I am on my way back to this old house, God and the airlines willing. This past week, we did a driving trip through Yellowstone and then up into Montana to visit family.

Driving through the West is one of my favorite vacations. This year has been exceptionally lovely as we have had an extended autumn with no early snow interruptions to wreck the colors. Fall began for us in Alaska where the gorgeous leaf color was in full swing over Labor Day. It continued back in Colorado for the past month and is winding down in Yellowstone and Montana. What a gift!

The warm days and clear blue skies have been soul-lifting as well. Going swimming in a mountain river in mid-October is normally not my idea of fun but it was over 70 degrees the day we were at the Boiling River in Yellowstone. The cold water from the Gardiner River mixing with the scalding hot water from the mineral springs pouring in from the river banks made it a wonderful soaking time.Image result for free photos mineral hot springs

We also soaked in a mineral springs hot tub in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Afterwards, in both cases, I was like a limp rag doll and slept for hours. I was also very thirsty and drank a lot of water after getting out. Apparently, the minerals combined with the heat relaxes one’s muscles deeply as well as doing some de-toxing.

Despite my husband’s skepticism about it all, the hot mineral water also healed up a bad chilblain I had developed on my left thumb. Help with circulation is one thing mineral hot springs supposedly do and chilblains are a result of damaged circulation, in my case from driving with no gloves on cold steering wheels. I continue to marvel at the healing powers God has put into Nature.

In addition to the bodily de-toxing I experienced, I have also been trying to “de-tox” my soul through the intentional practice of slowing: eating more slowly and with more awareness, noticing more deeply my surroundings, not being anxious about the next activity but being fully present in the moment. A complete change of scenery and routine can be a good time to start a new spiritual practice of any kind. With “normal life” on hold for a bit, I know I tend to be more aware and open to new things.

The trick then becomes maintaining the practice once I am home. While I am a strong proponent of structure in life, sometimes my structures become ruts or bad habits. I am using my airplane time, forced transitional time, to reflect on some things I learned while on this trip and to commit to ways I might continue to “stop and smell the roses” once I hit my front door with a list a mile long to accomplish before going back to work.

Christine Valters Paintner made a good suggestion of a way to do this: stop and breathe at the end of one activity before beginning the next one. I don’t know about you but some days, I feel lucky to breathe at all, let alone intentionally between projects. But now, with the experiential knowledge of what deep relaxation feels like after those mineral pools, I may have an idea of what that small practice could help me be even when I can’t completely stop my routine and soak under a star-filled autumn sky in the warm healing mineral water the earth produces in some places.

Hear is to intentional breathing!

It has been a lovely week here at this old house partly because I won a gorgeous Roman glass and pearl necklace from Pebble Art Jewelry in Niwot. Since Roman glass and pearls are two of my favorite things, this was a real treat to receive. Roman glass is antique glass from the Roman empire (approximately 27 BC to 1453 AD). Pieces of this glass that are excavated whole or in good shape go into museums. Those that are broken when they are uncovered are often turned into jewelry beads. The pieces of Roman glass on my necklace came from a garbage dump in Afghanistan that is being excavated. The brass beads are from modern Afghanistan and I am not sure where the pearls were harvested. It is a real combination of ancient, modern and natural elements.

As my friend exclaimed, if this glass could talk! Imagine the story it would tell: was it a bowl, a goblet, a pitcher or some other household item in a wealthy Roman villa? Who was the ancient glass blower? Where was it purchased and did it move around with its owner to far-flung locales? Who used it and for what purpose? Why was it discarded? Was it a victim of war and sacking or an accident at dinner? Were the people in the house happy or discontent with their lot in life? Did they appreciate the beauty of the object in its original form or was it just a common everyday item, easily replaced in the local market?

All of this speculation makes me wonder what might be harvested from our garbage dumps in a thousand years. What will archaeologists find buried in our modern landfills? Will they know what the objects they are digging out were used for? So much of our record keeping these days is electronic. Will people several hundred years from now be able to access those records? Much like reading Old English where spellings and meanings have shifted significantly in some cases from what we use today, what suppositions will be imposed on our lives from the distant future? Unanswerable questions indeed but fun to speculate about.

Psalm 90

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust,
    and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are like yesterday when it is past,
    or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger;
    by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    our years come to an end like a sigh.
10 The days of our life are seventy years,
    or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
12 So teach us to count our days
    that we may gain a wise heart.

Meanwhile, I have been gifted with small pieces of ancient history. They are a beautiful reminder that civilizations come and go. May they also help me to keep the toils and troubles of my days in the perspective of God’s eternity.

