Whenever out in the woods, or sleeping in the hammock under the stars, I feel closer to God (sense God close); I feel less alone in the world. When the commotion of society, along with its grumpy people, tax me too much, the need to head out into nature for a refresher becomes almost insurmountable. I get the desperate urge that I have to live… I have to breathe again, to renew again. The wilderness offers an active, unpredictable, and rejuvenating energy, a salve for the weary-hearted. It’s not the worship of creation but recognition of our Great Creator; his creation to take delight in and appreciate. I can worship God by glancing at a leaf, Baruch HaShem. (I just need, sometimes, to feast my eyes on PILES of them now littering the forest floor).
Last week for me was a regular nature fest, several long hikes—one in the early morning in fog so thick you could cut it, which is my favorite condition! (And I so love witnessing fog dissipate when the sun breaks through). At night, with the temperature dropping allowing the cover of frost, I pulled my blankets outside stumbling to the hammock and wrapped up in a cozy cocoon, all toasty, with just a slit for my not-yet-frozen eyeballs to take in the spread of stars. Sensing his presence, I whispered, “Ah, there you are, Lord, I’ve missed you.” Just then, a shooting star wrapped the night sky above with a bow around my heart. I had the best night’s sleep!
It’s not that God isn’t omnipresent, but it’s sometimes hard for me to sense him in the daily grind. Once out in the woods teeming with life, though, I admire his creativity in the sights, scents, and sounds of nature. My mind unclutters, and I can pray with clarity. I don’t feel alone anymore. I feel more alive than ever. (I’ve been like this since I was a kid seeking adventure, getting lost in the woods that ever drew me, along with my sisters, or on horseback, more times than I can count). There may be some reading this who might not relate; however, I know there are many others like me who relish nature and consider it a part of God’s healing balm, a hug for the seeker. (I know you’re out there because I read your blogs, memoirs, and autobiographies!)
I don’t know why I’ve shared this, but there it is anyway. Enjoy your day.
“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has the power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”—Eleanora Duse
I’ve moved a lot in life. In fact, we’ve relocated again during this COVID-19 era. It’s not the woodsy rural environment I prefer, but more urban with constant buzz and people present. First time in the real burbs, but there are viable reasons for making this transition and, honestly, I look at it as temporary anyway. I’ve lived in exceptional situations, sucky ones, and in-betweeners. As far as materialism, I know what it is to have little, a lot, or thrive in moderation. I’ve gained and I’ve lost, so I don’t get too attached when I regain. Life can present us with all kinds of living situations and circumstances—sometimes changing on a dime. Some we bring on ourselves by choices we make; other times it’s circumstances beyond our control. But we have the means within us to adapt to life’s seesaw.
Life on earth is transitory. And because we are spiritual beings destined for eternal life, heaven is our true home. So in a big-picture sense, if you ever feel like a stranger in a strange land, it’s because we all kind of are. Strangers passing through in what is a privilege to live a purpose-filled, lungs' air-filled life… wherever we are… by mindset. We can bloom wherever we’re planted. It’s not where we are, but how we are.
We can bloom from whatever situation we’re handed, too, even the self-inflicted ones. Because no matter where we move, or how things pan out, what we do, or who moves in or out of our lives, the one constant is that Yeshua, Jesus, loves us unconditionally, as we are, where we are, without terms or conditions. By the time you reach a certain age in a fallen world full of broken people, you’ll have experienced friends who wound you, partners who break you, situations that hurt you and you hurt back. We are flawed, but God takes it all and loves us, as us, anyway, just like that.
The other day, I listened to an artist I admire, Kendall Payne, in a shuffle mix. I was on the treadmill maintaining my half-century-old body; I was also musing over blooming and belonging when her track “Belonging” played. Gah, if my heart didn’t ache to hear it just then. The timing, the bittersweet message of the song, the relatability, made me realize again how profound faith is and the absolute love God has for us as he waits for us on the other side (home, at last) with arms open wide.
