Tag Archives: spirituality

Balance is the Foundation

“This cannot wait,” I am told.

We inhale it in the air we breath. Continue to improve upon the past. We drink it in the water. Tomorrow can be better than today. It is our daily diet, the food we binge on. Be all you can be. It is the IV drip that is fed to us in our advertising, catalogs, news coverage, social media, and education. Progress. Advancement. You can have what you put your mind to. Give your children more than what you had when you were young. It is not the only way. 

It is a hard truth to look at the many problems in the world, the imbalance of resource distribution, the violence, the oppression and consider that fixing it might not be the best way forward. Fixing it is probably the best solution, but what our Earth and all her beings may need is not a solution. As Einstein said, “We cannot fix our problems with the same thinking that created them.” To find the technology that will save us is the same crazy thinking that got us in this place. To push cash at a problem or send in the military is more of the same insanity that got us here. To vote, while perhaps is needed, is a minimal action that ultimately amounts to playing the same political game that created this clown show. 

But isn’t it human nature to try to make things better for the future? Hasn’t it always been this way, that people want to make tomorrow better than today? Isn’t this the name of the game for every teacher, doctor, scientist, engineer, and probably religious leader? I would say NO! For centuries, politics, science, economics, and religion has worked together to push for a vision of a better future, whether it be here on Earth or in streets paved with gold. For this better future, we have created technology, established ideologies and theologies, written laws, destroyed cultures, and ravaged our land, the ground that sustains us. Much good has come out of this, I see that, and many will consider that the mark of our success. But things have gotten out of balance and it has gotten us where we are, which many would likely agree is not a sustainable or healthy place. 

This quest for progress is not human nature, has not always been this way, and is not the only way to move forward. There was a time when people saw that everything was perfect the way that it was. Human beings didn’t have a mandate to progress or make things better, but rather, it was their purpose to do everything possible to maintain the harmony, balance, and right relations with all that was. Being in right relationship to the land, to each other, to those who came before and those that will come after them – this is what they lived for. They didn’t believe they had a right to live, a right to not die, or a right to take for themselves. Every day, every meal, every child and elder was a gift. And because they received so many gifts, they therefore had to give in return. They were indebted to Life and gratitude was expected. To maintain the balance, to restore harmony. This was the Foundation. 

Our home is out of balance. For those that live in gratitude and do not take for themselves and their own, they cannot hold up to the onslaught of greed and consumption. This is a beast that will never be satisfied. Until it consumes everything. The Wild is a fragile thing and it doesn’t “get back” at the two-legged creatures that destroy it daily. It is not like us and will likely be destroyed wildly, maintaining it’s wildness. 

It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward.

It is a time for heart-brokenness. It is a time for sadness, for grief. To know that in many ways, we are too far gone and that there is no turning back. This has to be the only first response. And then we must learn. Learning does not inherently lead one to fix. Sometimes learning is thorough enough to convince us we need to withhold our hand. To jump to a solution may be part of the problem that got us here. Solving comes from knowing and the way forward seems to be mostly unknown. 


We must do what is needed, which may not yet be known. We must learn from our land. Not control our land, direct our land, or manage our land. We must learn. It is the land that will teach us. It is the wild ones that will show us the way forward. Because they live for balance… and also die for balance. 

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I ain’t no saint

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I ain’t no saint, that’s for sure.
You won’t find a halo around my head.
There used to be a time when I thought I could be some kind of spiritual “poster boy.” I was clued in to some revelation of spirituality that no one else had and therefore this offered me some sort of merit or elevated status. It was in my own mind, but of course impacted the way I saw others, especially my friends. How terribly unfortunate, and something which I will always be sorry for.

In reality, I’m just a mess. And I think it’s better that way. I had a patient the other day ask me if I could call a priest in so she could give confession. “It has been a long time, so I have a lot of things to confess,” she said. “Do you think that it would be too much to do that in the hospital?”