It is a cool, misty-moisty day, a good day to be baking. October is birthday month here at this old house. The first one is next week and for that, a from-scratch high altitude angel food cake is baking in the oven, rising nicely. I save egg whites in the freezer until I have close to 12. A dozen large egg whites equals what is needed for the recipe. I reached 10 egg whites several days ago and so, with the addition of two more egg whites, the unlined copper bowl insert went into the mixer bowl. Soon, a cup-and-a-half of egg whites went from blah liquid to glossy stiff peaks with the help of a little cream of tartar. Mixed with the sugar, flour and vanilla, the egg whites are transformed in taste into something worthy of a birthday celebration. And because I had two egg yolks left over, chocolate pudding is now cooling on the back porch, waiting until it can go in the refrigerator. Two treats because of the way eggs are made!

My afternoon’s cooking and baking are an illustration of what spiritual transformation can be. We take the “raw eggs” of our lives, our talents and gifts, our life experiences and through various practices of “mixing, beating, and adding other ingredients” (such as prayer, fasting, Bible study, worship, service, confession and more), we transform into clearer images of the face of Christ here on earth. If eggs had feelings, I’m sure being beaten in a mixer would not “feel good” but it is what makes them go from blah liquid to exquisite, shiny peaks. And so it is with us. There are things that happen to us that are meant to make us more useful in the Kingdom of God. We need to be mixed with other things, whirled into a new state of being, able to bring joy to those around us.

As in all analogies, the comparison points don’t always line up but it is amazing to me how many situations in life can be an “icon,” an illustration, of God’s work in our lives and our work in God’s Kingdom. For example, tea bags soaking in hot water or pasta cooking in boiling water can remind us of the discipline of meditation. Nature and its riot of colors in autumn or spring display the disciplines of worship and celebration. In fact, the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries used meditation on Creation as a Scripture equal to the written Word of God. Even St. Paul, in Romans 1:20 talks about the witness of nature to God: Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. If we will let ourselves see and hear, we can find evidence of God at work throughout our full and busy days, even when we can’t stop and read the Bible.

Fr. Richard Rohr adds this perspective to the idea: All of creation, it seems, has been obedient to its destiny, “each mortal thing does one thing and the same . . . myself it speaks and spells, crying ‘What I do is me, for that I came’” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”). Wouldn’t it be our last and greatest humiliation, if one day we realized that all other creatures have obeyed their destiny with a kind of humility and with trustful surrender? All, except us.

All elements of nature do what they were made to do, even eggs. I invite you this week to be and do who you were created to be. Do what Martha Beck calls “an integrity cleanse.” That is, stop lying! Be honest with yourself, with God, with others. Live out of your deepest desires, the ones God put into your heart and soul. As you do that, you will bring joy to God, to others and to yourself. And have a piece of cake to celebrate!

This past week, we spent a day going over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. The official park web site describes it this way: “Covering the 48 miles between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake on the west, Trail Ridge Road more than lives up to its advanced billing. Eleven miles of this high highway travel above treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park’s evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra’s vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation, Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car.”

As it has continued hot and fire-ban dry here at this old house, we and quite a number of others traversed the road, marveling at the spectacular aspen fall leaf colors as they stood mixed in with the various conifers or in breathtaking dense stands. The sun shone through the yellow and orange leaves making them, at times, seem almost electrified.

Despite packing a heavy jacket, hat and gloves, it was a balmy 69 degrees at the Alpine Visitor Center and in the 80s in Grand Lake. Due to beetle kill, the re-opened Grand Lake Lodge had cleared many of the trees on its down-slope hill. We could stand on the porch and see both Grand Lake and the town of Grand Lake, views that, for years, have been blocked by forest. For once, I actually liked that the trees had been cut as it made one of our favorite places in Colorado that much more spectacular. It is also wise fire mitigation; defensible space around an historic wooden lodge is smart. Below are what we saw from their magnificent porch.   IMG_1675 (3) IMG_1674 (3)

After exploring the area, we headed back over Trail Ridge to the Estes Park side of the park for our annual time of listening to the annual elk bugle. This is the call of the males during the fall rut. Insults never sounded so sublime! Go to this YouTube site to understand what I am talking about as the sound the bull elk make is hard to describe:

A great video of what we go to see every year! In addition to fighting over rights to the various harems and yelling insults at each other through these other-worldly noises, the males spray themselves with urine, a smell you have to be a female elk to appreciate.  While all this “hootin’ and hollerin'” is going on, the cows and calves calmly graze until a nervous male decides they needed to be herded somewhere, probably into his harem group. If he is stealing from another bull, the fight is on. It is one of nature’s wonders I never tire of experiencing.

