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Posts Tagged ‘explorers’

I will make time for solitude and will practice paying attention. Walking will slow me down and I will take time to notice what is there with me. I will explore the forests and other contexts of creation. As with reading, walking often gives me new energy. I have learned there is a great deal of similarity to exploring a neighborhood, a forest, or the printed page. A healthy spirituality for a preacher does include an exegesis of the text, but it is also helpful to exegete our surroundings. One becomes practice for the other. God is active in the text and in the neighborhood. I desire to be faithful to both as contexts for me to be with God.

I hope to continue developing the skill of attentiveness. May I be attentive to birdsong and plant life. May I discover the holy in the particular. Thomas Merton saw a collie with a feathery tail and the blank side of a frame house and found beauty. He listened as all day long the frogs sing and stated it might be the one of the best days he has ever known. The sun, dead grass, snowflakes, fire, soup, toast, hills, pines, and books prompt for him holy thoughts. I desire to become more attentive and to recognize the presence of the holy.

Wendell Berry practices attentiveness. He has a knack of starting with what is obvious. He might be talking about trees or birds or a farmer’s field. Suddenly these things become windows to other things like love, amazement, and blessing. Perhaps I should schedule a retreat. Or schedule a regular practice of retreat. Perhaps I should spend more time in the forest, perhaps an overnight or a series of hikes. How can I distinguish what I do for pleasure and what I do to feed my soul?

In our tradition it is common to raise our hands as a hallelujah. It is not unusual to say it out loud. Can a hike serve as a hallelujah? Can one step become Hallelujah and the next Amen? Can a journey through the forest be a celebration of praise? Annie Dillard seems to think so. “I go my way, and my left foot says Glory and my right foot says Amen; in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”

Can creation’s grandeur make my soul sing? Can I be attentive enough to see the handiwork of God for what it is? Am I able to recognize creation as gift? Perhaps the forest canopy is a good place to listen to Genesis 1 or to Job 38. Perhaps a mountain stream is a place where I can practice seeing? I want to put myself in places where I can see and hear what is going on around me. I want to wake in the forest to the dawn chorus. Even though I may not recognize every singer, I can enjoy every song. Interestingly, the morning song of birds is sometimes referred to as matins, the same word used for the first prayer of the day. Even when seeking solitude one is never alone and I will join creation for morning prayers.

In order to become more attentive, I will pick up field guides and take them into the wild in order to learn to identify berries and trees by sight, birds and insects by sound. Perhaps this will help me to slow down and enjoy creation’s goodness. Will I ever be alert enough to hear the moment that cicadas sing the last notes of their day time song as katydids begin their evening chorus? Will I ever hear that moment when they overlap in harmony together?

I have come to realize that spiritual growth does not occur only in activities labeled as “spiritual.” I admit the wilderness has a tug on me. It is always pulling me in its direction. I have a natural preference to wade in streams, stare at sky, and hike the forests. However, I often find myself surrounded by tall buildings, concrete sidewalks, and asphalt lots. No matter the different places we find ourselves, it is important to keep our eyes open in order to capture the stories that may be found there. We cannot stop looking when walking alleys, sitting in coffee shops, talking on the street. We are always exploring beauty, searching for wonder, and looking for ways that God is at work. No matter the context, whether wading through creeks or concrete, whether surrounded by humans or other wildlife, may I recognize them all as gift.

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“Time in the Gospel will remind us we aren’t the first to look at beauty and pronounce it good.We aren’t the first to find ourselves up to our elbows in a creative moment. We aren’t the first to roll away a stone to reveal what is behind it. After time in the Gospel, we might come out wide-eyed, muddy, bloody, and elbow deep in our story, excited to tell others where we have been and what we have discovered.”

From Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.48

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My apologies for sounding like a commercial, but this is a commercial.  Just making you aware that my book Participant: Field Notes From Here and Now will be published in the near future by Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishing.  Below you will find the copy that will be on the back cover…

The author sets off to pay attention to realities seen and unseen and discovers that he is surrounded by gifts.  “I am an observer, a collector of raw data… I sometimes make assumptions that turn out to be incorrect, inferences that are premature.  Yet, I have a responsibility to offer interpretation.  I am a hermeneut, one who has come across a treasure map and has no other choice but to discover sign and report to others what I find.”