“I think it would be fine,” I said. “I’m not Catholic, though… so I just confess my stuff to everybody all the time!” She laughed and said she could never do such a thing. Of course, I don’t do this, but I knew the good protestant response would have been that I can go straight to God with my confession. But I don’t want to be a “good” protestant anyway.

People put halos on folks all the time. I know, as I am technically “clergy,” how it is. People apologize for swearing around me and my response is usually, “Don’t worry about it. I hear worse language in my own house daily.” I think as a chaplain, I’m able to dodge those projections a lot more easily than some. And it may be me, too. I do tend to be a bit of a “dodger.” I was encouraging one of the doctor’s yesterday for being able speak to a Muslim patient in her native tongue and I noted that the only other language I can speak in is hipster.

Let’s stop pretending, shall we? Our culture glorifies supermen and superwomen, people without limit and capable of doing extra-ordinary things. The truth is, most of us have pretty significant limps. It’s pretty hard to hide a limp, and for those that try when it is glaringly obvious, it just looks pretty ridiculous. We can limp together and laugh about the fact that some things are just really damn hard. Perfection is a myth. Progress is overrated. In our family, we call disabilities, “special abilities.” I’d rather this than have what we claim for ourselves as a “special ability” be glaringly an obvious dis-ability.

We do have saints in our traditions. We have ancestors, prophets, teachers, and elders. Some of them seem more perfect than others, but I’m pretty sure each of them has their quirks and their limits. They get elevated because they show us that we can be normal, ordinary human beings and still be blessed by Life. What more can we ask for? Probably the most extra-ordinary thing I do regularly is get up at 4:30 every morning. That might be discipline or plain foolishness. Probably a bit of both.

The arrival of fox and other animal teachers

I have only seen foxes a few times in my life, but most of those times in a rather liminal space where their arrivals made me stop in my tracks. The first time, I was out walking the land at Bethel University one Sunday morning. It was one of those early mornings where the mist was rising off the lake and I had that sense that no one, not one student was out an about especially out here. The path curved around Sem hill, that towering slope degraded by years of sledding down it in canoes and on lunch trays. Sem hill that rose above the massive cottonwood, the survivor of lightening strikes, the home for so many countless wild critters, the watcher of hundreds of years of passers by, and the one who blanketed everything in downy dusting every early summer, later cut down to make way for more buildings. Every morning, I walked this curving path along the lake with maples and oaks fighting against the buckthorn to cover the way ahead. I learned the way of the squirrels at play and the numerous feathered ones, big and small, their calls, their foraging spots, and their colors. This particularly quiet and misty morning, was likely after a rain, and I’m sure my mind was preoccupied with the musings of a early twenty-something young man trying to find my way in the world and a sense of connection to Life as it swirled around me and I breathed it in in that very moment. The path opened out into a clearing on the other side of the hill and as I looked up, I saw him there. A fox, staring back at me, with the leg or tail of some animal hanging out of it’s mouth. I was stunned as I had never seen a fox out there and I froze. When I finally blinked, he trotted off in the way foxes do and I didn’t even consider following him or trying to get another look. It was as it was meant to be, for that moment only. Brief and fleeting.

When we open ourselves to grief, to loss, to heartbreak, and to trouble it seems often we grow new eyes. We see things differently and things we would have passed by on a normal day (or maybe not “normal”), now seem to show up with messages just for us and just for this time. Perhaps this is the wonder of being on the receiving end of Life, the mystical and mystery nature of the universe, those who have come before and those who will come after. The world is not there to give ME my own personal messages… and yet, the world does communicate to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Animals have been significant to me at various times in my life, teachers if you will, or messengers that I am not alone. I would never claim the use or access to a “spirit animal” as this is not my tradition and it minimizes the deep culture of those for whom this IS part of their tradition. It is ought to be fairly clear, though, that animals carry with them certain personalities or energies that offer something to us when they come upon us (or we come upon them). I should have to prove this concept, but if you wonder about this, consider what qualities of sight one might attribute to an eagle versus… hmm, a mole. It has helped me at times, especially when they show up in my dreams, to observe what others have found to be significant about their nature. Sometimes, there is learning to be done there, something about myself or the world that is trying to come through.

