All Creation Sings

It was our seventh day backpacking in the trail-less backcountry of Denali National Park in Alaska when we were awakened by the early morning sunrise in Wolverine Creek. It was going to be our biggest push yet- nine miles to exit- so we needed an early start. The cloudless, blue skies welcomed our early departure from camp.

The previous six days were the thoroughly definitive Alaskan experience- bears, glaciers, bushwacking, territorial and aggressive antelopes, torrential rains, river crossings, and 40-degree temperatures, but even more, brilliant views, wild blueberries by the millions, mountain ranges too vast and too numerous to have even been named, and an absolute solitude devoid of any human activity, communicative technology, noise pollution, or even a single, stray aircraft.

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There was a sense of great satisfaction, deep refreshment, and imminent accomplishment even as we took our first steps forward that last morning.

Alaska could never be fully conquered, but it didn’t conquer us.

And, we were about to finish something very few would ever have the honor and privilege of doing.

Grizzled and chiseled, we made our way through the gravelly and rocky Wolverine Creek toward Mt. Eielson. This rocky mount stands a mile above sea level and was our best and final hope of catching a glimpse of Alaska’s crown jewel, Denali, which had eluded us for the previous six days.

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Each labored step up the 60-degree sloped talus, which consisted of loose, softball-sized ankle busters, was aided by our trekking poles and closely accompanied by our heavy breathing. But ever so subtly, sneaking up on us westward, rising higher and higher with every foot of elevation gained, was the mighty, snow adorned Denali in all her glory.

Only seconds before, our breath was taken by strenuous activity and reduced oxygen level.

But now, our collective breath was taken by sheer majesty.

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As we reached the top of Eielson, no words were spoken, as if each of us already knew what to do and what the others were thinking.

There was a shared solemnity, a communal rite of the sacred and holy.

And along the ridge line we drifted apart, equidistant, to sit and stare and marvel and contemplate the beauty, to drink in the magnificence. It was an indescribably humbling, awe-inspiring, and deeply spiritual moment, quite certainly, the most spiritual experience of my life.

There was a familial union, an unbreakable bond between me, the creation, and the Creator. There birthed a moment of singularity between heaven and earth, of the two becoming miraculously one. The invitation was a present taste of that for which we have always desperately longed, and have continued to expectantly anticipate, in all it’s fullness, at the consummation of the Ages.

My Lord, my God.

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The truth is that we were always meant for perfect peace and perfect union with the Creator and the creation. 

And while there is a deep groaning as we await liberation from the curse, there is a perfect peace and a perfect union into which we can enter, a life into which we can presently reside, that is, not just at peace with God, but at peace with all of creation.

It is a place of shalom, a place of tranquility, completeness, and harmony with all things.

But I am afraid that the forces of our present age are actually fracturing us into successive degrees of separation from this place of shalom.

And it is evident in our busyness, in our technological attachments, in our substance abuse and addictions, in our over-consumption, in our willingness to exploit people and natural resources for finite and temporary gains, and in our utter obsession with the superficial to the neglect of our spirit.

We are quickly becoming a people without a soul, a people pretending to be alive, but who are dying from the inside-out. And this death is manifesting around us as we continue to neglect the ever-present invitation to life in the Spirit. 

As Rohr observed in our present condition, “We are a circumference people, with little access to our natural Center. We live on the boundaries of our own lives, “in the widening gyre,” as [Yeats] puts it, confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as if it were substance. As Yeats predicted, things have fallen apart, ‘the center cannot hold.'”

We were created to be so much more than the lives for which we have settled.

We were created for lives that are exceedingly full and abundant in love for all things. We were created for deep and meaningful relationships with God, with our brothers and sisters of the world, and with all of creation. We were created to taste and experience the wonder and joy of this precious life. We were created for thanksgiving for God’s daily provision. We were created to be good stewards of the animals and the land.  We were created to join all of creation in praise. We were created to be in shalom with the Creator and his good creation.

We were created for so much more.

And it doesn’t take a mountain high in the backcountry of Alaska to discover this, for our eyes to be opened, for our hearts to come alive (even though Alaska may certainly help).

All you have to do is walk outside and take a deep breath and accept the invitation.

Disconnect from all that enslaves you. Leave behind all that binds you and keeps you on the periphery and circumference of this life. Break free from your attachments and addictions. Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, power down your tablet, put them in the cabinet, and go outside.

