Monday, August 12, 2013

The Right Sized Bag

A couple of months ago, before I headed to Hawaii for 6 weeks, I got a new little bag.  It seemed like the perfect size - it would hold a few credit cards, my phone, a key, some cash and (just barely) the Kindle Fire.  At first, I filled up that bag up every morning with all those things and take it with me. Throughout the day, it would get stuffed with other things - maps, receipts, brochures, little snacks and other odds and ends it is tempting to pick up when you are traveling.

In about a week, that bag's zipper broke.  It was just too stuffed all the time.

So, to avoid the overstuffed temptation, I went to a market and got a tiny cloth bag, jusssst phone sized. I could not add anything to it as I walked around - it just plain wouldn't fit.

Now I am back in Portland, and although I am not officially back from sabbatical, I'm starting to do a few things.   And I'm trying to decide what to do with my little bag.  Can I keep it?  Or am I going to have to trade back up to one that holds more stuff?

I don't like to push a metaphor further than it can really be pushed, but what if time is something we could hold in a sack?  I've been able to hold everything there was to do in a pretty small bag this summer.  But already since we've been back in Portland, I've been invited to do a thing - on a night I'm already doing another thing.  Already, the list of things To Do at the beginning of every day is longer than the day can possibly hold. I don't want to the relative indolence of this summer to continue.  On the other hand, the schedule I've been carrying the last few years is feeling like a lot to lug.

One thing I know now is that I can "travel light."  The question is, can I "be-home light", too?

Monday, July 29, 2013

On not having turtles

Huge sea turtles swim by the beach in front of our condo nearly every day.  They are so serious but also so comical, so ancient and also so alive.  It makes me laugh out loud every time I see one. 
Several days ago,  woman walked by at sunset, with her lip pushed out in disappointment.  You just don't see that many people pouting on the beach in Hawaii, especially at sunset, so I eavesdropped.  
"THEY have turtles, two condos down" she complained to her friend, and she pointed at the ocean in front of our condo where, just for a moment, no turtles were swimming by.  
Well, actually, no, I thought but did not say.
 No one HAS turtles
even the fortunate condo complex 2 doors down.  
The next day.  Another beach, another sunset (don't mean to make that sound like I'm bored or anything - just setting the scene, you understand).  A guy is standing in the surf, smoking and casting out a fishing line when he snags a turtle with his hook.   I  know nothing about turtles, only that they should not be on the wrong end of a fish hook, so I jump up to help.  Somehow.  Do something.  
The guy has no knife. Let me pause here to say, ok, I dont know anything about fishing, either, but I do know not to go fishing without something sharp to cut line with.  Anyway, he has nothing, so the fishermen and I conceive a ridiculous plan that I am going to wade into the waves as close as I can get to the thrashing turtle and "cut" the line using a lighter I find on a park bench.  I clamber down the rocks, but before I can get to her (really, probably this is best for both the turtle and for me), the line snaps.  I can see the bobbin  still on the water as she swims fast and sure out out out to see.  
No one has turtles.
I call a hotline and report the fisherman and the turtle.  Before I made the call the fisherman had told me he "just moved to Maui from California" but when I get the hotline on the line, he claims to be "just visiting."   Turtles are protected in Hawaii.  Someone told me later that the fine for injuring one is $10,000  - probably why the fisher dude was so cagey about his locale.
"The turtle was swimming?  Swimming away? Caught in the fin? Oh, I think it'll be fine," says a confident sounding voice on the other end of the hotline.  I allowed myself to be reassured by the voice, to imagine that the turtle shook off the line and bobber as soon as she got to deep water, that she's swimming still, unhampered by line and hook and sinker.
No one has turtles.
I've been remembering this Roald Dahl short story called "The Boy Who Loved Animals."  I can't remember much about it, only that a strange, intense little boy at a beach resort is frantically trying to save a turtle from being made into turtle soup and in the end he rides away to sea, high on the shell of the turtle.  It isnt quite clear, but I think the turtle is saving the boy from people who dont understand him, as much as the boy is saving the turtle from the soup pot.
No one has turtles.  
If anything, they have us. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Page From My Journal

I havent been updating here nearly as often as I thought I would.  That's partly because I've been writing some other things, and partly because I have been "just being."  But, as I head into a few days of silence/writing/retreating, I was reading over some journal entries.  Here's one from June 28 in Molokai.

You don't have to know me very well to know that Silence is not my preferred modus operandi.  However, I have lately gotten quite a few nudges in the direction of more contemplation and meditation as a way to get more in touch with God and my grounded center.  

