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In the Moment — September 11, 2015

Rock Springs Run! I Almost Missed It!!

0924150939-00Since our arrival at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, FL my desire and intent was to kayak down the Rock Springs Run Paddle Trail, which is touted as the number one paddle trail in Central Florida. I must admit that even with my desire and intent, I felt a nagging anxiety. Yes, I felt nervous, uncertain, scared, and fearful of doing what I wanted to do. I suppose my anxiety was rooted in several things. First, I have never kayaked this particular paddle trail. I would literally be entering unknown and uncharted waters — at least for me. Second, I would be doing the paddle alone. I know, the “rules” of kayaking urge us not to go it alone, but in this instance, I have no choice. Do it alone, or don’t do it at all! Third, it is a long paddle — 8.5 miles — requiring four to five hours minimum paddle time. Fourth, Rock Springs Run is on the Wekiva River which is designated a National Wild and Scenic River. Now, I am fine with scenic. It is the “wild” that causes me pause. In this case one might translate “wild” into alligators. Also, I had been told that the current in the upper run was fairly swift, and the river was definitely not straight — lots of crooks and turns. This combination can be difficult and even treacherous. So, I was anxious. Bottom line – I was scared!

I knew that if I didn’t push through the fear and do the paddle that I would be disappointed with myself and with not getting to experience the river up close. So I shared my feelings with Lou Anne which actually made me feel better and decided that I would go to the launch point, King’s Landing, talk with the folks there about the river conditions, take a look at the water, and then make my decision. Which is exactly what I did and launched the kayak at 9:30 am. I would paddle the 8.5 miles to Wekiva Island, and Lou Anne would meet me at the take-out there at 1:00 – 1:30 pm. I set the launch location as a waypoint on my GPS, set the trip odometer, and paddled out. Still a bit anxious, but ready for the challenge!

I entered the main channel and was greeted by dense water lilies with a paddle trail snaking through their midst. There were also a couple of houses on the right — nothing wild about that. The river was wide bank-to-bank, but the water lilies made the paddling trail much narrower. This was the case intermittently throughout the trail. Toward the end of the trail these plants were blooming a colorful red and blue. When I was not traversing the lilies, the banks were lush and green with large towering oaks, palms (the short, bushy saw palmetto as well as the cabbage palm tree), and the occasional cypress. It was a jungle out there – really!!

0924151012-00 I wasn’t far into the paddle when I spotted my first alligator. It was swimming parallel to the kayak about 8-10 feet to my right. With him being in the water, it was difficult to gauge his size. Given the distance between his eyes (sometimes this is all you see of them) and his wake in the water, I guessed him to be about 4-5 feet. Sorry, no photos! For me, the right action when spotting a gator in the water is to keep moving and not do anything to draw attention to myself.   The presence of alligators in the river forced me to change my paddling patterns. I normally enjoy paddling close to the riverbanks just to get a closer look at the plants and critters. However, with the gators as often-unseen companions and with their propensity to lie quietly in the vegetation along the banks, I opted to keep my paddling path in the middle of the river. This was my first of four alligator sightings this day. All were quite similar, with the exception of one in which the gator was swimming across the river. He spotted me and went under the water. If he stayed on the same path underwater, I floated over him. My only thought was, “I hope he doesn’t come up while under me!” I moved forward with short, quick paddle strokes in hopes of not disturbing him!

About thirty minutes into the paddle, I had a definite decision to make. I came to a sign reading: King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around. I knew that my destination was still at least eight miles down river. Yet, I launched from King’s Landing and the attendant had placed a blue band on my wrist. Does that sign apply to me? I decided it did not and continued down the river, which became much narrower with more obstructions, fallen trees or branches, in or over the water. I was paddling deeper into the jungle! As the river narrowed, the current was more noticeable, and my river trail became one crook and turn after another. The wild had now merged with the scenic! I had to pay attention and be intentional with my paddle. It became a challenge to place the paddle in the water at the right time and rudder angle to make the upcoming turn, and to make it before the current carried the kayak into the oncoming bank. I maneuvered the kayak left, then right, then right again, then left again consistently. Only once did I have to dig myself out of the bank. No, you won’t see photos of these sections of the river, as I was too busy with the paddle!

0924151030-00  I was enjoying the paddle and the challenge of the crooks, turns, and the fallen trees and branches even as I felt I was going “deeper into the jungle.” Maybe an hour to an hour and half in, I encountered an obstacle that would require much more strategy and maneuvering than any of my previous encounters. A large tree, probably 18-24 inches in trunk diameter, had fallen and was blocking the entire span of the river. I considered going to the right, but the still green branches filled the river and even lay upon the bank. The left option looked a bit more promising. The base of the tree was high enough up on the bank that with my 5’ 3” stature there was a possibility of going under the fallen trunk albeit a “duck” would be needed. This plan was complicated by the fact that the tree had fallen across another large tree trunk that obviously had been in the water much longer. The resulting trunk configuration looked like a slightly squeezed “X” lying on its side. The water level barely covered the lower cross trunk, but there was enough for me to push my kayak over it. Actually, as I started the crossing, the current pushed the kayak and me laterally over the lower trunk. Luckily, I was still in the kayak. The next step was to push and paddle the kayak along the trunks toward the bank, make a right turn at the opening, duck, and go under the upper trunk. I did it! My heart was pounding and my hands shaking, no doubt, the result of both the exertion and the fear. I must admit that there was a moment as I struggled to push and paddle the kayak up and through the opening that I thought, “Am I going to make it!”

