Blog Archives

Church This Morning: Beyond Words and into Story


I slept in and probably got the best sleep I have had in weeks. I greeted, kissed, held my wife, and told her “I love you!” (which I truly do). I had my coffee and cereal for breakfast, then caught a bit of “This Week” on TV, nothing new just a bummed and bleak outlook of politics as usual. We watched a beautiful cardinal in our back yard. Of course I took a picture! I then listened to the music portion of the worship service at our local mega-church. Good, yet I felt a bit of disconnect with cameras zooming in on the abundance of technology and aura of performance.

Since my return to Turn This World Around a few weeks ago, I created an Amy Grant station on Pandora. Well that might be some worshipful listening! I tuned in and skipped around listening to parts of a couple of good songs, once among my favorites, “I Can Only Imagine,” and “Shout to the Lord.” Actually, I skipped so many songs that the program would not allow any more skips and forced me to listen. I turned it off! Too many words and too much busy noise.

Suddenly I had this thought, like an epiphany. Beyond words! It is as if, for me, words are no longer a necessary nor perhaps meaningful mode of worship, my spirituality, or my connecting with God. Now, all of that seems to come with practicing Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” which is not so much about being quiet and motionless as it is about letting go, releasing control, and acknowledging vulnerabilities in order that we may know God and His power in our lives and the universe. For me it is about worshiping and knowing God with and through a heart of faith. 

Don’t get me wrong! I am not saying that words are nonessentials in our spiritual lives. After all, what am I doing now—writing, sharing my thoughts with words. We use words to share our stories, to connect with one another, to foster meaning and understanding with all sorts of folks in our daily lives. Maybe somewhat like the parables of Jesus. Perhaps only as we go beyond words in our personal worship and spirituality can we use words efficiently and effectively in the enhancement of God’s Kingdom on earth.

As I continued my “church,” I reached for an old journal to write about my Beyond Words! epiphany. Go figure on that one! I thought the journal was empty, and this would be the beginning of my renewed commitment to “story” and story writing and listening. However, the first several pages were filled with quotes from an old reading of Dan Allender’s To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future. Coincidence, maybe or maybe not. I was awed as I read what I had copied years ago. Do I still have the book? Yes! I found it on the shelf between David Gushee’s The Sacredness of Human Life and Jim Wallis’s On God’s Side. A couple of quotes that jumped from the pages of To Be Told:

Nevertheless, every story given to us and every story told to another is a precious gift that has the potential to seed us with God. – page 211

It is my responsibility to own what deeply moves me and then to live it out for the sake of others. – page 68 

I am passionate in my belief that everyone’s life is sacred, and as we share our stories with one another we invite greater understanding and compassion – we become portals of grace one to another. Needless to say, I will continue to share my stories and invite you all to do the same.

The Sacred: Part II-Reflections and Ponderings


          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this:  the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death.”

          In reflection, it seems ironic that the night I heard these words ended my CPE training. I continued to have difficulty with the retina, needed additional surgical procedures, and was not able to return. However, I continued, and to this day continue, to revisit and ponder upon the events of that night and the words I had heard. Given the manner in which I had received them they were much more than mere words. It felt as if they were more like an edict, a proclamation, a lens through which to view all of life.

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this: the sanctity of life. . .”

          I know that sanctity is the quality or state of being holy or sacred; thus life itself is considered holy and sacred; inviolable — to important to be ignored or treated with disrespect. The origin of “sanctity” is the Latin word “sanctus” meaning sacred. 

          I believe the “sanctity of life” message that I heard was a foundational theological and spiritual truth based on the sacredness of life — all lives.  It was not the “sanctity of life” political message that was being touted then, and we hear often today in the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate. Again, it was a universal truth based on the sacredness of life — all lives. We hear today the expressions — Black Lives Matter, LGBT Lives Matter, Cops Lives Matter — and they do because ALL LIVES MATTER. Oh, that we might embrace ALL LIVES MATTER and SANCTITY OF LIFE as spiritual truths and live them out in our daily lives and not simply use them as catchy slogans to promote our political, racial, or cultural biases.

          Christianity’s foundation for sanctity of life is grounded in the doctrine that God is the Creator and God chose to create man in His image. Man is God’s image bearer. It is also quite relevant and important to notice that this valuing, worthiness, sacredness of life is universal to the traditions of all major world religions and perhaps represents their deepest teachings, roots and values. Sadly, we, all of us, are not living up to our traditions.

