General News


Sigh. It is snowing again. Still. We are in the middle of a forecast that calls for five days of snow/rain. At this time of year and at this altitude, none of this is unusual but for some reason, it is discouraging me this year. I am ready for warmth and more consistent sun. Yet, I know that without all this moisture, this semi-arid climate I live in at 5280′ would dry up in a New York minute increasing our fire danger significantly.

Drought and the subsequent fires that come are our major weather-related dangers here at this old house. All of this old wood in these historic buildings, close together on the property, is a tinderbox. One kitchen fire and it is all over! Meanwhile, I find myself restless, unsettled, feeling house-bound as the trails are all wet and walking covers my glasses with raindrops.

This Thursday is Ascension Day, 40 days after the Resurrection. It is also the day that our year of quiet listening and discernment ends. On Thursday, we begin to actively seek what next steps will be for us. We have allowed ourselves during this last year only to talk in broad principles of interest. We have focused on “being” more than on “doing.” When one is involved in the heavy-lifting of an active career or call, it is easy to slip into thinking that our worth is based on our “doing.” When that work or call ends, we are left with our “being.” Is that good news? For some, yes; for others, no. Or as someone one said, “Who am I when I am no longer what I was?”

If we have defined ourselves for the most part by our “doing” in life, what we can produce, when we are no longer able to do as much or as well, when we are empty-nesters or widowed, when we retire or are fired, when we are too ill or old, we may find ourselves despairing, looking for external definitions for our value. Throughout all the stages of our life, we must cultivate our “being,” that is, who we are when all of life’s props are stripped away from us. Kurt Vonnegut encourages us to “…Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

One tragedy of the decimation of arts programs in our public schools is that children are not being taught to develop their souls and spirits as well as their minds. As with most things, life-skills are best learned along the way beginning in early childhood. “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Children who are urged to focus on a way to “make money” through their educational years without the counterbalancing encouragement to figure out how to make a life for themselves in the midst of economic realities will struggle with tying their basic human worth to what they can produce.

Maybe this continued miserable weather that makes it hard to get out and “do something” is God-through-Nature’s invitation to have a day more focused on being. Is my unsettledness an indication that I still have a lot to learn about doing vs. being? I invite you to join me in reflecting on that this week.

 

We did a field trip today. Leaving this old house early this morning, we drove out to eastern Colorado. There was a museum to see and a birthday party to attend. It was a beautiful day, warm, lots of sun, and a very different geography of Colorado. The eastern part of the state is plains. Southwest Colorado is more deserts, mesas and buttes, full of Anasazi ruins. My day-to-day life takes place in the Front Range area where the Great Plains end in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Central and Northwestern Colorado is more high mountains. A lot of variety and “something for everyone.”

At the museum out east, I learned about the Battle of Beecher Island, which took place on the plains but in a river bed area that has a high butte above it:

The Battle of Beecher Island, also known as the Battle of Arikaree Fork, was an armed conflict between elements of the United States Army and several of the Plains Native American tribes in September 1868…Near present-day Wray, Colorado, [Beecher Island] was named afterwards for Lieutenant Fredrick H. Beecher, an army officer killed during the battle. [Wikipedia]

The museum curator talked about “dog Indians,” a politically correct term: The Dog Soldiers or Dog Men (Cheyenne Hotamétaneo’o) was one of six military societies of the Cheyenne Indians. Beginning in the late 1830s, this society evolved into a separate, militaristic band that played a dominant role in Cheyenne resistance to American expansion in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, where the Cheyenne had settled in the early 19th Century. [Wikipedia] The curator described this particular unit of “dog Indians” as being made up of disenfranchised Native Americans from several tribes who came together to fight the encroaching white settlers.

It reminds me of modern terrorist groups who often recruit people from places where they feel they “don’t fit in” with the culture of their parents nor the culture of their current homeland. People long for community and when they can’t find it, they will create it, often in ways that aren’t necessarily good for themselves or society at large. “Lord of the Flies” comes to mind here as do some bullies and packs of homeless dogs throughout the world.