I tire of political ads, speeches, campaigns wherein the focus centers on dissing opponents. Can’t recall when this became customary, but it has always struck me as poor taste. I hate few things. This is one of them. It might be the especially volatile climate of today and weighty bitterness and injustices witnessed cities-wide, a shaking pandemic, or that I’m just getting older and less tolerant of subjecting myself to this much negativity. Because I seem to have developed a recent habit of turning off the radio or television just as soon as a politician begins this focused rant—and it’s usually by the third or fourth word. I know I’m idealistic to a fault, but I just wish I could hear a passionate speech on proposals, personal principles, and persuasive stands with the strength to stand on its own merit without the use of harsh words ripping another by ugly comparisons and throw-downs.
Years ago, I’d served as a ghostwriter for political content. It can be well-paid, eye-opening work, but not for me I finally realized. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Am I tainted by the experience? Sure. I’ve had more than my share of exposure to those who like to rule with brutal words and iron fists. But I always end up asking: Do unsavory words for the purpose of propelling an agenda (or for any reason) add virtue or honor? Do they truly enlighten or inform us on the issues at hand?
Yet, instead of growing harder, I seem to be softening under iron fists. I suppose I’m yearning for people, leaders, who dare to operate by a different slogan; one I’m trying--really trying to implement in my own circle: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8). While I’m aware we will not all have unity of mind in this lifetime, on this earth, with such a range of discordant issues and beliefs, I think if we practice sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (that is, putting the welfare of others before our own)—even just one of these—then maybe we’d behave a little better toward one another. Take better care with the words we use for each other, our fellow humans. We might even earn respect. Today, I value kindness to a much greater degree, and I beg, I beg it begins within me.
Today, I’m restless. The weather is cooler and I’d like to take advantage and go on an amazing hike. However, I had oral surgery yesterday, and while the procedure went well, I’m down for recovery.
I’m fortunate there are areas nearby allowing for a four or five-mile wooded trek I can speed through at a clip. These are my short excursions and all I’m allotted these days. But today at home, I’m only daydreaming about the trails… and of healing. And it dawned on me that I’ve unwittingly practiced a ritual on my nature jaunts. I sing the same Hebrew prayer for healing when I set out. Adon Ha Kavod comes quietly from my lips, sometimes a little louder. It hasn’t always been this way; I’ve also been reckless out there. But for some time now I’ve been doing this, singing this prayer, and the revelation took me by surprise today.
No doubt, I’m happy in the woods. I can think clearly and reflect deeply. I enjoy watching the birds, and if I can be honest, I envy them too. Adon Ha Kavod comes from a state of worship—to the Lord of all that surrounds us, the Lord of all glory, and he has healing in his wings. By his wings, he heals our brokenness and gives us flight when we worship him. Adon Ha Kavod prepares our hearts for worship, a place we need to dwell, in the shadow of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) wings, to receive healing. I guess from this perspective, it’s not a usual hike. I’m going on Adon Ha Kavod, the Lord of Glory trek. To worship, give thanks, deepen trust, and from the process, heal. Because life and people dish out so much that we need healing from—and healing is a process, as is forgiveness. In these strange times, we all need healing, and we might practice forgiveness more.
There is another prayer of Jewish healers and sages, Mi Shebeirach, The One Who Blessed. This one is special because it is never spoken over oneself or in a general sense; it is recited only over specific others on which your mind is drawn. Wherein we ask the One, Almighty, who blessed our ancestors to bless those in physical and spiritual need with complete healing. So my trail outing transitions from Adon Ha Kavod to Mi Shebeirach—and it didn’t dawn on me until now. That’s where we find the greatest healing anyway, I believe, by dwelling over and praying on behalf of others; putting others first.
Troubles are endless. Prayers should be too; therefore, striving to lead a life of prayer is monumental. When we do it often, pray, it becomes a subconscious part of our existence. Maybe that’s what I’m really missing on this day: a sort of pilgrimage communion with the only One who can rescue, deliver, grant freedom, and heal by his mercy.