There was another time just over a year ago… I was in the dark, my heart drowning in the grief and shock of an imagined future exploding before my eyes. We were still in those early days of learning of Brendan’s diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the days before the collective heartbreak of releasing the news. Those were the days that blurred together through my spontaneous tears and the consuming effort required just to put one foot in front of the other. I don’t remember who I talked to during that time nor what I read or what shows and movies I watched to get some momentary escape from the devastation. I was riding my bike to work those days, listening to worship music on Pandora, which sometimes is the only thing that keeps me holding on. Paradox of pure misery coming up against songs of hope, a God that is good, and the promise of not being alone. I didn’t want to ride my bike those days, but it was one of those saving “good for me” activities.

One mid-afternoon after my time in the hospital halls was complete, I distractedly made my way to my bike, unlocked it, clipped in and took off. I had Pandora going that day, which likely meant I was feeling particularly stricken, and the randomly chosen tunes began with a song I now know is called I Can Feel You. The lyrics were particularly what I needed to hear in that moment:

The wind and waves surround me
And I’m tossed, feel like I’m drowning
I am tired, I am weak, I need You here with me
‘Cause I can feel the rising tide
But I don’t have the strength to fight
I feel clouded and confused, I need You here with me

In the chaos of the storm,
I have drifted far, far away
But I call out Your name
Cause You are just a breath, a breath away

Then through the shadows Your light appears
I’ve known You’re with me, but now it is clear…

At about this point in the song, I had left the hospital parking lot and crossed the bridge to the prairie area I would shortcut through. There, seemingly materializing out of a lumber pile was a fox, brighter than any I had seen before. Looking almost red, his tail fanned out behind it as he once again trotted away into the underbrush. At 3:15, in the afternoon his appearance immediately struck me as a uncommon and as I skidded to a halt, taking off my headphones and jumping off my bike, he watched me, his head peering up from behind an earth mound covered in blowing prairie grass. He ducked down then and was gone. I walked through the grass, ducking through the low trees, hoping for another glimpse but again he was only there for that moment.

The third time fox arrived in my liminal space was in the middle of the night outside our cabin in Canada when I was attending the third Orphan Wisdom School. No one else heard him that night, but there is no mistaking the fox when he is calling in the night. I had never heard one before, and I didn’t see him. But he was there, and his screams launched me out of bed with my heart pounding.

Most days, I welcome my furred and feathered visitors as they are, knowing they are not there for me per se. They are doing their thing and I am doing mine, and hopefully I am as alert to them as they are to me. Our meeting is a gift for that moment, a welcome hello, and a most profound reminder to me that we are in this together, each of us dependent on this land for our life, doing what we do to survive. I don’t read into these brief passings too much, as waking encounters are different than what it might mean when my subconscious conjures them up in my dreams. But it is worth noting that on that day sunny afternoon in 2017, as the music playing was just what I needed to hear, the fox crossed my path, or I interrupted his (at a time of day when he would have normally been hunkered down in his hole), and I was left particularly dumbfounded. By what, I wasn’t sure. The next day, Kat sent me a link about what Fox might mean:

Those who are escorted by the soft footsteps of Fox are found to be dedicated, involved, initiative, genius and foresighted workers. In love and relationships they are supportive and attentive to their partner’s feelings. There are many types of foxes that can be found across most of the world. The common fox we are familiar with is also known as Red Fox, due to the color of its fur coat. This dominant energy of the color red connects us to the Base Chakra, vitality, survival and blood-relations. Perhaps this is the reason why American natives perceive Fox as the healer and protector of the family. The safe-guarding of our dear ones necessitates the ability to conceal. In nature, puppies usually bear more strongly camouflaged colors than their parents. Keeping the safety of the family requires alertness and intuition from the adults. LINK

 

Family, protector, attentiveness, survival, dedication. Pieces coming together to make meaning. I wait, arms open, in gratitude for what this land and LIFE offers to sustain me.

On Being Thorough

For some of us unlucky folks (or perhaps lucky), thoroughness does not come naturally. “This is good enough,” we say. So a job is done, but maybe not completely. So what if my shelves are off by 1/16th or even 1/8th of an inch? No one can tell. There is a grain of rice on the counter… no big deal. I can attest that I save a lot of time this way! This is good.

But for others, the need to be thorough is a burden (or a blessing) we have learned to carry. Everything has to be done to completion or even perfection. That 8th of an inch is not okay and neither is that grain of rice… look at how much it stands out! So things remain quite tidy and very well done. This is good, too.

This morning, I found myself saying for each thing I did, “Be thorough, Nate. Be thorough.” I needed this, and I needed to remind myself of this with each task I put hands to. For others, there is a need to say, “Let this go for now. It’s okay.” Each of these reminders are hard ones to follow through with on some days, but needed. It is true, as well, that we can’t expect the other to measure up to our standard… but we need each other and we need to understand each other.

If you are familiar with the Enneagram, with 9 (the Peacemaker) and 1 (the Perfectionist) these are common issues. May we find a balance. May we gently remind ourselves to do more… or less even! There is no right way when it comes to these things, only the right way unto ourselves and our particular way of walking in the world. Balance, awareness, self-acceptance, and love for the moment, these I wish for you and for all beings.

Light in the Darkness

Sometimes, I am keenly aware that my writing, processing, thinking, and speaking tends towards the dark, the haggard, and the grief-slog of day-in-day-out challenges. Often the things that speak to me the most are those things that put words to the heartbreak. There is purpose in this, a reason that this hopeful onetime-positive Baptist boy from the Midwest now refuses to be pinned down in too much hope and an over-positivity with “what may be.” Western culture is not sane in its stance towards that which is natural and good… terror, trauma, and narcissism has been made into entertainment so that the news becomes Hollywood while adolescence, youth, and denial are celebrated as salvation. Ironically, I was always told we’d get new bodies when we get to heaven, ones that don’t get sick, old, or feel pain. I think if heaven is full of young-bodied youths, I’m not sure I want to be there. Let me enjoy getting old, for God’s sake!

This is why I put words to the trouble, why I try to name the grief in such a way that others feel it in their gut, or their throats close up and they can’t speak. I want to let it hang there for a while and not jump off the hook too early. Someone’s got to do this… and I am so grateful for those who continue to hold us up to the edge of the abyss with a trust that we will not be forsaken, that we may come out the other side. It is also important for me to remember that there are those who have had such bad luck in their lives, who have faced such tragedy that anyone really listening in would wonder if it truly is real. Or else what was in the water they have been drinking?!? Families completely riddled by cancer, trauma, death, tragedy. There are so many in the world feeling worthless and completely cast out of a society glorifying the glitz and glamour of success, money, health, and youthfulness. So many in the world… no, so many in my neighborhood! If I can’t honor the pain they have experienced in their lives and put words to it, how can I possibly get close enough to walk with them in this?

I really am a positive person. I am not lost in depression and unable to see the light. I won’t get pinned down too easily on hope and heaven and miracles… but there is redemption and there is salvation. Watch the birds and the bunnies and know that they are finding food without stockpiles of nuts and grass that are growing compound interest at the best rates. For every winter there is a spring coming, no matter how cold, barren, or buried by snow it has been for the last 3 months… or years. Every time the sun goes down, it comes back up again. Life Force moves through the universe, down into the smallest atom, infusing it all with the buzz of life. Synchronicities and wonders happen to those who pay attention, reminding us that we are not alone and that in some sense, we will be ok. The wild, the world, is not an unfriendly place in its design. As Gerald Manley Hopkins writes, “Christ plays in ten-thousand places, lovely in eyes and in limbs not his.”

There is incredible joy to be found in allowing life to be what it is going to be. This includes death, pain, and grief. This includes praising said life and all that comes our way, praising it all with words and exclamations – sometimes with tears and screams – affirming the life that we see and the life that is given. It is all a gift, after all. We are in debt to life, so let us live like it, speak like it, and love like it.