A few months ago I began lighting a candle as part of my morning ritual of coffee, reading, praying, and writing. The little light sits off to the side and after a while goes unnoticed…until recently.
We bought a house in the dead of winter. What emphasized that fact was more and more empty drawers and taped up boxes. When my candle dwindled down to uselessness I went for a replacement, and the only available were several Christmas gift candles. We had bought the kind which sound like a mini-crackling fire. Figuring this would add a bit more ambience, I gave one a go.
A couple of days in, I noticed slight slips of concentration, more than usual anyhow. This particular little light of mine had much to say. The conclusion: candles should be seen, not heard. I don’t dismiss these crack candles out of hand. My muse did though. She thought it distracted our communique. “You’re not listening hard enough,” She’d say. “What’s up with gibbering candle there?” She’d ask.
What would it be like if all candles crackled? Imagine a fine dining situation with the love of your life… The glow highlighting the subtle curves of facial recognition. Eye contact melting into soul connection. Soft conversation. After a few minutes the spit and sputter of the center lit ambiance highjacks the focus of togetherness. Instead of staring at each other, you’re gazing at “it.”
Or you walk into your catholic parish to light a votive or two, say a prayer, and sit quietly under the vaulted ceilings. But no, not today, because it sounds like a brush fire in the foothills. You can’t even hear your own echoing steps on the marble floors.
I repeat, candles should be seen, not heard, when it comes to keeping silence and listening. Now, fires in the hearth are different. They are destined to speak, give off light, warmth, and an ambience for deeper refection. Campfires too. Bring a guitar, marshmallows, wieners, a circle of Adirondack chairs, and a recipe of reciprocity is complete.
But a silent light, holy light, serves sometimes as a reminder to close our lips. Let us find place to still our souls for a bit, open the flue of our hearts, and pray. Welcome the Muse if need be. Let the lit wick melt the waxy elements of a hurried worried life.
“I am the light of the world.” Jesus
P.S. I do like the crackling candles, by the way. They serve a purpose, but fail in joining my quiet time in the morning.
I don’t have a nautical nerve in me, so what gives me the right to write about boat schtuff? I watched a movie! In the film, Hide Away, this city dude with an unknown trauma takes a sabbatical and buys a sailboat in northern Michigan. The boat is in disrepair. For an hour and a half (movie time) he fixes up the trashed innards, and sands the deck (by hand), and stains it. But the main fix to make the jalopy seaworthy is repairing the bilge pump and getting the motor running.
A decade ago, maybe two, I wrote a poem for a friend about sailing. I looked up terms, boat parts and such. I checked phrases that I had heard, like hoisting the jib or battening down the hatches. You know, clichés tossed around by novices. Then I glued them together in rhyming fashion and put the poem out to sea. I gotta find where that poem sailed off to.
Anyway, on to ballasts and bilge. If I had never heard the words before I’d equate ballast with boisterous laughing and bilge with chewing tobacco spew.
Ballast is a weight or counter-weight to maintain balance, or a way of lightening a load. Ever see a movie where the crew of a boat would start throwing stuff overboard (ballast) during a storm? They’d toss more than their cookies to keep the craft floating on top of the crests rather than plunging through them. Each time a wave sprayed over the bow, more water found its way to the bilge.
The bilge is basically where the two sides of the boat meet at its bottom spine. Some of the water which splashes on deck will meander to the bilge; gravity, doing its thing. The pump, an underwater, self-contained motor, serves to keep the bilge from filling. You know, water is supposed to be outside of the vessel, or blub, blub, blub to the bottom.
The movie Hide Away, is not for those looking for action on the high seas. It’s no Jack Sparrow flick. The camera doesn’t shake and blip from one frame to another. In fact, Josh Lucas’s piercing blue eyes are often up close, as if he is staring right through you. Put another way, his eyes become the portals that allow the viewer into the squall of his soul. As movies do, foreshadowing comes in fits and starts as he remembers the trauma that landed him in an isolated harbor.
Ballast can be added or subtracted, like in a submarine to regulate depth. Sometimes it is used to right a ship by moving weight from one side to the other. The other day I asked my wife what has helped her the most in personal growth, adding or subtracting? What I meant was loading ballast or tossing ballast. She didn’t hesitate…subtraction.
It makes sense. We downsized considerably on our last move, which took me the better part of a year to empty two storage units of excess. I won’t mention the example of weight gain and loss…taboo.