Some people feel that if they have seen something once, they don’t need to see it again and that may be true of many things. However, when they are referring to natural wonders like the annual elk mating ritual or Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park, I find myself sad. It implies a jadedness towards life, that somehow, Nature, in all her splendor and diversity isn’t enough to capture the person’s imagination any more. I think we will see more of this ennui towards natural phenomena as we become more glued to our SmartPhones, going through life and the National Parks texting and taking selfies. While there is nothing wrong with those activities per se, it is the degree to which I see it happening that concerns me. Who will fight to preserve the National Parks in another 50 years? When every bit of them are on YouTube and Facebook photos, will we bother to save it for a first-hand, pristine, personal experience?

Since Genesis 1, we know that the hand of God is found in nature. It is one of the “Scriptures” the early Church assumed. The Desert Fathers and Mothers often didn’t have written Scriptures in their hermitages in the Egyptian desert of the 3rd and 4th centuries. They “read” about God in nature and felt as deeply instructed as if they had had what would have been a rare and expensive copy of the Bible. How many of us deeply study Nature today to seek what God has to say to us in it?

As we went through Rocky Mountain National Park during its hundredth-year anniversary as a National Park, I hoped and prayed that there will still be hundreds of people in another hundred years who come every year to hear the elk bugle and see the aspen leaves change color in the fall.

Our rains have not come but it has turned much cooler here at this old house. The sun isn’t quite as hot during the day and the nights are borderline cold. Soon, the wool blanket will be added to the bed. The upstairs room air-conditioning unit was put in the closet, a silent testimony to the high heat of weeks past and a promise of more to come next year. Most of my summer neighbors have migrated south to winter homes and the hummingbirds are quite active at the feeder, building up strength to begin their long migrations south. I am dreaming of making caramel apples soon and the oven that is on to bake cookies is offering a welcome bit of heat to a cool house.

There are seasons in our spiritual life as well. While articulated with the same names as the natural seasons, the seasons of our souls don’t necessarily correspond to the calendar’s seasons or where one is chronologically in life. As with the natural seasons, spiritual seasons aren’t always clear cut or neatly divided into equal lengths of time.Image result for free photos four seasons

In the springtime of our souls, everything feels new and exciting. Oftentimes this season is associated with a new-found faith or a revived faith. Joy comes easily and miracles feel like they are waiting to happen. New seeds are planted and growth explodes in us. We feel young though “green” and vibrant in this season.

In the summer of our souls, there is still a settled contentment. The seeds have been planted and now is the time of watering and weeding. Growth marks this season, though not always in an upward line. Like a good marriage that has moved from the honeymoon euphoria into a more settled routine of life and love, so in this season of our souls, we are “comfortable” with God and our place in God’s Kingdom.

Autumn brings the promise of a rich harvest.  The hard work of planting in the spring and tending throughout summer bears fruit up to a hundred-fold. We feel mature, confident and able to mentor well. Yet, as in autumn in nature, things are shifting and change is in the air.  After a sense of fullness or completeness, we may also find ourselves mildly discontent. Autumn can be a time for reevaluation as well as enjoying the fruits of our labors under God’s grace and mercy. It may be a time to shift into a course of deeper study or consider moving into areas that are out of our comfort zones. We may be aware of our mortality in ways we haven’t been before.

Winter is a time when the soul feels cold and withered. It is a season of pruning, of lying fallow, of feeling that things one has worked so hard on are dead. It can be a season of grieving losses for what might have been, of what never was. Doubt and/or darkness are the hallmarks of this season. We survive this season with the harvest from autumn. We live out of raw obedience more in winter, seeking to remember the warmth of the sun/Son. Feelings related to our faith may be dormant; there is no spiritual sap/life force rising. Some of the greatest soul work happens in these “dark nights of the soul.” We may not see any buds, let alone fruit, but we trust that god is at work deep within us.

Christian community is critical in all the seasons of our souls. Walking with others helps tame our spring-time zealousness and strengthen our winter survival skills. Soul friends can keep us from throwing in the towel in winter and help us assess the full extent of our autumn harvest. As surviving in the wilderness on your own is possible but not preferable, so surviving the ups-and-downs of our spiritual seasons is so much richer within a supportive and mature community.

What season of life are you in right now? Share that with someone this week!

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