Month: May 2014

Running Barefoot in a Summer Evening Thunderstorm

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Adumbrating clouds in the northwestern sky

Wild anticipation awakes within

The weather forecast called for a dry dusk

But now see simple raindrops confound the experts

Oh, the futility of prediction

Luck may favor the prepared

But Life favors the living

The brewing storm, gathering exultant vigor, beckons me

The thunder speaks what I wish to utter but cannot

When the lightning rend the somber skies, it sets ablaze the spark of my heart

The puddles invite my bare toes to join a swirling, leaping dance

New drops joining the celebration every moment

I want to be like the leaves on the tree

Who let the wind teach them the rhythms and gestures of an unknown dance

I want to be like the leaves on the vine

Whose faces are adorned with pearls of liquid crystal

The gift of breath has never been sweeter

It carries the revitalizing aroma of purified earth

The perfume of young, vibrant blooms

I flee nothing

Neither do I pursue

Running is a state of being

A place undefined by location

As the downpour absorbs me

Laugh in exhilaration

Surrender and freedom, utter elation

Closed eyes gazing at the veiled heavens

Mouth open in song to accept the earth’s nourishment

So raise your hands and receive this benediction

“May Yahweh bless you and keep you…”

Know fellowship with the Creator

Our fierce, wild, mysterious, extravagant, gracious warrior of a Creator

While some scurry to shelter, averse to the difficult blessing

I will revel in the manifestation of eternal power and divine nature

The deluge intensifies as night claims its domain

And like its Maker, the shower lends grace to the undeserving

Harsh headlights and streetlamps diffused and granted misty prism halos

Love washes over me in the form of Heaven’s tears

A cleansing and purging and revival of the earth

Violent and jubilant

Baptism and Resurrection

Displayed once again in darkness and glory

 

The adventure imparts meaning to comfort

For now in warm glow of home

Soup and tea

Worn pages of book and subtle melodies of guitar

the thunder is no threat, but a friend

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“The Peace of Wild Things”

Here goes part two!  If you have not read the previous post, please do so. It discusses the idea of work, and this post is a continuation that will make much more sense in context.

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Having established (I hope) the centrality, beauty, and satisfaction of true work, I now must address the question of its sustenance.  If work is love in action, if we are designed to work and work well, how are we able to keep on giving?  By receiving.  Work’s counterpart is rest; both are meaningless without the other.  In a world where being busy is glorified, rest is usually neglected, it’s merits neither instantly gratifying nor quantifiably profitable. However, it is one of the most beautiful and fulfilling parts of life as a human being.

When work is drudgery, we try to escape it through play, a shallow, mindless, futile attempt to deny our circumstances by drowning in entertainment or other consumptive pursuits.  This vicious, self-perpetuating cycle is the broken perversion of the self-renewing cycle of work and rest.  Even when doing what we love, we cannot continue indefinitely without rest.  If work is giving of oneself, creative labor, then one must be filled again. In the creation account in Genesis, God works, His love giving substance and breath. After creating, He rests.  Rest is part of the nature of God, from which everything else derives its nature. Can we who are created in the image of God claim to be without need of rest?

Rest can be hard, but it is always fulfilling, always joyful.  We are bombarded with so many expectations and messages, a busy life enticing and idealized. However, as humans, we cannot “have it all.”  Do you really want to be responsible for “it all”?  Part of living is learning to limit oneself, to embrace boundaries, for they direct and refine the scope of our efforts.  Spread thin, we leave no legacy; focused, we leave a beautiful, penetrating mark on history.  One human limit is the need for rest, without which we cannot work.  We must learn to receive, in order to give.  When our work is extracted by the compulsion of survival, it is not giving.  Giving is voluntary and is birthed of desire, not of guilt. When work is coercion, we tend to defensively react in consumption, a senseless compulsion of self-gratification.  Work and rest, giving and receiving, are designed to interact in harmony, while their corruption is a perpetual conflict, both extremes of which enslave us.

Rest is faith in action.  It is a risk, for work sustains our life.  Consider the Hebrews in the desert for forty years.  God’s gift of manna came daily and only lasted for that day, but on the day before the Sabbath, they were to collect enough for the following day, since none would come on their day of rest.  Imagine the amount of trust required, in complete reliance on another.  Despite the risk, or because of it, rest is free of worry.  No chasing or striving, only the humility that is required in the acceptance of a gift.  In rest, we acknowledge the reality of our situation, but we deny the panic that would arise at each trial and narrow our view. If we forget the future, the role of rest is diminished, since its effects are not immediately witnessed. Consumption, unlike the clarity and choice of rest, is a denial of circumstances, a temporary illusion of escape that does nothing to ameliorate one’s situation.

