Uncreated Grace

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I have been reflecting on a phrase I read this morning in Father Richard Rohr’s meditation— Uncreated Grace. It is an intriguing phrase and makes me wonder why I received it at this particular time and place on my journey. I have had a very long journey — many miles of life —- and, in fact, there have been many other forks on the path that seem more sacred places to contemplate uncreated grace. But here it is, today, brought to me at this place on my journey.

As I did some processing on this phrase, I thought of one of my dear friends from ages past, seminary days to be exact. Often, he would share his favorite quotes. This was one of them, an intriguing and thought-provoking quote. This quote always stayed in his favorites file. It hints at a long journey we all must take . . .

We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

— T. S. Eliot

We were always left with the question “What do T.S Eliot’s words mean?” Sitting in small groups, the seminarians discussed but never reached an answer, to the question. I imagine that, like me, some of them took the words along with them on their journeys, hoping to discover the meaning at some place of enlightenment on their path.

On my journey, Eliot’s words came to mind many times. Never quite discovering a finite meaning, I did discover infinite applications that touched my life in ways simple and profound. Most always, I came away from reflecting on the words to a better place inside myself and a better space in my world. Still, I wonder why these T.S. Eliot words were brought to my mind today.

The power in these words, I think, is that they are not a directive, not a call to mission, not words of piety, not gleaned from scripture. They are words meant to be understood individually rather than offering a universal message. I identify these words as an invitation, and so today I am left alone with them to intentionally create space for reflection and understanding.

When I do that, I hear many, many other words from different places — from scripture, hymn, poetry, prose and from within myself. It feels like a Spirit encounter, the presence of “another comforter” who will be with us forever, who will, as Jesus promised, “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

Spirit teaches us and helps us remember. Spirit grounds us so that our circuitous journey will not frighten us. We are free to never “cease from exploration,” because we are comforted to know that we will “arrive where we started . . .”

9889AA3B-16BB-4F9F-9B56-D883A74A49AEAnd know the place for the first time . . .

When the journey leads us back to where we started, how is it that we “know the place for the first time?” I urge you to not take my interpretation as the correct one, because I believe that a “correct” interpretation comes from the soul of each person who chooses to explore. But here is an understanding based on my own musings . . . we can take what comes in our lives, or we can explore places on the journey — our encounters, our joys and sorrows, our events and calamities, our crises and emotions, our disappointments and betrayals, the chance and the wonder.

For me, there is no doubt that exploring all of these life events brings that sense of getting back to the beginning and truly knowing the place for the first time, not necessarily because the beginning place has changed, but that I have changed. The Spirit’s holy breath transformed me with gentleness again and again, transformed by the blowing of Spirit wind into my being.

Father Richard Rohr says that “the Holy Spirit is never created by our actions or behavior. It is naturally indwelling, our inner being with God. In Catholic theology, we called the Holy Spirit “Uncreated Grace.”

How I love those words . . . Uncreated Grace! Perhaps that’s what we all hope for in our explorations on the journey — that in us and through us, there is Uncreated Grace. If we present to the Spirit our selves as uncreated grace, I wonder if Spirit then creates grace within us again and again and again, all along the way. If we never cease from exploration, presenting ourselves as uncreated grace, the Holy Spirit will breathe on us and we will be transformed!

No wonder we know the place where we started for the first time! The place hasn’t changed, we have changed, transformed in our deepest places!