This is a time to build/rebuild and uplift rather than destroy. So Adon Ha Kavod and Mi Shebeirach, these long-sung prayers with far-reaching sentiments… may they be yours too, regardless of your cultural ties or background, walk in life, or predicaments.
Just a thought for today. Shalom.
Regret. It’s a part of human nature since the fall of man, and I daresay we are born with having to deal with it. I have regrets. A few are doozies that keep me up some nights. They fall under the categories of immaturity, impetuousness, impatience, denial, poor choices—maybe ones that changed the trajectory of my life—and I’ll admit, foolishness. When I didn’t think or wait on the Lord, or heed the advice of others, but moved forward on my own volition. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Savage!
As an introverted writer, I have to say I’ve rather enjoyed this shelter-in-place era as little has changed in my day-to-day—other than closure of the Cherokee National Forest wherein lies tastes of freedom I particularly enjoy. But as a deep thinker, I’ve found this season especially challenging wherein thoughts can be dangerous. In other words, if the virus doesn’t kill you, or pro/anti-mask-wearers smack you depending on which “side” you’re on, regret just might. Unless you strive for a renewal every morning by God’s Word—our blueprint for life, a barebones necessity, our spiritual water, food, and shelter.
Writing is purpose-filled for me, messages contained within paper or digital pages intended for others. There is sometimes my own therapy in the progression, though. Which leads me to my current WIP (work-in-progress). After receiving emails asking if I’m going to write a sequel to Remnant, with the reemergence of Atizael, the answer is a solid yes. And I’ve started that; however, often the current of creativity demands a drop and refocus.
I’ve switched gears. Working feverishly to finish a book on regret and the transgressions and haunts of our past. It’s in the format of a dark fantasy romance, but the spiritual significance is there, and it’s what I—for some reason—need to spend my time on right now. The current working title at this point is Dark King’s Human Bride. And in being honest, unless my beta readers tell me, “Hey, Chicky, this is a bit much,” it’s coming out a touch graphic. I have a longstanding issue with much of Christian fiction being candy-coated anyway (perhaps more on this in another blog). Human nature is human nature, and evil is evil. Regret in all forms is regret in every form. It is what it is, and I have to be true to the nature of this beast.
But not without good intention! I find a quote by writer Anne Lamott perfect for the launch of this literary ride: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”
This savage has set off. More later.
Science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, coined the term “speculative fiction” in the 1940s. Since then, the industry often uses the “spec-fic” label as an all-inclusive phrase for any fiction that is science fiction, fantasy, horror, space opera, steampunk, superhero, alternate history, dystopian, paranormal, supernatural, weird fiction, or a combination, and more. But I think the genre today has strengthened into something more specific. Add in faith components to explore and--voilà!—you may have Christian speculative fiction.
There’s an element, a key to what makes something speculative. I find a lot of authors call themselves speculative but aren’t. Maybe they’re science fiction or dystopian; however, something is missing. Because a writer pens fantasy, for example, doesn’t make him/her spec-fic.
So what is it, what’s the needed key?
Speculation is defined as a notion based on conjecture rather than knowledge. Something formed over incomplete information. It’s abstract reasoning or exploration of an opinion based on guessing. It’s mystery. It’s the book that makes you grab your chin and say, “Hum… I’m not sure what to think about that, but it’s interesting, and let’s dwell on it for a spell.” It’s a walk on the bridge between the intellectual and the visceral and not based on a plot or characters in a world-build where the author spells everything out. It’s asking, “What if?” in an imaginative landscape that’s open for exploration.
Too often I grab a book to read that’s labeled Christian Speculative Fiction, yet it’s a straight up Christian fantasy, for example, (though perhaps well-done) that’s mapped out and exposited leaving no room for real speculation or imagination from the reader’s mind. I see it as a common mistake in branding. In fact, some authors might do better if they branded in a particular subgenre rather than speculative fiction because it’s harder to define. Ask eight people what spec-fic is and you’ll probably get eight different answers.
