Beauty From Ashes

 

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Last Sunday evening, October 15th, while fires still burned in the hills above Sonoma County, in the Redwood Covenant Church auditorium there was a significant gathering of Sonoma County Christ followers. People who worship at 30 or more different churches throughout the county came together to pray for this current Firestorm crisis.  The meeting was led by many different pastors who prayed for the various aspects of it.  One of the remarkable features of their prayers is that most of these pastors have lost their own homes!  They could truly relate to the sense of loss that is felt by many at this time.

Prayer was interspersed with worship led by musicians of Redwood Covenant.  The joy that many attendees expressed even in the midst of loss was palpable.  It was beautiful to see the unity of this pastoral leadership as they gathered as one at the front.  Many of these pastors have already been praying together for years, but Sunday night I believe there were more than usual.  Indeed, some of these pastors have been praying together for over 40 years since the time of the ‘Jesus Movement’ of the 1970s.  However, as was mentioned by one of the Pastors, this meeting seemed more powerful than ever.  So many people from so many different churches.  Some good is coming out of this crisis.

A major prayer of the evening is that those believers who have lost everything will stand firm in their faith and be enabled to “comfort others with the comfort they find in God”.  The bottom line that many embrace is that our material possessions mean little in comparison to the gifts of God’s love and Coming Kingdom.  This crisis of loss puts the priories of life in a fresh light.  Our prayer is that many will come to know the truth of God’s love even as a result of this hard time.

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Yosemite Interlude

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Holding Half Dome from Sentinel Dome

One of my very favorite places in the world ever since we first met, Yosemite has spoken volumes to me.  As I complete another special visit today I want to write about how nature/creation as influenced my spiritual journey and drawn me closer to the Holy One.

As a child I felt compelled to be outside whenever I could be and loved to climb trees, explore woods and travel somewhere on my bike. Sadly our family didn’t camp as I would loved that. But we did drive from California to Texas via the desert and once we went to the Grand Canyon.  I wanted to explore that much more than I was allowed to, being only 5.  And being caught outside in a thunderstorm once while visiting relatives in New Mexico was thrilling.  There was so much more to this great outside that my wee soul and spirit needed to discover.

The first time I came to Yosemite was an adolescent with a group from school in the spring.  I remember few details of the trip except that a few of us had some bikes and of course the Valley is a spectacular place to pedal around in, but the most beautiful surprise was that it started snowing!  I had never been where it was actually snowing before this.  It was a wondrous gift I never want to forget.  The beauty, freshness, purity wonder and awe of it all made me so thirsty for whatever was behind all this.

I’ve been countless times since and I have even climbed Half Dome four times throughout my life.  A few times, when I’ve only been here for a day with an overseas visitor or just passing through, I’ve felt sad to have to leave so soon.  But this last week has been very special.  A treasured friend who is a Park Ranger here invited me to stay for a week in her amazing cabin near a west gate.

I wanted to get back into hiking again and I haven’t been disappointed.  My hope was to be able to hike for at least a few miles again and that has been more than satisfied.

The first day I went up to Sentinel Dome near Glacier Point with my friend.  I knew we were going to hike near this, but I hadn’t expected to climb up a steep dome!  For almost a year I’ve been in treatment for a serious health condition and had lost confidence in my body’s ability to do such things.

So there we were and I was huffing and puffing and worrying about how I was going to climb back down again!  My friend is extremely fit and for her this was just a stroll in the Park in contrast to my apprehension.  Once we climbed up a bit though with a hand held out for support, it wasn’t so difficult after all. We walked around the large dome enjoying the stunning views as you can see from the photos and had a little rest before going down.

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Slowly I did it, with the help of that hand again if needed…but it wasn’t!  It was almost easy!  I thank God for His strength steadying my feet in my boots and making me able to keep good balance.  It was the kind of shot in the arm that you do want!  Sometimes I realize that God’s presence is coming to me through someone else. My confidence was restored and I enjoyed the rest of the paths and views especially when going downhill!

 

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Yes it really is a Bobcat!

We were also blessed with a sighting of a Bobcat, somewhat rare since they are shy evidently.  That whole hike was about 3.5 miles maybe.  Not that long, but restorative and beautiful.

The next day was cool and a bit rainy.  I had decided to go to Happy Isles, as it is still new to me, having often overlooked it in the past on the way to Vernal and Nevada Falls.  Happy Isles is water water everywhere.  Very refreshing.  I walked there from Curry Village via a ‘Fen’ are which is also watery and wild.  This walk was more of a casual meander than a big hike and I mainly wanted to enjoy looking at the water again.

