Friday, August 31, 2007

Writing Prompt 15

Write about a tree you have known, maybe even loved.
Or let a tree tell its story.

Up a Tree

The thing is––if you want to climb a tree––you have to be willing to put your whole body into it. When I was a child my best friend, Katy, and I had to kick our bodies into pullovers, hips settling on the branches of her backyard tree, before we could straddle them and scramble to our “rooms” on the branches. My pullover days are long gone, but to climb, even an old oak with branches low, flat and welcoming as doormats, you—I––have to be willing to get sap on the soles of our Tevas.

Katy and I were arboreal the summer of 1970. She’d pullover first. I’d hand her our essentials––Fresca, Archie comic books, and a bag of Jolly Rancher candies. Firesticks were our favorite. Occasionally Katy’s mother would bring dinner, hot dogs and individual bags of Lay’s potato chips and hold them up for us to grab. We’d eat on the Living Room branch, then return to our individual bedroom branches, bark biting into our backs.

We loved that tree, but after awhile we stopped living in it. Not because we were afraid of heights, or afraid of being tomboys, or unwilling to suffer bark abrasions, but because eventually our world became wider than backyards and the tree wasn’t on the way to anywhere we wanted to go—the lifeguards’ softball games at Zoeter school, the beach, a bike ride to Taco Bell or Tastee Freeze. Our activities began to require purpose, and climbing Katy’s tree, tucked out of the way in her backyard, served no purpose as we grew.

And so I spent 35 years on the ground, thinking like many adults, that I had no business in tree branches. I enjoy trees. I like to picnic under them, escape into their shade on a hot summer day. I live among the redwoods, their branches a hundred feet above ground sway in the wind and hurtle down like Zeus-launched spears in winter storms. Only arborists and loggers equipped with safety harnesses climb them.

Two weeks ago I was at the Mercy Center in Burlingame completing two years of quarterly weeklong residencies in spiritual formation. The grounds are beautiful and I walked them during silent reflection, wondering when––even if––I’d come back again on my own. I wandered toward the massive oaks that had inspired me two years before, not to climb, but to reflect on how a massive gnarled trunk, twiggy fingerling branches, sharp edged leaves and acorns could all look so different, and all be rightly called Oak. A living example of diversity in a single body that made me think of faith traditions, including Christianity, and my wish that all religions could look at our small parts of the body and rightly say God.

This time, however, the trees wanted me to climb. Why not, I thought? At five-foot-four, I can relate to Zaccheus, the famous biblical tree-climber. I could use a glimpse of Jesus from a new, higher perspective. I chose an oak particularly accommodating to middle age, its low crotch requiring just one big step. Another step and I was lodged on another branch and sat as if in a recliner, leaning against one branch, legs extended along another. I gazed up to find an empty bird nest tucked among leafy tufts. Was it a sign? Time to fly from the nest of this Academy?

I leaned forward to change vantage point and patted another branch, brushing the dried green moss under my fingers as if it were brittle fur on the neck of a great beast willing to carry me someplace I needed to go. There we sat, ancient creature and rider astride its back, the two of us one. I breathed in and out the way Melanie taught us in her sermon the night before, repeating Jesus is our peace. A little later, I heard a leaf blower in the distance, then a squirrel chattered nearby. In those quiet moments when I’d lost awareness of the outside world had Jesus been my peace? Had the tree been my peace? Had the tree been Jesus?

I’ve never been good at unraveling divine mysteries, so I let it go and thought, “Gee, a Fresca and Archie would be nice. It’s been a long time.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

Writing Prompt 14

Write about an important experience in your life using solely or mostly verbs.

Two Years of Spiritual Formation

Today marks the culmination of my experience with the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. An honor and privilege to share the journey with an amazing group of people who have enriched my life greatly--faculty, leadership team, covenant group, and all the participants. Are you longing for an intentional community, an opportunity to experience new spiritual practices, and the silence to encounter yourself deeply? Try the Academy!

Here's the summary of my two years, dedicated to my Academy companions:

My Two Years at the Academy

light candle-hold space-share-listen-worship-
sing-pray-listen-reflect-hold silence-
give-receive-the cup-empty self-be renewed-
sing-shut up-try to sleep-take Tylenol p.m-
sleep-wake up-stagger in-break silence-
think-hear-really hear-walk-reflect-write-
write-write-notice everything-show up-
pay attention-listen-listen-laugh-cry-
be amazed-sense God-feel the spirit-
screw up knitting-listen-learn-
start over, self and knitting-walk-
sit-listen-write what comes-be challenged-
struggle-illuminate dark places-
gather in community-break silence-
share-laugh-sigh-be awed-enter chapel-
sing-pray-worship-notice the light-
float-soar-sink-go deep-listen-pray-
embrace-love-embrace-take in Christ-
be moved-be changed-be transformed-
sing-eat-covenant-open self-hold holy space-
love-marvel at God in the circle-
experience unconditional love-be truly heard-
be vulnerable-be affirmed-be transparent-
pass the chocolate-love-pray-sing-pray-pray-

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Writing Prompt 13

Water, water everywhere.

Write about your first encounter with the ocean, or learning to swim in a lake or pool. Who taught you? Where and when were you? Was the water cold, warm, clear, salty? Were you scared, excited?

Or write about longing. What do you long for? Does your longing feel as immense or intense as the sea? What isn't it like? What is it like.

Longing For The Sea

"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

-Antione de Saint-Exupery

I was welcomed back today as I begin a fifth of year serving as lay pastor of my church. No one is more surprised than me that my vague longing for "something more" through my youth and early twenties led me to God and that my longing for God led me to the church.

Wary at six and gripping the Donald Duck floating ring around my waist, I followed my father into the water as he taught me to befriend the ocean in the calm of Alamitos Bay. Later I would body surf with my friends in the small break at Seal Beach. I trusted my body more in the water than I did my father on the few occasions he took us out in the catamaran he was learning to sail. I was afraid the boat would tip over and we'd fall out. Gradually though, I came to like boats, despite the ill-fated sixth grade whale watching trip where everyone threw up, except me, who instead spent the day the color of split pea soup wishing I could puke. All we saw was a seagull.

Last week, my husband and youngest daughter were on the Island Adventurer headed out to Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands, when a pod of bottlenose dolphins chose to play with the boat, leaping before the bow, skimming just beneath the boat, resurfacing in the wake, racing each other and our captain. It was glorious, the sort of thing that does make one long for the sea, so after we arrive and hiked part of the island, we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and waded into the lapping Pacific at East Harbor landing.

The water was mild and reminded me of the Southern California beach of my youth, not the numbing ocean of Santa Cruz County nearest to me these past twenty years. Ocean that I have long since given up swimming in. The waves curled and dipped, pulled and formed, steadily and gently in the cove. Knee deep in the water I was taken back in time and glimpsed again why I spent so much time in the water growing up. The rhythm and predictability of the waves, yet each one different, each one to be experienced fresh, either standing in the foam, swimming furiously to catch it, waiting poised for the swell to pick me up and carry me to shore, or being drilled into the sand by a wave too strong for my skills.

I loved the adventure, drawn to it the same way I am drawn now to worship, to a life of wanting to know and experience the Infinite One. A rhythm and predictability to the format of worship, the structure of prayer, yet each worship service, each time of prayer, each encounter unique, each glimpse of the divine as wonderful and frightening as body surfing or sailing.

I long for the sea. I am so privileged to be part of several communities that share the longing. We are joined together in our desire to know God, to become instruments--vessels even. This boat we are building out of the timber of our lives is made seaworthy by our faith. May it serve us and our Captain well.