Beach (written September, 2007, when the ocean was eternal)

“Why do people all over the world flock to the sandy shore? I think it is because the instant they touch the sand, the moment they hear the surf, the evil spirits flee and they feel at home in the world.” (Richard Bode, Beachcombing at Miramar)

The beach calls to the edges of our temporality. It makes blurry those events we call our birth and death. The beach confuses us, and pleasantly so, about what we believe, how we came to believe it, and how those beliefs are determining the ways we live.

This morning’s kelp, after all, has been rolling onto this shore for millennia before there was any human here to perceive it. The gulls have been busy at their finding and eating of sand fleas long, long before there were names for either of them. And the very ground, now between our toes, is a billion year old artifact of volcanic eruptions and the always-rewritten record of teeming shell life beyond our sight.

“Who am I?” becomes one of the questions drawn from us by the beach’s eternal dialogue.

“Who cares?” is one of the liberating answers, if we are listening.

And that answer is not to negate any of us who are clinging to our individualities for definition and meaning. It is, rather, an answer that allows us to begin to transcend ourselves- to see and start to understand our lives in the context of eternity, rather than the prison of time. All that we are seeing at the beach is part of something that came before. It is all still there. The ocean waves of a thousand years ago are no longer seen, but their substance laps at our feet. The shells of 200 million year old ammonites and other crustaceans have been ground into a luxurious, hundred foot pile carpet for us to walk upon, and for the sand fleas to hide within. The wind, born of the ocean and the moon, again and again and again, is the same wind which lifted pterodactyls yesterday, and gulls and pelicans and terns this day.

Watch the piles of kelp over several days, and you’ll see the thin black history of the Earth’s Carboniferous Period leaking into the sand strata beneath them.

It is possible, sitting here at the edge of Life’s beginnings, to- for moments- forget even our names. It is possible, breathing here the salt air of Creation, to feel absolute freedom from our selves.

shore

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For the Beauty of the Earth..

These are pictures of my “Lake Office.” That “office” consists of two concrete picnic tables erected sometime in the 70’s beside a local lake. It is a place I have spent much much time visiting with others, reading, and writing Sunday messages.

But I hadn’t been there in a couple of weeks and when I went there today, I found the place had been trashed. It had become a littered monument to Sonic Drive-In, Subway, Budweiser, and Marlboro Lights in the box. Mr. Trojan had also left a few calling cards.

So I picked up. Normally I do that each time I’m there, and day by day it’s not a difficult task. But today I filled a small dumpster. There are about 118,000 cigarette butts remaining to be raked up but that’s for tomorrow.

Before I began:

lakedirtyb lakedirtya

Litter is the ugliest but- in reality- least harmful of the many things we humans have thought to do with the surface of the planet. Deforesting it, paving over it, pouring on it everything from chemical manufacturing wastes to Arkansas chicken poop, burying under it whatever can be buried including nuclear waste and formaldehyde- filled bodies enclosed in oaken coffins which are themselves enclosed in sealed concrete vaults, piling on it newspapers, Styrofoam, and other plastic which will still be recognizable for the convenient crap it once was for the next 30,000 to one million years, and digging into it constantly so I can drive my car a quarter mile to the grocery store or burn fossilized carbons to keep my TV on- those are planetary superficialities with deep, deep ramifications. Litter of the Sonic and Subway kind is just aesthetically injurious.

But it makes me crazy.

Richard Bode, in Beachcombing at Miramar, writes this: “I am infuriated by these empty cans, disillusioned by the abuse, the flagrant insensitivity to the beauty of the land. And yet, despite the evidence all about me, I can’t let go of my conviction that the quest for beauty is as inherent in the individuals who litter..as it is in me, as it is in every woman, every man.

“Why do they do it? Why do they carry their beer cans to this lovely isolated beach when they could just as easily sit on a city curb or beside a garbage dump? I believe it is because they have no choice. They are drawn to the beauty of this place; this is where they have to be.

“But when their party is over, it’s as if some imp of the perverse takes over- as if they have to prove to others..that they are immune to the force of nature that lured them here. To behave otherwise would be a tacit admission that they feel a connection to the land, an attachment to the sea and sand, a bond with what they perceive as sacred in the world.”

I think (I have NO data to back this thought up, by the way), but I think that men are the primary perps of most litter. It is feminine to like pretty things, yes? It shows sensitivity to want things to look nice, correct? Thus (follow me here), intentional mess-making becomes one more way for a man to assert his hyper- heterosexuality (he hopes!).

To extend what may be proving to be an impossibly complex metaphor, isn’t littering akin to a dog claiming territory by peeing on every vertical object he passes? Isn’t that grand sweep of Sonic litter from the picnic table onto the floor of my office a goofy form of arm wrestling at the bar, wherein the guy with the biggest biceps has first dibs on the new waitress?

OK, I’ll stop. Call me gay, but here’s what the place looked like about an hour after I arrived:

lakecleanb lakecleana

Build a Shelter of Light and Air..

I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:

shelter light and air

It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.

Build a shelter of light and air

Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.

The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.

I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.

The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.

And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.

I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.

I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.

That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.

I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.

We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.

I watched the moon last night and it was so beautiful I had to stop..

From the movie, “Grand Canyon,” this tiny snatch of dialog:

Dee: “Jane, do you ever feel like you are just this far from being completely hysterical twenty four hours a day?”

Jane: “Half the people I know feel that way. The lucky ones feel that way. The rest of the people ARE hysterical twenty four hours a day.”

~~

There is this place, by Jacksboro Lake on a southwest bluff, where I have spent days (weeks?) over the past four years, losing myself and then having to go find myself again.

Last night, just after dark, I took my dogs there so that they would anchor me to reality in the way I knew I needed to be anchored. The moon was full; “full” as in “ready to give birth.” Maybe, I thought, to me. (Again)

I sat on the end of the most ergonomically awful concrete picnic table ever designed. I can’t sit still anyway, even in the most comfortable of places, but that place at the table was the perfect view of the moon itself and the slowly pulsing green-then-white guidelight of a nearby airport’s single runway. So I sat, and stared. At the moon, and into a mirror.

I am at a time of year, professionally, when a series of planning, administrative, and evaluation meetings are looming. I have said “yes” to a few too many other responsibilities in the community as well, and they feel oppressing- despite their value and necessity. On top of that, always on top of that- through all that, under and around all that- my Mom is dying slowly of Alzheimer’s, and the last few days have brought bad news and more bad news about her slow descent into a brain functionless body.

And my laptop is not working, so I am trapped inside walls, beneath a ceiling, and when I look up from this keyboard I see wires in the wall and not the sky or the neighbor’s soaring pine trees. And I need that sky, and those trees, as frequent reminders that I am not what I am feeling: a mere set of wires myself, in the wall of others.

We all have a God-enabled, generations-old template of Beauty in our souls. We recognize Beauty from a distance and are drawn to it. The particulars of that Beauty for each of us differs; there are those parts of it we all share, and there are those parts of Beauty which have been particularly with each of us, I think, from our conception.

We can stand in a crowd and collectively be in awe of a particular sunsrise or moonscape. Some will weep, others will try, try, try, to share with others how that Beauty within has been touched. Some will even leave litter or denigrating comments behind them after such an experience, but it is only because they are afraid of how they have been touched by the Beauty they try to culturally suppress. Even in their brash and ugly actions, they are confirming Beauty’s affectiveness.

Or, by ourselves, or with a small (always small) group of others, we might discover Beauty that is so particular, so meaningful only to us, that we will wonder why others are walking away in seeming boredom, possible confusion, or what we might mistakenly call their blindness. van Gogh saw such Beauty in the potato-eater’s rough lodgings. Picasso saw it the screaming of a dying horse. O’Keefe saw it deep within the folds- there!- of desert flowers.

I see such particular Beauty- a field of wildflowers, for instance- that I cannot help but wade into, touch as many colors as I can, watch insects symbiotically propogating, write snatches of poetry about in my mind, thank God for, get lost in to the point where my name and whatever else I hang onto that I ‘think’ is important become meaningless, and wonder why others won’t or can’t follow, or why others must talk about football scores or fashion, or.. why something must be wrong with me to react so crazily, so often, to these kinds of visions.

And then, I react in a truly crazy, not mistakenly crazy way: I want that field of wildflowers. I want to build a wall around it or put up No Trespassing signs. If others can’t/won’t appreciate it, then I’ll just go there by myself. Those kinds of ridiculous thoughts, I know, do not not come from the God-Image in me or anything else that is real, but from the culture in which I have also been immersed since conception. I want what I cannot have, allow myself to get frustrated because it is not mine, and then remember- back in the day- how I could pour brown liquids on the whole damn egoistic-societal-cultural mess in my mind and make it go away. For awhile. For a very short while.

No, I am not even close to going down that wet dead-end path again. But I have been warring with myself about where, why, and who I am, and I am trying to find a way to surrender. I am in a profession, and have made numerous other bad and good lifestyle decisions, that have caused me not to have deep roots in this place I live, or anywhere else. I will never have the experiences of rootedness that others around me have, and I would like to. I am subject to being told to move elsewhere in my job as well. I don’t think I can do that again. I need more permanence, more anchors; I don’t want to float away, from myself or anyone else.

And I don’t want to be watching my Mom die, day by day, while always hoping that tomorrow will be The Day.

I want to flee to the wildflower field. I want to be drunk on the colors there, and write about them on my laptop there, and turn to others and say “Look!” and know they will be excited as I am to be there, too.

I want I want I want what I cannot have in the way I want it, when I want it, and how I want it. I am a pistol-whipped, selfish Westerner and salt is being rubbed into my wounds by Beauty. But, oddly enough, I would have it no other way. And that is the realization I have come to and that is the understanding which keeps me sane, functioning and getting better.

My wants are unrealistic, artificially-inspired to some extent by my status as an American consumer, and even fanciful. Beauty is real. But Beauty is only to be perceived- owned!- on its own terms. Beauty is, has been, and will always be. I am the impermanent one in this relationship. How silly it is of me to try to squash it to the point where I can have it my pocket, or exclude others from sharing it. So I am embracing and holding onto that part of the wildflower field, or the moon, or my dog’s exuberance, which is mine to hold onto, and letting the rest thrive- for others to react to as they will, and not as I think they should.

I am, like Jane (far above), always becoming more and more comfortable in feeling hysterical. You’d think I’d have gotten used to the particular music to which my mind and spirit dance by now, but sometimes the beat is just too fast for me to keep up. Make of it what you will, but that’s where I’ve been, and I’m feeling pretty darn good, most of the time, for having been there. And for being here. Now.

~~

 

Also from “The Grand Canyon”:
Mack: Of course, it would also be nice not to feel bad most of the time.

Dee: Yeah, but that’s how you get yourself in trouble. By thinking how nice it’d be to be happy more.

 

Beachcombing at Miramar..

             It’s important. From Richard Bode’s Beachcombing at Miramar:

“I have a choice, the same choice that faces every man. I can live a frivolous life, trying to impress others with the house I live in, the clothes I wear, the car I drive. I can strive to be a success in the way of the world, seeking the admiration of others, reveling in their jealousy. I can seek domination over my family and fellow workers in a vain attempt to hide my own deficiencies. I can seek fame, which is the most elusive pursuit of all, for it has no substance and soon vanishes in the air.

“I can indulge in endless prattle about my friends and neighbors, dissipating my life’s energy a little at a time. I can wallow in self-pity, refusing to accept responsibility for my own circumstances. I can manipulate others into taking care of me, which is the way of all petty tyrants. I can complain about boredom, as if it were up to those around me to inject excitement into my day.

“These are the patterns of the living dead, people who have forsaken life, who are willing to squander their most precious gift, because they refuse to face up to the reality of death. If they wanted to live, truly wanted to live, they would rise up in a resurrection of their own making and commit themselves to the life they have.”