The land that saw so much blood shed now suffers from the chemicals used in agribusiness: fertilizers, feedlots, genetically-modified seeds, pesticides. We humans are always seeking to dominate something or other in some way. If we can subdue (which in the Biblical sense never meant “dominate” but rather “steward”) Nature or a group of people that frighten us, we gain a sense of power and safety, false as those feelings may be. It can be fairly disheartening to think about!

Yet, we had a wonderful day with wonderful people celebrating life and God’s goodness. The Discipline of Celebration (see Philippians 4:4-8) encourages me to focus on those thing and so, this evening, I will.

 

The assignment was to read Wendell Berry’s poem of instruction on how to be a poet and then write one of instruction about pilgrimage. Here is mine:

Begin the loop by assessing:
Where are your head, heart, and body?
Travel inward and explore.
Then leave those wild landscapes
and come fully out into the world.
Stop.
Look.
Listen.
Smell.
Feel.
Engage,
But don’t process too much yet.
When you have seen what you came for,
and then some,
Go home!
Go home to your head, heart and body.
Show them all your new souvenirs and treasures.

Valerie E. Hess copyright 2016

 

Another poetry assignment, this one based on Rumi:

So much depends on
my connecting with the earth
and seeing,
really seeing,
the words spoken,
incarnated in front of me.

Valerie E. Hess copyright 2016

We are back home in this old house after a wonderful road trip through the southwest. The ultimate destination was family in California. It was a widely varied trip and there were many things I learned while on the road:

  • I don’t know why but I feel “at home” in the Southwest. Coming into Kingman, Arizona to spend the night after we had seen family in the Bay area, I felt a peace descend on me as we drew closer to the buttes and mesas surrounding the town than I did by the ocean among palm trees.
  • While there are aspects of California I like, the traffic in LA is beyond insane and ruined our experience of the Getty Museum because getting there and back out was such a headache. The constant noise of traffic in many of the urban areas on the West Coast is soul-killing. People say “they get used to it” but it is such an assault on the ears and the soul that I can’t help but wonder the deeper impacts it has on one’s quality of life over time. And, of course, the smog. The Getty as a building was stunning but the views where hazy due to the smog (as well as a storm front coming in). That coupled with the huge highway down below really detracted from the overall experience. I don’t think we will ever go back, which is a shame as it is a “must see” in many ways.
  • However, the Heard Museum in Phoenix is already on the “must see again” list. Somehow, Phoenix traffic was heavy but manageable and we stayed on the edge of town where we couldn’t hear the noise of the highway. The Heard Museum is devoted to Native American arts of all tribes, including those in Alaska and the Northwest, and is well laid out. It is a smaller museum and we looked at everything in three hours at a leisurely pace. It is interesting to note how valued Native American arts and crafts are while the people themselves are not. Driving for hours on the reservations, especially when we were heading toward Second Mesa, First Mesa, Keams Canyon and Hovenweep National Monument, we got a clear reminder that we will hang their art in our museums and buy their crafts for our homes but care little for the welfare of the people themselves.
  • Hovenweep National Monument, near Cortez, Colorado was another trip highlight for me. I have wanted to go there for years. It is close to Mesa Verde, where I have been a number of times, but Hovenweep is NW of Mesa Verde on tiny roads in the middle of nowhere, always too far and in the wrong direction from where we would be headed from Mesa Verde. This time, we came at it from the west, through the Hopi Mesa, and had the site to ourselves. (It was late in the day during the week in April so that had something to do with the lack of people, except the 12 spots filled in the campground.) I look at those ruins and find a deep affinity with them. There is no obvious reason why I should a visceral reaction but I do. I have no Native American ancestry but since childhood camping trips, I have been drawn to the Southwest and to turquoise stones. Maybe my connection comes from good memories of the “exotic and other” impressed on a child from a bland Midwest environment.
  • Road trips are so sane compared to flying. No TSA, no worry about bringing liquids or collecting large souvenirs, no one’s time table but what you have created for yourself within the trip. Flying has its place and I am thankful for the airlines but give me a road trip whenever possible.
  • The storms that were in California followed us home and it is snowing, again, here at this old house: springtime moisture in the Rockies at a mile in altitude. Yet, being in California after four years of significant drought has again reminded me that moisture is a gift not to be taken for granted. My call as a Christ-follower and as an American is to steward the resources God has given us. I am to treat water as precious and to respect the rules in National Park sites. I am also called to remember God’s people, no matter where they are found and no matter what circumstances they are currently in, whether they are good drivers and bad.

In Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free (Galatians 3:28). All cultural, gender and economic categories are leveled; movie stars in LA and Hopis on the reservation are all loved and equal in the sight of God.

As Rick Steves wrote so eloquently, travel is a political act. Seeing other cultures, even within our own country, we are challenged to think more broadly than our safe routines require. If you can, plan a road trip this week for the future, even if it is only for a day!

 

With more snow earlier in the week, it is so nice to be warm today! Here at this old house, we have sun nearly every day (over 300 days of sun a year on average) but sometimes that sun is shining while the air is quite chilly or even cold. The area where the Pasque flowers bloom each spring around Easter (hence, their name) is still deep in snow and cold. Maybe with several days of warmth, that snow will melt enough for the flowers to venture out for their short season. As they are up a steep trail behind this old house, I have to change my walking route when they are in season. They never cease to thrill me.

This is the time when I am able to rejoice more in the Easter season. With all the services behind me, there is an easier pace to my work week. Fortunately, the Church in her wisdom over the centuries has determined that Easter is to be celebrated for 50 days; Pentecost (May 15th this year) is the third great feast of the Church Year and the official end of the Easter season. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be a one day feast! It takes a life-time to begin to understand Christ’s defeat of death: now death is a gateway instead of a brick wall!

To begin to make that truth a functional reality in our daily lives takes 50 days of readings every year.One year we get Matthew’s perspective, the next we get Mark’s, coupled with John’s, and finally we get Luke’s/Mary’s view. Each writer, like any journalist today, emphasizes different aspects of the same story.

Also, the music for Easter cannot all be played and sung in one Sunday service! We need a “week of Sundays,” seven in all, to begin to scratch the surface of all the wonderful tunes and texts that comment on the Bible’s telling of the Resurrection and its immediate aftermath.

Actually, in the Church, every Sunday is a mini Easter. In the Eucharist, we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection. That is why Sundays in Lent aren’t quite the strict fast the 40 days of Lent itself are. The Eucharist is a weekly reminder that Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

So how do we make the resurrection of Jesus Christ a functional part of our lives? For me, it can be summed up in the Biblical injunction: “Be Not Afraid!” Over and over, we are told to not live in fear! That can be so hard as the world is a very scary place. Yet, the Bible records many instances of men and women who shook but still moved forward in God. For example, in the story of David and Goliath, we find a young man who had little to use from a human standpoint to compete against a well-trained, well-armed warrior giant. Yet, David took his five stones and slingshot and, (this is the critical part) in the name of God, killed Goliath. His faith and courage shamed King Saul and the entire army of ancient Israel, who were cowering as if they had no God.

In this political and social climate, we have frightened ourselves and our children into a corner! A teacher friend has eight second graders this year in her class who suffer from so much anxiety, they can barely come to school! These are 7 and 8 year olds. Folks, something is terribly wrong. We as Christ-followers have gotten sucked into the political and cultural milieu of fear and we are passing that on to our children. We have forgotten that common sense is not the same as anxiety, that courage is “fear that has said its prayers” (author unknown), that we are called to be a prophetic voice in a culture that is grabbing at straws, looking for solid ground. We have forgotten that bullies like to keep people afraid and many actually turn tail when their target stands up to them.

I would like to invite any who would care to join me to commit to living unafraid. This does not mean we stop locking our doors; it does mean we stop assuming every immigrant is a terrorist. It doesn’t mean we don’t fasten our seat belts; it does mean that worry is not our M.O (modus operandi) in life. We lead with faith in God, who always bats last, rather than fear of life and living.

Look at the Pasque flowers! They are not freaking out that they are buried under a foot of snow still. They are resting in the ground, putting down roots, trusting the work of the sun and the melting moisture, waiting to praise God by being what they were created to be: flowers. And that is true whether there are lots of people heading up to see them or they are blooming in an out-of-the-way place where no one goes. They are not anxious. They are waiting to do their part in the Kingdom of God.

Cannot I not do the same?

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