Category Archives: Instinct

More than a view: the spiritual practice of noticing

Looking out from our back porch, a visitor to our new home once lamented, “Too bad they left those trees to spoil your view.” She was referring to a stand of three pines left as remnants of the thick foliage that once covered our lot.

Now, this is the view.

Plenty to take in. It is marvelous, show-stopping, in fact. And by my account, it is not at all spoiled by the trees. Actually, it’s enhanced by the them. Yes, because they add color, texture and dimension, but also because they form a frame for my daily animation. They provide branches for the bluebirds to perch on and peck at, a stage from which the cardinals often sing, a scurrying course for the squirrels at play and even an occasional roost for a resting heron.

Yes, very far from spoiling our view, the trees enhance it. No, I don’t have an unobstructed view of the lake and its backdrop, but I do have a close-up look at the natural world that’s before me. As if I am part of it as it proceeds. Not just a viewer, but a participant.

I confess that I did wonder whether there would come a time when I would pass by the view of the lake with little thought, as if it were simply a painting hanging in my hallway, just a thing to be shown off to visitors when they came over.

Perhaps, if it were just a view. But its more than just a view; it’s a scene. And more than just a scene, it’s a setting for the characters which take the stage each day in my backyard. For goodness sake, it’s live theater! …with an unseen crew who regularly adjusts lighting and weather conditions, not to mention welcoming seasonal color changes in delightful hues.

My view is so much more than something to look at. It’s a marvel to appreciate. The shimmer of sun off the still water. Quivering reflections after the wind disturbs the surface. The overlapping V’s in the wake of happy mallards paddling smartly along and suddenly the startling splash of a diving osprey and then the wriggle of its prey as it carries it away.

Yes, animation calls to me. It insists I attend to it. Not just to see it, but to watch it unfold. The mind wanders and the imagination is piqued. What will happen next? It holds my interest in a way that no suspended moment ever has, however glorious. The view is constantly changing, and as I pay attention, so do I.

Isn’t it odd, this human tendency to seek the perfect, unobstructed view? To hurry past stragglers, shoving our way to the front to witness the spectacle everyone else says is worth seeing? And then to snap a photo in order to “capture the moment” forever.

But we can’t capture moments. We live them and, if we’re lucky, we live through them. As tempting as it may be to stay and enjoy the view, that’s not how the world works. Day follows day and we move with it.

We are not props on the day’s stage, but actors in the current scene in the performance of our lives. Our Creator is directing the play. This is such good news. In spite of our predilection for still life and snapshots, they don’t tell our whole story. They can’t as long as our view keeps changing.

How grateful I am for those pines that stand tall and proud and “in the way.” Instead of spoiling my view, they’ve expanded it.

Today, I witnessed a resurrection

Today, I thanked a tree for its shade, pausing under its broad branches for a moment’s break from the late morning sun. I even blew it a kiss, the only gift I could think of to offer back was this bit of extra CO2 for its respiration. A very small bit, to be sure.

On a normal day, I wouldn’t notice this tree or at least I would pay it no mind. But these aren’t normal days, are they? These are odd days, co-opted by the novel corona virus. They have us thinking a-new about every thing and thinking more about everyone. Paying closer attention and taking more care.

Unannounced, this had me attending in a different way to many things I passed in my outing. This tree was the first of many trees I thanked, along with the woman riding toward me on her bike who got off and walked it wide so I could pass at the prescribed social distance. I returned the favor to a cyclist where I had room and he didn’t.

Not all were happy things. I lamented the loss of the life of a turtle who, in departing his pond in search of a distant and deeper shore, didn’t make it that far. This invited sudden thoughts of people who were now in peril because they had embarked on a similar trip. What was it like in the face of this virus if you were in close quarters, in a homeless shelter or detained as an immigrant seeking asylum?

Further on, from another resting spot in the shade, I could see a family of Sandhill Cranes walking along the shore. Mom and Dad mate for life; each year their brood is only two fuzzy yellow crane-lings. This family who only had one saddened me; I had watched two chicks with these parents only a day before. The danger to the young and the defenseless is real in all species.

******

Actually, that today was yesterday.

Today, I thanked the rather the tall hedge who provided me shade as the sun was still early in the sky.

The walkers gave me less leeway, so I swung wide for them.

The early bikers preferred the roadway to the path, as auto traffic was far more sparse than pedestrian.

The turtle now rested on its shell, having provided sustenance for scavengers nearby.

The cranes pecked their way along the familiar shallow hillside. Mom, Dad, and baby.

I paused then to appreciate the cool shade offered by the trees by the pond. I marveled at the majestic blue heron fishing, the glistening snowy egret so still, and the black bird in flight whose red wing patches gave it away. It landed in the reeds near the cranes who paused in pecking their way along shore’s edge.

Mom, Dad, baby and… another spot of yellowish white. From my distance I couldn’t be sure, but perhaps. If it moved I would know. I waited and watched. No one sped me along. No one called me home. No one pushed my pace or bid me hurry. I waited and watched, craning my neck and squinting into the quickly brightening day.

The spot moved; I was almost certain. As I looked on, it did move and then, sure enough, it straightened into a gangly, yellow fluff of a walking thing. It wasn’t dead; it was alive. I had witnessed a resurrection! Praise be!

In the times we are living, these 2020 times, this corona virus time, this Lenten time that will now almost surely conclude in canceled Easter services, this chick come to life felt like a sacred moment.

I have heard some quip that “This Easter Jesus will stay dead,” but watching the baby crane I wondered if things had turned their way around. Perhaps resurrection is happening among us, so that this Easter, in the very midst of the hardship and sacrifice we’re witnessing, we will be the ones telling the stories of all that God is redeeming and bringing back to life.

And that tomorrow will be all our todays.

Sinking Sand or Solid Ground?

I don’t know about you but as for me, closing my eyes to pray or meditate isn’t an option. I feel trapped in a dark place and start scrounging around for light of my own creation or imagining. And that is sure to distract me from my intentions.

I need a visual focus, something for my eyes to “see” while I let my mind settle. Settle on whatever is to come. So that I may welcome and receive it.

Recently, I’ve begun using the minute timer, extracted from a long ago game — possibly Pictionary — where turn-taking was measured in minutes. And before I begin my days’ adventures, I let the sand run. For one solid minute I’m motionless and focused on the grains of sand, seeping through the narrows, slowly, deliberately, orderly and completely.

“My blood shed for thee.” Do I actually hear the voice that speaks that?

“Poured out for your sins.” Where did that thought come from?

Sifted, sliding, shimmering in the ambient light. A sparkle, immediately quenched with its progress. Downward. Toward its finish. Emptying. Emptying. A hollow forms as its pace quickens, hurrying to its completion.

I am neither sad nor distressed as I watch these events unfold. The work of this sand is not remarkable, simply reasonable, inevitable. The consequence of gravity pulling it toward its destination, gathering it together into its lower realm. Poured out. Completely.

“I have emptied myself completely that you might be filled fully.”

“Whatever you do, do it in my name and for my name’s sake.”

Into my day I go, full of the grace and truth that this one minute holds. One day’s worth, bolstered by the assurance of these grains of sand, slipping one by one, of which I am one. Assured by these drops of blood, one by one, by which I’m saved.

Tomorrow I will turn it over and begin again.

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