Thursday, February 28, 2013

encounter at Tahquitz Falls

Dean and I at Tahquitz Falls
Dean and I spent a week in Southern California recently (thus the gap in my blogging).  I didn't even take a theology book to read, unless you count the one about a British satirist who wanted to be a monk! (I hope my supervisor isn't reading this!) Anyway, it was a great time of rest and relaxation and engaging in tame adventures.  I could tell many stories about our week (meeting a biker from Quebec in Joshua Tree Park, Dean being attacked by a cactus, hunting down fresh grapefruits in the neighbourhood, chilling out in the hot tub, sampling fresh California dates, splashing in the chilly ocean, and almost meeting Arnold Palmer), but the one event that sticks with me most is the hike we took to Tahquitz Falls on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.

Last year, a group of us watched a video about the life of Lonnie Frisbee (Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher).  Dean remembered one part of the documentary where Lonnie and friends had hiked up a canyon in Southern California to do drugs and hang out and ended up experiencing Jesus.  I did some research and discovered that the place was only 30 minutes from where we were staying, so we decided to go there.  Because the site used to be home to an Indian village, the canyon is now managed by the Auga Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.  There is a modest, glass visitors' centre at the base and guided walks are available.  We decided to do the 2-mile hike at our own pace so we paid our $12.50 each and off we went.  It was a beautiful sunny day as we set out on the sandy path.  The walls of the canyon rose up high on either side of the trail which meandered through rocks and shrubs and criss-crossed a creek a few times.  Not soon after we started, a small snake slithered across my path and I flailed my arms in the air like a silly girl.  I don't like snakes much.  Nevertheless, it was a near perfect hike.  Not too steep, plenty of things to see, interesting rock formations, and very few people on the trail. 

As we got nearer the falls (the turning point of the hike) I started to get excited.  What was waiting for me up ahead?  Would I be able to sense the presence of the divine Spirit?  Would I have an experience with Jesus like Frisbee?  Would we encounter a sacred place?  As we rounded the corner and caught sight of the falls, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment.  The falls themselves were quite stunning, but sitting around the clearing were about a dozen people.  Noisy people.  Teenagers were squealing and yelling.  Parents were eating lunch, talking and laughing and occasionally yelling out a word of warning to their energetic kids.  When we arrived, the tweens/teens has just decided to wade into the pool toward the falls.  More squealing and yelling.  The water was obviously cold.  One of the young boys made mention of going skinny dipping, and I think I actually gasped at that point.  Three of them then took off their pants and waded/swam all the way to a big rock, climbed it, and mugged for clicking iPhones held by various parents and relatives.  One young boy back on dry land kept threatening to expose himself.  Fortunately, an adult convinced him that this probably wasn't a great idea.

I waited patiently for the kids to leave the water.  I took a few pictures, I gazed at the falls, and I seethed inside.  Another couple came into the clearing and after I offered to take their picture, they took some great shots of Dean and myself in front of the falls.  Then they moved on.  A few more people came and went.  I noticed that anyone who came into the clearing didn't stay long.  They looked and they left.  Like me, I suspect that the family circus was a bit too much for them.  After waiting and waiting and still no sign that the noisy ones were packing up and moving on, I walked down the trail a bit and came to a large rock.  I found Dean lying there, gazing up at the canyon and the big, blue sky.  I climbed over a crevice and joined him, hoping that finally I would be able to find some quiet space to have my spiritual moment.  This was to have been a special trip, a place of meaningful encounter.  I had decided that it would be so.

I lay down on the rock and rested my head against Dean.  And while kids screamed and splashed in the background, I caught a glimpse of my hateful heart.  No kindness there for people not in line with with my agenda.  Very little grace for sharing a public space (like the seagulls in Finding Nemo:  mine! mine! mine!).  Whether anyone else was having a good time in Tahquitz Canyon... well, I wasn't even considering that. 

What are you doing? I asked myself.  Well, I am spoiling this lovely hike with Dean by having a bad attitude.  That's what I'm doing.  And I don't like it one bit.

What are you doing? I heard a small voice inside me inquire gently.  I am always with you.  You can find me anywhere.  Don't fret.  Enjoy!  See the beauty, the specialness all around you, even in the noisy people.  Oh, little one, how narrow your ideas are of me sometimes.  How you set your heart on a particular thing and won't let it go, won't let me change it for something better.  Will you let this go?