Since rest is reliance, it is out of our control.  We cannot understand its entirety, and elemental to it is learning to accept and love mystery.  Mysteries are uncomfortable matters for us western-minded control freaks, but how long will we deceive ourselves?  Mysteries do not contradict reason; rather, they go beyond our own reason, in accord with a reason deeper than we can fathom. Mysteries are wild and beautiful. A poem by Wendell Berry, entitled “The Peace of Wild Things,” states, “I come into the peace of the wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief…I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” Isn’t it wonderful to think that peace and wildness go hand in hand?  Too often we think of them as sedation and licentiousness, which are at odds, but this conflict is yet another product of the philosophy that would put things at war within themselves (just like the twisting of work and rest…I love connections).  In rest, we are nourished on every level by beauty that is beyond us, which gives abundant life that flows out through us as small re-creations of beauty in our work.  When we accept humility in such a way, we learn from that which gives freely to us. The aforementioned poem says “[the wild things] do not tax their lives with forethought of grief,” the very worry that would keep us from rest.  God’s nature is the essence of His creation, and as we rest in it, we learn from it.  Rest is contentment, to say, “this is enough,” and delight in sufficiency.  It is freedom, for in its birdsongs and breeze-whispers, we learn to release our dearly held poisons, the false expectations that would distract our lives from their courses.

As I discussed in last week’s post, work creates the culture of a place. It is human touch and cultivation.  Rest is the culture that we have no part in shaping, whose language is unknown, whose dances and songs exist beyond our awareness, beckoning but never begging.  It is a culture created by God, more complex and alluring than any that we have created, which enables us to form our own human cultures. The beauty is none that we can possess, but which we may delight in, wonder and wander in.  We do not take it and present it as our own, for it would die in essence, like a plucked flower or a caged bird.  Rather, we receive its essence into ourselves and produce beauty that is different but hearkens back to its source.

The cycle of work and rest is woven into the identity of all creation.  It is death and life in harmony, death never cause for despair, for it leads to life.  Suffering and grief give meaning and even birth to celebration and joy. In our lives, to quote Wendell Berry yet again, we must “practice resurrection.”

 

On the Nature and Purpose of Work

Work. What is work? In its common usage now, it generally refers to one’s employment; in a broader sense, it communicates any task that one is constrained to do, which one tries to avoid and by no means enjoys (such as schoolwork, chores, etc.). If this is work, then what is left in life? Well, play. Consumption of entertainment. The neglect of one’s mind and body seen as the only alternative to using them for work that degrades their dignity.  I believe that we are selling ourselves cheaply, exchanging the invaluable for the worthless.  May I propose that our lives consist of abundant work and sufficient rest? That both are joy?

For a moment, consider your life from a removed vantage point. What do you see? What will your eulogy be?  Will we venerate those who ruthlessly climb the corporate ladder, only to find that it leans against a burning building?  Do we follow those whose time is a tribute exacted by the mass-produced, characterless diversions of a system that measures a human’s value by profitability, that defines us by our purchasing power?  My life’s effort will not be spent in service of anything that does not have my love. Too much time is exhausted fretting over what people we dislike think about us.  We become like them when we worry thusly, when we grovel before the false ideals that claimed their once-alive hearts.

If I were to describe work, in an insufficient manner, as any human only can, I would call it love manifested in action and substance.  It is a life’s production, outflow, effort.  Much of it is hidden, unseen by all but those who care, who know the truth revealed by quietness. Work may be requested, expected, or suggested, but it must nevertheless be voluntary to be good work.  Good work is done with all one’s being.  A task executed only to meet a deadline is dead, not worthy of the time that it demanded. What if we were to work as if we had all eternity to make the product the very best it could be?  In a way, we do have all eternity, for each choice and action, each work of ours right now shapes eternity.  Can anyone afford to create shoddy work?  The price of our voluntary blindness is a debt that none can pay.

