Thursday, November 29, 2007

clean cut

it's a challenge on my day off to attend to things as they come to me--like when the idea for a blog post arrives, if i wait until i've sorted the mail or finished reading the novel, i'll likely never write it.

i've been thinking in images of water. my dear friend Bear gave me this feedback on a sermon last year: you were so much on the inside of the story, and enjoying it so much, it was a bit like you were underwater. every now and then you'd come up for air and say to us, "come on in, guys! it's great!" but you didn't check in with us, via eye contact or inquisitive pauses, to see how or whether we were following. so i was splashing around, enjoying my own experience, on the assumption that if i could make myself feel deeply enough in the moment, the feeling and the power of the story would spread to my listeners ("make a splash"). but splashing makes it harder to see through the water:

on Monday i stepped into the cathedral for a centering prayer break between meetings. Maybe because i stopped at the baptismal font to bless myself with the water (Luther: "remember your baptism"), my meditation was a watery one. in the context of my day to that point, i was pondering how much of the feedback i get from others i take personally and how much i can let roll off my back. i pictured pain and sorrow as cleansing forces on the spiritual journey, like when friends or family create an intervention when they see you hurting yourself and others.

we're not exactly water creatures; we need some water but don't live in it. so i drew this parallel between pain, depression, sadness and water. if we run from pain (never wash with water) we'll feel dirty, bogged down, and not our best selves. if we are too into it, too deep in a bathtub or ocean or pool, and not paying attention we're at risk of drowning (depression all the way to suicide or death).

Tuesday i was swimming laps in the early evening. it was already dark, so the lights in the pool lit up the movement of the water. i noticed how my hands entered the water at the beginning of each stroke (imagine the swimmers in the picture above a few seconds later). sometimes they came splashing down creating lots of bubbles, and sometimes they cut cleanly into the water. in the latter case, i moved through the water more efficiently for the effort, and could also see more clearly in the water through my goggles.

it occurred to me that many of the conflicts i've been so worried about amount to splashes. it makes some sense; until i could see that i was causing them with the angle of my hand, all i knew was that i couldn't see the way forward for all the bubbles and felt scared and frustrated and stuck. i thought through my days and pondered how i might act more cleanly, might bathe briefly in my own and others' pain but not live there, might see what more i can see if i splash a little less.

Monday, November 5, 2007

a mountain baptism

last week i took a lightning-tour trip to the mountains of western north carolina, escorting my grandmother to an annual celebration of the Land Trust for the Little Tennesse. i spent my one day in the cowee and tellico valleys, pausing as i always do to wash my face in tellico creek, where my grandmother played as a child and whose power ran the family mill.

the friend i was with, on our way back to the car, asked, "do you get any time to be out in the woods when you're at home?" good question, i said. not really. sometimes up in the redwoods, but i'm usually focused on myself and my bike, not the woods.

to ease the transition back into my mostly-paved current town (there is a creek that goes through my backyard, but it's completely channelized so its song is hard to hear), i'm reading Charles Frazier's first book, thirteen moons (he's the guy who wrote that book cold mountain that became a movie), which takes place in these mountains. cherokee country, nantahala, the place of the noonday sun.
very few white people lived back in these remote mountains, and they were mostly misfits self-exiled to the woods and falling into only two categories, drunks and preachers. the latter category included actual ministers and missionaries and also all manner of backwoods social reformers, philosophers, and political theorists, men who came walking through the door with their eyes vibrating from the energy of their frequently crackpot beliefs, hardly waiting to state their names and shake your hand before launching straight into reforming your opinions on the Holy Trinity, the Apocrypha, the Whig Party, or paper currency.
i recognize a fair bit of myself in this description. maybe this means i belong in the mountains. i hold, too, the idea that i/we could use a bit of balancing out, of listening better. kate wolf sings about her grandfather "not wanting to say any more than he thought would be heard." i think that value is shared by Cherokee culture, and perhaps by the mountains themselves.