For instance, a guy from church gave me the book Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contmeplation as a sabbatical present and invited me to read it slowly.  I have read the first chapter, all 6 pages, slowly.  Twice.  I am challenged by it, including the koan-ish that silence is a skill not a technique.  By which I think the author means that silence is a thing to keep doing  although there is no tried and true method.   

Actually, the very first words of the book are already a challenge: "We are built for contemplation."  
"Well, yeah," I think, "maybe YOU are.  But not me." 
I remember an article I read by Anne Lamott years ago about why she does not meditate, think of how I kept that story as kind of talisman which I could hold in front of me and say "see!  see!  I'm not the only one."  But the assertion in The Silent Land is not equivocal.  It is sweeping and inclusive and simple.  
"We are, all of us, built for contemplation." 
 I read it again.  And again.  
And I hate it less with each reading.

I've always been skeptical, I think, of retreats that insist you must go far away to get close to God.  And yet, being far away - from familiar language, foods, geography, friends - is jarringly awakening in a way I had not expected.   The house where I'm staying has its own ecosystem - geckos, big ants, little ants and (eek) a giant, thankfully dead, cockroach - have all been discovered so far.  And I'm sure there are more in the dark corners that remain undiscovered.  Outside I have seen mongoose, a beautiful kind of small speckled deer (which I also ate some of on Tuesday), varieties of birds unknown to me. In this place you just have to be part of all Creation.  There is no choice, as there is in the Oregon suburbs, to shut oneself off from the natural world.  

I think that awareness (which sometimes comes with a startled shriek when the awareness happens by night or unexpectedly) has opened me in a new way.  Yesterday I went to visit the Phallic Rock - so called by the signage in the state park.  I walked a trail up a hill to the rock because I thought it would be hilarious and because I thought I could send a funny sort of message to Jeff - Phallic Rock! ha ha ha!

A sign on the way advised me that this was a sacred site to Hawaiians, and that we should be respectful, which started to alter my mood. But as I made the short climb up the hill, things changed.  There was a distinct shift in the temperature, colder.  The air quality changed, less humid.  At the same time, a mist began to blow up the hill through the trees off the right.  I passed through a doorway, a walkway of giant stones, that seemed to have been placed there by hand.   I wondered at the strength of people who could have carried these rocks - two or three or four times my size - to this place.  

The phallic rock itself was not, as I thought it would be, funny.  Instead it had a power that was quite surprising.  The wind blew in the trees and I could smell eucalyptus, as well as a lot of other tree smells I did not know.  Cypress, maybe? Someone had placed some long stemmed flowers in the top dimple of the rock.   I looked for birds or insects in the trees and did not see or hear any.  Except for the wind, it was totally perfectly quiet.  

Until, a boisterous family arrived.  A boisterous family was the last thing I was in the mood for.  I started to walk away, back through the walk way of rocks, through the sacred doorway.  I got to the bottom of the hill, but I felt as much as thought the words from the book:
"We are built for contemplation - all of us."
And suddenly I am seized with longing to be the tool I am built for. 
So, at the bottom of the hill, I turned back, walked back up.

I did not go all the way in to the sanctum, the Rock itself where I can still faintly hear the family bouncing around.  Instead, I sat one of the smooth rocks in the walkway.  
The wind in the trees roared around me, the mist crept up the hill and dissipated in wisps before it arrived where I was.
I closed my eeys and breathed in and out.
A while back we did a centering a prayer practice in our prayer group at church and as part of that practice, we chose a name for God as we breathed in and out.  I chose the name, the word "Goodness."  
Now on the flat rock  I settled  into breathing in.  Goodness.  Breathing out.  Goodness
The wind roared against my body.  The rock held me firmly and gently.  
Breathing in Goodness.  Breathing out Goodness.  

The family was still talking around the bend at the rock. I heard them and then I remembered to return to my breath.
The next time I breathed in, I did not say goodness. The word that came instead was Wildness. 
 I breathed out goodness and breathed in Wildness for several breaths.  
The wind pushed the branches of trees good ness.  wildness.
I realize I have been looking for the goodness of God and finding that plenty, but pushing the wildness of God away, ignoring it, trying not to see it.  But here, the wind blowing in the trees giving voice to generations who had prayed in this spot, or who had giggled, or who had made love or  sacrifices (the rock I was sitting on was just about the size and shape of a bed...or an altar table), I thought God is wild, wilder than anyone of us can contain or know. 

Now, God is everywhere.  
I say this all the time, and I believe it, too.  But I also know that I had to fly thousands of miles, then board a ferry across dangerous waters, then stay in a house with its own visible ecosystem as well as an invisible one, then climb to the type of a hill of cypus and eucalyptus - those foreign trees - then sit on a rock resonating with stories and fertility and death - to see that wildness of God.  

