Awakening to All That is Good

It was an early fourth morning at Hance Creek, one of the few lush, vibrant ecosystems in the heart of the dry, arid, and unforgiving Grand Canyon. We had been on the trail-less Escalante Route the three previous days, hugging the mighty Colorado River in complete isolation, far from the usual touristy stops along the south rim and well beyond the maintained and frequented hiker trails that ascend and descend in and out of the canyon. We were in the rarely travelled backcountry of the Grand Canyon.

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Our last ascent from Hance Creek would take us up a couple thousand feet to the visually stunning Horseshoe Mesa and then another thousand or so feet to our end destination at Grandview Point.

As we broke camp and steadily trekked toward the base of Horseshoe Mesa, there was a palpable and shared sense of excitement and trepidation. Excitement that we were conquering yet another highly-prized backpacking bucket list adventure that would add serious cred to our growing resume’, but trepidation in knowing what kind of climb still stood between us and our exit.

The sun was already blazing in the near cloudless early morning sky and there was all but a single, lowly shade tree as we approached the towering mesa. We thought it would be the perfect spot for a quick drink and a temporary reprieve from the sun before our big climb.

As we stood there in our short respite, one of the guys asked if I had any music on my phone. Usually I clear everything off of it in order to make room for all of the pictures I take during the trip, but to my surprise, there was one single song waiting in the queue.

As I pressed play, we all quickly quieted.

In that one anticipatory moment, Passing Afternoon by Iron and Wine sweetly greeted us, and, to be honest, it felt as if I had never heard a song before.

There was an overwhelming intimacy I had never fully experienced through a song.

There was an acuteness to every sound, to every word sung. There was a simple, yet profound appreciation for every note, every melody, every harmony. There was a resonance in the depths of my soul that made this moment one of the most memorable of my life.

For four days the only sounds we heard were of nature- the blowing winds, the rushing waters, the melodious singing of birds, and each other’s voices.

And in finding that space, it was nothing short of a peaceful and calm bliss.

For the sounds of busyness and distraction had been silenced. Every tendency toward consumption had been vacated. An easing stillness cleansed and refreshed our souls.

And it was there where my appreciation was renewed.

I wasn’t listening to a song as a means to distract or as one trying to fill the void of an uncomfortable silence or as one simply consuming to consume, I was fully present and listening, as if for the first time, with deep appreciation.

Let me tell you.

There is something renewing and refreshing about purposefully removing oneself to find refuge in the stillness and quiet, or intentionally abstaining and then slowing reuniting. It is an essential discipline undertaken to be continually reminded of the resident goodness and simple beauty of all that we can all too easily take for granted.

And it is in this kind of intentionality, of seeking the refuge of stillness and quiet, of purposefully escaping the incessant activity, busyness, and noise of life, that moves us from a place of endless addiction, mindless consumption, and taking what we have for granted, to a place of simplicity and beauty, to a place of experiencing and appreciating all things anew.

I had this same experience and depth of appreciation when I fasted for a week a few years ago. When I met with my brothers with whom I had been fasting over that week, we took the warm, homemade molasses and honey communion bread with a cup of deep, red earthy wine together to break our fast. There was an intensity and complexity in what I could smell and an explosion of diversity in what I could taste.

In that moment, I was thoroughly appreciative and truly thankful.

We live in an age in which stimulation and consumption are all too normal in our lives. 

The culture we have created keeps us constantly seeking more and more stimulation, and we are never quite satisfied or at peace in stillness or solitude, let alone finding the essential refreshing of our souls in that space.

The culture in which we live and participate keeps us consuming and discarding, and we never quite find the satisfaction in what we have, let alone appreciating or finding beauty in it.

For it’s not in seeking more and more stimulation or consumption in which we find greater depths in this life. It is only in a regular rhythm of sacrificial discipline where the Spirit can awaken our senses to discover and appreciate, moment by moment, all that we take for granted.

We were a few hundred feet from the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. We had traversed 110-miles over eight arduous days through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, in areas too remote for even the strongest cellular signal.

It wasn’t the first weeklong backpacking trip we had taken in which we were not able to communicate with our families. And it is always a surreal experience to be so remote, so off the grid that one has no way of hearing the voices of their loved ones, of knowing what is going on in the world, or knowing what kind of world one is walking back into.