But let’s talk metaphorical or metaphysical ballasts. Six decades of living can add baggage that is often ignored or schlepped on our backs without a wink. We get used to how we carry ourselves and shout “forward, ho!” Ideas like regret, grief, and loss pile up if we haven’t shown them their due respect. These weights pull on us when life’s swells and troughs rock our worlds.
A wave of betrayal slams us. A valley of injustice gives us this sinking feeling. Sometimes, the everyday washboard waves of bad self-talk. “You’re always…You never…”
We can’t go it alone. The sooner we realize the need for others, the better.
“But humans are the reason my suitcase is so full; that bulging ballast,” I’d tell myself. “I had to sit my fat arse… Ahem, I really had to work to get it zipped up.”
Listen, I’m a human too. I’m part of the problem. If you want a good dose of this, try marriage or parenting. But the ballasts of human interaction go both ways. Put another way…
“Humans; can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.”
There’s a fine line between codependence and interdependence. We pile it on each other, and as we mature, God willing, we help each other lighten loads. It takes work to get to the point of saying, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” and extending forgiveness ourselves.
Grace and mercy are needed. Lord knows.
This is where the bilge pump comes in. Down in the bowels of the boat a little motor is displacing unwanted water, unnoticed, until it malfunctions or can’t keep up with the volume. Sometimes, I think our rescue is in the dark, stowed away places of our soul. Parker Palmer alluded to this by the title of one of his books A Hidden Wholeness.
Our inner life is the key, in the holds of our souls when the high seas slosh us around. Pay a bit more attention the next time a wave crashes over the bow of your boat. Death, injury, loss of job, illness, and etcetera, slam into us and if our inner selves don’t know how to displace trauma rising in our depths, we begin to sink. Displace trauma? What I mean is the ability to sort through it and know what to toss; own personal responsibility, and let go of unnecessary weights.
Let me be clear. I’m not a counselor or expert, I’m simply processing. So, I might be foundering in my own thoughts, but, hey, I’m trying to hoist the jib and batten down some hatches.
I’ll end with this…
Jesus slept. Not Jesus wept. Just so happens he was sleeping in a boat with his crew, the disciples, while crossing the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35-41) A fierce storm came up, the story goes, and the men, many of them seasoned fisherman, started panicking. The waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. And Jesus slept on, his head on a cushion. It took some shouting to get him up.
Can you imagine waking up from a deep sleep to yelling, waves crashing, and water pouring into the boat? I can’t. Jesus then rebuked the storm and rebuffed the disciples. To be exact, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The disciples, stunned, said something like, “Wait. What? Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey him.”
I know I’m pushing it to cram Jesus into a ballast and bilge metaphor. But what are meta’s for? The great Meta narrative is our inner life. Whether we attend to the secret places or not, they are the rudders of influence. In my Christian spirituality Christ becomes the accoutrements of a worthy vessel on the high seas. There are many inferences in the gospels and other biblical texts which put Jesus smack dab in the middle of things.
I dare say He is the bilge pump, pumping out regrets, losses, and a myriad of other things that find their way to the bottom of our souls. He also directs, if we ask, which ballasts need to be moved, removed, or added. He will give wisdom, discernment, and understanding if we ask.
Sometimes it’s through others. Maybe angels unaware. Often a scripture lights up and helps me change my attitude and aptitude. I don’t mean to scuttle this essay with religious haptics, no. Last time I checked our inner lives are absolutely spiritual. I find it interesting that when a ship goes down and people perish the record tells how many souls are lost. Hmmm.
C.S. Lewis said once we are not bodies that have a soul, but souls that have a body.
In the end of the movie the main character came to a resolution to carry on. He dealt with the ballasts in his life as best he could, and was able to get much of the water out of the bilge of his soul. Honestly, I was disappointed at how the movie ended. I think I literally said, “What the…” I couldn’t figure out what just happened, but I was immersed in mulling it over the next week or so and here lay my thoughts.
There is a base camp. Tucked in the foothills. Nestled, as it were, in sight of the mountain peaks, frosted and ominous above the tree line. Cleft in view of the valleys where shadows are as much of the landscape as those protrusions which birth them. This is the base camp of the soul. A place carved out of the bustle of life with its highs and lows, the EKG existence of trying to establish a baseline.
