Category Archives: Body Mind Spirit

The Courage to Change

I knew something needed to change as I hiked one summer along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I had looked forward to the seven-day backpack for several months.    I had entertained frequent day dreams in which I visualized myself hiking across open alpine meadows, surrounded by the snow-laced  peaks of the Cascades and swimming in cold sky-blue lakes. But as my fantasy became reality I notice something troubling.   My mind had trouble staying on the trail.

IMG_20130816_105142_210Instead I would discover that my thoughts were ruminating about some worry or concern back home in Minnesota.    For a moment I might be able to enjoy a colorful alpine flower or a striking mountain peak, but all too quickly my mind jumped to some pestering concern at my church or my family.   My intention was to be on the PCT in Washington; my mind seemed to be at dozens of other locations.  And I wanted that to change.

bowl-with-spoonWhen I came back to Minnesota, I began to hear about “mindfulness” – the ability to be in the present moment.    My health plan offered a simple six-week exercise that focused on mindful eating.   I thought it would be easy to simply focus on my meal as I ate.   I discovered that it was incredibly hard for me.  My eyes continually looked for something to read; my ears sought the noise of the radio.  The challenge was to simply be present to my bowl of cereal, to see the color and texture of the granola, to taste each bite, and to give  thanks to God for the meal.

Emotional LifeI began to read more about mindfulness and my emotional impulsiveness.  A key book  was The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson.   I remember reading about how our brains have plasticity, that they can be rewired or remolded with certain practice.  The author discussed how people who have participated in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes have been able to deal with their chaotic, impulsive mental thought patterns.   After reading the book, I signed up for a MBSR class.

“Courage to change the things I can” is the second part of the Serenity prayer.  I once thought courage was reserved for the “big” things like racism or sexism.  I admire Dr. Martin Luther King’s courage to challenge the racial injustice of his time. We need such models of courage in every age.

Yet there is also the daily kind of courage to face our own flaws.  Through the MBSR class I learned the practice of daily meditation.  The practice has begun to calm my busy mind and to live in the present.   I am thankful that God gave me the courage to change the ways I look at the world and to be fully alive in each moment.

How do you stay living in the present moment?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be always with us.

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Lap Sitting

Yesterday was my mother’s 89th birthday.  She has been a resident in a memory care unit at the Woodbury Health Care Center for the past three years. We celebrated with cake, flowers and great-grandchildren. Moms 89 bday

Like many adult children with aging parents, I struggle how to best honor and love my mother at this stage of her life. Due to her many falls and dementia, my wife and I cannot take care of her at home.  Earlier in her life, when her dementia was just beginning, my siblings and I tried to talk with her about what living arrangements she would want as the disease progressed.  Like many in her generation, she did not want to discuss those issues, so my siblings and I did our best to find places that could care for her in a loving, humane way.

Now the dementia has progressed to the point where she no longer knows my name or relationship to her.  She cannot hold a conversation.  But she still smiles when I approach her and call her name.  She likes to have her hands rubbed and her arm stroked. She will occasionally look at pictures of her family. We can sing Happy Birthday together. She enjoys cake and ice cream.

Mom and GracePerhaps the greatest joy for her yesterday was holding her newest great-grandchild, Grace.  Mom did not fully comprehend who Grace was.  She could not say her name.  Yet I felt God’s grace surrounding her and us as she held her great-granddaughter.  Love flowed from each.

As I reflect on the moment, I take great hope in the knowledge that God is holding my mom in his lap.  And God is holding me and you as well.  We may not fully realize who we are as children of God, but God fully knows and cares.  God loves holds us even when we forget God’s name.  Someday God will call my mom (and me and you) home and only then will we fully know whose we are.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:12-13

Lord Jesus, hold me as your own.

PCT Day 1and 2: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I confess: I am a biased hiker. The high alpine country above timberline is where I prefer to hike.  The sweeping vista of snow-capped peaks and the dazzling array of alpine flowers strike the sweet spot in my backpacking experience.  I was exposed to this as a young child, making the annual family trek from sea level to ski level on the seventeen mile road from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge.  The Olympic Mountains remain spectacular in my humble opinion.

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

 

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

Still to reach timberline, one often needs to hike through timber.  This was the case in August when I hike my third section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in southern Washington.  The trail is aptly named in that it seeks to follow the crest line of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington.  Often the crest is above tree line, but not always.

For this portion of the PCT I decided to skip the first forty miles as it climbs through the thick forest of the Columbia River Gorge (the border of Washington and Oregon).  I started just south of the Indian Heaven Wilderness where a forest service road crossed the trail.  After my brother Robert snapped my picture, I plunged into the forest.