I had to do all that to see and know that I was built for contemplation.  To KNOW that we are, ALL of us, built for contemplation.
 I could have stayed in Beaverton and read those words, but I would  never have understood them. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013


I had an incredible day yesterday (Wednesday).

It began with a ride down a steep cliff on a mule.  For a person who knows as much about horses as I do (slightly more than nothing) and loves heights as much as I do (not at all) just the ride was an adventure.  Our guide, a bona fide cowboy dude who spent the whole ride swinging a machete at hanging leaves whether they were in our way or not, began by telling us that he'd ridden mules his whole life and never seen one jump off a cliff.  This was more reassuring than you'd think. There are 26 switchbacks down the cliff, and I was proud that I only had to close my eyes a few times (switchback #9, you are my nemesis!). But I mostly kept my eyes open, because I liked to watch the mule in front of me and how carefully he set his feet down and to think "he does this every day."  And also, even though I wasnt a fan of looking down, I could look OUT and what I saw was like a dream of tropical beauty - palm trees, pacific ocean so blue, big hills off in the distance.

There is much already written about Kalaupapa itself, so I won't repeat too much here about the background.  But I will say that I felt so fortunate in our tour guide, Pat, who (although he has been coming there since 1969) was moved to real tears by parts of the story.  It was as moving as a good sermon to hear  a story that's obviously been told so many times it's known by heart, but is still as heart opening to the teller as the first time.

The best of the day....I started to type this, but realized there were so many "best parts" it's hard to say that for sure, but ONE of the best parts of the day was...getting to meet one of the resident patients - there are 9 left in Kaluapapa.  It was my goal to meet and talk with them, but I had been warned many times that it was impossible.  Awesome tour guide Pat, however, made a quick introduction and I was able to have a conversation with one man there. It was one of those conversations that you will never forget.  It is illegal to take pictures of patients at Kalauapapa, so I did not ask for a photo.

Last night, a church member invited me to accompany her to a funeral (there is, she says, a "slew" of funerals this week - we are going to another one tomorrow).  I felt so honored to join the community in this particularly intimate way.  It was on the beach and as part of the ceremony, conch shells were blown, many-colored birds were released into the air and we ate a mountain of good food.  We often call a funeral a "celebration of life" but I was impressed at how much this seemed like a true celebration.

Speaking of the church member reminds me that I need to start my preparation for church on Sunday - I am preaching at three little UCC churches here on Molokai in one day.

More to come.

Monday journal entry

I loved the ferry ride last night.   It was not much bigger than the ferries we used to take to Madeline Island when I was a kid, but the ocean is much wavier than Madeline Island.  So, even though it was a relatively calm night, you couldn't really walk around.  I was grateful that Jeff was not with me - there was no way he would have been able to stay in his chair on those rolling seas.    I was taking scopolamine, so I wasn't sick, and we were headed right into this beautiful sunset and I loved the salt spray on my face.   I've been reading some about early travel to Hawaii and I had a new appreciation for what it would mean to set out on a boat  in those early days.  I was reminded of something that I think Jack London said to a young man traveling with him this leaky boat of his,  when they were making for Oahu - "Don't be afraid, we're only two miles from solid ground."  When the young man asked where, London pointed down, to the bottom of the ocean!

There was some confusion with getting set up in housing, but due to the kindness of strangers, it all worked out - got a ride to the parsonage from a musician named Bully (or Billy? sure sounded like Bully) I met on the ferry who got directions from a woman at the church, when we arrived, we found the car and the keys inside that had been left by another church members.   The only problem is that in the all the confusion of calling, having to charge up my phone in the ferry parking lot and it being dark and me being pretty tired from a long day of traveling by then was that I lost my phone.  I don't care that much about being able to call, but it also is my only camera, so I would like to have it back.

Luckily, I know where Bully is playing tomorrow over lunch time, so I'm going over there to hear him play and hopefully will find my phone.  There may not be even one stop light in Molokai (as the locals and the tourist books delight to tell you) but that doesn't mean that they are free from satellites here.  Jeff told me he found the phone by a purple house, which I'm assuming is Bully's  I drove by it today, but could not recognize his truck, so I'll catch up with tomorrow and do a more thorough search.

(Happy ending.  Bully DID have my phone AND I got to hear some great music!)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On Things Not Going As Planned

This morning, I got E to school more or less on time, went to aerobics class, read an encouraging and challenging essay for writers, returned some very overdue library books (one finished, one half-read - evidently my idea of "magnificent" and "beguiling" is not the same as those endorsers), and sat in a soft chair in the library to write some on my book project.    