You are entering sacred and holy space.

Do you recognize it?
Do you see it?
Do you hear it?
Do you feel it?

Lie in the grass under a shade tree, feel the cool blades of grass beneath your fingers, let the wind blow over you. Meditate on the sounds of the birds and the swaying of the leaves on every branch of the tree. Consider every single detail of the rough bark on the tree and all of the busy insects moving hastily through every deep groove.

Contemplate the Love and Beauty and Artistry within each thing. And how that Love surrounds you and how that Love holds you and how that Love invites you.

Spirit, Come!

Is this not humbling?
Is this not awe-inspiring?
Is this not miraculous?

Is this not deeply and profoundly spiritual?

Is this Love not embracing you and holding you and enveloping you? Is this Love of the Creator not calling your soul to greater breadths and depths? Is this Love not what your heart has always desired?

This is the present taste of all we desperately long for in it’s fullness one day, and all we continue to expectantly and patiently anticipate in our future.

But it is also that which is always right here, in front of us, waiting to be discovered. For those who seek it, will surely find it.

It is good.

The Psalmist writes, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Shalom in all and through all…

Brandon

For more on my backpacking trips, please visit A Joyful Procession blog.

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When Words Kill

I was reflecting recently about a time a few years ago when I completely blew it.

I was picking my daughter up from a late evening practice. It was dark outside as we drove and talked about her day. I was heading south on Taylor Road in Columbus, Indiana and approaching a stoplight where there were cars already stopped three-wide.

All of a sudden, mid-sentence, a man and a woman wearing dark clothes walked out from between the vehicles and directly in my path. I slammed on the brakes and was able to avoid a disaster. The only problem is that the guy gave me a dirty look, as if I had done something wrong.

And then I did the unthinkable.

I yelled, “Watch where you are going! You idiot!”

It absolutely kills me to write that story. I never call people names. Never. I rarely get worked up enough to get angry at anyone. That is why it kills me to write that down and share it with you. You may be thinking, “Lighten up Brandon. Everyone is entitled to a little road rage now and then. Besides, that guy deserved it, right?!”

I get it.

But man, ever since that happened the Spirit had been sitting on me like an elephant. There had been a disturbance in the Force, if you will. So much so that the next day I wanted to find some time with my daughter so I could apologize to her.
She was doing her homework the next evening at the dining room table. I asked her if she had a second.

“Hey, I want to apologize to you for the way I acted and what I yelled at that guy last night.”

“Uh ok. I don’t see why you have to apologize to me though for something you did to someone else.”

She had a good point, but I couldn’t get off the hook that easily.

“The reason I have to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness is because I have been entrusted by God and given the awesome responsibility to teach you guys by my words and actions how Jesus would be toward people… and I completely failed at that last night. Do you forgive me?”

Still thinking of ways to help me get off the hook, Anna said, “You know dad, I am not sure that the guy even heard you.”

To which I responded, “Anna, whether he heard me or not is inconsequential. It is what was in my heart, not the words I used, that was the problem. I am really sorry about that. Will you forgive me?”

Of course she did.

So why do I tell you this story?

Well, first, I want to be honest and let all of you know that just because I write a nice blog and have a cool podcast, I am still a work in progress. And that should give each of us a tremendous amount of hope.

No matter where you are in your life and no matter how close or far from God you might think you are, God always unconditionally forgives and works moment by moment to transform you into something exceedingly more beautiful and loving than you ever thought possible. It’s only by the power of God that I can see my sin clearly and ask for a new heart.

But even more, Jesus equates name-calling to murder. I know you may be rolling your eyes at this point, but hear me out. If any one of us calls our fellow human being a fool, or an idiot, we suffer the same judgment as one who commits murder.

But how can the words we use even begin to be as bad as murdering someone?

As with murder, our verbal insult or attack dehumanizes our victim. Our careless, hurtful, negative words are like daggers that penetrate deeply and then severely wound that person at the soul level.

That is how seriously we should take the words we use, because they really matter, they have a deep and lasting impact, and they can kill a person in ways we may never know or understand.

So this isn’t just Jesus creating a new law or new commandment that we ought to follow, but rather it is Jesus showing us that our words significantly matter in the lives of others and they emanate, or spring forth, from what we have in our hearts.