         “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this. . .the sacrament of relationships. . .

          What does that mean? Being brought up in the Baptist faith tradition, I was more familiar with the term ‘ordinances’ than “sacrament” so I had to do some study.  I knew of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments” in the Protestant faith traditions.  I quickly learned there are seven sacraments in the Catholic faith tradition. But,what exactly is a sacrament? What is the meaning and purpose of a sacrament or sacramental rite.

          Well, I read a lot about sacraments, their meaning and purpose.  Most of which I understood, some I did not as I am not a theological scholar.  I was able to grasp that sacrament is derived from the Latin word sacramentum and means “a sign of the sacred.” A sacrament is also a portal of grace in and to our lives.  Sacraments not only come from God, but they also make God present in our lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Sacraments are visible signs of invisible things whereby man is made holy.”

            So, in my ponderings, I have come to understand sacrament to be an outward expression of the sacred/the holy, that which points us toward God, and/or that which invites God’s participation in our life. I had learned long ago that in a sacramental marriage God’s love is manifest in the loving, grace filled, covenant relationship between the couple. God and His love are mirrored in that relationship. Thus, the sacrament of marriage is intended to be an outward sigh of God’s love and grace, the sacred and holy.  Now, that is in theory, at least. We know from experience that that is not nearly always the case.

          As I continued to ponder on “sacrament of relationship” I began to ask myself could it not be possible for us to manifest/mirror the love of God in all our relationships from the loving, covenant relationship between life long partners, to the kind, helpful, affirming relationship between intimate friends and family, to the courteous, respectful relationships with our co-workers, to the respectful acceptance of differences with those we call our enemies. If we accept the premise of the sanctity/sacredness of human life — all human life — then it is not a huge jump to conclude that if I am sacred, and you are sacred, then how we relate and treat one another should be “an outward expression of the sacred” — a sacrament, if you will. Can our relationships not be a “portal of grace” to one another? The sacred in me recognizes, respects, and responds to the sacred in you in a sacred fashion. Can not the sacred and grace be expressed in how we relate to one another? Thus, the Sacrament of Relationships–all relationship.

          “Brenda, if you know nothing else, know this. . .the sacredness of death.”

          What is sacred and holy about death? For so long in our cultural history we have not talked about death and dying and what it means for us individually and as a people. Thankfully, we are beginning to move toward conversations regarding death, even our own deaths. As Michael Dodd, a religious naturalist, says, “Death is sacred, necessary, and real.”

          As I studied the word “sacred,” the definition “worthy of or regarded with religious honor and respect” caught my attention. Certainly through my experiences that evening in the hospital, I began to view death with a worthy regard and sense of honor – sacredness. I suppose that, in the first place, if we view the individual life as sacred then the death of that life is no less sacred. Death is a necessary and inevitable part of the cycle of life. As surely as we have birth and life, we must have death. In our natural world, death is life-giving.

          Just a little aside here: I have an affinity for dead trees, and my partner gives me grief about that at times, especially when I am taking photos of them. I see a dead tree still standing tall or fallen, and I am in awe at the growth and change that has occurred from tiny seed to towering trunk. I envision the life that the tree has exuded and nurtured from the insects it has fed, to the nests and young is has held, to the seeds and seedlings it has propagated. Even in its dying it will decay and continue to provide sustenance and return rich, life-giving nutrients to its mother earth. For me, that is a sacred process.

           Then even more so would not the death of a person, any human being regardless of race, creed, or culture, be a sacred thing. Consider with wonder the growth and change the person has experienced in his/her lifetime. Note with awe, perhaps most strikingly, at the deathbed, the lives, the family, the relationships the person influenced and nurtured. Yes, and even as much as we don’t like to think about it, and however we frame it –“dust to dust, “ashes to ashes,” “coming from God and returning to God,” that person’s remains will in some fashion return to the earth and become life-giving. Death – a sacred/holy thing in the cycle of life.

          Now, in my opinion, what makes us as humans different from the tree is our attribute of soul or spirit. What I have come to believe regarding the human soul/spirit — and I believe it is undeniable and universal — is that it is “eternal.” In our christian faith tradition the soul/spirit of the deceased has eternal life with God. And, perhaps an additional way of viewing eternal life is that the soul/spirit of the deceased is carried and lives on within us — in our hearts and souls and in our minds and memories. And that is a sacred/holy thing—coming from and perhaps an extension of our sacramental relationships.