It's 10:42 a.m. and so far, everything is going is planned.  I try to remember that this should not lull me into a false sense of certainty that the rest of day will also go as planned.   I also try to remember that when things don't go as planned, sometimes something even better happens.

On Saturday night, we decided to go out to see the Starlight Parade.  "We have to go," I said, "When will it ever again be the Starlight Parade on a Saturday night when it is neither raining nor sermon-prep time?"  So we all rallied from what had been a relaxing day and squeezed into the MAX train heading downtown.  

On the train, the party had already started. The guy behind us smelled like a beer and the teenager standing next to Jeff spilled a little puddle of Red Bull on him, but we were all in good humor (even Jeff, once the Red Bull stickiness had been cleaned up thanks to a  mom with a stroller and a box of baby wipes).  The woman sitting across from me told me it was her 23rd birthday and she was going to see a band but she didn't know which one and she didn't even care, as long as she could get out for once.

We made it through 4 stations before the train ground to a halt at the Washington Park/Zoo stop.  E pulled his hood over his head and played a video game on a phone.  The intercom came on and I couldn't hear it, of course, but the birthday girl told me that it said there would be a few minutes delay because of the Starlight Run.  The Voice crackled on five minutes later.  And then five minutes after that.  

J and E and I looked at each other and said all together, "Let's get off the train."  Even in our little family we have learned that if we all have the same thought at the same time, it's a good idea to pay attention to that.  So we got off, and rode the elevator out of the train tunnel and up, up, up.  

We were planning to see a parade.We would never plan to take a train to the arboretum at twilight, to walk along the darkling trails, to listen to the perfectly quiet quietness of the woods at evening.    
 The sun was setting, sending long shadows through the trees.The dogwoods are blooming right now and shining like stars.   E ran ahead and walked back, ran ahead and walked back, just like when he was much smaller.  We tried to reach all the way around a tree with our arms but the tree was too big and old. We spiraled up the silent bowl of the war memorial.   We stood under the flag, still flying I guess from Memorial Day, and E got us to sing "Oh Say Can You See?" although none of us hit that high note at the end. Except for another family of kids laughing and rolling down a hill, we hardly saw another soul.

On the empty train back to our car, E pushed his hood off and leaned his head on my shoulder.  "This was so much better than a parade, mommy."  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Surfbatical so far

As of today, I've been on sabbatical just over a week and while I'm writing a little, I haven't actually said much about what the days are like.

Memorial Day weekend was pretty much All E's Birthday All the Time.  Took a few of his pals to a glorified arcade, made some cupcakes for LOTR play practice (evidently, the mom on sabbatical makes Eye of Sauron cupcakes instead of writing a sermon on Saturday morning ),
Don't get used to the decorated cupcake thing, ok?  
and had our god-family over on Sunday.  There was also a sleepover in there somewhere.  

Last week, I took J to work.  In Seattle.  Which involved a long drive, a little helping of Jeff, a long nap, a little shopping and then another long drive.  

I'm also writing a little every day, doing some of that kind of  reservation-making you gotta do when you're getting ready to travel, watching Fringe and Doctor Who, and taking more naps.   I've done a little shopping, helped a frustrated child write a paper, cooked some meals, cleaned a bathroom, started a book and finished one, and spent an enjoyable hour on the phone with an old friend.

I've been exercising every day.  And on Sunday, I went to a neighborhood church and heard a terrific sermon, sang some familiar hymns and some new ones and received communion.  All of which reminded me how much I like just going to church sometimes.

Truthfully - except for the cupcake decorating  -  this isn't all that different than a regular week for me, except usually I work whole other job on top of this.  And yet, the days seem to be pretty full.  I can't quite figure it out, and last night it started to stress me out.  What my old spiritual director used to call the Committee weighed in unhelpfully:   I mean, what I am DOING with myself all day?  I've been on sabbatical A WHOLE WEEK already.  Shouldn't I have something to SHOW for it by now?  Shouldn't I feel more, you know, SPIRITUAL?

So in an unsettled mood I went to a bikram yoga class this morning.  The classes are ninety minutes long and the room is HOT.  If you are a person who might spend just a little too much time running hamster trails in your mind, it's a good way to remember that you have (that you are?) a body as well as a brain.  After  a lot (and I mean A LOT) of sweat, the Committee had slunk back around the corner.

OK.  So, I've been trying to write a pithy little ending to this post -  a little lesson perhaps on What I Have Learned On Sabbatical So Far.   I keep starting paragraphs and deleting them, so I guess there isn't one.  I don't have the lesson learned yet, because being on Sabbatical hasn't made me automatically more spiritual, less anxious, more present.  On Sabbatical, and all the time,  I'm just a work in progress.   And Sabbatical and all the time,  maybe that's lesson enough.