I think for a book to be truly speculative it needs to leave room for questions, be an enigma, puzzling, something difficult to understand. My favorite spec-fic books have ingredients that leave me with a big fat question mark in the shape of a stairway to climb within my mind. “What did I just read? That was an interesting slant. It challenged me; haunted me. Let’s revisit.” In fact, if you find a novel that doesn’t quite fit in a specific subgenre, such as horror or fantasy, yet it does at the same time, and you scratch your head wondering what it even is—because the labeling is difficult for you to determine—then I’d say you’ve probably discovered the heart of speculative fiction.
There are those reading this who would speculate on the accuracy of my speculation. And I’m just speculating, but the more the merrier.
Today, I have enough food. Today, I have a roof over my head, and I am healthy. Today, I have a comfy sofa, books to read, and music to soothe my soul. I have a means to communicate with my loved ones. Love can be expressed in so many different and creative ways. Today, from where I sit, I can witness the transitioning of seasons, the birds singing, plants sprouting, and the sun fighting to come through for us with warmth. I am grateful for today. Today is good.
Kind of feels like we’re in a slip of mass hysteria. We’ll remember it by the Toilet Paper Commemorative 2020. But did you know that over 40,000 people die from car accidents per year in the United States, more than 95 people per day? It might behoove us to practice safer, kinder, focused, and more patient driving practices as opposed to mindlessly ripping the road up as if we’re in a video game and can’t get hurt or hurt others. Yet, today, panic over a certain illness has taken precedence as fear spreads fear among humans. Maybe we’ve watched one too many viral-zombie apocalypse movies—I don’t know, but there can be moments where the observational reaction is suffocating.
So as I was experiencing one of those high-anxiety moments the other day, I stepped outside on my back porch, looked to the skies and earth, and was struck at the normalcy of nature. It breathes, “All’s well here; life goes on greatly and without concern.” Birds frolic in the sky dotted with clouds moved by a breeze, as cheerful songs trill and chirp from those happy little beaks; dogs trot along, their tongues hanging in joyful slobber; rabbits are getting frisky; and the deer still tiptoe to the silver stream lapping refreshing water to quench a moment of thirst. Then they all move on their way to wherever they go and do what they do. These things of nature, they don’t worry about tomorrow. As the Word says—and the Word is life—tomorrow will take care of itself.
So, sure, maybe we humans take reasonable precautions, just as we should when getting behind the steering wheel with our incredibly well-washed hands. But maybe at this time we should strive more to do as the following scripture tells us. We go about our business taking one day at a time, our souls seeking after the Father, the only true balm, the only real soother, our only pure provider when the world has gone mad.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”—John Muir
The forest is calling me--always calls me—and I can’t wait for life’s weather to let up a bit where I can head out to my sweet spots once again. As a lover of not only nature but literature as well, I can devour works regarding the wilderness experiences of others if I’m planted inside the home for long. A while back, I’d posted a review on Cheryl Strayed’s trek. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, offered much to digest. Even better is Paul Stutzman’s Hiking Through. Never mind that I dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and have lived vicariously by reading this author’s 5-month 14-state journey to complete the AT, his spiritual transformation brought me to tears. Just goes to show, as was pointed out, words have meaning. And our lives, purpose, aside from—and maybe because of—grief, heartache, choices, and possessions that weigh us down. What a stunning and freeing memoir! I highly recommend reading it. And then I urge you to get out in nature and let God speak to you and refresh you through his creation, the church of the mountains. See you on the trail!
Being human today means you can hardly do, speak, or blink anything without making waves. So the waves will come: small ones, large ones, and the inbetweeners. But one must persist, unwaveringly, in the turbulent surf by exhibiting kindness, love, and integrity. It’s hard being human. A gentle answer turns away wrath...? (Proverbs 15:1). Okay. But if somebody is especially wrathful, a tsunami, then maybe we just gently turn away. Find another spot in which to wade.
*Image by Patricia Alexandre from Pixabay