Tuesday, June 29, 2010

sunlight and candles

The other day I was walking past my dining room window in the early evening waiting for some guests to arrive for dinner and some pottery. From the side rear herb garden I could see into the dining room and could see the candle sticks on the dining room table. Dinner: moo shoo pork and fried dumplings was prepped and ready for the arrival and the bananas had been caramelized for the ice cream we had for desert with coffee and chocolate. I like this meal because it is rich and diverse and yet very inexpensive - mostly cabbage - and pot stickers come from the Saigon Market for $5 per bag of a lot, which serves about a million people.
As I walked by the window and saw the dining room - pregnant with expectation for the laughter, good food and cheap wine which would all flow like rivers into an ocean of joy and friendship - I was aware of how important friends are and how valuable is time with them in this speedy, disconnected, over-caffeinated, under silenced society in which we live.
We set a date. We plan a fun event. We shop for food. We break out recipes. We drink wine and argue about the best way to brown the meat and when to place the chili peppers in. We laugh and cry about our successes and failures of the week.
Words like commune and communicate, community, commonality and common all come from a 13th century word "comun" which means to "talk intimately." It occurs to me as I look into the dining room in anticipation of the friends arriving (Kai is busy pooing, but he will bark when he hears the cars drive up!) that we will be together in commune. We are not a commune - not in the 60's hippie sort of sense - and yet a bit...a little. We will leave our work behind and for six or eight hours we will cook and taste and drink and laugh and share our lives together and learn from each other's wisdom. Over some good food, we will talk intimately.
I wonder if what people want from religion is nothing more than to be connected - to find a commune or sorts - some communion. Because when I am with my friends over a long dinner, it feels an awful lot like church.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


In some monastic, eastern traditions, one pauses as one goes through a doorway. It is considered a liminal place- a place between places. A doorway can lead us from sunlight into darkness or from exposure into safety. This doorway is from the garden into the chicken house. In the past, a family who lived at Blackwater Bluff for forty years and raised nine children had a cow in here. One day I hope to have a gas kiln here in my retirement, but who knows. Any one of us could be hit by a truck tomorrow.

The doorway is a liminal place and I think we have liminal places in life too. They are the in between places - not where I once was - not where I will soon be. In our interior life - our development into that person who is the hope of God - we have liminal places there too. In our "Nefesh" as the Hebrews would say - our everythingness, we have these liminal places in which pain and suffering, regret and sorrow, grief and loss are like spiritual chemotherapy - life-giving if they do not kill us. And on the other side of the breathless fog in which one hangs perilously on the edge between hope and despair, we pass through the doorway to the other side and, feeling our souls with the hands of our prayers, begin to realize - somewhat amazed - that we have survived. And not only that we have survived, but that we are better - transfigured - more of the hope God has for us and less of the reptilian seeking immediate pleasure, anesthesia, power or control.

It is these times in which we have awakened to a new self-realization that suffering deepens us if we let it. This may be what scripture means when we give up childish things. We give up our grabbing and our fear-based acting out in favor of a humility which can come only from deep and long suffering, isolation and post-catastrophic reflection.

When I go through the door in this photo, I am in a dark place - out of the sunlight and surrounded by ten chickens - most of whom are happy to see me and think I am their mother. I hold them and stroke their backs and they seem to purr. They used to run from me but now they simply crouch in preparation for being lifted up into my arms for a petting and a bit of cooing. For me, the chicken house is a dark place; but for them, it is a safe place. That is what my faith does for me - it turns the darkest places in my life into some of the safest places in which I can look inward and learn and learn and learn to be a better person - a better human - a better Christian - a better friend to my friends and even a better friend to me.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


These days my dog "Kai" has a ministry of presence to me. In the morning, when I wake up, Kai is staring at me. He sits on the bed next to me - towering over me- staring down at me - waiting for me to wake up. He never wakes me. he never touches me with a paw or licks my face or paces on the bed. He just sits there staring at me.

As soon as I open my eyes however, all bets are off. The open eyes is his invitation to get the tail moving and to lick my forehead. He then lays down and places his face on my neck while my body wakes up and my mind opens to the reality of a new day. He sits vigil, his puppy-breath sweet and warm, hits my jaw and one paw is on my chest. It looks like he is pinning me down but in fact he is just very, very present - like he has just saved me from dorwning. And sometimes he has. His body says "I am here." His eyes say "I see you and I love you." (or perhaps "I see you, love you and want food." ...not sure)

The presence of a dog is so similar to the presence of God and too much has been written on the subject for me to much weigh in except to say that the presence of my dog and my other hairless bipeded friends inclines me to feel that all is well or will be.

As I have said before in articles and sermons, God has placed Kai in my life as a plant. Kai is one of God's many beings assigned to me to help me to live alone in the woods as I do. My work is my joy and I do it well and love to do it. But when I get home, to an empty house, there can be many long hours of solitude which on some days is soothing and other days a painful echo-chamber for my less optimistic thoughts. But I pray God to deliver me from my darkest thoughts and then, invariably, Kai sneaks up on me with tail wagging and big pink tongue flopping and huge brown eyes staring and massive black paw offering me a hand out of my place and into his. Kai's place is a place of the present moment - a joyful place of a stick and a river and the wonderful possibility that the combination means a swim today during our four-mile walk.

Every day we live with our successes and we live with our failures and I have many of both. I am a very able man and at the same time I make terrible mistakes daily - hourly. But all we can do is to live the best life we can and let a dog or a friend or the Holy Spirit or some combination of the three save us from both our self-satisfaction and our self-flagellation. A dog seems to say "You are taking yourself way too seriously...here...throw this stick and lighten up!"

That panting face with those big, brown, searching eyes and that flopping tongue melt me. And in melted states we can move again.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Speaking with a friend yesterday, we were discussing simplicity in a round about way. We were discussing how easy it is to let our insecurities get the better of us, causing us to over-function. I do that a lot and it does not serve me well.

We all, from time to time, find ourselves asking - even if sub-consciously - questions which betray this basic insecurity. "Am I OK?" "Do the people around me care for me?" "Do I have enough?" "Have I done enough?"

These haunting questions tend to make me over-perform which is both exhausting for me and uncomfortable for those around me. Doing enough and having enough seems to be an art of life I am still learning in Jesus' little school. When friends come over does dinner need to be impressive? Does it need to have multiple courses with extravagant ingredients? And if it does, is that because that is the best meal I can provide or is it simpler than that? Is it just that I do not feel that the "Charles" I am presenting to my friends is enough? Am I trying to make me "enough" by feeling the need to impress?

In my prayers and in my meditation time it seems Jesus is just trying to get one thing across to me in various forms" "I love you and I like you and you are enough just as you are - warts and all."

I think we know God loves us - it is basically His job description. God HAS to love us. It's sort of a celestial rule. And let's face it ...we are all still a little concerned about that big flood in genesis and would rather not be wiped out again - myth or no myth. So yeah - it's great that God loves us.

But that God LIKES us - that is revolutionary. That changes the game entirely. It even makes me want to please him by not doing things that annoy him - not because he will fry me in some levitical volcanic blast of frustration - but because we enjoy delighting each other. So perhaps a simple sliced tomato is every bit as good on a summer's evening as pan roasted fiddle heads in a brown butter with pine nuts and truffle oil (yum!). The filled heads are great - but the tomatos are cheap and plenmtiful and - enough.