Participant will make explorers out of each of us and will prompt us to look differently at the familiar and the unknown.  This is a call to be curious about the world and about God with the biblical text as a regular part of the conversation. “I make no apology for talking about bears and bugs, about mountains and oceans, about soil and skies, about people and calendar in the same conversation with the biblical text… the fact is, I can no longer stare into the sky or dig in the garden or talk to anyone without thinking about the text.  And I can no longer read the text without thinking about places and situations and people that I will discover on any given day.”

These colorful and lyrical “field notes” highlight mysteries that become tangled with ordinary experiences and take us into places dangerous and glorious while putting us in the company of wonder and causing us to say “Wow.”

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My days and years are filled with more than I can imagine and I fight to hold on while paying attention the best I can. Annie Dillard said, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” She is right. She later says “there is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.” Again, I say amen and think that it would do us all well to think of how we string our days together. The ways we spend our time should not be taken lightly. You and I are participants in a grand adventure.

No matter what else you might expect, expect the unexpected. Plan to be surprised. We are surrounded, all of us, by danger and risk and cruelty. But also by beauty and mystery and grace. We are observers, explorers, on alert. Sometimes we are patient. Other times, not so much. We are witnesses at this intersection where danger meets grace. We acknowledge mystery and know there is more than meets the eye. So we light the candles, ring the bells, and sing the songs. Sometimes we sing from habit. Sometimes we sing in doubt. But sometimes we sing in celebration of endless gifts and grace.

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I am not a lone adventurer.  And I am not the first.  I read the logs of those who have gone before.  Their insights help to orient me.  They help with decision making and direction.  Those of us participating in this adventure are explorers of these particular texts.  Exploring text is a lot like exploring the forest, or the backyard, or the seashore.  In order to become skilled at it, we must be attentive to things like contrast and movement.  Things like shape, tone, and frequency call our attention to what is going on.

Sometimes it is tempting to read the texts through the eyes of where I am and when.  But reading the text is necessarily contextual.  All texts have a specific context.  Eugene Peterson says that we must “immerse ourselves in their soil and weather.”  The texts were formed because the traditions are important.  We take this seriously so we continually read the texts, gather around them and acknowledge that we are wisest when we are attentive to what they have to say.

The text is not tame and calls us to either choose a new world or defend the old one.  Reading the text is a daring, dangerous act.  The text calls us out and places us in a larger system than first imagined and explores our relationships with the Creator, creation, outsiders, enemies, neighbors, and with one another.  Ecclesia may mean “called out” but it does not eliminate our connection with the world at large.  The text reminds us that we do not dominate what is around us. Instead we are participants in it.  We are part of an eccle-system.

The text does not exist that we may gain information.  Instead it directs us to a King and invites us to join up with a collection of people who gather to follow that King.  Our words, our behaviors, our attitudes, all of our moves become extremely important and influences everything else in this eccle-system.  Here, we recognize that everything belongs to the King and that determines how we respond to it.  Our response becomes one of thankfulness and gratitude, of becoming as children, as taking on the attitude of a servant.  This is a community where love for God and neighbor are strong, but love your enemies is equally strong.

In this community it is evident that what happens to one member affects and impacts the rest.  It is no accident that the text calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.  What outsiders do affects us as well.  Persecuted by someone?  Bless them.  Have enemies?  Feed them.  Evil is not an option.  Peace to everyone.  The text provides an eccle-systemic view of this gathering, this thing we call church.

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I am an explorer here, an adventurer.  Like Baggins and Gamgee , I am part of this whether I volunteered or not.  I am trying to learn my surroundings in yet unknown territory.  I do not have to be master of where I am going.  Of that, I am not even capable.  I sometimes convince myself that I know something because I have ventured there before, but I have not ventured there on this day so there is no way to know for certain what lies ahead.

It seems that we all start out as explorers.  We spend our energy trying to lift our heads and to focus on color and sound.  We know that there is more going on than what we are up to and we aim to find out what it is.  Why do we stop?  What happens to us?  At what point do we give in and start wearing the goggles that cause us to see like the grownups?  And how can we dispose of such unnecessary accessories that prevent us from seeing things as they really are?

I am constantly gathering data.  Not for a future experiment, I am not out to prove anything.  I am simply trying to discover what is grand, attempting to experience wonder, working to navigate the mystery of this place.  At the end of the day, with more questions than answers, I stand and applaud, all the while stating the obvious – “wow.”

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