Work is the lost idea of vocation, literally a calling. It is worthy of one’s entire life (both in duration and substance), for skill is perfected by time.  It rests on the living for preservation, a gift from master to disciple (or apprentice). Lack of skill is no excuse for bad work. Life requires humility to learn, commitment to a chosen path, and unreserved giving of oneself out of love. The fruit of a life proves the true character. Inexperience is invalid rationalization for stingily withholding one’s heart and soul from work.  No, we cannot do everything perfectly.  As finite beings, we must limit ourselves to a capacity that we can carry with excellence. Believe it or not…get ready for this…being busy and harried is not righteous. Peace and self-control and generosity are.

Work produces the culture of a place. Idleness destroys it. A place with much work is a “place worth caring about” (I heard this powerful phrase from a TED talk by James Kunstler; you must watch it), rich and joyful, flawed but beautiful, abundant and wise.  A place without work is vacuity and death, no matter how pretty the mask it wears. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (ESV Bible, 2 Thess. 3:10) is just common sense, a reflection of the universal truth of life and work being mutually dependant, with idleness an alluring and stupefying poison. Work is art, music, food, all things crafted or enacted or growing.  It is learning, everything from philosophy to science. One who nurtures a work worthy of their devotion does not retire. After all, who would abandon a life’s love? Good work is commitment. It is humility, for one never stops learning, or work is stagnant rather than renewing. It is teaching, for one cares about the future of what one loves. To work well, you must care deeply about excellence. No matter what the task, because of who you are, you leave your seal on all that you touch. Consider the message, the philosophy, of a hand-made, carved oak chest fashioned by a master carpenter, versus one hastily assembled from particle-board and mass-produced for anonymous sale at a department store. A painstakingly tended, diverse garden, with all its colors and insect co-habitants, that bring joy and strength to a family’s table, versus a isolated monoculture force-fed chemicals, whose farmer’s weary eyes gaze from machine at that which sucks the life of both his family and the soil. An unknown group of passionate, skilled musicians who would never “succeed” but whose poetry and harmonies enrich the community and knows and loves them, versus the latest popular band, thrust from obscurity, soon to return, lacking skillfully crafted lyrics or music, voices “perfected” by a computer, trapped within the anonymity inherent in celebrity.  A meal carefully prepared from ingredients raised by the chef, handmade in a welcoming kitchen full of laughter, shared by a community, versus conveniently packaged, apathetically assembled by a stranger, consumed in a perfunctory manner by strangers bound by biology, the food not delicious enough to warrant even a brief hiatus from homage to individual smartphones, scarfed by those too busy to engage in life’s most fundamental and enjoyable function.

Work is for the sake of love (“the enactment of connections,” in the words of Wendell Berry) . It is the act of choosing, then honoring that choice with commitment of time and utmost effort. It is always improving and teaching, and it considers the future cost of every action. It lasts, whether physically or in tales and song.  It does not exhaust resources, but respects and renews them (one’s own self included, let us not forget). To paraphrase Wendell Berry, a worker must honor his materials. (Amazing individual, whose work surpasses mine hundredfold. He has amazing insight on the meaning of work.) Those who work well don’t fear death or wish for more time, rather know and welcome a fitting end. Work is a life well-lived.

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Of course, I have neglected to explore the equally important idea of rest, which will be the subject of my subsequent post.  Yes, you have to wait.  It builds character.

Barefoot Soul

A couple years ago, I decided to “go barefoot.” Like most permanent changes, this was a slow process.  Initially, I only ran barefoot. Then I began to leave shoes behind while at college and eventually just about everywhere.  I must confess, it took a while gather the nerve to enter retail establishments sans footwear.  People usually inquire about my feet, or at least stare, and I welcome attention.  This is a lifestyle that I love; as any sincere advocate would, I welcome curiosity.  Of course, many write it off as weird.  A couple have even said, “That’s so gross! Put on some shoes.”  Honestly, I have never understood that reaction. Bare feet can breathe. Have you ever taken a deep whiff of a shoe that has housed a foot for a couple hours? That is disgusting.

The question “why?” comes up often, with a myriad of potential answers–foot and ankle strength, earthing, joint health, and many more–none of which I will discuss here. (A plethora of health sites and blogs grace the world wide web, to which all of which you have free and ready access.  This is not such a place.)

