just breathe…

I woke up yesterday morning to a gorgeous spring day – sunlight sloshing around the courtyard through dappled leaves, jasmine and lavender sneaking in through open windows on the playful breeze, and a few minutes of silence, stillness, and rest.  I don’t think I realized until yesterday how starved my soul was for just a few moments of quiet – this last month (all semester, if we’re being honest) have felt a little bit like this, running as fast as I can just to stay in place…  There has been little silence, and less space that is not spoken for, demanded, filled by distractions and clamorous voices calling for a moment of attention.  And ultimately, it leaves my mind rushing, fragmented, not present, grounded, or aware of what’s going on.  I miss out.  I don’t see.

So it seemed appropriate that I read this prayer in the morning, and it captured something in me:

Show to me this day
amidst life’s dark streaks of wrong and suffering
the light that endures in every person.

Dispel the confusions that cling close to my soul
that I may see with eyes washed by grace
that I may see myself and all people
with eyes cleansed by the freshness of the new day’s light.

…from Celtic Benedictions, ed. by Philip Newell

~ via Sarah Baldwin

It’s hard to hear the still small voice when there is no quiet.  It’s hard to see with grace washed eyes when my focus is the projects and plans that I have to accomplish.  It’s hard to notice the fresh new light when my gaze is focused inward.  And it’s surprisingly hard for me to step away from my to-do list and engage in purposeful, deliberate silence and rest.

But I took two hours – ran down to the lake, soaked up the sunshine, immersed myself in the blue of the sky and the waves, and gloried in movement.  I stopped at the point, climbed down on the rocks til my feet felt the chill of the water and the only sound I could hear was the lapping and splashing of the waves.  I felt the warmth of the noonday sun fill me, heard the laugh of a child chasing a puppy, and every breath was thanks, and every breath was grace.  In the midst of to-do lists, finals, work, packing, moving, saying good-byes, transitions galore, grace pours out, and every breath is a prayer of thanks to Abba Father, the author and source of all life and light.

And it was enough – enough to refill, refresh, and refocus…  enough grace for today…  enough.

Just to stop…  rest…  breathe…  be…

and suddenly, you're home…

It hit me out the blue today – but Chicago really feels like home.  A combination of thoughts as I reflected on today and the past week boiled over and left me feeling content, restful, and settled in so many ways.  Here’s a couple vignettes of why this place has all of a sudden felt like home:

– Sunday morning Dad and Heather came over to my apartment – we spent time getting food ready, the ham in the oven, and then off to church…  worshipping together in a space that celebrates beauty and truth, with friends and brothers and sisters – cello and bass and mandolin fusing with bagpipes and chorale echoing through the spacious cathedral, stained glass and liquid light and warm sound as we celebrated the victory of Life over death…  Then everyone back to my place for cooking and laughter and stories and an abundance of food – my heart overflows…

– Lunches at hole in the wall pubs and Jewish delis, cheese and wine with friends before small group, fasting and prayer and awareness of lack – and all those shared with friends old and new.

– A job that is challenging, growing, fulfilling, and loads of fun – newness and variety and opportunity – and all of that with a great fit for who I am, what I value – conversations with teenagers about what it was like being smuggled across the border, their families, their hopes, their fears, their problems and frustrations…  Laughter and games and bad movies and bad haircuts and temper tantrums and breakthroughs…  Amazing coworkers and laughter intertwined through it all.

– The lake – a running path from my door to the waves and the water, the skyline of Chicago floating behind me or before me, wind and sand and sky, races and smiles and the joy of movement…

– My church – small group – a people who value questions, and prayer, and food, and worship, and service, and action, and justice, and faithfulness, and each other…  Volleyball and soccer and teaching and praying – beauty and pathos – life…

– Friends – from roommates who have become like brothers to coworkers, people from school, church friends, and the like – helping move and sharing meals and laughter and prayer and movement towards the ineffable.

Tonight, I’m thankful that this place is becoming home…

Breathless

There is a weight and a depth that can be found in silence, in stillness, in rest. I am ready to be weighed down, if this is what it feels like. If this is price of peace, then I am ready and willing to drown in that silence.