I don’t live in the Sierra Nevada’s. I’m in Michigan. In each house we’ve lived in, I’ve staked out my claim. One time it was under the basement stairs. Another, a corner of the living room. Once I had an office—a luxury for sure. The desire was for place. A setting in which the heart was heard. My own. The department of the interior.
Reading, writing, and arrhythmia. A bible and a journal are always nearby. Sometimes I read out loud when my wandering mind is flooded with the tasks of the day. Poets, dead or alive, are given their due honor. Essayists flesh out ideas like a Rueben…little bites of thought to chew on. But when the basecamp is warm, lit just enough to see what open heart procedure is needed, that is when God attends.
I’m finding over the past few years all that is needed is a space, a place to give opportunity for the interior life to be checked and nurtured. Maybe you’ve figured this out already. In the end, the heart of the matter is the heart of the matter.
“Guard your heart, above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23
Do a biblical search on the word heart, and you’ll see the place of prominence of which it is given. God thinks our interior is important.
Take in this little ditty I read yesterday.
“God signifies an alternative impulse – to sacrifice rather than grab, to love rather than lust, to give rather than take, to pursue truth rather than promote lies, to humble oneself rather than inflate the ego. In all creation the hand of God is seen; in every human heart, in a blade of grass as in great trees and mountains and rivers; in the first stirring of life in a foetus and in the last musings and mutterings of a tired mind.” Malcolm Muggeridge
After I read that I was reminded of a Wendell Berry poem.
Thirty More Years
When I was a young man,
grown up at last, how large
I seemed to myself! I was a tree,
tall already, and what I had not
yet reached, I would yet grow
to reach. Now, thirty more years
added on, I have reached much
I did not expect, in a direction
unexpected. I am growing downward,
smaller, one among the grasses.
Wendell Berry from Entries
These dudes knew. They had a base camp, I know it. Now, think of someone you know, famous, or in your circle of friends. You can pick out the basecamp people, can you not? There’s something. A lowness, a humility, a longer attention span maybe. All characteristics I long for.
Jesus often left the crowds for the “lonely places” yet he was never alone. The department of the interior was high on the priority list. If Jesus, why not me?
In ’61, my studio apartment, called the womb, got a bit tight through no fault of my own. The force of nature pushed me out through the tunnel of love. I choked on air for a moment or two, and cried. “Here I am, now what?” The sounds of a beating heart, fluids coursing around, and a muffled voice from without was snatched away.
Her words were instantly glued to my being along with dark chocolate eyes gazing at me, the center of the universe…for a time. Such a helpless little human, but she was right there when needed. Mom. Separation anxiety lulled with lullabies. Cries displaced by coos of attachment over time.
Honestly, I remember zero about how it all came down. I had no control over which sperm out of gazillions would hit the surface of the egg first. Choice? I definitely had none. The mess and pseudo violence of birth my Mom and I endured, well, it happened, by design. Call it destiny. Label it mystery or miracle, or both. Admit it, we all try to comprehend the science fiction feel of human inception, and come up wanting.
I wept when my children were born. All four times I wept with them, and my Barbara who bore them. It’s such a humbling and holy experience. Ask any parent. You’re most likely remembering those miracle-mystery moments right now.
Thus far intelligent design is inferred. I tried to leave God in the background. It ain’t easy when fiddling around with grandiose concepts like these. Being human was and is never our own idea, let alone conceiving another human. In view of my religious beliefs, I can’t leave all this up to chance. I’d rather take a chance on faith, than have faith in chance. Pascal’s Wager and all that.
“Pascal’s wager is an argument in philosophy presented by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, theologian, mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). It posits that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or does not. Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God.” Wikipedia
Anyhow, I’ll try to keep this tight rather than to obtusely pontificate toward ubiquity. Wait. What?
I like babies. Apparently God does too. The rescue of us came through Immaculate Conception, and a baby designed and destined to bring tidings of comfort and joy. I won’t mention the mind blowing idea of it all. All this to say that every birth quiets me down, down to take pause and become humble and grateful.
The big white van, a.k.a. Big Bertha a.k.a. airport limo, was traded in for a red truck, a.k.a. Clifford. As more of our children fan out to put their own dents in the world, ours is shrinking. I remember when my mom had to learn how to cook for less. The crockpot was downsized to a pot. What a bummer. Crock was one of my favorite meals. Barbara continues to adjust to only five kids at home. Six, including me.
