Friday, January 22, 2016

skis, scale, and mountains

I returned earlier this week from a wonderful trip to Colorado with the guys from work and a few friends.  It was my first time on skis, and I was instantly taken back to the feeling I had trying to get a bicycle to stay upright for the first time.  It was incredible to see young children blowing by me as I fumbled around like a drunken sailor.  A good friend gave me the only advice that was helpful before we departed, "Don't give up."  And my wise law partner and good friend Donovan Whibbs gave me the only advice that was helpful after we arrived, "Take another lesson."  I'll go back and do it again, partly because being untrained and on the side of a mountain scared me to death.  And I believe very much in the idea of doing things that scare me.  Three thoughts on this cloudy Friday afternoon, as has become customary:

1. Taking some time to unwind, even before I felt like I desperately needed it, reminded me of the importance of intentional rest and time with friends.  Bold living all too often falls victim to incessant productivity.  All this in addition to teaching me another valuable lesson in trying new things.  I am increasingly aware of the interplay between creativity and rest. 

2.  On the morning of our departure, I got up early and made my way down to the coffee shop.  I spent a little time with Pascal's Pensees, and I was drawn to his thoughts on the grand scale of nature.  I took a solo gondola ride later that morning, which viscerally drove home what Pascal conveyed on paper.  But I've also been thinking about the scale of interiority.   That we can usually and easily, with attention, appreciate the scale of exteriority.  But the appreciation of the equally immense scale of interiority requires, possibly, an even keener attention. 

3. Moved by John O'Donohue, I have made arrangements for a solo pilgrimage to Ireland in April.  I am looking forward to seeing the wild countryside that O'Donohue speaks so compellingly of.  Somehow, I feel like I am going home.

I'll leave you with a new piece.


Pascal and these mountains
bring scale to me this morning
fear and trembling

and I know as I look about
despite all doubt
that whatever God is, She is grand

a lone soul below
makes a way up the mountain
slowly and deliberate

and I hope that I
can move that way too

eyes forward
toward the peak
ever in awe

great expanses
all about us
awake climber!

the mountain, splendid
holds us in its crowned dignity

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

books, ordinary time, and snow

It is a brisk morning here on the Gulf Coast.  This cool weather won't last for long, so I am enjoying it.  My entire crew was slow moving as we tried to get our day started, my son's planner was missing in action, and Gracie started to walk off to school with her backpack still in the truck.  Perhaps the need for coffee starts earlier than I thought.  Three ramblings on this lovely morning, as has become customary.

The crew on their way this past weekend to see the Pensacola Symphony rehearsal
1.  I committed to a 25 book reading list this year, and was fortunate enough to have a few friends agree to read several of the selections along with me.  The first book to come in was Thomas Merton's, The Way of Chuang Tzu.  Which is proving to be an interesting, but far from fast read.  I am perhaps most looking forward to starting John O'Donahue's book on the aesthetic.  I am fascinated more and more with the idea of the aesthetic as a necessary life force, and the ability to appreciate it without the necessity of possessing it.  His interview with Krista Tippett has inspired me to make my way to Ireland this spring.

2.  It is the first week of ordinary time.  The end of the year was wonderful, we feasted.  But I heard someone tell the story of a theologian once having quipped that the Almighty must love ordinary time, as there is so much of it.

3.  Although it's cold with no snow here, Robert Frost seems fitting today:

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Monday, December 14, 2015

ethics, rejoicing, and fire alarms

Is is a rainy morning here in Pensacola and it makes me grateful that I don't live in Seattle.  I couldn't deal with rain all the time.  I've been on something of a posting hiatus the past couple of months.  I generally just haven't felt terribly inspired.  So, I've leaned in and alas, the muse emerges through the fog.  Three thoughts on this Monday morning, as has become customary.

1.  I had a discussion with friends last week about the role of ethics in theology.  And thereafter stumbled onto an entry by Thomas Merton in Conjectures which further piqued my interest in this question.  Merton's suggestion being, that essentially, a strictly ethical bent to theology reduces faith to little more than utility.  And that the inevitable result is the tendency to spend all of our energy measuring (and arguably attempting to control) the behavior of ourselves and others.  Admittedly, there exists a tension between ethics and the infinite.  There must be the immersion in mystery and grace.  Perhaps this is why the Eucharist moves me in an inexplicably profound way.  In any event, I have been prompted to pick up the copy of Bonhoeffer's Ethics which has sat waiting on my shelf for several years.  Yet another divine appointment.  I am fascinated by Bonhoeffer's opening suggestion that at our origin, all we know is God.

