These little trails have always intrigued me, be they in the mountains or in a local park. Why do they evoke such strong emotion?
Seriously… I took the photo, walked another 200 yards, and sat down on a park bench to edit the photo and pen a few words. Then, as I continued walking home, I felt a tremendous lump in my throat. Why?
As I have revealed before, I’m seeing a counselor to help me explore what may be some deep-seated emotional “problems.” I don’t say that with shame. Frankly, I think we all have deep-seated emotional “problems.” I just have the luxury right now of exploring mine.
One of the things my counselor has encouraged me to do is to try to figure out what relationship some of my poetry has to my life story. Now that’s a good challenge for a poet!
Really a problem? Is it really a problem that I get inexplicably emotional? After all, what do we expect of someone God crafted to be a poet? If a poet cannot feel deeply, and desire with determination to express that emotion, what hope is there for any of us? God is an intelligent designer. We are not random results of happenstance. God has a purpose for making us as He did.
There must have been some interesting conditions in the sky over Dallas yesterday. A little after I took this photo of clouds with finger-like extensions, I noticed the formation of mammatus clouds* a little to the East.
So, I wanted to share the photograph, and to confess that I actually looked to where the clouds seemed to be pointing.
Is that silly? I suspect most adults would have looked for where the lines converged just as I did. But only if they haven’t killed off a God-given imagination and sense of the transcendent. We expect nature to communicate something — for very good reasons.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Disappointed? So, I didn’t see a rider in the sky. But the conclusion of my little poem is not anti-supernatural. Rather, it’s based on a notion that creation is continually celebrating the pleasure and provision of a good Creator. Are you? Am I?
Related Poem I’m not sure HOW this poem is related, but I thought of it when writing the above: “A Meditation.” Also, see “Voice Lessons.”
*From www.whatisthiscloud.com: “Mammatus clouds are formed the same way cumulus clouds are formed, but in reverse. They are formed by sinking cold air that form pouch-like figures as they’re carried into a warmer layer of air, contrary to the puffs of clouds rising through the convection of warm air.”
I’m not aware of any deep meaning in this.* I had taken a photo of broomweed by the path and began editing it, trying to help the viewer see the yellow flowers standing out as much in the photograph as they did in my eye. Stereoscopic vision is a magnificent gift. With it, we isolate objects from their background. Flowers stand out from foliage. That’s what we SEE. But most photographs fail to convey their subject in three dimensions — photographic images are flat.** In this photograph, there was little separation between the yellow flowers and the green foliage, especially in the yellow light of late afternoon.
So…. I was editing. And the more that I edited, the more I isolated the yellow flowers from their background. Eventually, I pushed all but yellow to black. That’s when I thought of the line, “Imagine if at night….” Phosphorescent flowers…. Wouldn’t THAT be something?!
THE ORIGINAL, AND A MEMORY Below is the original photograph. And here’s a memory about broomweed: When I was a teenager, I got to help the gardener at a camp I was working at in Mexico. One day we drove to the other side of the lake where Cayo gathered stiff little bushes that we fashioned into brooms and rakes. I recall that they worked better than the store-bought ones.
*On the other hand, one could easily make the case that all beauty in creation illumines our path to understanding a beautiful Creator.
**Incidentally, this is part of why I insist that in editing photographs, “you have to lie to tell the truth.” That is, you have to lie about what the camera captured in order to tell the truth of what our magnificent vision captured.
About four miles into my hike, I called one of the ladies in our church. I rely on her for advice. “Do you have time to talk?” “Yes,” she answered. For the next two miles, we talked about hospitality. By the time I reached my half-way point, we had thought through several options for how our church can practice hospitality in this lingering pandemic. We wrapped up the conversation. “Thanks,” I said, hung up the call, and began retracing my steps to home.
As I walked, I reflected on how hospitable my friend had been to me in our conversation abouthospitality. “Here, where the weeds give way to a mowed meadow… it’s one of several places in the path where she suddenly grew silent, yielding to my impetuous mind.” There, where rainwater recently rushed through the grass, “I was babbling, while she listened politely.” Up the white rock path a ways, I remembered what solid footing I felt when we shared a memory of Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. There, where petrified wood sticks out of the limestone… “That’s where I was stepping when she recalled how Count Rostov arranged the seating at dinner parties, thus insuring a perfect evening for everyone.”
