Kayaking the lake shore at sunset.
My hands touch the cool waters as my eyes raise, looking to the evening sky. The moon and stars emerge, galaxies as well. From farther away than my mind can fathom.
I’m in awe. Silence and awe.
Alone. But somehow alone with the God of the universe.
I came up north to think. To read. To write.
And to pray…which feels so unlike praying back home…in the midst of work and schedules and daily demands.
Solitude like this pushes me to face my demons. And also to embrace my strengths more passionately. It whispers to me to “knock it off” when it comes to playing small. Smaller than I really am.
Erwin McManus states that “there is a direct relationship between those who live most free and those who dream most. Captivity not only steals our freedom but cripples our imagination.”
There is a freedom, an exhilaration in being a small little speck on this lake tonight. In being surrounded by the beauty and peaceful whisper of the wind in the red pines and the white birch. Is humbling and encouraging at the same time.
All is not well in the world these days, but for now, I am grateful and have a certain oneness with my Creator that I have not felt for a long time. And in that there is a freedom, a freedom to dream and imagine and…
Kayaking the lake shore at sunset.
Fresh out of high school, I spent parts of a year-and-a-half on the northwest side of Chicago in the town of Elgin. A searching kid with a wandering sense of self trying to figure out who I was. It was largely an artistic excursion where I learned a few things, failed at a few others, met some incredible people, and gained the freshman fifteen. Even today, I look back on that season of my life with gratitude in many, many ways.
During one semester in particular, I spent countless hours in the pottery lab overlooking the woods and Tyler Creek as it wound its way through campus toward the Fox River. That was back in the days when I could use a kick wheel to turn pots, and I got thoroughly engaged in it. To start a mound of soft clay spinning, and then add a little water and some pressure and pull it up out of its lowly state of mud into shape and form and even graceful function of some kind brought something alive in me. The introverted core of me loved spending time and energy there in that lab, often times alone after others had left.
Few tangible relics of that season of my life remain. One is photographed here. Rough and barely glazed, it remains the favored work of mine, as it mirrors much in my life. Signed with the name that many called me then, and as only a few call me these days. The clay I used for this was filled with grog, which is the ground up material of previously fired clay. Because it had already gone through the firing process, it was hardened. Coarse. And when added to a new piece would cause it to shrink less in its own firing process. It was a kind of stabilizer in some ways, but also made the new clay a little more difficult to work with. It was abrasive to the touch, and left the skin of my hands torn and rough.
There is no disconnection in my storyline from then until now, but I am obviously different in ways. Life is like a potter’s wheel that has continued to turn. And with life’s turning and various pressures, it has continued to shape me. I was more pliable then, more open and formable in many ways. But even in that pliable state, there was the grog of previous experience. Previous experience that was akin to a kiln, firing formed yet soft clay into a more durable, permanent state. Hardened. Solid. Concrete to some degree.
I assume that Tyler Creek continues to wind its way through campus there, seeking union with the Fox River. I assume that the pottery studio remains as well. Life’s flow does not stop. The creation of this coarsely shrouded vase in 1977 is merely a relic of the ongoing creation that is life and humanity. Mine and yours. Living, breathing, growing. Erwin Raphael Mcmanus states that “..we humans have the strange capacity to live a soulless life.” Let a soulless life not be the case for me. For you. For us. Not this day…
Recently Dr. Henry Cloud tweeted that, “Certainty is one of the weakest positions in life. Curiosity is one of the most powerful. Certainty prohibits learning, curiosity fuels change.”
The glasses in the photo above are very much like the ones I wore for years during the eighties. Sort of Brown Bannister/John Lennon glasses. Decades ago. There is no shortage of questions in life. Sometimes, however, it feels like there is a shortage of answers. Things of which I felt certain as I looked at my world through those glasses are not necessarily so certain now. Or at least they have been questioned in one way or another since then.
I am currently reading a book by Erwin McMannus called “The Artisan Soul” and am challenged by this thought he shares: “I see this reality all around me — men and women who refuse to stop growing, dreaming, and risking. In some ways, it’s like a second childhood with all the benefits of the wisdom accumulated over time. You need both the wisdom and the wonder…”
May you find ways to live with both certainty and curiosity today. To grow, dream, and risk with both wisdom and wonder.
“To be wise is to be eternally curious.” – Frederick Buechner
One of those things that many of us love up here in the northlands is that change-of-the-seasons thing. And at this point in our winter, the change is the thing we might most be longing for. Tonight there is a predicted record low for March 2nd of -22 degrees. That’s without the wind, of course. It has been a relatively long stretch of winter with way too many days and nights of below-zero temperatures.
Yet there are subtle signs of change of season starting to happen. Although the landscape has been laden with heavy snow and ice for a long while, there are occasional hints at the increasing power of the sunlight, as days get longer and nights get shorter. As the sun’s rays hit the snow on the south sides of the roof, out of the wind, there is melting that occurs. Such as the icicle photo. Even on days with temperatures near zero, ice melts and water droplets cannot resist the pull of gravity. There is some beauty in that. Some hope.