But as we finally reached the 14,500 foot summit of Whitney, something unexpected happened. Our phones began to vibrate and ring continuously at different intervals, almost as if we were each receiving our own unique Morse Code messages, as they connected to service. As I looked down at the screen and began to read my text messages and then listen to my voicemails from my wife, my kids, and my mom and dad, tears began to stream down my face.

There was a sweetness and tenderness in their voices that I had too often overlooked or had not fully appreciated.

The truth is that we can very easily miss the simple beauty of those things that we take for granted, those things we quickly discard so we can consume more. And so much so, that we may not even appreciate the richness of what we have right in front of us, whether it be listening to a song, eating a meal, or enjoying the company of those we love.

Check out my backpacking blog at http://ajoyfulprocession.wordpress.com

Peace…

Brandon

A Prayer of Reconciliation to the World

Somehow I forgot to post this when it was written in 2010. Of course it seems as relevant now as it did then. This piece is an excerpt from my 2010 book Unearthed: How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World.

Father God,

Too many times we as Christians have been the loudest and most vocal voices and many times we have not represented or embodied the way, life, and teachings of your Son Jesus.

Our judgmental and condemning voices have become a poor representation of Jesus in the community and the larger world and have left many who do not know anything about Jesus with a bad taste in their mouths and a deep contempt for your Church.

Too many times we are quick to say that we are the “defenders of the faith,” or the “protectors of our Christians heritage.” Yet in our zealousness to defend, we have compromised the way of your son, Jesus, and have many times done it in his name.

Father we repent and ask for forgiveness, for we know that Jesus did not spend his time isolating and targeting special “sin groups” or trying to defend his positions through arguing and debating.

Father we ask humbly that you replace our ways with your ways.

For we know that the way of Jesus does not have to be defended; it must be demonstrated.

It never moves out in judgment; it moves out in love.

It never extends in condemnation to the world; it extends in grace and mercy.

The ways of arguing, defending, judging, and condemning always build up walls and embitters those in the world who are on the receiving end.

For every way that we as the Church have fallen short of representing you to the world, we ask for forgiveness.

Father, we are so eager to accept your grace, but are so unwilling to extend it. We are so eager to accept your love, but are so unwilling to demonstrate it. We are so eager to accept your mercy, but so unwilling to give it.

While we have known that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, we have believed that it is our responsibility to condemn it.

While we have known that Jesus said he did not come into the world to judge it, we have believed it is our responsibility to judge it.

While we have known that Jesus told his followers to “judge not,” we have instead decided to judge anyway.

And while we have known that Paul asked the Church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church?” we have instead decided that we should be the judges of the world?

God forgive us for not being like Jesus to the world.

Father, we need the strength to sacrifice our own wants, needs, desires, and pursuits.

Forgive us for the ways we have put idols within the Church ahead of you and your Kingdom.

Forgive us for the way we have worshipped facility and program over you.

Forgive us for the way we have followed human convention rather than your Spirit.

Father, we desperately need the fresh breath of your Holy Spirit to mold us and shape us into something useable and to open our eyes to the things that are not important to you.

We know that while we have been ignorant and negligent in understanding and extending your Kingdom, our calling and pursuit should be to model Christ by living and extending your Kingdom, giving ourselves self-sacrificially in love and service to the world, embodying a life of peace, justice, and mercy that becomes the yearning of all humanity.

Father, it is in this calling and pursuit that we have fallen woefully and painfully short. And it is because of our shortcomings with the world that we desperately need forgiveness.

Father, we need your power and strength to apologize to,and seek forgiveness from, any and all of those who have been on the receiving end of judgment, condemnation, or abuse from those of us who have labeled ourselves as Christians.

We deeply and prayerfully apologize and repent. We have not represented the love, grace, mercy, and heart of Jesus very well…and we desperately need your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world.

To the atheist, agnostic, Jew, and Muslim, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the homosexual, African-American, or any other minority that we have judged and oppressed in the past, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the poor, enslaved, or victim of injustice, abuse, and neglect, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness for judging you and turning a blind eye.

To every single expecting mother who sought an abortion, we ask for forgiveness for judging you and turning you into an issue and not demonstrating the lengths to which we would go to show you love, guidance, help, and assistance

And to every single person who has experienced anything less than the unconditional love of Christ from the Christian, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

In Jesus name we as the Church in unity pray, Amen and Amen.