          “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this – the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death.”

          Those words have become transformative in my life – my beliefs, my thinking and my sense and expression of my spirituality. I had begun to move and grow from a more rigid, perhaps fundamental, spiritual worldview a couple of years prior to this experience. You might say this night and these words somewhat “sealed the deal.” I am, and always will be, a christian (with a small “c”), a Jesus-follower, and a member of the church catholic – again small “c.” However, much of the dogma and doctrine of faith traditions no longer fit into my new found paradigm of what is truly sacred and holy.

          What I heard that night was a universal spiritual truth of the sacredness of life, relationships, and death common to all peoples, cultures, and faith traditions.   In all our differences, we as the human race hold, at the very least, these three things in common. We all have life. We are living, breathing, and capable of thought, emotion, and action.

          We all have relationships. We are born into relationship. You and I are someone’s son or daughter, perhaps mother or father, or brother or sister. So is our neighbor that aggravates us at times, our Muslim co-worker, the immigrant, perhaps undocumented, that does our yard work, the adorable grocery clerk, the annoying taxicab driver, the soldier we would call our enemy. All people are in relationships, and someone loves them and they love others. Think about it.

          We will all die, at some point, and that death will be sacred as it marks the passing of a sacred life, a shift in sacramental relationship, a return to that from which we came. In death we all participate in that natural circle of life. In death, a life is mourned by others, and others will continue to carry the soul/spirit of the deceased within themselves.  

           We can’t escape it. The sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationships, and the sacredness of death are elements that unite us with one another. It is my hope and prayer that we can come to realize this at both the head and the heart level, come to truly see others as “sacred” beings, and seek a respectful, peaceful unity in sacramental relationships with all peoples.



The Sacred Part I: What I Heard!

We are in the midst of Holy Week and I awakened this morning to the breaking news of a deadly attack in Brussels. Two locations bombed, thirty-one individuals killed without provocation, hundreds others injured–physically and/or emotionally, and relationships and families thrown into turmoil and grief with the loss of loved ones. In the wake of increasing global violence and incidents such as this, I am shaken with grief and despair. I am apt to question “why.” Why do we continue to destroy our fellow humankind? What have we lost, forgotten, or failed to learn in our lives’ journeys that we treat one another with such disregard and inhumanity.
      Honestly, as I lay in bed last night, I committed to sharing this post today. The news of this morning affirms our need to be reminded of what is holy and sacred.  I so want to hope in the midst of despair! 

The Sacred: Part I– What I Heard!Unknown

      In the late 1980’s I marked a verse in my old King James Bible, Matthew 10:27:

What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in light, and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.


More recently I discovered and really like The Message translation:

             Do not hesitate to go public, now!

I’m going public today and share my story of an experience that changed me, my life, and my spiritual path and journey.

         In October of 1997 I was in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE – chaplaincy) training. I was six weeks into the course, and it was my first rotation being on call– an all-nighter as hospital chaplain on-call. As I sometimes do with first-time experiences, I felt a bit apprehensive, but not overly so, trusting God to lead and guide in all that I might be called upon to say or do. I also knew that as I began the evening, I was a bit more vulnerable –physically, spiritually, and emotionally — than I might ordinarily have been in that I was recovering from surgery for a detached retina. The last couple of weeks had been full of uncertainties. My prayers were for a quiet night.
         I began the evening by making a few visits and the “rounds” of the various floors and departments. I then retired to my assigned “sleeping” room. Although, there would be no sleeping that night. Without going into the details of each case, I will simply say that there were four deaths in the hospital that night.
         The first was a heart attack victim in the emergency room — a 60 year old man, a family in the midst of shock, confusion, questioning, and grief. I have distinct memories of physically supporting the wife as she stood by the gurney holding her deceased husband’s hand. I did everything I knew to do as chaplain even as I wrestled with this, my first face to face encounter with death.
         The second was a middle-aged woman who had been on life support for several days and the decision had been made to remove the life support. I checked in on the family a couple of times, thankfully, the family’s minister was present with them.
         The third death that evening was an elderly gentleman in the oncology unit. He was alone as family members did not arrive until after he had expired. The final death was an older gentleman also in the oncology unit. His wife and daughter were present with him. I assisted them with some of the necessary paper work and waited with them until the funeral home came for the remains. When they left, I walked them to their car through the maze of construction that was going on at the time. As I walked back into the hospital through the construction tunnel shrouded in black plastic, it was four o’clock in the morning. I was exhausted — even more drained than when the evening began. I recall my prayer as I walked, “Please, God, no more tonight.”
         I got back to my “sleeping” room and leaned against the bed. That’s when it happened. I fell apart–overwhelmed with emotion and exhaustion. I began to cry — deep gut wrenching sobs. The events of the evening were soaking in, and I felt tremendous sorrow for the families. I also felt a sense of wonder and gratitude for the guidance and grace that got me through the night. In the midst of my sobbing I heard God’s voice — not a loud audible voice, yet more than “a still, small voice.” I heard these clear, distinct words in the depths of my heart, mind and soul.

