‘S wonderful, ‘S marvelous

A section of prairie grasses and big sky at Corkscrew Swamp in the Everglades.

Last week I did something wonderful and marvelous: at the tail-end of a polar vortex and in the middle of an ice storm, I went to Florida. It was the first time in my adult life that I’d gone somewhere warm during the winter–a glorious cliche–and I made the most of it.

Since I work four jobs, one of which takes place on Sunday mornings, I rarely have an entire day off, and I have to plan in advance for any weekends off. I hadn’t missed a Sunday since Labor Day weekend, and I was capital-t Tired. More than that, I was teetering on the edge of Burned Out. Even so, it was hard to commit to taking five whole days away. But I needed it.

Proof of how badly I needed it: I swore at my gentlest child when he objected to how I was driving when we were late to the airport. I’d never sworn at anyone like that before, and I never will again. It upset me to the very core of my being and dramatically showed me how I need to build in more time for rest and spiritual renewal so I can better manage stressors.

Once he granted me forgiveness (and thought it was funny how upset I was), I could bask in the sunshine and settle into all the new things I got to see and learn in Naples.

Like how prehistoric pelicans look. They are so pterodactylish.

A pelican with ruffled wing feathers, standing on a pier (photo by Richard Mulligan).

Ever cooler: a group of pelicans is called a squadron.

The local squadron at rest (photo by Richard).

That’s exactly what they looked like! I didn’t manage to get a photo of it, but I watched them fly low over the beach in a tight V, their big bodies, huge wingspans, and long beaks making them more imposing than other birds that fly in the same formation. And there’s just something about that folded-up neck when they fly that makes them look more aggressive. A squadron. Perfect.

Speaking of cool birds: the anhinga swims underwater to find food, poking its head up now and then to breathe. My boyfriend, his niece, and I spent several minutes at the Corkscrew Swamp watching one in a pond thick with water lettuce, squealing every time we spotted it coming up for air. Okay, maybe it was just me making the high-pitched noises, but I am not ashamed of how enthusiastic I get about things like this.

A tiny black head and neck of an anhinga poking through a thick matt of swamp lettuce.

But the anhinga has no protective oils on its feathers so it needs to dry off after it dives. Happily, this drying off is done by lengthy posing for photos.

An anhinga on a branch with its wings spread out, drying itself off.

I know, I know. The bird is a wild animal and not puposefully posing for photos, but it sure seemed that way: of all the places to sit and ways to face, it chose to face people and their cameras in a tree less than 10 feet from the boardwalk.

Of course, this being Florida, right near the bird was an alligator. According to the sign, this was a smiling alligator, but we saw no evidence of said grin.

The back of an alligator is just visible to the left of the tree where the anhinga dries itself.

Besides learning new things and seeing all kinds of wildlife (black rat snake, water moccasin, otters, limpkin, pileated woodpecker, egrets, little blue heron, racoons, lizards), we took time for whimsy. We watched two little lizards, a brown one and a green anole, and made up stories about why the green one was dancing around so much while the brown one stayed so still; we were unprepared for when the brown one pounced, but luckily the anole was, and skittered away safe and sound.

Not the green anole we told stories about.

And look at these lovely ladies in the swamp. They reminded me of debutantes in their cinched-waist dresses, so I call it the Cypress Swamp Cotillion. The tree in the foreground on the left wins poofiest skirt. At least two of those trees near the center don’t like each other at all and are gossiping about each other to the other trees. And the one in the right foreground is holding herself so straight and tall despite her low level of pouf, going for dignity instead of fashionableness, but winding up by herself. So much drama.

Cypress Swamp Cotillion

Nature and learning and whimsy restore my soul, but so does doing nothing. I made sure I got that in, too.

And image of a man and a woman's crossed bare feet on the beach at sunset.

I highly recommend the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary if you are in the Everglades. It’s a three-or-so mile walk, all on a boardwalk, with ample opportunities for rest, and some great viewing platforms.

I also highly recommend not waiting until you are hovering on burn-out to take a serious rest. For heaven’s sake, I’ve written about the need for people in ministry to take rest seriously, both in terms of Sabbath and vacations, but I stopped being intentional about it. Which was a mistake.

So in January I joined a gym. I February I went to Florida. What cliche thing should I do in March?

In suspense and incomplete

a rock climber suspended on the rope at Moab

Only God can say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The prayer above — that starts, “Trust the slow work of God” — has always just slayed me. There has never been a time when it didn’t speak to me about the deep things I was going through.