These weeds, that grass, this petrified wood in a limestone path…. Insignificant, except when they mark moments in a good conversation, an outcropping of hospitality.
Back in late May, Joshua rescued a kitten that he found on Ferguson Road. Here’s what I wrote a day or two after:
Jonathan promptly renamed him Furrgie. I’m going with Furrguson. So far, he understands that friends check you for fleas, and that purring melts hearts.
As the days and weeks passed, Furrguson seemed to forget all about his “early life.” He got his first kitten vaccination. All the fleas are gone, and he is fattening up. Now he pounces on anything and everything, often terrorizing the older cats despite their hissing and powerful bat-downs. But when he has expended all his kitten energy, he does still like to curl up as close to our faces as possible. He purrs his little heart out, and occasionally reaches up to gently touch our lips or noses with his velveted paws.
This poem comes out of struggling with what constitutes love for the Creator. Is it only fixation on signs of his return? Will we even recognize his voice then if we cannot recognize it now?
[NOTE: the following may be gobbledygook. Perhaps I’ll wake up early tomorrow morning and do major edits to the post, or even take it offline. That occasionally happens. Let’s just say for now that I’m “thinking out loud.” I’m trying to put words to something I sense more than understand]
Not Just an Expression
Nature expresses the majesty of the Creator. King David spoke of that in Psalm 19:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. 2 Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. 3 There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. 4 Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon.
Creation and the Creator are not the same thing. That would be pantheism. HOWEVER, let me suggest that creation bears the same relationship to God as the soundwaves of speech bear to the speaker: they are his expression. When a child hears her father say, “I love you,” she doesn’t look around and say, “How curious… sound waves emanated from somewhere and landed in my ears.” If she separates the sound waves from the speaker at all, it’s only to say, “Those sound waves tell me that Daddy loves me.”
Nature expresses the majesty of our loving Father. Perhaps it would be better to say that in creating the universe, our Father spoke to us, He expressed his glory (intelligence, kindness, power, beauty, love), and creation is the “sound waves” of His voice.
Are we impressed by what He has expressed? That’s not an idle question.
“They’re Just Flowers”
Long ago and far away, I accompanied two friends on a long hike. Our path entered and followed an arroyo. At one place the walls of the arroyo were covered with tropical flowers. “How beautiful!” said one friend. I agreed. “They’re just flowers!” said the other friend. To this day, I think of that second friend’s response with pain and sadness. God’s beauty was there speaking to us in those flowers, expressing His powerful love. But the second friend was not impressed. He seemed to make no connection between creation and the Creator, between the expression — the “words” — and the Speaker. For him, it seems, Daddy wasn’t saying “I love you.” It was just flowers, random sound waves from who knows where.
If this NEVER happens to you, please spend time with me. Perhaps you can pull me up, and I won’t pull you down.
It’s almost impossible to write this commentary without doing the very thing I do NOT want to do: to claim credit for something God has empowered me to do. But I’m tempted, over and over. I’ve succumbed often enough to know the short-lived intoxication.
Is it wrong to feel affirmed in our exercise of God’s gifts, even to revel in them? I don’t think so. Don Regier and I talk about this occasionally. As a fellow creative, he knows what it’s like to create something and then to enjoy the creation. Don points out that we are made in the image of the One who looked on His creation and concluded that “it was very good.”
Where does appropriate affirmation and pleasure bleed over into inappropriate pride? I’m still trying to figure this out, to put my finger on just when I go astray. But I sense it when I’m overstepping. Perhaps the Holy Spirit makes me aware.
The empty trophy shelf… I do have a sort of trophy shelf in my office. There are two actual trophies that I won back when I was running competitively. Everything else on the shelf is a memento: rocks from mountain climbs, a music box I made for my grandmother, a fun photo edit I collaborated on with Glenn Clark. The actual shelf is not empty. In fact it’s overcrowded:
While the shelf is not empty, I find that some of the trophies I’d like to display there and elsewhere ARE empty, vapid, vanishing as soon as displayed. The substance of those trophies is like whatever was in that little bottle I found in the firepit at high camp below Blanca Peak. It meant something to someone long ago. What’s left now is just a little broken bottle. As far as trophies go, it’s quite empty.