Anyway, my plan was to get a pickup and a dog of my own and cruise around town really slow. One of my favorite movies is Grand Torino. In it Clint Eastwood has an old Ford F-150 and a dog. Strangely, the guy I buy autos from looks like a young Eastwood. “Do you feel lucky, punk?” he would say as he showed me around the used car lot. Not really.
While peaceful transfers of power are fresh on our skulls, my transport of power shifted down to an extended cab where my 18 year old, 6’5” son, looks like “Elf” squeezing into the back seat. I have to admit that new things don’t carry the excitement they used to. Must be over time our sensors get a bit worn out. New doesn’t satisfy like it used to. I’ve talked to my peers and find they carry the same attitude.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to have a red truck. The fact is, the thrill isn’t the same as getting a red Radio-flyer wagon as a pre-pubescent, skinned kneed boy. Why not? I mean, where have all the flowers gone, long time passing? Have I become one of the walking dead? Is youth really wasted on the young? Is desire thrown into the glove compartment?
Let’s get more dumpy, shall we? Every now and again I think of all the packages I’ve set on porches. The next day, there was empty boxes set out. I’ve been at it for over thirty years now. I’ll wager that much of what was in those long ago deliveries are now in the trash bins of the world. At the least, Goodwill is cranking out a living from all the material girls…and boys.
Is there a point, or poignancy? Clifford gets me from point A to point B. Yesterday I threw the remnants of a new wood floor in the bed of the pickup among many other dilapidated items to haul to the transfer station. I look forward to going for drives with my honey. There’s something about seeing a couple in a pickup truck that spreads a smile across my face.
Honestly, Clifford is the object of my affection for now. It’ll wear off soon enough. That’s okay. Things are to be appreciated, taken care of, utilized, etc. It’s a used truck and it is designed that way…to be used, not as an object of idol worship. Except maybe when I’m idling at a light next to another truck hoping they’re envying me rather than the other way around. Just joshing…kinda.
We’re about to look over our shoulders and attempt to frame a year which seemed like a decade. The overabundance of information has dulled its own edges. We’re left scratching our heads wondering where the truth lies. Truth lies. Hmmm.
I really want to write with the goal of resolution. You know, tie up 2020 with a nice bow and archive it in the attic. When we hit a deer, square on, in the early hours of this disheveled year, I should have known… I shy away from giving credit to omens or karma, but we all here revert sometimes to how our year began with a synchronicity of headlights, eyes, and a doe flying over our car like a reindeer.
A yearly update used to roll off my fingers. Well, almost yearly anyway. One thing I’ve come to grips with is the consistency of my inconsistence. This year, being one in millions, and millions, and millions, I think I’ll try to hit some bullet points–if there are any bullets left, that is.
I don’t need to write about masks, except to say when I find them in parking lots or by the side of the road, we’ve all been wearing them out (I mean that in the broadest sense imaginable.). Social distance? May I say, we’re still going the distance? Throw in politics, protests, lockdowns, economic duress, violence, and the static electricity of media, and voila! A goulash full of goo.
Stop! Geez Jer, you’re always holding a half empty glass of prune juice. I’m actually considering a prune juice regimen. Do they make prude juice too? Wait. What?
Anyhow, we’ve attempted to put the fun back in our dysfunction around here, with much success. I began with laughing at myself, which is where all humor is better off birthed. Bent souls all are we with creased personalities, depending on which fold comes into view, we see to it forgiveness or gratitude is applied.
Our family is like a stew, thick and rich with history. When everyone brings it home for the holidays, it’s like adding water. A broth gives the dysfunction freedom to float around in the soup of us. We had such a wonderful Christmas knowing this is our family, birthed, adopted, and simmered together to warm us all. What a God given grace and mercy.
As we headed toward winter, hospice showed up. 2020 was finding it hard to breathe, think, and hang on. Let’s say there is no fun in funeral. One friend’s grandmother quietly passed away. Then my sister Ellen lost her fight with dementia. Then another friend lost his son through brain cancer.
Death is not proud, and this year, humility was summoned time and again. Our faith was needed, and the Object of it was found faithful. God holds our grief and questions. Tensions get our attention if we make space to ponder and pray over them. I’ll have to admit making space isn’t always my first choice. Who wants to feel pain and loss? Yet, whatcha gonna do, stuff or ignore it through a plethora of escape modules? Yeah, sometimes.