IMG_20140821_105737_776 (2)

I soon discovered that the wilderness area named Indian Heaven is not my personal vision of heaven.  Though dotted with dozens of small lakes, the trail was all below timberline.  Occasionally the trail climbed a small ridge where one could glimpse some of the distant peaks.  But mostly, for the first two and half days and 35 miles, I walked through a multi-green tunnel.

As I hiked through the forest, I explored my mental bias.  I recognized that forest hiking is part of long distant hiking.  Just as in life, one cannot always choose the surroundings one may prefer.  I also discovered that forest walking is a great place to practice both intercessory prayer and mindfulness.  As I walked I prayed for my family, friends and for my congregation.  I used a simple prayer of compassion.  For example, my prayer for Resurrection Lutheran Church was

May Resurrection be filled with loving kindness.
May Resurrection be filled with peace.
May Resurrection be strong and vibrant
May Resurrection live as children of God.

I would repeat the prayer several dozen times, as I breathed in and out.  A peace and purpose came with the prayer.

IMG_20140822_162010_988I also practiced mindfulness, dwelling in the present moment, experiencing each footfall and each touch of my trekking poles.  I try not to race ahead mentally to when I would reach the high country.  Rather let this moment in the forest be my experience.

It was not easy.   My mind still likes to jump around, bouncing from one habitual thought to the next.  Yet the more I practice, the more I see the reward of simply being in the moment, even when surrounded by a green tunnel.  And truly God is in the forest valley as much as the high country.

I was reminded of Psalm 1 as I hiked:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;  but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

And if one keeps one’s eyes and mind alert, strange sights can be encountered.   One can imagine all kinds of story on how a saddle ended up in a tree.

 

Lord Jesus, keep me alert to your constant presence.

 

Next, Reaching High Country.

Hooked on Backpacking

The destination we missed

My dad was leading our family on a short one mile nature hike to Marymere Falls in Olympic National Park. The trail was near my childhood home of Port Angeles, Washington.   I was about seven years old and enjoyed racing ahead of my younger siblings.   I sometimes hid along the trail in an attempt to scare them.   It is no wonder therefore that in the confusion of children running up and down the trail, we missed a critical trail junction and plunged deeper into the forest of Barnes Creek.

We probably went an extra mile or so with no sign of Marymere Falls.  As a child I thought we were deep in the jungle, all alone.   Then around a corner came three individuals, carrying large bundles on their backs.   They told my dad that he had missed the junction and that we should probably turn around.   “The trail gets pretty rugged up ahead.”   In a moment, the three were gone.

A more recent backpacker

But their memory stayed with me.   I asked my dad what they were doing.  “Oh they were backpacking.  Did you see those large packs?   They carried all their own food and tents to stay in the mountains.”   Wow, I thought.   To camp out in the woods, far from roads and car campgrounds –that is a real adventure!

Ever since that hike, I wanted to go on a backpacking trip in the mountains.   Then in the spring of 1969, a high school  friend invited me on a trip to Lena Lake in the Olympics over Memorial Day week-end.  I immediately said yes.   Even though it rained the entire two mile hike to Lena and I was soaked to the bone, even though I had a borrowed pack that did not fit me, and even though I made a fool of myself trying to light a fire, I fell in love with backpacking.  I experienced a sense of place and belonging.   I was hooked.

Over the decades I have completed scores of overnight backpacks, each unique and rewarding.  Last year I blogged about completing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in northern Washington state.   Tomorrow, I start another hike along a section in southern Washington.

Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks Wilderness are part of the trail this year.

Backpacking has become a kind of spiritual refuge for me, a time and method to be centered in God’s grace and love.  I am reminded of one on my favorite prayers from the Lutheran Book of Worship:

Lord God, you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I will be carrying good maps (and an extra pair of glasses – see here) so I don’t expect to become lost.  But if I do, I am confident that God will provide me with three strangers to guide and inspire me, just like he did years ago on the trail beyond Marymere Falls.

Where do you find your spiritual refuge?

Lord Jesus, guide us.

Non-striving Grace

I strive to do well yet my striving often brings me grief and disappointment. When I train to run a marathon, I find myself striving to practice hard, only to become injured and unable to reach the starting line. In preaching, I strive to preach a perfect sermon, only to discover that I have frustrated myself and the congregation.  Or when I rush to make a blog post and my wireless network crashes, I feel frustration.  The constant hum of push, push, push, wears me down.

TSBB_Frustration-440x293

Last summer I was backpacking in the mountains, a trip I had anticipated for months.  Yet I frequently found my mind striving and shifting to somewhere else.   I found it extremely hard to simply BE in the moment.  My mind kept jumping to some other place and time.