Yes.  I said yes.  I was still a tiny bit annoyed at the noisy people and their lack of common courtesy to other visitors, but no longer did I need Jesus to come down from heaven, hover over the falls, and put on a show for me. I had Dean.  I had sunshine.  I had legs that could walk.  I had ears that could hear the water and the squealing of kids.  And I had a friend who is always with me, a friend who sticks closer than a brother or a sister or a mother or a father.  A friend who doesn't live only at Tahquitz Falls.

Monday, February 11, 2013

what I did last weekend...

Flying out of Winnipeg last night.  Really, it was that bright!
I returned last night from a national gathering of leaders from Vineyard churches across Canada.  It was a jam-packed weekend and I think I did more talking and interacting than I probably will for the rest of the year (that's the introvert talking).  Though I am a bit tired, I know it was a moving and inspiring weekend.  There was lots of good stuff that happened.  It will take a bit of time to process, but I wrote some brief thoughts on it over at the Vineyard thoughtworks blog.  You can read about my exotic weekend away in Pinawa, Manitoba here.

Monday, February 04, 2013

peace starts inside

Sunset in my neighbourhood
This week I showed a video in class from some monks at the Monastery of Saint Antony in Egypt.  Father Lazarus talks about different kinds of silence: one kind of silence is when we go into a garden or enjoy a walk in a park and have a bit of quiet.  That's nice, but it is temporary and it is mostly external.  A deeper type of silence is when our minds are not frantic and our thoughts are not in turmoil.  This silence, this inner peace, is something that is possible no matter where we are, whether alone in the stillness of the desert or in the middle of a noisy crowd in the heart of New York City.  Oh, to have a mind that is a peace, that is calm and ordered, that thinks good and honourable thoughts and does not worry.  It is a struggle, indeed, but it is possible to have moments of inner peace.

I read Psalm 139 a few days ago and found 5 distinct markers along the psalmist's journey to inner peace.  I offer them here.  Keep in mind that these are not a definitive road map but simply some guidelines that might be helpful as we work towards being more peaceful, inside and out.  Some may find one more difficult to implement that the others; our struggles for inner peace are all unique.  But wherever we are, at whatever stage in our life, it is always possible to take a step closer towards the Prince of Peace.

1.  Invite God into my internal dialogue; be open and transparent before him.
God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.  I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.  You know when I leave and when I get back; I'm never out of your sight.  You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence.  I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too - your reassuring presence, coming and going.  This is too much, too wonderful - I can't take it all in!  (Ps. 139:1-6, The Message)

2.  Acknowledge that nothing is hidden from God, that all my thoughts are known to him.  This is not cause for shame; his pervasive presence brings comfort, relieves my isolation, and lightens the dark places.
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there!  If I go underground, you're there!  If I flew on morning's wings to the far west horizon, you'd find me in a minute - you're already there waiting! Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I'm immersed in the light!" It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.  (Ps. 139:7-12)

Downtown Montreal
3.  Thank God for his marvelous creation: me!  The intricacies of my body (which are beyond my comprehension) speak of the intricacies of God's care and thoughtfulness in all areas and times of my life.  Though I many not comprehend it, it is good because he created it.  Trust the Good!
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb.  I thank you, High God - you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration - what a creation!  You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.  Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.  (Ps. 139:13-16)

4.  Point my thoughts toward God and turn away from thoughts of despair, hatred, pride, and self-reliance.
Your thoughts - how rare, how beautiful! God, I'll never comprehend them! I couldn't even begin to count them - any more than I could count the sand of the sea.  Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!  And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!  And you murderers - out of here! - all the men and women who belittle you, God, infatuated with cheap god-imitations.  See how I hate those who hate you, God, see how I loathe all this godless arrogance; I hate it with pure unadulterated hatred.  Your enemies are my enemies!  (Ps. 139:17-22)

5.  Be open to correction, embrace learning, look to the Spirit to guide, humbly submit to God's discipline and training.  Don't resist transformation!
Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; see for yourself whether I've done anything wrong - then guide me on the road to eternal life.  (Ps. 139:23-24)

The video of Father Lazarus and the monks of St. Antony can be found here.