Then there’s the two of us. Barbara and me, navigating this year closer than ever. We always discuss about being on the same page and what that looks like. We admit our differences–more as time passes. Barbara, boots on the ground, verbal processor, queen of diplomacy, and observer of the wide array of the world’s offerings. Me? Well, I continue to internally ponder, ten feet off the ground, and twenty paces away. My non-verbal processor looks for ways to button up thoughts, and find that the button fell off in the wash. Kinda like 2020.
I gotta say though, we are more we than we ever were. (Can I buy a vowel?) I’m super thankful for all the grace God has dumped on us. Mercy too. Oh, how we need both! Our goal is to finish well, and grow until our time is up. I love her deeply.
A few more words to wrap up, button up, and then buckle up, because you never know when a deer might make a run for it.
Can I say it now?
“Hindsight is 2020.”
Listen, as we drive further into 2021, if we make space for it, our rearview mirror will eventually frame the most poignant events.
I pray the good, the true, and the beautiful will manifest in all our lives. I hope the two greatest commandments will be housed in our hearts this year… Love God, and love our neighbor.
Happy New Year!
My verse of the year: “Come unto me…” Jesus Matthew 11:28
That’s all. Simple. I’d John 11:35 it. Jesus didn’t cry though. He wept according to some versions of biblical text. One short sentence. Two words. Jesus wept. Period. Full stop.
In order to grow, I feel I need to…
Weeping seems like more of a holistic release. A slow burn. Letting the tears fall where they may. Instead of blood-letting—tear letting, as it were. Slit those ducts open and let it rip.
Fill in the blank: _______ wept.
I used to cry quite a bit, back in the day, before pain, hurt, and loss weren’t thrown into an everlasting pyre and minimized as “life is difficult”– nothing to feel here. What the… How in the world?
“Have a heart,” they say.
“Do I have a heart?” I ask.
My as-sigh-nment this week from my counselor is to sit with the pain. What pain? Which pain? I’ve been to pain and back many times. Haven’t you?
Jerry, sling your memories over your shoulder as best you know how. Gather up your humanity and come down to the river. Be brave and vulnerable. I’ll help you unpack it. You know how people say “I laughed until I cried.” It works both ways, you know. You’ve said over the years “tears lubricate the soul”. You’ve stopped taking your own medicine. Your heart is broken, but not broken open. I Am a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. I’ll sit with you by the river as long as it takes. I want to replace the stony parts of your heart and give you a heart of flesh. Do you want a heart like that?
The other night, after my face was warm from the glow of the T.V. I took Apollo for a roundabout. Dog and human under a canopy of a starry starry night. No earbuds. No screen. Simply deep space and fire hydrants to bounce contemplations from twinkle twinkle to tinkle tinkle.
The next morning no word from the burning bush, so I walked to the other one by the garage. The red flamed leafs buffered a cool breeze, but offered not even a whisper. The leaves still spoke though. Color, loud and clear. “Red is our flame,” They said. “Don’t try to extinguish us. We will surrender soon. We will lay ourselves down.”
Then I sat bare foot on the back deck, early, coffee and a small stack of books. Each time the wind picked up the crimson maple leaves fell down. My mind quieted enough so I could feel my heart.
“You are never a great man when you have more mind than heart.” Beauchene
Why is nature so nurturing sometimes? Mother Nature–so apropos I suppose. Like a few evenings ago when we piled into the car for a drive. After a while our breathing found a rhythm. The beauty, deer, and cozy houses dotting the countryside relaxed our shoulders. We got out in it and were the better for it.
I’ll wager that if Jesus showed up and found us overthinking, worrying, and grasping for some sense of control in a schizoid world, he might send us out. I remember my mom doing that very thing, maybe for her own sanity, but nevertheless pushing us out into infinite air to breathe.
The order of the creation story is God saved the best for last. Us. Humans. There was a lot of creating going on before we arrived on the scene. God spoke and bam, out of chaos, order. Out of darkness, light. So much lush, sensual appropriations. It was a set-up–for us.
This weekend I walked nine miles through a forest full of trees. My legs were complaining loudly at the end, but my heart thanked me. Nine men and a cream colored lab hiked the Jordan Valley Trail in the northern Lower Peninsula on a crisp autumn day. The trail’s personality bore resemblance to a thirty-something—just enough weathered skin to settle in, but a passion for what’s next. There were so many metaphors laying around like dead trees. The path, a single rut, wound up, down, and around like a vein, carrying us like platelets as our chests felt both heart and lungs react. Air flow. Blood flow.