IMG_20130816_105142_210Is “push, push, push, strive, strive, strive” the center of the Christian gospel? Is constant striving to do more, to do better, and to do all, is that living by grace? Doesn’t God’s grace free me from such obsessive striving?  Doesn’t God’s peace allow me to simply be in the present moment?

In my recent study of mindfulness training, one central is non-striving. Being able to accept what my limits are in body, mind and spirit has had a freeing aspect for me.  Non-striving has been a word of grace for me.  Below is a you-tube video that explains non-striving in a grace-filled way.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:7

 

Fresh Start

I confess that I often live on autopilot. I wake at the usual time of 6:00 am.  I run the same four mile route most mornings. Afterwards, I heat my milk in the microwave in the same cup and pour in the same amount of instant coffee and creamer. And the day rolls on.

Autopilot is not all bad, but I am discovering that I often use autopilot with people as well. When I greet someone at church or my small group, I exchange the same daily pleasantries, expecting the same answers. I am beginning to realize that I may be “sleepwalking” through much of life.

This month I am embracing the idea of a Fresh Start. It comes from Eugene Peterson’s translation of a familiar verse: 2 Corinthians 5:17.

The familiar NRSV translation is:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Eugene Peterson’s The Message is:

Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

Morning Yoga has helped me focus on a fresh start

I seek to practice a fresh start each day, aware of the new each moment holds. Part of this fresh start has been using morning yoga as a form of meditation to open my mind, body and spirit.   Like a young child exploring the world, I seek to see a new creation. In Christ I am a new creation, with a new mind and new eyes and ears to experience God’s world.  I want to embrace Peterson’s admonition, “Look at it!”

John Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living describes this as beginner’s mind. He writes,

The next time you see somebody who is familiar to you, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes as he or she really is, or if you are only seeing the reflection of your own thoughts about the person, and your feelings as well. Try it with your children, your spouse, friends, co-workers, and even with your dog or cat if you have one. Try it with problems when they arise. Try it when you are outdoors in nature. Are you able to see the sky, the stars, the trees, the water, and the rocks as they are right now, with a clear and uncluttered mind? Or are you actually seeing them only through the veil of your own thoughts, opinions, and emotions. (Fully Catastrophe Living, 2013, p. 24).

The idea of approach each day, each moment, each encounter as a Fresh Start is challenging. I often slip back into autopilot thinking and reacting. Yet each time I slip, I have the opportunity to embrace a new Fresh Start.  Thanks be to God.

How do you respond to God’s invitation to a Fresh Start?

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see you new each day.

Experience Maundy Thursday

This evening at Resurrection Lutheran Church our Maundy Thursday worship will include participatory prayer stations where worshipers will experience the story of Jesus’ final hours. The worship will begin in our familiar pattern of singing, call to worship, scripture reading and sermon. The pattern will change during the Lord’s Supper. Instead of simply coming forward for communion, worshipers will have the choice of participating in four different prayer/story stations. People will be free to move about the worship area, engaging in the stations for as long as they desire. The stations are as follows:

communion_elementsHoly Communion
Holy Thursday is the night when Jesus transformed the Passover meal into our meal of Holy Communion. People can come to the altar for the bread and wine of communion. There will be kneelers available for those who would like to kneel as they receive.

 

Washing of Feet Station

Washing of Feet
During the supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, as sign of loving service. Worshipers will have the opportunity to either wash the feet of a family member or have their feet washed by a staff member or others.  Warm water, basins and towels will be provided.

 

 

Garden of Gethsemane stationGarden of Gethsemane
After the supper, Jesus and his disciple went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Worshipers are encouraged to pray for the whole Christian church around the world. They can light a candle and mark a nation on a world map for which they are praying.

 

 

 

christ mocked by soldier, bloch

 

Trail of Jesus
While praying in the garden, Jesus was arrested and taken to the High Priest Caiaphas and later Governor Pilate for trial. He was beaten and mocked, dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. People will have time to reflect on Jesus’ suffering while confessing their own sin and recognizing that our baptism both connects us to Jesus’ suffering while forgiving us our sins.

Silent Reflection
If a worshipers prefer not to participate in the stations, they can sit in their seat and pray while reflecting on a series of audiovisual paintings and photographs are displayed on the video screens.

The purpose of each station is to make the story of Jesus come alive for us, that we are participants in Christ’s story. People can choose to participate in all stations or simply stay at one the whole time (about 12 minutes).

The worship will conclude with a song and blessing. We will gather again on Good Friday evening to remember Jesus’ crucifixion.

Lord Jesus, let us walk with you this day.