              “Brenda, if you learn and know nothing else, know this: the sanctity of Life, the   sacrament of Relationship, and the sacredness of Death.”  

I was taken aback. Where did that come from? And I continued to weep hearing those words over and over again.
      I did lay down for a bit, but sleep was impossible. The events and scenes from the evening were running like a video loop in my head. I could not shake them. In wonder and awe and still somewhat incredulous, I kept hearing and thinking about His words. The message that the most important things in life to know were the sanctity of life, the sacrament of relationship, and the sacredness of death. It was as if when we know and practice these, everything else will take care of itself. I left the room early, completed the log of the night’s events, and exited the hospital shortly after 7 am in wonder and awe, and with lots to ponder. 

Remembering Thomas Merton

NOTE:  Tomorrow, January 31, 2015, marks the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton.  I thought I would pass along this tribute.

Remembering Thomas Merton, Interfaith Dialogue Champion by Leroy Seat on*

Growing up in rural northwest Missouri, I didn’t have much opportunity to know people who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.
My years in two Baptist colleges and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary didn’t afford much possibility of getting to know Catholics, either.

Actually, as I think back, I guess my first Catholic friend was a Canadian priest, Zénon Yelle, who lived in the same city in Japan.

In the 1970s, he became a member of a book discussion group that my wife, June, and I attended monthly.

Zénon was a thoughtful man and a good scholar; getting to know him helped me gain a more positive idea about Catholics.

It was also probably in the 1970s that I first became aware of, and then read a book by, Thomas Merton, an outstanding Catholic thinker and prolific author. Merton was born on Jan. 31, 1915, 100 years ago tomorrow.

The first of Merton’s more than 70 books that I read was “New Seeds of Contemplation,” and I have read it a time or two since. And then a few years ago I read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” his highly acclaimed autobiography.

Partly in honor of his memory, this month I have read Merton’s “No Man Is an Island,” one of his most widely read books on what he calls “the spiritual life.” These books are quite beneficial for Protestants as well as Catholics.

In 1941, Merton became a Trappist monk in the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. That was his home for the next 27 years before his untimely death.

E. Glenn Hinson was one of my teachers at Southern Seminary in the spring semester of 1960 – and after all these years I still exchange emails with him regularly.

In the fall of 1960, Hinson began taking students to Gethsemani. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in any of his classes that did that, so I never had the privilege of meeting Merton or hearing him speak – or of learning more about Catholics.

But the contact with Merton was quite meaningful to the seminary students who did go to Gethsemani with Hinson, and in a recent email Hinson wrote, “Merton had a very profound impact on my life and ministry.”

Through the years, Merton became a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, engaging in deep discussions with Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

In December 1968, Merton went to Thailand to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks.

From there he intended to go on to Japan to learn more about Zen Buddhism. After speaking at the conference in Thailand, though, he suddenly died.

It is generally concluded that while stepping out of his bath, he was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan.

It was a tragic loss to the religious world and to all who knew him. It is impossible to know how much more good he could have done if he had lived.

One chapter in “New Seeds of Contemplation” is titled “The Root of War is Fear.” Several times I have quoted the concluding words of that chapter, and they are words worth remembering and worth considering over and over again: “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

*Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. A version of this article also appeared on his blog, The View from this Seat, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.


Note:  We are traveling.  So here are my thoughts and travelog!  

We are in Abilene State Park.  As we have traveled today I have been overwhelmed with the knowledge and feeling that I am extremely blessed.  After months of planning and preparations, we are finally on the road.  Six weeks of touring in Arizona mostly — seeing some of the sights and speaking at  PFLAG — Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — as well as other gatherings.  We kept looking at each other and saying, “We are actually on the road and going!”