We’d ascend to ridges to step along the spine of foothill-like amalgamations, then descend to find the Jordan River meandering, chit-chatting over rocks and weaving through fallen debris.
If a tree falls in the forest… If a rivers babbles in its crevices…? Does anybody hear?
Again, my heart searched for a baseline—a resting rate. I left much behind for a few days, we all did, and some of it oozed out over the campfire that night, seasoned with a ballad-singing, guitar-playing soul.
The forest was like a bold lettered clarion call to not loose heart. The trees, both fallen and upright whispered, “We’ve been waiting for you. We’re here for rest. We grow and fall just like you. We understand.”
The river had something to say as well. “Eternity is in your heart, like my open-ended flow.”
I know it was really God speaking like a creative via a brush stroke or the rhythm of pedantic pentameter.
“I Am, you know, and here you go. Get out into My gallery, and I will give you rest… Forest.”
I’ve got nothing to say. So I’ll let my fingers do the talking. Now, isn’t that a bit passive-aggressive?
So many swirling dervishes, spinning hearts out of control. Soaked emotional ballasts thrown over the edge of reason. To try to right a ship that is surely sinking seems futile. News cycles peddling faster and faster and still unable to keep up. Pundits and prognosticators sweeping up the glass in the street looking for some coherence underneath.
-George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, watched by other police officers, video rolling from body cams and bystanders’ phones.
-A bottom up/top down investigation ensued. All levels and departments of government on it.
-Protests justly formed.
-Riots are not protests.
-Violence is not peaceful.
Many more facts to add, but these slipped through my filter first.
I loathe going political. Honestly, fear gets the better of me and I would rather run silent to avoid push back.
I’d rather our sight be color-blind than color-coded. Since when is skin tone equal to tone of voice? When did we forget Dr. King’s dreams of mountain top perspectives and the long contemplative walk to Selma? I thought we were all just trying to get along. Rodney King and Dr. King sought to bring peace and reason to the fore, and yet we forget.
Trying times are not the time to stop trying.
If it weren’t for the masks at the protests and rioting, we might have totally misplaced a pandemic. Justifiable identity suppression while looting. A masquerade party involving drinks of a Molotov drunkenness. The piece of peaceful protests, (Our constitutional right, by the way.) thrown by the side of the road, and into crowds.
“What’s going on?” Marvin Gaye
What brought a cop to the point of kneeling on the neck of George Flyod with his hand in his pocket like la de dah, Whistling Dixie as it were? Why were bystanders just standing there? What would I have done in that moment? What happened to “Everyone stand back, let’s give him some air?” The arrest was over counterfeit money. No matter why the cuffs were put on him, an officer isn’t prosecutor, judge, or jury. On the side of every police cruiser are the words “To Serve and Protect”. These officers redefined those terms and now all officers are lumped into a police state of mind. I don’t buy it.
I still believe law enforcement is part of our judicial system. You know, Law and Order and all that. The buck doesn’t stop with Officer Krupke or Jerry Orbach. Laws run uphill until justice is served. Equal justice under the law dispensed by a blind folded lady holding scales. The system isn’t perfect because people of influence aren’t perfect. Sometimes justice is underserved, mis-served, or deliberately maligned. We have to give it a chance, before we take the law into our own hands, don’t you think? Or would it be better to slice the system and dole out slivers into each and every ‘We the People’ and see how justice is served?
If that happened I’d be on the Barney Fife end of the spectrum. Empty pistol. One bullet in my pocket nestled near my heart. Or maybe Andy Griffith, handing out the benefit-of-the- doubt more than reaching for the handcuffs. In short, I drive a brown truck for a living, not a black and white.
Black and white…isn’t that the issue here? The thing is the issue isn’t black and white, clear-cookie-cutter solutions. The problem is some people can’t see beyond the colors to the content of the character. I’m not saying that character is all about grey matter. Grey matter is only the beginning. The eighteen inch trip from mind to heart is the path toward healing.
There were and are peaceful protests. There were and are candles and prayers. There were and are civil ways to air sadness, frustration, and anger. But those avenues take heart and aren’t easy roads on which to walk forward. On the contrary, it seems The Road Less Traveled is blocked by difficulty. The first line of the book is meant to be crossed, not a detour.