I see the human as a whole being, body, soul, and spirit. All parts operate under the same mindset and for the same purposes–in harmony, not division. The mindset that would pit each element against the other is nothing short of suicide, a rending of the most sacred of creatures.  Thusly, being barefoot is not merely for bodily health (and pleasure, of course), but it is an entire philosophy of life.  Barefoot philosophy, as I like to call it, is the beauty that I wish to share with you today.  Be aware, I will blend the literal and philosophical aspects in the discussion, stepping from one to the other without warning you beforehand.

Naturally, the ideal situation would be living and growing in this mindset and practice from infancy.  Bare feet, trained unawares by the joys of childhood, are a common-sense way of life.  They are not a source of pain for those who have known such freedom, in contrast to feet crippled by comfort. As in life, to blossom in truth from birth is preferable.  However, such is a luxury that few are granted.  Time marches on, heeding no man.  The past exists despite us, and we exist birthed from its mysteries.  However we wish, our history is unalterable.  What we must do is act on what we believe with the time that we are given.  We live now, we change when confronted with truth, and we never blame the past for our condition.  Stop being complacent, as if you were a victim of the standard trials of life.  They are your training, difficult light of the love that would see you a beautiful warrior, not a consumer of counterfeit pleasures.

The transition takes time, for which we should be thankful. Finite and fragile, we lack the capacity change in a swift plunge.  Life is a journey, after all, and requires endurance.  Taking that next step day after day can be so arduous that we wish for the convenience of violence.  Strength and time are inseparable. To leap headfirst into barefoot running would have meant certain injury. (I admit that I have minorly injured myself several times, since I tend to work over my capacity.  Bad idea.) Cramped feet learn to grow into stable, vigorous ones; muscles atrophied from disuse in pretty cages groan and rejoice with newfound work and freedom.  See, freedom is only delightful for the strong and self-disciplined.  Lack of restraint alone leads to death, as one’s passion flies hither and yon, unable to direct its power.  We must learn to rightly steward our liberty, directing it according to truth.  After all, a force is only effective if focused; spread out, it loses its very essence.

To be barefoot, you must let go of some degree of what you might perceive as dignity–pride in respectable masquerade.   Please, do not be afraid to stand out.  Be worthy of standing out.  Re-learn the joys of childhood, cruelly stolen by the embittered whose only mocking comfort is “welcome to the real world.” Stop being so stiflingly self-important and boring! It’s a risk, of course.  Callouses develop surprisingly quickly, but you must become aware of your surroundings. No more comfortably isolated in your directionless pursuits and entertaining illusions, without truth shocking placated ears.  To finally know the world around you is a difficult but engaging experience.  Ignorance is so easy and so difficult to release.  Passive and allured by its poison, you accepted the roots of falsehood that grew into you.  Blindness seemed so good, for a time.  You must take the risk to feel.  Yes, there will be pain.  Pain teaches. After and with the pain, deep satisfaction and vitality flow through you.  The itch and restlessness are relieved, fulfilled.  This is freedom, to forget the self-imposed conventions and fashionable restraints that we all assent to because everyone else is, even though others would follow one who just dared to deviate.  You can stop worrying about how you look.  Bare feet are always beautiful, and no striving of your own will change their strong, wild quasi-symmetry.  In addition, you can run in the rain without worrying about soggy shoes.  And you can walk in the mud without regret.

Bare feet feel the ground; no sole but their own shields them from knowledge of every stone, rut, blade of grass, bed of moss. Awareness is a shock at first, but they grow hardy, neither over-sensitive nor desensitized. The essence of being barefoot is to feel, to be aware, to learn the ground. It is to live fully, right where you are. To quietly, surely confound all that would kill life with machine substitution or foster a passive existence.  Going barefoot exemplifies what I believe to be the truest way of advocacy. What you love, practice.  Channel it with all you are, joyously and intensely.  Do not stoop to the level of those who would be obnoxious or pushy, as if promoting what they love were a chore, as if they don’t really believe it.  Be passionate, infectiously, and watch curiousity follow your steps.  Bare feet are humble and vulnerable, open to give and to receive. What a risk, to bare part of who you are to whomever might abuse your trust.  What is the alternative, but to construct walls that may keep you “safe” from the piercing of betrayal but which cut you off from the source of what you need, from all chance of love and vitality? Be open, to rejection or acceptance. Wounds will afflict you, but they will heal, leaving a scar and new strength, knowledge and new love. If we insulate ourselves for fear of pain, we destroy any opportunity for experiencing joy.

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