I sat on the porch a few nights ago, soaking up the brilliant light of a full moon that seems to lend a depth and mystery to the mundane Indiana countryside. Yet even as I write that, I am forced to ask, “Is any place ever truly, completely, utterly mundane? Is there any spot completely removed from the barest hint of transcendence?” Even in the dilapidated cityscapes of rundown warehouses and broken glass, the air full of the smell of urine and cheap wine and despair, you can catch a glimpse of the flickering evanescence of nuclear explosions millions of light years away.

There is so much beauty around us, whether that be the pulsing heart of the city, the space of trees and fields and desert, or the laughter of boys and girls jumping on a trampoline in the neighbor’s back yard…

Tonight, it was the moon, hovering low and weighty and ripe. Tonight, it was the full throated laughter of a little girl, and the strength and grace of a horse, and the knowledge that inside every cell of my body is over six feet of DNA, and that if stretched out it would reach to the moon and back a hundred thousand times over. Tonight, it was the peace and stillness that pitched a tent in my soul, and invited me in to rest for a while.

“We don’t need a lot of money, we’ll be sleeping on the beach, keeping oceans within reach… It’s going to be all right. You can close your eyes tonight, cause it’s gonna be all right.”

 

Time-outs

In some ways, I feel like the last week and a half has been a “time-out” of sorts. Spending time w/ family and friends, not working, no school projects or deadlines hanging over me… And while I head back to Philadelphia today – with projects and deadlines to finish, I’m so thankful for the Sabbath rest I’ve experienced, laughter and sharing and deep conversations and being reminded over and over again how richly I am blessed and deeply I am loved.

Because I am. And you are.

The sun still shines. The rain still falls. Our bodies metabolize the food we eat. Breath fills our lungs.  We are not alone.  And God is good.

A horrible error

So we got home on Sunday evening from our mountain adventure… Pretty tired out, but refreshed emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. We rented this house way back in the middle of no-where – felt like I was back in Peru on the road up to Shillia at times, except instead of having our old 4×4 lemon-yellow Toyota pickup truck, we were in itty-bitty-city cars, not meant to drive through mud, dirt roads, giant ruts, huge rocks, and dodging dogs, cows and horses…

The house we stayed at had all kinds of fun toys – ping-pong table, pool table, sauna (the old fashioned, wood-burning kind), fireplace, volley-ball court, soccer field, and even its own little man-made pond (maybe 4 feet deep at its deepest point) with a tiny island out in the middle of it. On the little island was a picnic table, with a small, rickety foot-bridge leading out to it. Within the first half hour we were there, Rich and I started exploring – looking at the game room, checking out the area, etc., and we ended up on the island. Right next to the island (maybe four feet away) was a large sand-bar looking thing. As we were exploring, why not jump out onto this little sandbar?

Bad idea.

It was a little bit chilly (being at about 4000 feet, a bit rainy, and the sun getting ready to go down) so I was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. The jumping part went fine – it was the landing that got a little bit messy. Unbeknownst to me, the aforementioned sand-bar was more of a “quicksand-bar”, with the unfortunate result that when my left foot landed on/in the sand, instead of supporting my weight and allowing for a smooth, graceful landing, my foot sunk almost a foot deep, and stopped moving. This resulted in all my forward momentum stopping, and being translated into a fast downward momentum. Thankfully, the quicksand/mud broke my fall. The next thing I knew, I was lying face first on the edge of the sandbar, my entire front covered in mud and sand, cold and wet and a little bit shocked. “This wasn’t supposed to happen quite like this…”

Rich, watching from the island, was laughing so hard he almost fell into the water… I was laughing so hard that I could barely stand up (only to begin sinking again). And then, as the laughter died down, I realized I was stuck. I tried stepping closer to the edge to jump back onto the island, but the edge of the sand bar started caving in, sucking me back under. Rich tried to help by throwing me a small plank. We realized that I could make a bridge, but it would quickly break. So, I tried placing it on the edge of the sandbar to spread my weight out while I prepared for a jump. Still, no dice. The sand was just too crumbly and quick-sand-y.

By this point, the rest of the group had gathered – some offered helpful advice (like pointing out where the water was shallowest, and that it didn’t look like there were too many snakes in the high reeds) while other helped by throwing fruit at me to motivate me to get off the sandbar quicker. I was finally able to get off by taking off my shoes, and running and jumping into a marshy area where the water only came up to my ankles…

And thus began the retreat…