“Life is difficult.” M. Scott Peck
Let’s say our prayers and incite peace. These are matters of the heart. God help us all.
Big trees fell into Lake Michigan over and upon each other like pickup sticks. The beach became a trimmed path to wend down more than to lay on. What happened when I was so busy inland mowing my lawn? So much for long walks on the beach. It was more like an obstacle course, hiking around large upended stumps or limbo lumbering underneath thick trunks.
A bit overwhelmed, I found a perch part way up on a dune. The kids had invited me along to do some hammocking. Yes, that’s a thing now. Hammocking isn’t really a word yet. Auto- correct suggested ‘ham mocking.’ Next Easter I will try mocking the honey ham. Anyway, my kids dug their toes in and continued to the top, while I sat and pondered the plight of our most favored lake of the greats.
Is this simply another sign of the times? Is this God’s way of reminding us of how little control we have over the skin of the earth? Some suggest humanity has contributed to climate change. I don’t doubt that, but the degree of our influence on the changes are still under review to my mind.
I sat for a bit, then pulled out of my back pocket a small book. If Einstein Had Been a Surfer by Peter Kreeft is a slim hardcover about the search for the Theory of Everything. Although it is a short walk on a really long pier of thought, I found it fascinating considering the view of dunes cut off at the knees and horizontal trees still bearing green leaves.
Now, I don’t know why, but for a few months now I’ve been queuing up surfing videos. Before that, I had a fetish for tsunamis. Before that, I thought of how unfathomable the oceans are and why God proportioned them thus. Consider this…maybe God’s thought was to overwhelm us with motifs of eternity like the universe having no back wall on which to hang our pretensions. How about the ocean blanketing 71 percent of our little blue planet? Maybe God thought 29 percent was all that humanity could manage.
[Side note: Did you know the saline of the ocean is within .5 percent of the saline percentage of human amniotic fluid?]
Anyway, as Kreeft surfs (He is a surfer, by the way, along with being a professor of philosophy at Boston College.) the waves of thought in search of an ‘everything’ that curls in on itself, he employs a philosopher, a scientist, and a surfer in conversation. After a few pages in I realized how over my head I was, trying to grasp what they were after…but the undertow. I caught a small wave and I wasn’t sitting on top of the world like one of the Beach Boys.
I set the book down several times to look off in the middle distance, the distance being a huge lake of which I could not see the other side. A metaphor of eternity, infinity, or simply a bigness beyond what my eyes beheld in total. I knew Wisconsin was over there somewhere, but right then all I could do was exercise faith. I couldn’t see everything. Hmm.
A thought spilled on my conscience. “Jerry, you’re not Einstein, Kreeft, or a surfer. Why are you splaying intellect? What is it you’re after? Does thinking about these things bring about a peace of mind, or mitigate a piece of your mind?” If anyone does capture The Theory of Everything, then what?
Hang on, I’m about to hit the brakes and take a sharp turn.
Recently someone reminded me that the first temptation of humanity was knowledge of everything. “Just take a little bite of the fruit and you will be as God, full of knowledge.” Well, hey, becoming a know-it-all seems harmless enough. How about realizing you’re in the nude and reach immediately for underwear. How about playing hide and seek for the rest of your life? The ole be careful what you wish for scenario.
Surfing. Channel surfing. Surfing the internet. Have our eyes gotten Googly all of a sudden? Do we ride the Youtube all the way to shore? Since when do we need a 24 hour news cycle, real, fake, or everything in between? Knowledge is power as they say, but is absolute knowledge absolute power? There is a forest. There are trees. Do we understand the difference? Is it okay for elms to lay down on the beach? Does all sand eventually fall through the hourglass? Will the theory of everything distill our intelligence into artificiality? Will we be as gods, or will we be okay with bearing God’s image? Will we acquiesce to God holding onto the final coherence, keeping intact the mystery and majesty of human existence and God’s?
I set the book down and turned to look to the top of the dune. My son was up there, taking in the broadest perspective. My daughter was next to me as we took in a narrowed view of the lake. Down below my other daughter was waist deep in the chilled early summer waters. I may not know the theory of everything, and at this point, I’m not sure I want to. What moves my desire is theories of somethings, like sharing an afternoon at the beach with people I love, taking in the creativeness of God, and thanking God for both. Surf’s up.