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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Cathedral of Ice

by Paul Hettinga

Like so many other mornings, this morning I woke, grabbed a hot cup of coffee and went to sit down in my favorite chair to read, reflect, pray a little and generally try to be available to meet God in my own contrived ways. This morning however, I was delighted with the scene shown below. So simple - yet for me profoundly beautiful.  I stood looking at it with my coffee cooling for at least 3 or 4 minutes, which for me is an eternity. Then I snapped this quick picture - sat down to start the process of ‘meeting’ God in my chair with my own “Ice Cathedral” just outside the window.

I sold my company and began retiring from full time work on Jan 1st of this year. I have hopes that I will use this time to ask God what’s next for me…who does he want me to be in the later years of my life? Should I just assume to continue to be who I have been all those working years - retirement simply being a different place to be the person I was before? Or is there a new - generally undiscovered me within, that God would love to reveal to me? I’ve jokingly asked “So, who am I going to be when I grow up? 

Well, guess what: this is tougher than I thought. While I’m only about 6 weeks into it, I can see that I’ve hardly begun the journey so far. Partly, that’s due to some complications with the sale of the company, partly due to some family matters that I’m attending to but mostly, it's due to ‘ME'. ‘ME' is still in the center of the process and as long as that’s the case, it’s going to be tough for me to stop being ME long enough to sense the presence of GOD. I read, I write, I reflect and yet it’s all ME doing this. I intuitively know that silence and being in his presence is probably more to the task. Yet, this creates a kind of uncomfortable insecurity deep within me. I’ve got to get up, think, write in my journal; i.e. take control - be decisive - do something! 

Is it possible to stop centering around ME, and not feel so insecure? I recognize that many of the thoughts and behaviors that I dislike in myself come from this place of insecurity so I usually run from it pretty quickly. But perhaps insecurity of this sort might be a good place to start from on this spiritual journey. Being insecure enough in my own strengths, ideas, feelings, in me, might just create the kind of space where I can sense and be enveloped in God’s quiet presence right in the middle of my day - right where I am. 

Kind of like sensing the beauty of an icicle that’s been hanging outside my window for a couple weeks now. Today was the first day I really ‘saw’ it - so maybe my journey has just begun. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Yin and Yang of My Tai Chi

by Tom Pappas

I am in my junior year (my term) of Tai Chi. Two years ago when I was a beginner I was at wits end because it felt like I would never learn the 24-form Yang sequence.  I told myself I will come for the meditation and stretching elements, and if I learned something or anything about the 24 Yang, that would be fine. It was a good strategy. Today I can routinely do it, except there is something counter-intuitive about “brush knee, step forward” that occasionally catches me with the wrong hand out front.

Tai Chi is a useful discipline for me in terms of exercise, and spiritual and emotional centering. My teacher is a fellow churchman and he talks a lot about the spiritual aspects of this practice that is thousands of years older than Jesus (counting from Jesus’ time on earth).

Being a bit of a show off, I practiced Tai Chi on a few occasions last summer when we took our German friends on a 4000 mile wonder tour of the western US. When I used to be a jogger I would try to run in landmark places and have jogged in NY’s Central Park, on the Capitol Mall, Grant Park in Chicago and on one early morning in Hong Kong, Kowloon Park where I saw Tai Chi practitioners by the dozens (not knowing what they were doing or that I would one day do it too).

I have three detractors for this new discipline. During the meditation time, my “monkey brain” shows up and prevents me from the deep concentration I would like to experience and have been promised will be profoundly satisfying. This is much like what often happens when I pray.

During the stretching the cynical-critic in me mocks the instructor who says we’ll do 8, and on number 10 he announces, “Two more.” I also find myself saying mentally that his explanation is too wordy, and he’s said it before, and please quit talking so long while our arms are extended; he must have lighter arms than me.

Muscle memory from decades of moving my limbs and body my own way, stubbornly objects to the graceful movements of “wave hands like clouds” and “snake creeps down”.

Yin and yang combine for interesting growth and struggles three days a week at 11AM; but worth it, I believe.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Prayer for Love Pouring Over Maps

by Angier Brock

Several weeks ago, I began planning a 2500-mile or so road trip. Knowing that the trip would originate at my home in eastern Virginia and that my ultimate destination, before returning home, was Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I consulted online mapping sources and travel websites. As convenient and helpful as they were, though, what I needed before I finalized plans was a clear look at the big picture.

“I’m heading to my local automobile club tomorrow to pick up some old-fashioned road maps,” I emailed a friend.

“Love pouring over maps,” she wrote back.

At first, I mistook her response for a blessing, reading it as she wrote it, missing at first the homonymic slip. What she meant to say was that she loves poring over maps. But the image that flashed through my mind was of something fluid and sparkling being discharged over large swaths of canvas or cardboard somewhere on a mapmaker’s drafting table. Love pouring over maps.

Different kinds of maps do different things, but perhaps one thing they have in common is that they represent huge geographic areas, condensing them into scaled-down images that are accessible to mere mortals. They give us the overall picture, or at least one version of it. The state maps I acquired, for instance, show state boundaries, locate towns and and cities, indicate regional and national parks, outline the courses of rivers and the shapes of lakes, sketch the positions of mountains, and reveal the meandering nature of roads. Most signficantly, perhaps, they make visible how all the parts fit, where they lie, how they move and connect to each other.

Does love pour over these maps? In a sense, yes. These maps probably are not perfect, but they provide amazing clarity and accuracy—without insisting on where I go or judging how I get there. Surely it takes a labor of love—or many labors of love—to gather and update the information, plot the points, measure, label, record, proofread, color, and perform the myriad other tasks needed to produce accurate and trustworthy instruments. And surely the abundance of possiblities they make evident and available to a would-be traveler can also be seen as emblematic of a great and generous love.

As I write this, I am on the journey I was planning. At the moment I am just a little southeast of Sweetwater, Tennessee. Even with my good maps (and a GPS in the car) I’ve made a few wrong turns—but each time I have been able to get back on track. And while I have moved from place to place pretty much as I had expected, there has also been time to leave the main roads to do some discovering and to let a little serendipity in.  

How nice it would be always to live this way—with a sense of where we are starting out and what we want our furthest destination to be before we return home. Suppose we had something to show us our own “big picture,” including the abundance of possible places we could visit, roads to take, and things to see and do along the way. Suppose we were given our choice of those options without any pressure to take one over the other. Would it feel to us as though love were being poured out over our maps?

Perhaps we do live that way—if we only let ourselves see it—for don’t most of us have some kind of template in the back of our mind, something that gives us both choice and direction, something that helps us find our way when we get lost, something that spurs us on? Some might know such templates as “call.” Today I am thinking of them as “maps.” Whatever we call them, the trick may be to keep them fresh, up-to-date, close at hand.

Wherever you are on your journey today, may love pour over your maps.

© 2014 Angier Brock