Sabbath: The Sacred Space

Anna had just finished cross-country practice when she opened the passenger side door of my car and sat in the seat next to me.

After a few minutes of chitchat with my oldest daughter, she asked a very direct, yet inquisitive question.

“Dad, why do certain religions have a day when they don’t work or do anything?”

It was a fantastic question. And just the kind of question I love to answer.

I explained to Anna that the Sabbath was a day of rest given to mankind at the very beginning of creation. It was a day in which all work activity was to cease so that people could rest, rejuvenate, and give thanks to God.

I then further explained that Sabbath was central to the very heartbeat of Judaism, as God instructed them through His law to abstain from any activity that constituted work. Sabbath was, not just true for His people, but also the animals and the land. Animals were to be given a day of rest each week and the land a year of rest for every six it is worked.

As I explained Sabbath to Anna, and how important it is to our well being (mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and communally), I began to think about my childhood and how every business in our small town stayed closed every single Sunday. And as I thought back to that time it made me so profoundly sad. It was a sad realization that there had been something so simple and so life-giving built into our culture, given for our benefit, rooted in the very foundation of creation, and we lost it… we walked away from it. And there was not even as much as a whimper when we lost it.

Maybe because we lost it so slowly. Maybe because it started as one store and then another and then another. Maybe it happened so subtly that our pace didn’t really change and we really never recognized what was truly being lost. Maybe if we would have lost it suddenly then we would have realized the magnitude of what we were giving up.

It wasn’t just stores and businesses.  It was us.  Individuals.

We were walking away from Sabbath as something that was optional, even a little archaic.

It was insignificant… of little consequence.  If we lost it… well… we wouldn’t be missing anything.

But Sabbath was a fortress wall behind which we could retreat at least once a week to find our breath and maintain our rhythm. Behind the towering walls of Sabbath we found respite, relief, and peace and even regained our sanity because it was the only thing strong and sturdy enough to withstand the unrelenting assault of busyness, 60-hour work weeks, and capitalistic greed.

But here we are now as wayfarers and travelers, with not even as much as a faint memory of where we used to be. Another generation, and the generation after that, has come along after us and has been introduced into a world, and a culture, that does not stop, that does not rest, that does not take time to breathe, and does not understand our desperate need for sacred space.

The pace at which we are moving is increasing without any evidence of slowing down.

The amount of information coming at us at any one moment is doubling and tripling in the wrong direction.

The degree to which we are connected to technology only promises to make us more connected and more connected… not less.

And to be honest… it feels like suffocation or drowning or losing control or all of them at the same time.

But to many, including Anna, I am fearful that this feeling is shockingly normal… because they have not known any other way.

And it is evident.

In our anxiety.

In our stress.

In our mania.

There is no denying that we are paying for it heavily with our minds, bodies, and souls.

And the thing is… the forces keep coming and they continue to increase and they keep taking more and taking more.

It is subtle but incremental… and completely overwhelming.

Matthew Sleeth, in his eye-opening (and highly recommended) book 24/6, writes:

We cannot turn back the hands of time. Our 24/7 world is not going to change. Life will only get more intense. New communication tools, nanotechnology, and human engineering will increase the number of tasks an individual can do simultaneously. We will look back with nostalgia at the 24/7 world once these “advances” make 48/7 a reality. If we wish to have a weekly day of rest, it will no longer happen as a societal default. It will happen only as a result of conscious choice. All we need to begin is to “remember,” as the Fourth Commandment tells us. We must remember the why and the how of a day of rest.

He is right. We cannot depend on our societies, our governments, our businesses to make the right choices or create sacred space for us. Once we abandoned the sacred space of Sabbath, there is nothing left but empty promises that will never give us what we keep hoping to attain- a better life.

The fortress of Sabbath still stands. It is still there. It hasn’t fallen or been destroyed. We just left it. The doors are still open to enter back into a Sabbath’s Day rest… to stop the madness… to stop the cycle… to stop the work… to escape the forces that are overwhelming us and imprisoning us.

The Sabbath doors are open and beckoning us to come back and take a deep breath and spend time with family and play with our kids at the playground and take a walk in the evening while watching the sunset and enjoy a meal with our friends… and discover what we have really wanted all along (but maybe never even known it)- life in it’s fullness.

Sabbath is calling us back.

I am not much on New Year’s resolutions… but Sabbath would be worth pursuing in the new year.

Have a happy new year!

brandon