Being humbled with gratitude leads me to an attitude of prayer.  Amidst the gratitude today, I found myself “voicing” prayers in my heart.  We had voiced a spoken prayer this morning before leaving, thanking God for this opportunity to travel and speak and asking His blessings and safety in our travels.

Oh, my goodness!  Three deer- a doe, a young fawn, and a spike buck have walked up throught the woods and are grazing about twenty yards from where I sit.  Thank you, God!  Oh, that we might be more atune and thankful for the moments of awe and wonder that come our way at unexpected times and places.  We had an armadillo join us for dinner earlier.  Certainly not as graceful and lovely a creature as the deer, but one of God’s creatures none the less.   We also had several squirrels scampering from tree to tree.  Now as the dusk deepens there is a chorus of cicadas in the air.  Moments of Wonder and Awe!  I am thankful!

Now, back to the discussion of gratitude prior to the arrival of the deer.  There was a time today in my thankfulness that  this thought fluttered across my consciousness, “Maybe God will bless us on this trip because I am grateful and praying?”  I am appalled at times by the thoughts that sometimes flutter across my mind!  And this was just such a thought and time.  I believe and know that there is neither bargaining nor negotiating  with God.  God blesses me, all of us, in His wisdom and mercy when and how He sees fit.  I am thankful for those blessings. Period!  And when life is rolling along and things do not seem so blessed, I will be thankful IN, not for all things.  I believe that concept is expressed in I Thessalonians 5:18. 

This reminds me of something that I learned many years ago.  It is true that we all have random sometimes disgusting, appalling, and unwanted thoughts to flutter across our gray matter.  What matters is not that we had the thought, but what we do with it after we have it.  Do we dismiss it as a random, unwanted thought and move on to more acceptable thoughts, or do we dwell on it, allow it to loom large and influence all of our thoughts and actions?  This is where the important choice must be made.  I like to use this analagy:  Thoughts can be like the birds.  We cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we certainly do have a choice in whether we allow them to build a nest in our hair!   Think about that!Sp 

Note from PSHeretic:  At first I thought this writing probably had nothing to do with a spiritual journey — a.k.a. pilgrim, seeker, heretic.  However, as I pondered on it I thought “Yep!  It is surely a part of my journey.”  Our pilgrimage is immersed in family, and I don’t know that there is anything more sacred than death (more about why I say that -later) and remembering, honoring, and carry the spirit of our loved ones with us as the journey continues.  So, here it is!

         Clyde E. Still 12/20/31 -- 10/28/2012

Clyde E. Still
12/20/31 — 10/28/2012

My Dad’s Legacy

Big Cypress Bayou Paddle

October 21, 2013

I have wanted to do this paddle for probably the past two years — at least since I got the kayak.  Dad is on my mind and in my heart as the bayou was certainly his sacred space, his Holy Ground, and I am one week away from the first anniversary of his death.  He loved this land and these waters – the wetlands of Cypress Bayou.  He knew the bayous –Black, Little and Big Cypress — like the back of his hand.  Many times he has taken me up and down the channels and into their inner recesses.  He could find the remotest areas for his trotlines.  The last time we were out on the bayou before his death we were in Black Cypress.  The water level was up, and we were out of the channel in a maze of Cypress trees.  Some of them were so close that the boat occasionally got hung up as we weaved our way through.  I had no idea how to get out of the swamps and back to the main channel, but he always knew where he was, where he was going, and how to get there.  I always felt safe with my dad in the boat.  I surely do miss him!  I had told Dad numerous times that I wanted to do this paddle.  His response was always, “Just don’t tell me when you do it.  Just show up.”  Dad was a worrier.  I can understand Dad’s worry, as often, when I know what my sons are doing – car trip, airplane journey – I will worry a bit.  Well, Dad, don’t worry today.  I know you are watching.

Moving down the bayou I see evidence of times come and gone.  The initial channel going east from Jefferson is wider than the channel back toward the west, a testament to more boat traffic today as well as in the past. The remains of a Civil War ordnance magazine are on the right about a third of a mile down the bayou.  The channel becomes even wider at what is still known as the “turning basin.”  This is where mid-nineteenth century stern-wheelers that made their way up the Mississippi into the Red River, through Caddo Lake, and up Big Cypress Bayou loaded and unloaded cargo and turned to head back to the Mississippi.   The broad channel is a reminder of the days when Jefferson was a bustling port and known as the “Gateway to Texas.”  Today, the bayou is quiet.