And from a heart that ought to work toward the healing and restoration of people, for the lifting up and edification of our brothers and sisters, for the value and dignity of every human life, and for the blessing and reconciliation of people and relationships, I significantly failed.

In the tenuous and divided country in which we live right now, where dehumanizing others and name-calling are our primary modes of operation in dealing with those whom we disagree, let us not forget that the words we use have value and power, for good or evil.

For every kid in school who is battling through bullying and harassment, contemplating his or her worth and value, and teetering on the edge of killing him or her self, let us not forget that the words we use can be the difference between life and death for others.

For every person who has been torn apart and ripped to shreds their entire life and just can’t handle another hostile and demeaning word, let us not forget that our every word can be the fatal blow or that which brings a person back to life.

Let us not forget that our divisive and hateful words are as lethal as a weapon used to murder. Let us not forget that the words we use are indicative of a deeper heart problem and the place in which our words are ultimately rooted. And let us be individuals who are cut to the core when we use careless language to hurt, wound, or dehumanize another person and then let us look inwardly to see what healing we need at the heart-level.

For the words we use can be powerful weapons that wound, kill, and destroy, or instruments of blessing, healing, and life.

Peace…

Brandon

I Had Become Toxic

Ok. Confession time.

A little over a year ago I interviewed to take my boss’ job when he left our company. He and I had been connected at the hip for over two years and I was incredibly fortunate and grateful that he had subsequently endorsed me and advocated on my behalf to take his position. Additionally, throughout the hiring process, I had eight hour long interviews and I believed I had hit grand slams with each of them. I had even asked each interviewer to make me their top candidate, to which a majority agreed. I felt incredibly confident that the position was mine to lose.

But when the decision was ultimately made.

I didn’t get it.

And I was completely devastated.

I mean like, it thoroughly wounded me.

I don’t pour my heart and soul into many things, but I had poured my heart and soul into this.

And not getting the position was like a dagger in my heart.

I’m not trying to be super melodramatic here for effect. This is what I really felt on the inside. And it was hard to not feel it on a moment by moment basis. Even worse, it was hard to not live out of the wound and the pain that was there.

I’m not sure if you have ever lived out of a wound, but let me tell you- it is a place of death.

It is angry.

It is bitter.

It is hateful.

It is prideful.

It is toxic.

And it makes you all of the things you were never intended to be.

The truth is that the easiest thing in the world to do is ignore the wound and let it fester, but it will ultimately become the source from which you begin to live your life. The toxicity will spread and manifest in how you see people and situations, how you relate with others, and in the words you use and the actions you take.

A neglected and infected wound is toxic and leads to death.

And I am ashamed to say… that was me.

The other day I was talking on the phone to a friend with whom I talk every day. While I came into this new year resolved to mentally move forward, there was still a lot of hostility in my words that came from my deep wound.

That’s when my friend said something that made me completely stop in my tracks. He was like, “Outside of work you have so much peace, but at work you really have a lot of anger.”

I knew he was right.

While I had been trying to mentally move forward, I had buried my deep and concealed wound and was living out of it. And while it had been full of death and was completely toxic, I had never taken time to face it, to introspect, to pray over it, and open myself to get the healing that I so desperately needed. I had just tried to ignore it and move on, but it was there the whole time killing me.

It’s easy to get into a place where one selectively introspects. We all have blind spots. And if I had not been pushed by my friend, I would have never been forced to look inward, to ask where this death is coming from, to face the wound and what caused it, and then what continued to perpetuate it.

The truth about myself that I had been avoiding is that I have a wound and I have been living out of it for over a year. And guess what? It will not heal until I humbly face it and ask the Spirit of God to do the inner work that only the Spirit can do- to heal my toxic wound and replace it with love, contentment, and joy. That’s where my prayer and attention is focused now. And it’s amazing how liberated I feel and how unburdened I have become.

I can’t overstate how important it is for each of us to have people in our lives that we allow to speak truth to us.

Sometimes, even with our best intentions, we are woefully myopic and painfully selective. But it goes beyond having someone who will speak truth to us. Even though it may hurt our ego and any sense of pride in our lives, for real, lasting healing we have to put down our defenses and peacefully listen to the truth about ourselves.

For it is only in a posture of humility and invitation that we can receive the kind of truth that can pierce our ego and pride and allow the necessary work to be done at the source of our wound to make us whole and healed from the inside out.

Peace, love, and healing…

Brandon