2.  I made my way through Kelsey Grammer's memoir, So Far, last week. I'd read it maybe ten years ago.  It is a great, easy read.  More than anything else, I was drawn to his varied adventures and dogged determination to seek the good.  He wrote of having penned words from W.H. Auden's, Atlantis, before he'd ever read them, "Stagger onward rejoicing."  All the more reinforcing my suspicion that often times, beauty, poetry and otherwise, drops out of the ether and perhaps strikes more than one inspired soul at a time.

3.  Several years ago, I read a wonderful little essay wherein the author wrote of his refusal to wake up to loud noise and bright light.  He and his wife made the decision to wake peacefully, usually to a fire and music.  It was like someone flipped a switch for me.  I realized for the first time in no uncertain terms that I needed to start my day similarly.  It's too hot to have a fireplace here most of the time, so candles do the trick along with a carefully selected playlist of music and some reading.  And so I rose this morning intending to start my day this way.  Until I set off the fire alarm, which apparently zapped what was left of the nine-volt battery in the smoke detector.  So a chirping accompanied the few minutes of reading I could manage before I gave up.  But a lesson is here.  That even in our attempts to center and be still, we will sometimes find that things go differently than planned.  I'll leave you with Auden, and a photo I took last night of some great Christmas lights and the setting sun.  

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

Atlantis, excerpt

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

enneagram, Irish poets, and ethereal light

It has been a great couple of weeks.  The weather wants to cool off and the mornings are full of the potential of fall.  Three thoughts on this very rainy Tuesday morning, as has become customary.

1.  Pensacola had the very good fortune of welcoming bestselling author, Ian Cron, for a workshop and book signing last week. Cron met with a group on Thursday and presented on the Enneagram, a personality typing system which may go as far back as the mystic Evagrius Ponticus.  It is a remarkable tool, and Cron did a masterful job of interweaving story and personal history throughout the presentation.  Thanks to Quint Studer, Scott Remington, and Eric Stevenson, for their efforts in getting Cron to Pensacola.

2.  In conversation, Cron made mention of the work of the late Irish poet, John O'Donahue.  I'd listened to a wonderful interview of O'Donahue several months ago, and was moved by his comments on the aesthetic.  He masterfully described beauty as a fundamental part of the interior life.  I am slowly making my way through his work, Anam Cara, and it resonates deeply. 

3.  As I was making my way back from Santa Rosa county yesterday, I was captivated by a rainbow.  It was the most vivid and complete example I'd ever seen.  It took me back to Parris Island, when at the age of seventeen, I was in the midst of a troop movement with my hosts from the Marine Corps.  It is not the most spiritual of places.  There is an overwhelming amount of gray and military green - but I recall looking up to see a lovely rainbow in the distance.  There was an overwhelming and accompanying sense that everything was going to be just fine.  I am increasingly mindful that the aesthetic, whether it be natural or man made - grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us into the present.  And that is a good thing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

retreat, identity, and Louisiana lace

The first time is unforgettable.  I've just returned from Manresa.  In attendance were five friends, three of whom were on their first retreat.  It was exciting to share it with them. 

I've had to deal with identity theft over the past year.  Numerous calls from credit card vendors and fraud protection.  It's not a fun way to spend free time.  At the welcoming talk Thursday evening, we discussed the pull of daily life.  And I was again reminded that there is great difficulty in giving ourselves permission to deeply rest.  The fact that I could not turn my phone off completely for four days is a testament to this reality!  But the weekend gave me a needed  opportunity to reflect on identity and daily life. 

A photo.  And a poem that dropped out of the ether for my good friend Chris.


a poet accompanied me today
on a long walk
among oaks and moss
and an elegant late summer sun

searching for words
to close his musings

that which perhaps
all poets seek

freedom marred
nights robbed of clarity
obscured by attachment, inordinate
grace even too lovely to tame

oh, to be moved
as easily as this lace
for but the most gentle zephyr
sets it dancing

uttering the words
that words would be
if only they could