Quiet and flat best describe the water, as it is not moving at all.  This is definitely a paddle trip, not a float trip in a steadily moving current.   The Texas drought continues to take its toll on our waterways, and the Big Cypress is no exception.  The water level is as low as I have seen it since 1986 – 26 years ago – when Dad and Mom made their home on the bayou.  The Bald Cypress tree roots are sprawling and gaping where once they were covered and nourished by the waters.  I see the collateral damage of the drought as well – lots of dead wood as trees have fallen.  At one point a very large tree has fallen into and across the bayou making it difficult to maneuver.  Not only is the bayou affected by the drought, but it is also impacted by both our conservation efforts and ultimately water usage.

               In 1959 the Army Corps of Engineers completed the Ferrell’s Bridge Dam on Big Cypress Bayou.  The dam is located eight and a half miles west of Jefferson, Texas.  The dam, a project of the Flood Control Act of 1946, created Ferrell’s Creek Reservoir (now known as Lake O’the Pines).  Additional purposes of wildlife conservation, recreation, and water supply were added during construction.  The lake provides water supply storage for the Northeast Texas Municipal Water District serving six towns in the surrounding area and the city of Longview.  The drought and the municipal water usage results in very little water, if any, being released from the lake.  Approximately 14 miles east of Jefferson on Big Cypress is Caddo Lake State Park and the entrance to Caddo Lake, the largest natural lake in the South.  Since the beginning of the current drought, anytime Dad saw the current running in the bayou, he assumed that “someone is pumping water out of Caddo.”  I have no way of substantiating that, but Dad believed it, and it seems to be a likely assumption.  As more water is held and used for municipal and industrial consumption, what will be its impact on Dad’s beloved Cypress Bayou?

As I continue to paddle one thing I do not see is people, not a living soul of the human kind.  I have seen a small whitetail deer jump and scurry into the woods.  Apparently it was lying on the ground and my passing disturbed it.  A kayak is quiet, but not always quiet enough!  There have been turtles on logs, most I could see, but some I only heard as they “plopped” into the water at my approach.  When the kayak is still – for a drink or simply to take in my surroundings – I hear the mosquitos buzzing my head.  Even with the drought, they are alive and well!  I know the forest is home to a plethora of wildlife species – fox and gray squirrels, armadillos, cottontails, bobcats, cardinals, barred owl, snakes – for I have seen them, but not today.  Heck, I have even eaten them.  When I was a kid, venison steaks and squirrel stew were frequent fare.  One time Dad prepared soft-shell turtle and armadillo just because he wanted us to try it.  I didn’t like it!

 Today my constant and only companion is the Great Blue Heron that stays slightly ahead of me.  How many times my dad and I have watched this large bird picking his way along the shore, stalking and then suddenly grabbing his prey.  He will walk in the shallow water along the shore for a bit and then he might go up the bank and seemingly walk around a large stump or protrusion in the water before returning to the shallows.  In all my experience and as quiet as I can be, I have never been able to pass the bird on the shore.  He will always fly across the water before me.  Such is the case today as the bird has stayed just ahead of me on the water – my spirit guide for the day.  Perhaps the presence of Dad!

I move through the water with a slow, steady paddle, but paddle I must in order to move. The water is clear and greener in color as opposed to the muddy reddish color it often acquires after a rain and the subsequent run off.   My dad fished these waters for over sixty-five years.  Again, he put food on the table – channel and flathead or Opelousas catfish (my favorite), bass, crappie, and the occasional buffalo or carp.  These last two were my least favorite!

Most of the shoreline is higher banks with carved out bluffs being ample evidence of higher water levels in the past.  The land supports a mixed pine and hardwood forest. Bald cypress, water tupelo, and river birch are predominant along the waterline with a variety of oak, sweetgum, and elm in the recesses.  Occasionally I see an area that has been cleared.  Logging and the timber industry pose another threat to the hardwood bottomlands in the Cypress Bayou.  Dad hated it when loggers would come in and, as he called it, “rape the land” leaving a mangled area of dirt ruts and damaged smaller trees and vegetation. Although approached many times, he never allowed the timber on his property to be cut. I am particularly awed by the Bald Cypress. From their broad base they tower like cathedral spires surrounded by rows and clumps of shrouded pilgrims and worshipers – the abundant cypress knees — come to pay homage to their inspired beauty.   I remember Dad often saying that he went to church on the bayou as he rarely attended a church service.  I now know what he meant.