“For behold, the winter is past…the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” – Song of Solomon 2:11-12
I am in a writing mode these days. Hopefully a creative writing mode. Trying to compile another project that is in some ways similar to “Thirty-One Days” that I completed last year. Photography and journal-like writing. Quotations from authors that change me. Scripture. Perhaps even written prayer.
I’ve not blogged much at all, as those of you who follow this site may or may not have noticed, but am trying to dig in to this project, tentatively called “Plateaus.” At this point I am projecting it to be a sort of Lenten meditation kind of thing. A way to travel through the season starting on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter. I would appreciate your prayers as I continue to grapple with expressing some of the movements of my heart…
Lately there has been a wrestling in my soul. As one of my friends says, “You counselor types are always a little conflicted.” I don’t know about the always part of that assessment, but, yes, I have a certain ongoing dissonance of one sort or another. I ask questions of life, of God, of myself. Although I have a certain love and respect for mystery, I continue to seek, to question. I generally don’t take things at face value. I like to know what is under the surface, as that helps me make sense of what is more visible to the naked eye.
So my wrestling heart, mind, soul grabbed a mocha with an extra shot of espresso this morning on the way to work, and then stopped in this place not quite halfway to the office. Along the Winnebago River in Fertile, Iowa. And I just sat there with mocha in hand, camera ready, and the quiet peacefulness of running water, steadily flowing by. And it was great for me to slow down a while, relax my breathing, and think and pray intentionally instead of in the more commonly reactive way.
I didn’t get out of my Jeep today, but just snapped a few photos through open windows. These four shots are reminders to me today of things that seem worth remembering as I face life in this season: flow, roots, gateways, millstones.
When I sit at this place and listen to the sound of water FLOW past me, I am reminded that life is in some way always about movement. It doesn’t really stop or stand still, even when we slow down enough to pay attention to how it moves by us. It is fluid and that fluidity is largely beyond our control.
In the movement of life, it serves us well to be ROOTED. When much around us is moving and changing, it is necessary to have a medium out of which we take most of our nutrients for growth. I think often of Ephesians 3:17- and the encouragement to let our roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.
Although many things are out of our control, there is always choice. There are fences and boundaries, but there is also some kind of GATEWAY. Something that comes next. This is an act of faith most days, more than a response to what is visible, obvious.
And the MILLSTONE. I love and hate the millstone. I resist what its function is in my life, and yet I know that I need those things that are millstones to me. Those things that sharpen my dulled edges. Those things that break through my protective shell and expose the substance of who I am and what I have to offer.
If I am disciplined and find or take the time in the coming days/weeks, I hope to spend more time thinking and writing about these themes: flow, roots, gateways, and the millstone. I would value your thoughts as well, if you’d like to respond…
Back when I had more hair on my head than on my back, I listened to Harry Chapin sing his timeless “Cats in the Cradle” and was changed by it somehow. True artists do that, you know. Express truth in ways that can turn us around, make us ask hard questions, and be more honest as we face the guy in the mirror. This song paints such an accurate canvas of so many fathers and sons. There were certainly brush strokes on the canvas that depicted Norm and I. And as many young adolescent males set out to do, I determined to do some things differently than my dad and I did. Looking back at it now, I see some idealism and arrogance there [on my part]. But I also see some healthy energy. Some appropriate individualism mixed with respectful carrying on of all that my father gave to me and tried to instill in me as masculine values.
So this past weekend Jonathan came home from college. And although this college-kid-coming-home-for-the-weekend thing is new to us as parents, I find myself preparing to see him a little over the course of a weekend and be OK with that. Like Harry says, “Well he came home from college just the other day, so much like a man I just had to say, “Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?’ He shook his head, and then said with a smile…” You probably know the rest of that phrase.
I am just being a little more than a little grateful right now, as Jon and I had several trips to the woods and cut and split three loads of firewood. A lot of noise from the chainsaw and the blows of axes and wedges and sledge hammers, but some quiet conversation moments in the middle of it all as well. I subtly watch him work out of the corner of my eye, and I wish I had some of that stamina back. I work really hard to keep going and pretend that my shoulders and back are not as tied up in knots as they really are. [Advil has become a close friend of mine over the last years. She's just there for me like nobody else.]
Times gathered around the kitchen counter. Around the dinner table. More than just proximity. More than just eat and run. This morning I sat in the garage, near the stacks of firewood, and watched as the Chevy truck drove down the drive, on the way back to South Dakota, and was filled with a wide mix of thoughts and feelings. Way too many to type out here. Brushstrokes on a canvas that is still being painted. Each little brushstroke counts. Each moment. Brushstrokes and moments combine over time, layer upon layer of color and texture and depth.