Thanks be to God and to the touch of Spirit breath. Amen

“My Soul in Silence Waits”

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Photography by Jim Dailey: January 1, 2020, Lake Ouachita, Hot Springs, Arkansas

My dear, long-time friend, former Little Rock Mayor Jim Daily, sent me this photo this afternoon. Mayor Jim is a hiker, a camper, a photographer and a naturalist. He loves the outdoors. He is a person of profound thought, and he spends a good amount of his time in thoughtful contemplation — on a lake or an Arkansas River, in a verdant valley or on a mountaintop. He frequently blogs on what he calls his “adventures,” and his blog is filled with thoughts about wherever he is and whatever beauty he has found. For Jim, every day is a new adventure, and his adventures hold sway over him. They change him in so many ways

One more thing — As a tribute to my friend, Mayor Jim, I want to introduce you to his Blog, which you may enjoy viewing at this link: Last Pair of Boots

His Blog, called “Last Pair of Boots,” tells a poignant story — of nature’s beauty, of God’s presence in it, of friendships, of Arkansas’ and America’s holy places, of worship and contemplation and prayer. Here’s what Jim says about naming his blog:

The name “Last Pair of Boots” came to me when my ten year old boots broke down and it occurred to me that at my age the new pair of boots might be my last pair. Metaphorically my boots represent the trails and travels of life.

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Whitaker Point … aka Hawksbill Crag! At the Buffalo National River

This is such a thought-provoking description that fits Jim’s love of nature’s splendor. He also hints at endings, not in a melancholy  way, but in words the reveal his life of contemplation and curiosity. Jim’s outings are hiking and wilderness camping, skiing, fishing, exploring, visiting every Arkansas State Park through his job as Arkansas Tourism Director, finding friendships in every small Arkansas hamlet, searching for Arkansas treasures,
finding God in all the places and faces.

I imagine he will hold all of these adventures in his heart now that he has finished his work as Arkansas Tourism Director this past December.

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HamfestWhatever it is …  it’s gotta be something special to celebrate 50 consecutive years on top of the second highest mountain in Arkansas — Rich Mountain — in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains, Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Congratulations, Jim, for your many years of service to the citizens of Little Rock and of Arkansas. Your wisdom, your love of nature, your unquenchable thirst for adventure and your unfailing commitment will remain as one of our enduring Arkansas’ treasures.

As I mused about Jim’s outings tonight, I asked myself about the places and times that created my contemplative times. They are few, too few.

For whatever lame reason, I do not take the contemplative times I need. I think that my kidney transplant on November 12th pushed me into a soul-need that beckons me to solitude, silence, contemplation, adventure — new things to examine in the stunning beauty of nature. It calls me out of the house and into the sunlight or under the stars of the night. It calls me to breathe in the fresh air of God’s creation and, with that breath, to take in the miracle of God’s presence.

Now that I’m retired and have time, I tend to fill my time with all manner of preoccupation. At times, I feel busy and frazzled and don’t really know why. Why am I unable to make enough time to spend in the mesmerizing beauty of nature, keeping silence in God’s creation? Why do I not spend time beside still waters, listening to the silence of a pond? What is wrong with my soul that it is rarely drawn to God’s quiet places, and my heart that does not often seek God’s presence in silent space?

I dare not answer those questions until I am prepared to make some life changes. But what I can do is to hold near these reminders of what God desires for me until I can change my life. These reminders might even inspire me to seek change:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother.   
(Psalm 131:1-2)

For God alone my soul in silence waits.   (Psalm 62:1)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.   (Lamentations 3:28)

To you, O God, silence is praise.   (Psalm 65:1)

It is never a bad thing to offer God the praise of silence, to invite God into my contemplation and to allow God’s presence in my moments of prayer and meditation. The truth is that God has always been present with me. But my deepest desire is that I be present with God. As the Psalmist wrote, “My soul in silence waits.”

May those words become my words . . . and yours. Amen.

Chasing Butterflies

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🦋  I have a childhood memory of chasing butterflies, trying to catch even one of those stunning winged creatures in a net. It seemed easy enough. Butterflies aren’t extremely fast flyers. Rather, they flutter around flowers and pause frequently in front of a bloom.

Try as I might, I never caught a single butterfly. As a child, I lamented my failure, but as an adult, I actually see the joy in the chase rather than the failure of the catch. Richie Singh has the right idea about the butterfly-chasing experience.

The joy about chasing butterflies is not the satisfaction that comes at the end, but the path that takes you there;

The irony about chasing butterflies is that sometimes you’ll get so lost in the chase, you won’t realize that you’re left chasing thin air;

But the agony about chasing butterflies is that sometimes you will keep on chasing, hoping, that a butterfly would materialize out of thin air.

― Richie Singh

Still, it’s not so bad to hope. As long as I chase with hope, it’s worth my time. I may never catch a butterfly in a net, but along the way, I’ll enjoy the chase and the hope.

Waist-Deep into Life

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Shrink back from the raging waves if you want to. Stand at ocean’s edge and barely get your toes wet. Or wade waist-deep into the ocean where real life happens. It holds its risks and certain dangers. It challenges one’s sense of safety. It risks being overturned and overwhelmed by a huge, strong, breaking wave. But wading in deeply is the best way of living life, a metaphor for life at its most adventurous.

Alas, I didn’t grow up as a risk-taker. Under my skittish grandmother’s care, I became fearful of many things. She forbade riding bicycles down the street. She gave us each only one skate, fearing that to skate on two would land us face down on the pavement. And yes, to this day, I am afraid of deep water.

She raised me to be fearful of going all-in on many fronts. So I missed out on all kinds of youthful adventures. I miss the things I missed. I wish I had learned to skate well on two skates. I wish I had not been afraid to ride my bicycle down a steep hill, feeling the wind in my face.

So now, all grown up and aging every day, I still don’t plunge waist-deep into the crashing waves called life. I stay in my safer place. It’s too bad, really, and maybe it’s time to make a life change.

Here’s to life adventures!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

– Isaiah 43:2

Seeing the World, Loving the Earth

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“The Earth is not barren, but alive!”

I don’t see it much. There is an enormous, beautiful world that I simply don’t take time to see. I admire those who take nature into their souls, who breathe in the freshness of the wind, who see pictures in the sky, who hear music in birdsong. I imagine that those who know how to do that are emotionally and spiritually healthy. I imagine that life for them is pure joy.

The closest I can get to their experience is to read about it, and then to practice it in the smallest ways. I love the words of Bishop Steven Charleston that describe such a love for the earth.

I looked up, and as if in a dream I saw them, ancient spirits from the mesas, gliding on rain clouds above the desert, flashing lightning as they passed, primal spirits from the forest deep, rising up to dance on the trees, mountain spirits trailing snow white capes in the wind, and the spirits of the sea, moving like a storm toward the land. The Earth is not barren, but alive, filled with the spirits of life, the forces of nature around us, old powers from the time of beginning. God is not constricted to our temple walls, but roams the wild places calling to all who will look up, see the dream, and follow.

Whimsy

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Sometimes life needs a little whimsy. Too much seriousness is bad for the soul. Try blowing a dandelion into the wind. Watch celestial pictures form in the moving clouds. Paint colors randomly on a blank sheet of paper.

It’s a good thing to break up a serious life with some whimsical experiences. It lifts the spirits and makes magical things seem more possible. Plan diversions on a whim. Try some playful things. Do those fun things that are so hard to do for such serious-minded folk.

I love the words of Robert A. Heineken in “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.”

For millennia philosophers and saints have tried to reason out a logical scheme for the universe… until Hilda came along and demonstrated that the universe is not logical but whimsical, its structure depending solely on the dreams and nightmares of non-logical dreamers.

I think I’ll just drop the logical for a day or two. A little mirth and whimsy will do me good!

Our Huge Bread Bowl

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For as long as I can remember, there was a huge pottery bowl in our kitchen. I call it my grandmother’s bowl, although I don’t really know that the bowl had an actual owner. I can’t remember when it appeared or if anyone purchased it. It was just always there. The bowl had a singular purpose, mixing and kneading big loaves of sweet bread, Vasilopita, and Greek cookies called koulourakia.

In my mind, bread simply could not be made without that smooth, shiny pottery bowl. It was very heavy, so kneading the dough was no problem. When the dough was ready, smooth and elastic, my grandmother would use a big knife to cut a cross in the top. Now the dough was ready to rest in a warm place for two or three hours and magically rise. Those hours seemed endless to us, and we must have asked dozens of times, “Is it ready yet?”

The dough always did what it was supposed to do in that bowl. It was covered with towels and we always watched the towels rise far above the bowl’s rim, telling us that delicious New Year’s Bread, called Vasilopita, was not far away.

Our bowl always promised an adventure in our family. It made a home out of a house. The dough inside it held many handprints because everyone helped with the kneading and shaping — my grandmother’s strong, skilled hands and our tiny hands, barely able to make the smallest dent.

Each year, the bowl was used by either my grandmother or my Aunt Koula. The baker might have changed, but the bowl and the bread was always the same. And the family experience of baking the bread never changed.

Through some act of pure blessing, the huge bread bowl is now a part of my home. It sits on a shelf waiting for New Year’s Eve when the bread-making begins. Our bowl is a family treasure, an ordinary object filled with warm, sweet memories of years gone by.

This blog post is dedicated to my brother, Andrew, and my cousin, Tasia, who love the bowl as much as I do.

A Strange and Wonderful Concept

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What a strange and wonderful concept . . . Running toward something instead of running away from something. Ten athletes without a country will compete in the Rio Olympic Games. They are refugees. They have persevered after losing home and country, some after losing parents.

These ten refugee athletes will act as a symbol of hope for 21.3 million refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis when they take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

One of the refugee athletes, Yusra Mardini, is a swimmer. About two years ago, Mardini was swimming to save her life and others. She was one of 20 refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea in a boat when the motor stopped running.

Mardini fled the Syrian war in 2014 with her sister, who was with her on the boat. They dived into the water with one other passenger and pushed the boat to the shore. Everyone on board was saved.

She will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) – the first of its kind. They marched proudly into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony immediately before the host nation, Brazil, waving the Olympic flag.

How important a lesson we can learn from these athletes! How to survive in crisis. How to find strength and hope in the midst of loss. How to thrive after losing home. How to keep trying when others might have given up.

I am moved by their bravery, their tenacity and their resilience. I pray for good things to come to them. I pray that the world will be inspired by their example, to lift our eyes up to hope, to move forward into brighter days, to always strive to be the best we can be.

Fly with Your Wind

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While a friend of mine was driving through the plains of Oklahoma, he marveled at miles and miles of vast rolling plains of grasses and the strong winds that were making them sway. Then he noticed something else every few miles: trees in perfect rows. And he wondered why the trees grew in almost perfect rows. As he contemplated the phenomenon, he realized that when the trees seed, the seeds are blown in the direction of the wind and thus the trees are growing in the direction of the wind. The wind shapes the vegetation and literally shapes the landscape.

Our lives are guided by winds, too. Winds of change. Winds from storms. Gentle, refreshing winds. Winds of bitter cold. Winds that blow in the heat of summer. The breezes change us, challenge us, and sometimes restore us.

We become who we are as the winds blow across our lives, leaving us different than we were before. I enjoy the writing of C. JoyBell C.

I don’t believe in fighting the wind. You go and you fly with your wind. Let everyone else catch their own gusts of wind and let them fly with their own gusts of wind, and you go and you fly with yours.

Fly with your wind. Sounds to me like wise advice.

Adventure!

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Life is an astounding journey. No straight paths, just circuitous ones. Few smooth roads, mostly rough ones. But what an adventure it is! I love new places, new experiences, new people, new ideas, new endeavors, new dreams.

This quote describes life so well:

“The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.”

That’s what makes life worth living, the deeper truths we learn as we travel the journey. It is the spiral path that is so filled with that deeper truth. It is this journey that inspires us to dream new and fresh dreams. It is the spiral-like journey that allows us to grow and learn and stretch. Life is truly an adventure!