Along the banks I see the occasional river camp house or modern home complete with floating walks and docks.  It is obvious that some of the dilapidated river houses with rusted and rotting docks have long been abandoned.  A rusted out school bus that I would imagine was outfitted as a fishing or hunting camp house rests precariously on the bank.  As I approach the area where Black Cypress flows into Big Cypress, approximately five and a half miles east of Jefferson, there is a distinct change in the water.  It is now reddish and muddy, no doubt from the rains and run off further up the Black Cypress.  The junction of Black and Big Cypress, known as Thompson’s Camp, is a popular launching area for boating and fishing.  Also, there are some fish jumping in the area.  From the sound of the “splash,” I would say rather large fish.  But you never know, by the time you hear the splash the fish is back in the water.

The final mile to Dad’s house is a broad channel with lots of new development on the left bank. When Mom and Dad purchased their property here in 1986 there was only one other house on this stretch of the bayou.  Now there are fourteen!   The right bank, according to Dad, is part of a hunting club and is not developed.  Dad’s house is at the very end of the road.  As I said earlier, he could find the remotest places!  It is 4:07 p.m. as I maneuver up to Dad’s dock.  I have been in the water slightly over four hours.  I launched at Jefferson around noon and have paddled 7.17 miles per the GPS.  (Of course, I forgot to set the GPS trip feature until I had paddled an estimated quarter of a mile!)  It has been a great paddle!  The temperature, whatever it is, has been ideal with the sky overcast but no sprinkles.  The company – my memories of Dad and the presence of the bayou that he loved – the best!  I started to abort the whole trip when it began to sprinkle slightly at the launch.  I am so glad I didn’t.  Thanks, Dad, for the journey!  And, for the legacy of your love for family, this land, and these waters – all sacred spaces, all Holy Ground!



“If the YOU of five years ago doesn’t consider the YOU of today a heretic, YOU are not growing spiritually.”           — Thomas Merton

Of late I have been doing a good bit of musing regarding my spiritual journey, how it has taken twists and turns throughout life, and how currently I am in a place spiritually that is quite far removed from where I started.  I grew up with, nurtured, and adhered to my Southern Baptist beliefs through adolescence and young adulthood.  However, when I hit my mid-forties,  a shift began in my  journey, and the road became much broader than the dogma and doctrine of  Southern Baptist beliefs.  Oh,my!  This was not your “Midlife Crisis” for that had occurred several years earlier with divorce, new career direction, a physical move — the whole ball of wax!

A few weeks ago as I lay awake — I sometimes call these my Midnight Musings — I could not let go of the words pilgrim, seeker, heretic.  My musings for some time have been flirting with the idea that some, if not many, of my current spiritual beliefs might possibly be considered heretical if viewed from Southern Baptist standards.  Am I a HERETIC?  God only knows!  I know that I am, and will always be a PILGRIM on this spiritual path.  I am a SEEKER — seeking God, seeking truth, seeking grace, seeking compassion and love for all,  seeking unity, seeking peace.  I would want to say seeking to know God, yet, how can we know “The Cloud of Unknowing” as written by the fourteenth century mystic.   Then I muse “Are we all not heretics in our claims to know God, to understand the heart of God, to proclaim the Word of God.  I wonder about that.  Thus, I am and remain a pilgrim, seeker, heretic.

Along with these musings came the “inner urgings”  to write.  Now I have done a good bit of writing and journaling in my time.  I suppose that would be inevitable given my background as an English and literature teacher — first career.  However,  the urgings were/are to write about the spiritual journey.   Almost, at the same time as I was having these musings and urgings I ran across this quote by Thomas Merton:

               “If the YOU of five years ago doesn’t consider the YOU of today a heretic, YOU are not growing  spiritually.”   (Paraphrased — if anyone out there can help me with the source text for this I would be most appreciative.  I am thinking Seven Story Mountain, but not quite ready to reread the whole book.)

Wow!  Must be a God thing!  I like to view the quote as an affirmation of my pilgrim, seeker, heretic musing!  Plus, Thomas Merton is one of my favorite spiritual writers.

So, here I go!  This blog will be a collection of writings both current and historical, both prose and poetry.  Some entries will be biographical.  Some will be just a thought.  Some will certainly be the midnight musings.  Some may be old journal entries.  Let’s enjoy the journey!

PS Heretic

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. was an Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion.

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. was an Anglo-American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion.


%d bloggers like this: