

As a bird cannot exhaust the air in the sky nor a fish exhaust the
water in the sea, neither can we exhaust the grace of the God.

~Charles Spurgeon

photo by Nate Gibson

It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown so to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free. 
Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

photo by Chris Lovegren

This grace never flags, never exhausts itself, flows free and endlessly.
And that is so– yet free comes at great cost.  Freedom can never be free.
Snow and ice melt, clouds deplete, emptying out their weight,
transfigured into something other.
There is sacrifice upstream and from the heavens.
It could and has run red, it is so costly.
Quenching our every thirst,  we no longer lie panting and parched.
Revived, renewed, transformed, grateful,
Forever changed.
Amazed and amazing, we are purchased and paid in full.

photo by Josh Scholten

The Interior of the Soul

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There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.
~Victor Hugo

 

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What possibly can be grander than the depths and wildness of the ocean or the expanse of clouds and stars above us?  Our breath is taken away by the sea and the sky — always and every time.

Yet that breath was given to us, breathed into our very soul by the living God in His desire to create us in His image.

That is grand beyond imagining.  His breath within us, filling the interior of our souls.

 

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Even the Winds and Sea Obey

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And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’
Matthew 8:23-27

 

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Sweet Jesus, talking 
   his melancholy madness, 
     stood up in the boat 
       and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry. 
   So everybody was saved 
      that night… 
       
         Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes 
   like the wind over the water — 
      sometimes, for days, 
        you don’t think of it.

 Maybe, after the sermon, 
   after the multitude was fed, 
     one or two of them felt 
       the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight 
   before exhaustion, 
      that wants to swallow everything, 
         gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy, 
    as they are now, forgetting 
       how the wind tore at the sails 
          before he rose and talked to it —

tender and luminous and demanding 
   as he always was — 
      a thousand times more frightening 
         than the killer storm.
~Mary Oliver from “Maybe”

 

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I sleep through my diminishing days even more than I sleep through the nights, not nearly focused enough on each passing moment that never is to come again.  Those moments crash to shore and then pull back to be lost forever.

There is a blindness in us all about what is inevitably coming, how we are tumbled over the years like waves, overcome by their passage.

He is tender and luminous and demanding and He talks to us, not just the relentless stormy destructive sea.

Peace be still!

And so I obey, forgiven, and am saved by grace,
so silky and sorry.

 

A Salt Water Cure

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…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears or the sea.
~Isak Dinesen

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

I grew up an easy crier.  Actually growing up hasn’t cured it, nor has middle age.  I’m still an easy crier – a hard thing to admit especially when my tears flow at an inopportune time in a public place.

It might have had something to do with being a middle child, bombarded from both directions by siblings who recognized how little aggravation it took to make me cry, or it may have been my hypersensitive feelings about …. everything.  I felt really alone in my tearful travails until my formidable grandmother, another easy weepy, explained that my strong/tall/tough/nothing-rocks-him former WWII Marine father had been a very weepy little boy.  She despaired that he would ever get past being awash in tears at every turn.  His alcoholic father tormented him about it, wondering if he would ever learn to “man up.”

So this is a congenital condition and that’s my excuse.

A few years ago I read a fascinating article about how different kinds of tears (tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of irritated eyes, tears of onion cutting) all look different and remarkably apt, when dried and pictured under the microscope.  This is more than mere salt water leaking from our eyes — this is our heart and soul and hormonal barometer streaming down our faces – a visible litmus test of our deepest feelings.

I witness many tears every day in my office, and not tears of joy.  These are tears borne of pain and loss and rejection and failure, of hopelessness and helplessness, loneliness and anguish.  Often my patients will describe having a “break down” by which they mean uncontrollable crying.  It is one of the first-mentioned symptoms they want relief from.

Tears do come less frequently as depression lifts and anxiety lessens but I let my patients know (and remind myself) that tears are a transparent palette for painting the desires and concerns of our heart.  Dry up the tears and one dries up emotions that express who we are and who we strive to be.

When I’m able, I celebrate the salt water squeezing from my eyes, knowing it means I’m so fully human that I leak my humanity everywhere I go.  Even God wept while dwelling among us on earth, and what’s good enough for Him is certainly good enough for me.

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Our Hearts Thirst

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All thy waves and billows
Have gone over me.
~Psalm 42:7

…Into the deep where ocean spray
Is recollected in the great
   Salt, billow-making womb.

Effortless elegance!
   Holy wildness!

We walked nine miles of ocean beach
   Yesterday and let the ocean
Rhythms–pulse-setting waves and tide-making
   Moon–get inside us. Slowed
By this ancient pacemaker
   Our hearts thirsted. We drank God.
~Eugene Peterson from “Assateague Island”

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photo by Nate Gibson

…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.
~Blaise Pascal

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Most days I’m rocked by the most minute ripples and tiniest pebbles.  The building waves created by forces beyond my control feel tsunami-like though they started out infinitesimally small.  I can do nothing but let them flow over, around and beneath me, riding them up and down, trying not to get submerged for long and not get sea-sick.

Lately it feels like a barrage: instead of letting up, the billows roll larger and mightier, at times relentlessly powerful, changing everything in their path, including me.

Instead of being overcome by ripples, I hope some time to become the thrown pebble in a way that can move oceans or mountains or most amazing of all, another soul, just once.  In some tiny way, I hope I can say or do or write something that makes a positive difference in someone’s life, and that person forwards the ripple, spreading the wave a little further, a little broader, a little deeper to affect others.  Traveling far beyond the original thrown pebble, it can never to be pulled back once it is let loose.

I know what it is like for a blog post to go viral, becoming an ocean in churning turmoil, not a mere pebble starting with a least movement.  Instead, I hope to be the most insignificant of change agents, serene and barely there, just moving enough of another heart and soul to start something that will grow and spread by itself, wild and wonderful.

I don’t know what it might be or how I might do it.  Perhaps it is as simple as skipping rocks, choosing the best flattest pebble, rubbing the smooth sides between my fingers, and with a momentary regret at giving it up to the ocean, I’ll haul back and just let it go.  It will skip once, twice, three four five even six times and then disappear below. The surface of the water will never be the same again.

Nor will I.

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As Salty as Tears

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…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

 

Lenten Grace — Peace Among the Rocks

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks…

…And let my cry come unto Thee.
~T.S. Eliot from the conclusion of “Ash Wednesday”

Too many daily distractions prevent me from being still and seeking peace in my earthly life.  I constantly want to build up, to tear down, to keep moving, I care too much, I care too little — anything to avoid being like an inanimate rock.  There is always the awareness that everlasting stillness will come soon enough, much too soon, in the grave, in the forever of my becoming dust.

Yet even among the rocks they fail to stay rooted in place;  they are washed away with the waves, moved at the mercy of the tide, landing somewhere new and unfamiliar only to be stilled, then shifted once again.

Let my peace be among the rocks, to be picked up and moved where He wills, to settle where I am placed until the time comes to move again.   Let my peace be in the knowledge He has control, not I.

And so I cry out.
Even among the rocks
Even among the rocks

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates