Category Archives: Nature/Creation

What matters most

I didn’t know spring until I came here
Here we’re pushing up the lid on the cool hemisphere
Everything melts I know even your tears
Here in this hemisphere

What matters the most is what you do for free
Me believing in you and you in me
You try to find work and you do your best
You get what you get and you deserve the rest

– “When The Ice Goes Out” by John Gorka

trinity churchI went to visit my girl this past weekend in a region of New York known as the North Country, up near the Ontario border. She’s been staying up there for the past three weeks, visiting old friends and family. I went to get a taste of the place and people she so often talks about and found that she didn’t exaggerate when it came her descriptions of the land and the souls who live on it.

It started snowing the night after I arrived and accumulated several inches by the time it was time to leave the next day. I had never seen so much snow outside of the Rocky Mountains and it was beautiful as it blanketed the Grasse River, frozen in parts, still running in others and visible from the kitchen window. I kept saying how beautiful this place was and everybody kept replying, “No, you really need to see it in spring or summer when it’s so green.” But I’ve seen incredible, lush green, this summer in Seattle and the Puget Sound, everything growing and constantly saturated with a sheen of fresh rain.

But all that white frosting a rural area like this was something I wasn’t used to and it WAS beautiful. Still, I get the point the locals were trying to make. The green of springtime, at the end of so much winter white, must really be breathtaking.

As we were driving around town on that last day to meet a friend with a more winter-ready car to drop me off at the airport, I tried to imagine what spring might look like. I remembered a line from a song by one of my favorite songwriters, “I didn’t know spring until I came here.”

In Texas, everything is flipped. The summers seem never-ending and often brutal. Fall is what I look forward to here, and it comes late, but when it finally arrives with that first crisp turn in the air temperature and a hint of woodsmoke in the air, it’s a joyful occasion for me. Spring seems to last about a day in comparison. There’s the first break in what we consider winter, then bluebonnets, maybe a tornado or two, then the mercury rises and rises and rises.

I don’t have an appreciation of spring, not like these winter folk do. But I kept reciting those lyrics aloud and came to the next line. Maybe one of my favorites.

“What matters most is what you do for free.”

This fall (and really even a bit longer than that) has been a time of learning for me. Learning about what really matters. Learning to silence the premeditated resentments of expectation, edit out the constantly-comparing language of pride, and to reframe life’s goals, joys, pleasures and treasures in terms of what truly lasts.

I’ve always liked Gorka’s lines but there’s a double edge to them. On one hand, the things that are most important are things for which we don’t receive a check – being good husbands/wives, raising a family, glorifying the Creator with all the blessings He’s given us. Or even some of the more trivial things, talents, hobbies, pursuits we do simply for the enjoyment of them – music, cooking, writing, art.

On the other hand, there’s the implication that we assign value to the ways we spend that “free” time. Look at how we spend our moments away from our day jobs or routine responsibilities – what does it say about what matters most, deep in our hearts? The lyric used to make me smile. Now it convicts me. I think good music can do both.

What matters most to me is changing, slowly but surely (it’s just the way I seem to operate). Because I’ve been coming out of a winter of sorts, and it seems that I’m starting to truly know spring for the first time myself.

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Luna-see

Yes, I did stay up past 2 a.m. to witness my first lunar eclipse. No, I did not take this photo. This image, courtesy of nasaimages.org, was taken on Nov. 8, 2003, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

But add a little haze and this rusty-red orb is very similar to what my roommate and I watched for more than 90 minutes tonight from the parking lot of my apartment complex.

We also saw two shooting stars and hung out and talked while Ray LaMontagne‘s “All The Wild Horses” played in a loop on my iPhone. A guy named Jason from a nearby building ambled over to watch with us and chat for a while. It was his first eclipse as well.

According to NASA’s head moon nerds, the Moon takes on this dark-reddish color due to it being slightly lit by sunlight passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The blue component of the light is scattered, leaving the faint reddish light to illuminate the Moon. I’ll take their word for it.

The eclipse is even more notable for occurring on the day of the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. These two events haven’t coincided since  the year 1638.

Just to add a bit of context, here are some other things that were happening in 1638:

  • Europe was 20 years into the 30 Years War, one of the most destructive conflicts in the continent’s history.
  • Swedish ships arrived in America to establish the first settlement in Delaware.
  • Portuguese explorer Pedro Teixeira made the first ascent of the Amazon River.
  • The first planned city in America, New Haven, Conn., was founded.
  • King Louis XIV, the longest reigning European monarch ever documented, was born on Sept. 5.
  • John Harvard, colonial pastor who left half his estate to endow the college that would become Harvard University, died on Sept. 14.

As soon as I post this I’ll be heading out for one last look before bed, with a couple of good Moon songs in my head.

A little of the Louisiana folksy whimsy of Victoria Williams’ “Why Look At The Moon.”

Willows were swaying, the water was rippling
The froggies were singing along with the lapping at the bank
We have the moon to thank for this lovely scene
We might never have seen, if it hadn’t have been for the moon

Or the more sophisticated tones of Dar Williams’ “Calling the Moon.”

The moon wanted more of my night
I turned off the engine and the headlights
The trees appeared as they’d never been gone
I promised the fields I’d return from now on

And the moon kept on rising
I had no more to say
I put my roadmaps away
And surrendered the day

And I know you’ll be calling me soon
And if I don’t answer, I’m calling the moon
Calling the moon, I was calling her then
I’m wondering, will she take me again
Oh, I’m calling the moon

But mainly it’s just a simple line from an all-time great tune off an all-time great album by the all-time great singer, Van Morrison.

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance…

And it most certainly has been.

Postscript: When I went back outside for a final look, the clouds had moved in and the moon was totally obscured, save for a faint glow. I can’t complain, though. I know many people around the country were unable to see anything, and I’m thankful for my experience.

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When the idea of authority is shattered…

I enjoy reading, though I don’t read novels nearly as often as I should. I really enjoy a well-turned word and phrase, but even more, I love the authors who can take a really difficult, abstract subject and make it easy to understand. I’m much better with the short and simple. It’s the same for photography. I love complex compositions, but I don’t seem to have an eye for them myself.

A few nights ago, I started the first chapter of All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I’d never read this World War I novel written from the perspective of a group of German soldiers. Other people I’ve spoken to have vague recollections of this book being assigned in the 9th or 10th grade. It would have been completely wasted on me at that age.

I chose to start it a little late in the evening… and fell asleep. I picked it up again the other day and was really impacted by the following passage.

I think Remarque is doing what Roy Peter Clark calls “climbing the ladder of abstraction,” but I could be wrong. The context: the soldiers have just mentioned that someone in their group received mail from their old schoolmaster, Kantorek. He was the one who really pushed them to “do their duty” and enlist to serve in the war. Even Behm, the one student to resist, eventually conceded to Kantorek’s appeal to his masculinity and bravery.

Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for dead. We couldn’t bring him with us, because we had to come back helter-skelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man’s Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and fetch him.

Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best– in a way that cost them nothing.

And that is why they let us down so badly.

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress– to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards– they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

On one hand, this makes me think of my role as a teacher. It makes me give more consideration to the words I say to my students, the charges I give them. They are listening even when I think they aren’t. I’m always surprised at the things I’ve said that resonate with them years later.

On the other hand, it makes me think of the nature of authority. We all reach that point where we realize that all of our teachers and mentors and guides are just men and women like us, subject to all the natural forces of this world and all the chaos and hurt and pain that a life here can hold. And when we see them as they are, fallible and feeble and flawed – just like us, our hope can be shattered. And that’s where I believe we reach a fork in the road, a point of decision.

One choice is to abandon hope in any kind of authority and fall into a life of self-reliance with trust placed in what you can reason from your own experiences.

The other is to acknowledge that the problem is not with hope itself, but where it’s been placed. To realize that there is “a greater insight and a more humane wisdom” though it’s not found in any human authority. That the only thing worthy of full trust, faith and hope in this world is the being who created it. To realize that even the people who believed and spread the message of the Creator were themselves not to be respected as the authority, but only as rough, imperfect signs to point to Him. Incidentally, it’s also when we do this, that we are able to see other people in a different light, without all the expectations that we had previously shackled them with… we see them as we should see ourselves, as creatures bearing our Creator’s resemblance. At this point, I think we become truly free to love them.

Faith and trust and hope in Christ is the other path, and it’s not an easy one to follow. It’s not even difficult. It’s impossible without divine assistance. But if we trust the words of Jesus in the Bible, then we can find that divine assistance there for the asking.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.       – Luke 11:9-10

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.     – Jeremiah 29:13

For, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”     – Romans 10:13

That’s the way I see it. Two paths you can take when the idea of authority is shattered. Trust in yourself. Or trust in Christ. I’ve tried to choose the latter. Partly because I’ve come to know Him, and partly because I know myself all too well.

I don’t do it perfectly, but that’s not the point. His perfection is demonstrated in my weakness and it’s taken me 33 years to realize what a beautiful thing that is.

All of this is a departure from the plot and theme of the novel, sure, but it’s where my mind was led.

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To see the whole earth filled, by labor and plea…

More good stuff from Spurgeon’s Mornings and Evenings… it’s a petition, not just a praise.

Our planet, courtesy of NASA.gov

Our planet, courtesy of NASA.gov

“Let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.”—Psalm 72:19.

THIS is a large petition. To intercede for a whole city needs a stretch of faith, and there are times when a prayer for one man is enough to stagger us. But how far-reaching was the psalmist’s dying intercession! How comprehensive! How sublime! “Let the whole earth be filled with His glory.” It doth not exempt a single country however crushed by the foot of superstition; it doth not exclude a single nation however barbarous. For the cannibal as well as for the civilized, for all climes and races this prayer is uttered: the whole circle of the earth it encompasses, and omits no son of Adam. We must be up and doing for our Master, or we cannot honestly offer such a prayer. The petition is not asked with a sincere heart unless we endeavour, as God shall help us, to extend the kingdom of our Master. Are there not some who neglect both to plead and to labour? Reader, is it your prayer? Turn your eyes to Calvary. Behold the Lord of Life nailed to a cross, with the thorn-crown about His brow, with bleeding head, and hands, and feet. What! can you look upon this miracle of miracles, the death of the Son of God, without feeling within your bosom a marvellous adoration that language never can express? And when you feel the blood applied to your conscience, and know that He has blotted out your sins, you are not a man unless you start from your knees and cry, “Let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.” Can you bow before the Crucified in loving homage, and not wish to see your Monarch master of the world? Out on you if you can pretend to love your Prince, and desire not to see Him the universal ruler. Your piety is worthless unless it leads you to wish that the same mercy which has been extended to you may bless the whole world. Lord, it is harvest-time, put in Thy sickle and reap.

Deep. Blue. See.

World's Largest Fishtank - Okinawa

Click the photo to see a few more shots and more information about the Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan. I found this via Yahoo!’s main page. Apparently it’s the world’s largest tank and holds four whale sharks (like the big fella front and center), the largest of all fish species.

I love shots like this. I love aquariums and the chance to see ocean life like this. I loved the story of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea as a kid. Jules Verne’s plot itself didn’t grab me so much as the world he created in the depths of the sea.

I remember many nights going to sleep and dreaming I was aboard the Nautilus, surrounded by nothing but blue. On a good night, I still have that dream.