Pushing the limits

“Crepis, crepis, crepis, crepis…”

The balding Ukrainian pacing behind us kept muttering this word as we sat on the broken fortress wall overlooking the wasteland below while eating our pita, yogurt, and pickles. I don’t really remember who it was the finally engaged him in conversation – probably Dan – and discovered that far from being a crazy person who was planning on shoving us over the edge, he was a passionate student of history who was so excited to be at Masada that he couldn’t contain himself.

“Crepis is… how do you say… fortress…?”

And like that, we started to understand each other – the balding Ukrainian on his vacation in Israel, and the six American college students preparing to hike down the snake path to the Dead Sea for a night of camping in the desert.


A couple of weeks later, we found ourselves at Masada again. This time we were dropped off by our tour bus with the rest of our classmates on the old rubble strewn siege way created by the Romans in the siege of 72 AD. And while the history was as intriguing as always and the stories compelling, the moment that crystallized in my memory was towards the end of the day as we were preparing to leave.

As most of our classmates lined up to wait for the cable car that would take them from the fortress top down to desert floor, a couple of us decided we didn’t feel like waiting and would race the cable car down to the bottom via the snake path. I assume it’s called the snake path because of the switch backs, the way it curves and winds and makes a path out of the nearly vertical crumbly rock and shale (with a little Cenomanian limestone for good measure), dropping down over 1,300 ft. to the shores of the Dead Sea.

I remember the feeling of freedom as we tore down the cliff side, running and sliding, skidding around corners, dropping a hand to stabilize and keep from shooting too far down the sandy slope, and back up to full speed. I remember jumping from rock to rock, teetering on the verge of falling, almost overbalancing time and time again but somehow managing to remain mostly vertical. There was whooping and hollering and joy as we tore down the mountainside, glancing up from time to time to note the progress of the cable car, forcing us to put on a burst of speed, and then the bottom. I don’t think we beat the cable car, but that moment is one of beauty and life that I treasure and am so thankful for.


The other day I saw this clip, and while our jaunt down the snake path doesn’t compare to this: it was what immediately came to mind – running for the sheer joy through beauty, wildness, and danger, revelling in movement and physicality and the body that we have been given that is so much more capable than I give it credit for.

And I wonder what it would take to bring this level of joy and enthusiasm and adventure into my daily runs through the streets of Chicago. How can I find the same joy in dodging cars and bicyclists, skipping over potholes and broken glass, and dancing across boulevards and through parks? Maybe that first step is just in my head. After all, beauty is all around us.  We’re practically drowning in it.  We just need the eyes to see it.

make it count…

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard

So how are you spending your days?

Make them count.

Do justice. Create beauty. Laugh. Forgive. Risk. Give thanks. Dance. Slow down. Pay attention. Smile. Pray. Work. Rest. Celebrate. Drink deeply of today…

(video via Josh Barkey)

An instrument of Your peace

I sat out on the porch this afternoon reading a text for my marriage and family therapy class.  The sun was shining, winds were gusting, and it felt like spring was here.  It was so peaceful and relaxing, in fact, that I might have dozed off once or twice in the warm sunlight.  As I wavered on the boundary between wake and sleep, words from the text kept pushing into my mind – “The meaning of the message is the response you receive.”

The meaning of the message is the response you receive.

As I communicate, there is the message I intend to send.  I use words, non-verbal cues, body language, tone, and actions to convey love or anger, frustration or joy, and to try to bridge that gap and communicate.  Yet when that message does not go through, for whatever reason (misinterpretation, misunderstanding, inattention), as the communicator I have two choices.  I can wash my hands of the matter, say “That’s not what I meant to say” in a fit of self-righteous justification, and complain bitterly about how others don’t understand me.  Or, I can stop, reframe, and try again using new words, images, intonations, and actions until the message is received.

In other words, we cannot hope to be understood by others unless we first understand them, and how they perceive us.

It’s a simple concept, but one that is not easy to put into practice.  St. Francis himself prayed “Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much… to be understood as to understand.”  And I wonder, how much conflict, frustration, and miscommunication might we avoid if we practiced this other-centered style of communicating?  How would our other relationships change?  What would be birthed?

Ponderings tonight

“Know, O beloved, that man was not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made and for some great end.”

~ Al-Ghazali

“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.”

~ Annie Dillard

I have not been able to dislodge these two thoughts from my mind.

What will it look like when I actually live my life as I believed that were true?

What will it look like when we begin to spend our days and our lives with purpose, grace, and beauty?