Monarch butterflies are unpalatable (so they say) because of toxins they ingest from this plant. I’m amazed at how different the cottony seed pods later in the year look as compared with these flowers.
All my life, I have seen these globs of spit on plants in the Spring, but I never stopped to explore until today. As though I were a normal little boy, I took twigs and poked around in several of the globs. In each case, a little bug emerged. I thought, “That must be called a “‘spitbug’.” Close. I’ve learned that it’s called the “spittlebug.” There are some great videos out there that tell all about them.
I’ll never forget the pain of turning a group back just minutes from the summit of Horn Peak. It had begun sleeting, and the slopes on either side of the remaining 600-meter ridge were unforgivingly steep. #hornpeak #climbinglessons #unpopulardecisions #hebrews13v17
I left the hashtags in here to remind me that this reflection was prompted not by mountain climbing but by something much harder: leading when the decisions are not popular with everyone.
There are people out there who don’t ask “WHY did you lead in this or that way?” Instead, they TELL ME (and other leaders) “Here’s why you did this or that.” Somehow, they “know” the leader’s motivation. And what they “know” is always the worst possible motive: “You’re fearful,” “You like to control people,” “You are following political motives rather than the Spirit of God.”
To such complainers, I could explain things in a better way. But why even try, when they already “know”?
Ever since I began writing poetry on a regular basis, I have also pondered what this activity indicates about me: what are the weaknesses a poet needs to acknowledge, and what are the strengths he can celebrate?
A Sample Weakness [EDIT: I originally wrote and published this late at night, but woke up before dawn with the realization that I had to UNpublish the post and come back with some edits. I had revealed more than I ought to reveal, which is the very tendency I lament in a paragraph below. Someday, the world will suit a poet like me. But not today]
Today, I had a conversation with the senior pastor of a local church. Before I headed over to his church, Susan cautioned me: “Don’t reveal more than you should.” She knows me well. I said, “Pray that I’ll control my mouth, and that I’ll be a blessing to him.”
So, I met the senior pastor at the back door of his church. We walked in, and I immediately began pelting him with questions about his church: how they interact with the neighborhood, how well that is working, etc. After looking at his sanctuary, and talking about how it has served during the pandemic, we went to a more private setting downstairs. I began….
“These last few years, I have been developing as a poet. While some think that poets conceal, their actual drive is to reveal. That’s my natural inclination. But today, I need to control that. I’ll be talking about [something private], and there are things I should not say. Forgive me.” The pastor was understanding, and we talked for another 40 minutes. I believe that by God’s grace I did not tell him more about [the private matter] than I should. Reflecting on what I shared, the pastor gave me hope that I 1) am not alone and 2) serve a God who is changing lives.
The Poet as a Lithe Cat Who Loves Counselors The little story above is about how I deal with the downside of being a poet: I have to be extra careful about not revealing what’s in my heart. But I usually am not so guarded. Think about it…. A poet is always digging into his own heart to surface emotions and thoughts that would rather stay hidden. He drags them up and exposes them to the light of day where they can be dealt with, sometimes by the poet himself, but more often by the reader, by wiser souls, by counselors. That’s why the poet is a friend of counselors. Like a domestic cat, he brings his daily offering of lizards and rats, and lays them at their door. “Here’s a rat that was running through my heart. What’s its name, and how do we deal with it?”
“Wine That Fills Our Cup” In the poem I refer to “wine that fills our cup.” Believe me, I like wine, and wine’s not a dead rat. Forget about rats and death. A poet — at least this poet — celebrates life in his expression of emotion. It is not despair that drives me, but hope. Even when speaking of negative, deadly emotions, there is an essential optimism: “This emotion is not my master. I discovered it, am revealing it, and by God’s grace I will see its cure. He will make me whole.”
Even the Wine of Lament I have been seeking lately to replace anger and bitterness with sadness and sorrow. In essence, to learn lament. Here’s what’s great about lament (at least as I understand it): it is sorrow felt and expressed in the presence of One who can change things, who will change things. When I move to lament, I move closer to hope. Wine is that which dulls, but also cheers.