I have a printout of the whole thing tucked in my prayer journal, so I often return to it … when I’m using my prayer journal. But since my marriage imploded, I haven’t been writing my prayers. I’ve been praying. Oh, yes, I’ve been praying. But I let that longtime spiritual practice go. In its place, I’ve been resting.

Starting last summer, references to resting in God have come to me in waves. I did a silly post about it (Apathetic Prayer), but then they kept coming, which I experience as God trying to tell me something. So I’ve payed attention.

It’s not easy to come to God without an agenda, whether that’s a long list of prayer requests or the need for spiritual insight and practical assistance, but the truth I believe is that God loves me without any striving necessary on my part. It’s easy to get hung up on the striving, to get all into checking things off lists and feeling like I’m doing all I can to move forward, whether that’s practically or spiritually.

But for this time, God clearly wants me to rest in Him.

I’ve had some powerful experiences in prayer in the last six months. The 90-minute Garden Prayer on Maundy Thursday at The Revolution. And the contemplative prayer time at the Renew and Refine mini-retreat before the Festival of Faith and Writing. There have also been plenty of walks in the Calvin Nature Preserve when I let myself feel God’s pleasure. Plenty of times I’d breathe slowly in and out and ask God to be with me. Any word/impression I’ve received during those times has fallen into two categories: “You are my beloved,” and “Rest in me.”

So instead of berating myself for letting the practice of writing my prayers slide, I’m seeing this time as learning to experience the love of God independently from anything I may try to do to “earn” it or “deserve” it. Because God loves me. End of sentence.

It’s my way of trusting the slow work of God, and of “accept[ing] the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Because anxious and incomplete and impatient and suspended between old and new is definitely how I’m feeling. I’m trusting that a new spirit is gradually forming in me.

***

In case you need it, too, here’s the full prayer:

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
the way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability–
and it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually–
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense
and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

 

Our first job was to rest

Siesta Now In Progress, by quicksandala, from morguefile.com
Siesta Now In Progress, by quicksandala, from morguefile.com

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…. And evening passed, and morning came, marking the sixth day. So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had completed his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. (Genesis 1:27, 31, 2:1-2)

Whether we believe in a literal seven 24-hour days of creation or not, we can agree that the story of the Creation tells us important things about ourselves and about God. Typically, these verses are an argument for us to take a day of rest after we’ve completed our work.

But here’s the thing: we are not God.

God is God and we are part of the Creation.

God worked for six days and then rested. We were created, and then our first day was a blessed day of rest. Humanity’s first task was to enjoy this new creation. To explore. Perhaps to stroll with the Lord in the Garden. To commune with our Creator. Our first experience was of community, of people together who are together with God.

Our first job was to rest.

He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength. (Psalm 23:2-3)

God repeatedly promises rest (and its good friend, peace).

The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest… (Exodus 33:14)

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31)

You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands! (Isaiah 55:12)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

So let’s put a pause on all our striving and rest, enjoy, commune, connect — with each other, and with the Lord. Rest was, after all, our first job.

The Parable of the Black Sand

The waves come. There will always be waves.

waves on Lake Michigan

Sometimes the waves bring lovely gifts.

a small Petoskey stone

Sometimes the waves are large, and pounding, and they carve away at what’s there, revealing the layers that were underneath the surface.

layers of sand revealed by waves

They reveal the black sand.

patterns of black sand and regular sand

The black sand has its own beauty, but it also clings thickly, clumping in a heavy mass on my feet as I walk through it.

black sand clumped on my foot

I can’t avoid it. Sure, I could try to hike up the ledge, but even if I managed it, I’d have to walk in the sharp dune grass that is full of ticks. I could fight the waves, but I’m not dressed for getting soaked.

So I walk through the black sand (revealing the regular sand with every step).

walking in black sand and waves

Here’s the thing about the waves: they exposed the black sand, but they also wash my feet clean.

feet washed clean

And the regular sand is right in front of me. Yes, it’s gritty. Yes, there are bits of black sand mixed in. But it is the sand I love to walk in, to play in. Dare I say, it gives my soul, and my soles, rest.

clean sand on my feet

The waves will come. Sometimes they will reveal darkness, and I will have to walk through it. But, even so, with every step, the light is revealed, and I trust that I will walk in the light again.