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I probably only hiked about 2 miles.  As I got back to the car it rained quite a bit and was very cold so I was happy to keep it short.  After that I did enjoy visiting the old Ahwanee Hotel where they had wonderful fires to warm up by.

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The following day I had another spectacular hike, the longest in a over a year (6 miles). It started out with familiarity as I had hiked to Mirror Lake a year and a half ago and it wasn’t that far or that fun because it was on a paved path the whole way and it was raining lightly.  It was good exercise, but I don’t recall enjoying it much.

But this time was so different.  I found the Valley Loop trail running somewhat parallel to the paved bike path.  This path curves around huge boulders, isn’t completely paved, has the forest closer and goes up and down with a little challenge to it while not taxing lungs like the higher up walk did.  I found myself reveling in movement, in every tree, leaf, boulder, lichen and of course the views of Half Dome and the others from below.

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I got quite carried away taking photos and I felt so good hiking swiftly along.  I did bring my poles and they gave me a bit more confidence on the uneven places.  When I started out, once again I had some apprehension about being strong enough for a longer distance and finding the way, but once I got to the bridges all doubts disappeared.

As I traversed I felt God’s joyful presence all around me inside and out.  I delighted in His Creation and I think that He was also delighting in me!   That walk was one of the most exhilarating of my life.

This trail was a lovely circular one which by passes the usual part of Mirror Lake and goes over a couple bridges over Tenaya Creek around and below Half Dome.  The most spectacular part of the trail is just below Half Dome where the granite was so white, sparkling in the sun, that it was almost blinding. I stopped for a wee rest there and marveled at the view.

The rest of the hike was equally as delightful and I still exhilarate in the feeling of my boots on that trail. I decided then that I will be hiking again and again from now on as long as my boots and poles will take me.

I ended that walk back at the Ahwanee again where I had parked.  Because of taking a bit of the long way around I came to it at the back which is actually the architect’s meant to be front entrance. There’s no place like home away from home!

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So I am grateful for another exceptional visit to Yosemite where I feel at home in God’s creation more than anywhere else on Earth.

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The Magic of Music

Another way in which God sustained and met me was through the folk rock music of my adolescence, with help from: Peter, Paul & Mary, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Neil Young, Crosby-Stills-Nash & Young, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, John Denver, Carole King, Joan Baez, The Beatles, The Loving spoonful and The Byrds. Just to name a few.

Even as a five year old I was moved by the famous song, Puff the Magic Dragon.  I distinctly remember crying in the car as we listened to it on the radio.  This music really grabbed me though when I got into those tricky years.The harshness of becoming an adolescent in a broken home in the late 60s and early 70s was softened by much of the great folk rock music which came out in those days.  My childhood was cut short by divorce and other traumatic events.   Abandonment and consequential loneliness was lightened by the hope of some Bridge Over Troubled Water out there somewhere.  Smooth voiced James Taylor assured me that I had a Friend.  I did. (And wasn’t James.) I just didn’t know who He was for a few more years.  I’m thankful for these sensitive musicians who somehow saw right into my soul.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7RPCFfudmU

Many of these songs tugged on that yearning mentioned in previous blogs, for something deep and satisfying.  Many songs in minor keys sang into my adolescent angst and led me to actually enjoy being melancholy.  But when I was genuinely troubled and had no one to turn to they brought me hope.

I was blessed by Moonshadow and Morning Has Broken.  (Match with the above list of musicians for a memory test! 😉 They sang right into my troubled soul.  Our House was a song that made me long for coherent, loving family. I fantasized that the friends I’d met in a hippy house I hung out in at age 15 would be my new family.

So many of these artists songs haunted and helped me that I can still remember most of the lyrics today.  Not only Bridge Over Troubled Water, but also The Sound of Silence, The Boxer, Homeward Bound, El Condor Pasa, Scarborough Fair, I Am a Rock and, on a lighter note: The 59th Street Song.  Those two artists were a couple of my favorites as you can see.

I’m enjoying listening to some of these classics as I reflect on their influence.  There was a bittersweetness to so many of them.  They sang meaning to my soul that I couldn’t quite grasp.  A strong example of this was Both Sides Now which is so lovely and so sad at the same time.  Could there ever really be everlasting true love?  I think Judy Collins was looking for it too. I noticed recently that she sang a beautiful version of Amazing Grace.  These songs sang straight to the soul.   There were famous Biblical songs too, like Turn, Turn, Turn (Pete Seeger and Ecclesiastes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4

They challenged me to reach inside for more; to long for unconditional love.  They gave me hope, but then they took it away.  (Both Sides Now)  The artists didn’t pretend to know the answers, they seemed to be asking questions too. Somehow, as much as I loved singing along with them, the Beatles didn’t really speak to my spirit.  They only told me to Let it Be.  They told me that I’d Get By with a Little Help from My Friends.  But my friends couldn’t really help because they were just as lost as I was.

The meaning, harmony, rhythm and beauty of this music assured me that there must be real purpose in life.  They kept me going through difficult days.  There was Sunshine on my Shoulders and Country Roads I needed to travel on.  I longed to experience my own Rocky Mountain High where beauty would surround me with purity and healthy life.  I longed for Summer in the City too, if a bit raucous. Even Lemon Tree seemed to have some meaning for me and I definitely wanted to leave to somewhere on a Jet Plane.

Can you relate to any on these songs?  How did they affect you?  Did you have some favorites?  Please share your thoughts if you’d like to.

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The Wonderful World of Fairy Tales

Another special experience I had frequently in those sometimes slightly magical years of childhood is one which, I do not doubt, millions of other American children shared with me in a similar way.  I refer to it in the singular because it was a regular program.  And the regularity of it along with the cozy, familiar frequency, is part of what made it special. That was, The Wonderful World of Disney.

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For me the most special time of the week was Sunday evening after coming home from the beach, having a bath, getting into the PJs and then watching The Wonderful World of Disney.  (Eventually The Wonderful World of Color) There was, and still is, something about fantasy and magic that touches on the spiritual.  The same as with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, fantasy touches that place in us that longs for something we can’t see.  Something deeply good that is out of this world.

Disney took the fairy tale genre into color with cartoons and amazing animations world famous for more than half a century now.  Those early movies transported me over the rainbow at least for a little while, and I do believe that God used them to touch on my longing.

Famous for his (posthumous) influence on C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald was a master story teller contemporary with Lewis Carrol and Dickens.  His best works were his original fairy tales.  He wrote for both children and adults.  Both he and Lewis believed that there is often more truth in fairy tales and fantasy than what we see with our uninspired visions of ‘reality’.

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For more about MacDonald:

https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/george-macdonald-master-of-fantasy-religious-thought

 

Investigating the Disney youtubes from that time I found that the song, When You Wish Upon a Star was a theme song that has stayed with me.  I didn’t even know that I knew the lyrics!  And I realized that as a child wishing was like a form of prayer for me.  I wished for certain things very hard and I can recall looking out at the stars as I did so!  I believe now that God heard those wish-prayers.  God himself is the answer.

Did you grow up watching Disney or reading fairy tales?  Did they have a spiritual impact on you?  Have you ever read MacDonald or much C.S Lewis?  What about Tolkien or other fantasy writers?

 

 

 

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Experiences of a Sense of God’s Presence in my Early Life (Continued)

This is a continuation of my ‘series’ if you will, on answering the question: In what ways have I been aware of the ‘movement (or Presence) of God’ in my life? This post follows on from a previous one about my childhood.  I’m keeping this one short although there is more to come.

I feel a bit silly writing this one, but I’m sure people have had stranger experiences.  Perhaps, as you read this, a memory of something happening to you as a child, or even recently, which you can’t quite explain or remember well will come to you.  Is there something which left an impression on you of ‘other-worldly-ness’?

As you read, you might like to consider: have you felt something of God growing up even if you had no ‘religion’ or maybe even despite it?  I’d love to hear your ruminations and recollections!

The Mysterious Young Stranger

Could he have been an angel?  There was an ‘older boy’, perhaps as old as 12, who used to walk me through the narrow path which led from the school yard to the street near mine.  I say ‘used to’ like it happened many times.  The truth is I don’t remember clearly.  It may only have been once though I seems to me to have been a ‘season of visits’.  Or it may have been a season of vivid dreams for that matter!

He didn’t walk me all the way to my house from school, and it wasn’t my older brother even though he would have been at the same school then.  I imagine that he had fair hair and wore the typical clothes and shoes of a 1963-ish Northern Californian boy.  That is, a horizontally stripped blue and white t-shirt tucked into jeans rolled up over high top tennis shoes.  With some clarity I do remember sitting on the curb with him and just chatting.  I have no idea what we chatted about – perhaps about God.  The main thing I recall is that I felt quite safe and protected with him.  I felt better about myself because of him. I do wish I could remember more. I was telling a wise friend about this strange memory once and she suggested that perhaps he was an angel!  It is wonderful to think that God may have manifested nearness to me in this way.

Whatever else he was, he was a friend.  A friend who shared goodness and a touch of God’s nearness with me.

“What draws friends together does not conform to the laws of nature.” – Rumi

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Perigrinatia’s Reflections on Wilderness Wanderings

So, I feel inclined, as I blog again, to reflect on my ‘spiritual journey’.

Two questions have inspired me to start writing once more.  The first is: ‘What have I brought back from my various ‘adventures’ in foreign lands?’   Not meaning my material souvenirs, but rather what I have gained from rubbing elbows with the different people I have met; what has been worked into me by adjusting to such new-to-me cultures and what about the infrastructure often less convenient than here?  How did I manage culture shock? And most importantly, and how did I grow spiritually through my travels?  I hope that anecdotal reflections on my material journeys will shed light on these questions within the over-riding one.

However, this journey began well before I ever ventured overseas.  I began ‘wandering’ as a child.  It seems to have been in my DNA. And much of my time could metaphorically be considered ‘in the wilderness’ in that I often felt lost.

Which leads to my second guiding question, ‘In what ways have I been aware of the movement God within my soul throughout my life?’  If you believe, as I do, that God is omnipresent, then God would have been there every moment of my life long before I was aware of anything.  But awareness of God, or Spirit if you will, is often subjective and hard to pin down.  Nevertheless, I’d like to begin at the beginning for now.  Although I might choose to jump around in my narration later!

I grew up with very little ‘religion’.  My first experience of church was when I visited a friend’s house, at the tender age of 5, to spend the night.  Permission to do this was only given if I agreed to go to church with her family.  So I went along and I remember very little of this encounter which now makes any sense.  The exception being that I do recall my friend’s mother inviting me to “accept Jesus” into my heart by praying a simple prayer.  I cannot recall what I thought of this idea then, but I was quite malleable and did as I was asked.  I don’t have many clear childhood recollections, but I remember this episode with some clarity. I believe that this was my first conscious encounter with God moving in my spirit.  I believe I was given the impression at that time that this person, Jesus – whoever he was, cared about me.

The youngest of five children with an overwhelmed mother, I was often left to my own devices.  I would wander the neighborhood and visit elderly ladies who must have spoiled me with cookies.  (Parents weren’t so concerned about keeping track of their kids in those days!)  I would play alone in the school yard or our backyard climbing the plum tree.  I loved to swim and must have been given swimming lessons quite young (or else my parents had little fear of the possibility of drowning) because I had lots of time alone in our small, circular doughboy pool.  I remember many peaceful moments of light sparkling on the water and peeking through the grape arbor and I think God seemed very near then.

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Music is very powerful and many songs from those great early Disney movies along with others such as The Wizard of Oz made a deep impression on me.  On one occasion alone in the late afternoon in the school yard while swinging high on one of those tall chainlike swings they had then, I sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow and wished that I could go there.  That was my idea of Heaven.

[As an aside, I’ve since learned that this song has musical power because musically speaking Dorthy is “longing for high C”.]

http://www.upworthy.com/theres-a-reason-so-many-people-love-somewhere-over-the-rainbow-a-songwriting-expert-reveals-it

This song made me yearn for another world, the something deeper, something magical that children, and adults want if we’re honest.  As C.S. Lewis put it, “I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

There were other instances in my childhood when Heaven drew me and I felt the presence of God hovering near.  Perhaps I’ll reflect more on them here soon.

Thanks for reading!  I hope that you check out the link above if you’re interested in music and find out how that song worked.

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Back in the Saddle Again

 

Dear Faithful Friends and Gentle Readers,

As you are reading this you may be wondering why I haven’t blogged for such a long time.  Or you may be well aware of the reason for my absence from my own site.  You may have even helped me out, prayed for me or been in regular contact supporting me as I have been recovering from the rug being pulled out from under me last October.  If so, THANK YOU!  You may know as well that although I still have the medical diagnosis of ‘Stage 4 cancer’ (no cap on that word on purpose!), I am feeling (albeit hair-lessly) almost normal again.  I am pain-free, strength and energy are returning and I’m endeavoring to use my time more purposely now than I was able to for many months while going through chemo.  I’d like to say that I’m 100% “healed”, but the scans don’t show that yet.  I’ve had faithful prayer and I’m hopeful that I can live out many more years to come!

So I’m looking forward to getting back into the blog saddle again.  My blog posts that I intend to write in the future may be anecdotal reflections on my peregrinations (or wanderings if you prefer, but isn’t that a great word?) or more spiritual in nature since I’m on a more spiritual journey these days.

You’re so very welcome to join me on this journey and I heartily invite you to comment, question and help me to get going again please!  You see, I’m not working yet, or maybe won’t again.  I’m not sure.  But I’d love to write more and more and maybe one day when I grow up I’ll be a ‘real writer’ and make some money!  (Actually, I did get paid for writing once.)  I’ve honestly been planning to write again for months, but I’ve felt ‘stuck’.  So I think the secret is to write only a little at a time and not let myself get overwhelmed.  Enough for today then!  See you soon I hope.  oxoxo

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