I continue to be amazed by seeds. On my walk today, I saw these rubbery seed pods I had never noticed, or felt before, and then realized they are the seed of grape hyacinths, that were in full bloom a few weeks ago. More importantly, there’s something I’m trying to come to terms with: in this fallen world, not all that I think of as loss really IS loss. [I’m getting around to posting this two months after writing that last sentence. It’s a sentence that I’ll have to come back to many a time, to see how much better I understand the nascent thought]
I HAVE NOTICED THAT… In Spring, artists are drawn to Creation.
Back when I posted this on Facebook, I wrote, “Please subscribe to my blog, where I give the background of my simple poems like this one, and the more complex ones, the ones even I barely understand!”
“Simple poems like this one,” eh? So it’s over two months later, and I’m getting around to posting this on my blog. How simple was it? Do I remember what I was saying? Well, kinda….
I encountered this artist on Flagpole Hill, and asked her about her technique. Interestingly, she had a lot of dark areas on the canvas, areas whose eventual subject I could SEE, by looking where she was looking: the bright green grass, the shimmering green leaves. These, she began as dark blobs, explaining “I find it easier to start with the darkness as a base, and then apply the lighter colors.”
My poetic response is a reflection on how eternal life has barely begun (“canvas barely stretched”). We don’t understand yet how God will work beauty out of the painful and ugly experiences we now encounter. But we have hope, because we know Him to be a skillful artist.
A Skillful Artist I went home and looked up this artist (she sells in galleries). I like her finished work. What I saw that afternoon on Flagpole Hill was not a finished work. It is fair to say that if this is all I had seen, I might feel foolish admiring her “technique,” such as it is, in this unfinished work.
I’ve always had to find creative ways to cope with my short attention span. In seminary, one of my stranger tricks was to find good climbing trees in out-of-the-way places, climb up to a comfortable perch, and do reading assignments there.
On one such foray, I encountered a nest crowded with baby doves all eager to be fed. Figuring that my presence would make the Mama Dove nervous, I climbed back down and found another tree.
A couple of days later, I returned, armed with a camera instead of a book. I climbed up to where I’d seen the doves’ nest. IT WAS EMPTY.
My wish to photograph something beautiful was foiled. I began imagining what might have happened to the baby birds. They could not have developed quickly enough to leave the nest. Had a predator found them? Worse, had my brief presence resulted in the failure of that nest?
A year or two after the story above, I was about to graduate from seminary. By this time, I was tired of the studies. I was also tired of a handful of classmates who, though they were “big men on campus” seemed very foolish. Let me tell you a story about them….
One day, I was heading home from the seminary. On the tree-lined walk between Mosher Library and Stearns Hall, I encountered these — God forgive me — fools. They were taking turns throwing books up into one of the trees, trying to dislodge a nest. Need I say more?
Skip forward several decades. In semi-retirement now, I have had more time than ever to focus on the beauty of God’s creation. On one of my long walks, I found a nest on the ground. I took it home, and placed it carefully in the Japanese Yew just outside my home office. It was just a decoration.
This brings us up to a second sequel one week ago….
Looking out my office window, I was astonished and delighted to see a bird sitting in the nest I had placed. At first, seeing its tail sticking almost straight up as it sat in the nest, I thought it must be Christopher Wren or his wife. They often flit about, inspecting the architecture of my secret garden. But then, I caught sight of its beak, and knew it was Carnelia Cardinal.
The next day, poking my smartphone on a selfie stick into the Yew, I snuck a photograph of the nest. There were three speckled blue eggs!
I found a way to position a camera inside my office such that it had a clear view down to the nest. From that vantage point, behind the glass, I was able to film the mother cardinal returning to her nest after food “runs.” She would always chirp several times as she arrived, so I knew when to turn on the camera. Then she would settle into the nest, fluffing out her belly feathers to warm the eggs. And she’d sit there for hours, patiently warming her developing brood.
[In the video below, I think she may have been agitated by a mayfly. She usually just settled right in after two or three chirps]
Yesterday, when I drove home from an errand, I stopped by the Yew long enough to inspect the moss, violets, and wheat grass growing below. A blue egg was sitting on the ground. I turned it over, and found a gaping hole, with ants crawling in and out. Need I say more?
I went inside, and watched through the window for Carnelia to return. Four minutes. Eight minutes. She had never left the nest this long. An hour. She didn’t return. The nest had failed. There’s still one egg in the nest. By now, it has cooled, and died.
Now, in place of expectancy, there is sadness.
I’ve been here before. Last year, when our old cat Princess was dying, excruciating sadness introduced me to sorrow. In a moment, a small window opened, and I recognized that a pet’s death is partly my fault. Beauty is sullied, life is snuffed because I — in Adam — sin. [see “A Very Small Window, Open at Last“]
SORROW AND LAMENT: MY HEAVENLY FATHER’S ONGOING LESSON
Recently, I cried out for help. I am keenly aware of the sin of people I must answer to God for, even when their sin takes the form of vile accusations against godly friends. Knowing the sincere love of many acquaintances on Facebook, I wrote,
MAY SORROW REPLACE ANGER…. I need desperately to substitute sorrow for the anger I feel about people’s hurtful ways. If your prayer list is not too long, please add this.
One amazing friend, a counselor in Portland Oregon wrote this beautiful prayer, though she is still grieving the recent death of her beloved husband, Phil:
Heavenly Father, hear Brad’s heart cry to morph the deep response to other’s fear & confusion in the brokenness of life into mercy and compassion. Jesus, thank you for making a way for us, at such an extreme cost to Yourself, to know truth and embrace life as you intend it to be. Holy Spirit, thank you for your relentless work, moment by moment, handcrafting our way to imaging God’s character. I join Brad’s request today to respond to brokenness and pain with sorrow and grief. May each of us who yield to Your will find the courage to extend the grace You are so eager for us to know, first to ourselves, and then to others. Amen.
Was Debbie’s prayer heard? Is it being answered? Does a cardinal nest fail for no reason? Or does it fail to remind me of the little I have learned about sorrow? The road behind me now is long. In contrast to all I know of beauty, this road is strewn with ugliness and failure. Is it a road to bitterness, or is it a road to lament?
I covered what used to be the walkway leading up to the glass door and windows of my office with moss. It’s a far more pleasant vista when I’m working than the concrete walkway ever used to be. Along with the moss that I “liberated” from stream banks, there’s a mass of wild violets, also “liberated” from vacant fields. Finally, there’s an area where wheat grass will soon be sprouting for our cat.
Invariably, my transplants bring in some weeds and even fungus. Last year, I watched what would happen if I left a big puffball mushroom to “do its thing.” Its “thing” turned out to be killing a section of the moss. So this year, I’m being diligent about removing fungus as soon as I notice it growing in amongst the moss.
WITCHES’ BUTTER One annoying invader is a small black, gelatinous fungus that really seems to enjoy the moist environment. If you look real close in the background image for the poem, you may be able to see some that remains after I spent 20 minutes picking it out this morning. If I’m not confusing it with another fungus, it goes by the names “Black Jelly Roll Fungus” and “Witches’ Butter.” Yuck! I like my butter yellow, not black.
PRAYER So, while picking out that fungus, my mind turned to invaders that have destroyed the lives of family and friends. Initially, what came to mind was cancers: brain cancer, bone cancer, etc. I prayed for friends who are still fighting this battle. But then, my mind turned to other invaders, like hatred and bitterness. Other acquaintances came to mind, and I prayed for them.
Prayer is an increasingly important part of my life. Soon after I became an elder in my church, it began to dawn on me that I will somehow be held accountable for the spiritual health of people in my care. In that day, I want to be able at least to say, “Lord, I asked for your intervention. There was far more than I could handle.”
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
P.S. The dime was there in the photo initially because I was trying to identify the fungus, and I needed it for scale. Then, when I wrote the poem, I realized that the dime could be left in the photo… it reinforces the smallness of the plot. If I think long enough, I may realize there was some other, subconscious reason for leaving it in there. I hate to admit it, but I don’t always KNOW what I’m saying or why!
I saw this cedar growing in the crotch of a liveoak in front of Lakepointe Church. The poem is not about that church. But it does issue from thinking about churches. Every time a new church is planted, there are certain goals that the church planters are trying to achieve. While they may state a fine-sounding church “mission,” there is sometimes what Robert Schnase refers to as a “shadow mission,” the REAL mission of the church. If that shadow mission is some piece of idolatry like “having a form of worship that is comfortable to us,” the church may initially attract a lot of like-minded idolaters. Thus, it may grow rapidly. But such a mission can only carry the church so far; it contains the seed of its own eventual failure. A dedication to comfort rules out the willingness to change when change becomes necessary. There are probably as many “shadow missions” as there are sinners. I have just described one I see in myself.
As I was thinking about that, I remembered the photo above. Then I knew that the baby cedar may seem attractive in its current location, but it’s doomed to failure. The “shadow mission” of having “altitude” is no use to a cedar. As any cedar-burning Texas rancher will tell you, what cedars do exceptionally well is not to grow tall, but to send roots deep down into hard ground and draw up water for themselves, water that the ranchers need for other purposes! And so, they chop them down, and burn them.
MORE BROADLY, BECAUSE GOD IS MERCIFUL It isn’t sad when cedars miss their purpose in life. But how about us? What if we are wasting our strength on things that won’t last? Who will save us from such a bad investment? The poem concludes by pointing to the mercy of humbling, of being brought low. This seems to be what James had in mind in his powerful letter:
9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.
James 1:9-10 (ESV)
[September 4, 2021 Update]: Here’s a picture I took 9 months later, when folly gave birth to death:
BACKGROUND Recently, I have been trying to imagine what it might look like to be in a church that welcomes people from all kinds of backgrounds. Would I be willing to give up my comfort for their sake? What if they’re REALLY different? What if their politics are different than mine, different than the politics of most others in the church? Would we be able to keep things in perspective, or would we chase them off because their politics make them feel like pariahs?
Which is more valuable: a soul, or my opinion?
I was once part of a church plant where my chief motivation was comfort: I wanted to be comfortable with the style of worship, and the kind of people I’d be worshipping with. Now, I recognize comfort as an idol. Doubtless, I retain — and am even now creating — other idols, things that are more important than God’s glory. May He have mercy on me.
SEE THE DARK IRONY? I’m not smart enough to have intended the searing irony in the next-to-last line. “Like hell” was drawn lightly from recent events. But there is a reality darker than current darkness, infinitely more consequential than current comfort.
THE PHOTOGRAPH The background photo is of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which I pass by on my walks from home to Flag Pole Hill. One evening, the clouds were threatening. I confess: “HDR Scape” in Snapseed accentuated the drama. Do I feel bad about editing a photo? Not in the least…. It’s part of artistic expression. I’m not a mimeograph!
[first published June 25, 2020] On long walks recently, I have listened to Ezekiel and Jeremiah. They cover a time of turmoil in Israel. I’m thinking about how both prophets handled a proverb that was apparently popular at the time: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Some quote the prophets’ apparent abrogation of that parable in a future time as reason for Christians now to not be concerned about the sins of our ancestors or of our surrounding culture. But I have my doubts. As I wrote a friend, it seems we must carefully delineate sin, responsibility, guilt, and consequences. That we are forgiven in Jesus Christ is not license to continue in the ugliness of sin. It is certainly a poor reason to miss out on the beauty that results from obedience! THE PHOTO: mustang grapes I found and tasted on my walks.
This is the stream that runs down from Norbuck Park and feeds into White Rock Creek before it enters White Rock Lake. I pass by this on my frequent walks over to Flagpole Hill. One day, I stopped, sat down on the bridge, and started filming. For interest, I tossed pebbles into the stream. Back home, I turned the footage upside down and added music in the InShot app (on Google Play; on the App Store). There’s something really satisfying about creating graphics and tweaking videos on my phone. Yes, I have the full Adobe Creative Suite on my workstation, but it’s just fun to see how far I can push the smartphone.
About five miles into my walk today, I suddenly got all wobbly. In my ear, Sir Kenneth Branagh was reading “The Magician’s Nephew,” by C. S. Lewis. Maybe you remember what happens in that book. I had forgotten. Shhh… don’t give it away.
Blessed by a spotty memory of books I read long ago, and verses I read this morning, I was led to a mountainside. There, in the company of our older Brother, I imagined what it was like in the beginning, when…
The “walk” I referred to above was just one of my around-town hikes. But the background photo is one I took from high camp on a climb of Mount Belford in 2017. There were several great photo opportunities on that climb. See, for example this PHOTOSPHERE (opens in a new tab). Also, I used a photo taken by Peter Beverage on that climb as the background for my poem “Job’s One Good Friend” (also opens in a new tab).
My friend Scott Thibaut posted an insightful comment:
It’s nice to read a poem that recaps the song of Simeon in six lines.
[August 15, 2021 Note] I recently used this poem to illustrate another post:
NEVER TOO OLD TO GROW In my 60s, I don’t expect big career developments. But how depressing would it be if I don’t make major headway in spiritual/emotional growth in this decade? Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people who help me in this, including a professional counselor, immediate family who keep me honest, and a wise friend who regularly goes for long walks with me. Is growth painful? Maybe, but not as painful as a long slow slide into futility.
The background image
The background image is part of a photo I took of the Wetmore Valley July 21, 2004. I was staying with my family at Horn Creek Family Camp. In the late afternoon, after suppers, I’d go out driving with the family, as that was the magical time when light was especially interesting and animals were venturing out from the woods.
Every year, when my gift of homemade fruitcake arrives from elder brother John Stephen, I celebrate as my father did, by “Anointing the Fruitcake.” Dad passed away this day four years ago. I sure look forward to seeing him again!
I was sitting outside our Air BnB while on vacation in Silverthorne, Colorado. It was a crisp mountain morning. The birds were singing, occasionally geese flew over in formation, and this beautiful mountain filled my view (Red Peak?). But next door, there was a workman happily whistling as he worked outside. He distracted from “nature.” But I knew my being annoyed was wrong. I had to write this rebuke to myself.
I dedicated this little poem to my friends of color, by whose grace, wisdom, and other beauties I hope to better appreciate our Heavenly Father. It’s a slow process. Foolishness is bound up in this heart of mine.
The background image is a stylized photo that I took from my office window. There are times of day when several birds come to my garden. I haven’t figured out why the various species pick the same time, but they do. Almost always, the titmouse and chickadee couples come at the same time. And when they come, they are often joined by a cardinal couple. Is there a certain light or temperature that is just right? I don’t know. Thus the question: “What is that secret chime?”
I titled this “Nearer, My God, to Thee” because the pleasure that I take in the variety of birds who congregate in my little garden must be akin to the pleasure God takes when people of every nation peacefully enjoy the world he created.
That life should get progressively better, and satisfactory here and now is illusory. We are exiles, who learn our condition slowly, if at all.
This week, I got to do the scripture reading for our church’s virtual worship service. The passage was 1 Peter 1:1-2. That’s a short passage, easy to read. But when my pastor indicated that he liked the idea of a personal introduction, I had an extremely hard time recording it. Thinking about what it means to be an exile, and the hope we have — given God’s kind plans for us — I was overwhelmed with a mixture of sadness, hope, and thankfulness. I’d get to “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” and stop the recording, because I just couldn’t go on. By the way, the background image above is a frame from the reading when I finally got hold of my emotions.
Thinking of my birth city in another land brought back memories last night, and I had to work them out in a poem this morning.
I jotted this down yesterday morning after a sleepless night, one where an admittedly minor ailment was reminding me of what took the lives of my parents. I’d have posted it yesterday, but ran out of time. Now, as I post this, it is Easter.
If you see ambivalence, mixed with annoyance, mixed with underlying hope, you see well. Hopefully, my reading of the poem (above) will reveal the negative side of my feelings.
The background photo is one I took up in the mountains last year on a similar morning, after a similar night.
Here is an exchange I had with a concerned friend, when he asked about the ailment. After describing the ailment, I wrote:
So, the poem was written out of fear and mild exhaustion, but with the realization that I was not acting in the full hope that often moves me. It’s full of double meaning.
Yes, the middle of the night amplifies our fears and disappointments. I tell myself that the daylight will scatter them, and that they will end forever in that eternal morning.
On a rainy day walk around the lake, I came across a smashed-up smartphone. It had no identification on it, and wouldn’t power on after charging, so I gave up on trying to find its owner. However, I did notice that there was a pretty interesting reflection when I turned the phone just right. I initially tried to take a picture of that, but gave up. Instead, I took this straight-on shot:
I decided to see if that could be layered over an older shot that I took near the Bath House:
I boosted the saturation of the above shot with Snapseed on my Pixel 3a phone:
Then, I used the double-exposure tool in Snapseed to combine the broken screen shot with the super-saturated sunset.