I relaxed for a bit, basking in the excitement of having met the challenge. As the trail continued to be littered with obstacles and having encountered the large tree blockage, I suddenly recalled something I had read previous to launching to the effect that the staff of King’s Landing does a good job of keeping the Rock Springs Run free of obstacles. Hgh!   I was not experiencing a run “free of obstacles!” I then remembered, “King’s Landing Blue Band Turn Around.” Whoa! My heart was not pounding. It had been grabbed and caught tight in the vise of FEAR. Where am I? Am I lost? Should I have turned around? Do I need to turn around now? I don’t know that I can paddle two hours against this current? How will I get around that tree again?

To counter these questions, my first response was to tell myself, “Just breath, Brenda, just breath.” Is it really possible that I had turned the wrong direction? I kept visualizing a map of the river that did have a side stream; maybe I had turned down that stream. I dug in my wet sack and pulled out a simple map of the paddling trail. No, that side stream was off the lower section of the river. I was in the upper part of the river. I felt somewhat better. I then remembered that the day before when I left Wekiwa Springs for a short paddle I had set a waypoint on my GPS. I also knew that today’s paddle would take me toward Wekiwa Springs and less than a quarter of a mile from that waypoint. I pulled the GPS out. I had traveled almost three miles today already. I located the Wekiwa Springs waypoint and programed the GPS to “Go To” that waypoint. When the screen popped up, I felt a wave of relief. My current location was on the track between this morning’s King’s Landing waypoint and yesterday’s Wekiwa Springs waypoint. I was headed in the right direction! I just needed to keep paddling.

And paddle I did with even greater enjoyment and confidence. My confidence was bolstered even more when I saw the brown state park sign that read, “You are halfway.” I had reached that part of the run within the bounds of Wekiwa Springs State Park. Eventually I passed Otter, Big Buck, and Indian Mound Campsites maintained by the state park. I knew I was doing well on my time so I parked the kayak – lodged it against a tree trunk – pulled out my snacks, rested, and ate a bite of lunch consisting of an apple and mixed nuts. As I sat in the kayak, I remembered my fear and being scared about doing the run. Just think! I almost missed it! I almost missed this adventure – the alligators, the lily pads, the narrow twisting, turning river, the jungle, the heart stopping fear, the satisfaction of rising to the occasion and meeting the challenges.

I finished the run. The river widened. The jungle disappeared – so much so I had to break out the sunscreen. The lily pads returned sporting gorgeous red blooms and so thick they brushed the sides of the kayak as I maneuvered the trail. I saw another alligator or two. They kept moving and so did I. The last half hour or so I actually met some other folks making their way upstream. Not what I would want to do! I arrived at Wekiva Island around 1:30 pm pretty much on schedule feeling both very tired and very content. Lou Anne was walking down to the landing to meet me. What an adventure I had to share! Just think, I almost missed it!        September 24, 2015

THE BEACH OUTING! — September 6, 2015

We got up at 7:30 am and were off to MCC Holy Cross of Pensacola by 9:15 am. There was a good crowd at church and I enjoyed the service — praise and worship music was uplifting and the sermon was good. One we all need to hear and heed regarding taking care of our world and the earth because there is no “dealership” where we can go and purchase a replacement.

IMG_1117  After church we drove to Pensacola Beach on the Gulf Shore National Seashore. The gleaming white sands and crystal clear blue/green water still amazes me. It is so unlike our Texas Gulf – murky, brown, and stinky! We sat our chairs up on the ridge of sand just above the incoming waves and enjoyed our picnic lunch. Of course, we lathered up with sunscreen before eating. The temperature was a both/and. We were both warmed by the sun, and the truth be known it was hot, and cooled by the sea breeze. The seashore is a tease that way! It is hot, but the breeze makes it feel cooler

We went into the water and played for a while letting the waves “wash” us back to shore. I went about 100 yards out, and the water was still only hip to chest deep. In our “washing” we occasionally had to look toward the shore and find our chairs, only to realize that the waves had carried us far down the beach. The “washing” was fun, but walking against the waves to our point of origin proved to be somewhat of a workout for the old legs!

We retired to our chairs and enjoyed the vast view — 180 degrees — horizon to horizon. I listened in darkness to the consistent, rhythmic melody of the soothing rolling surf. I dug my feet into the sand and felt the warmth and cool of the gritty massage. I watched the children playing– onIMG_1125e cute little girl in particular. She looked to be about 18-20 months old and was decked out in a pink and white bathing suit topped with a matching cap. Regardless of coaxing by Mom and older brother and sister, she literally dug her heels in and absolutely refused to go into the water. If the diminishing waves caught her feet, she screamed and ran backwards.   She squealed and seemed the most content when grabbing fists full of sand and throwing it in the air. Oh, such simple delights of children!! What a joy!!

As we started back into the water, we noticed an ominous cloud behind us. A front was predicted to come through with a possibility of thunderstorms. With the winds ahead of the front the surf was up moderately and the yellow caution flags were flying. We went back into the water anyway and continued our jumping and “washing” exercise. Of course, occasionally we didn’t jump soon enough or high enough and would get blasted by the wave swell or breaking surf. This brought on episodes of spitting and sputtering and attempts to get the salt water of the mouth and eyes. That usually doesn’t wIMG_1126ork — trying to get salt sea water out of your eyes with hands wet with same is a fruitless effort. Oh, well, just endure the momentary sting and let the natural tears do their thing and all is soon well! The playing continued until we heard the roll of thunder in the distance and saw a flash of lightning.

Out of the water we came, gathered our things, and lugged them back to the car, as did many others. Dripping and gritty we prepared for the drive back to our camper trailer looking forward to a warm shower and dry clothes. Not looking forward so much to the cleanup — sand in the chairs, towels, car, etc. Why is an outing atthe beach so much fun and at the same time takes so much effort?   Ah, but that horizon to horizon vista, the rhythmic sound of the rolling surf,  the warm, cool sad between your toes, and the squeals of delighted children!! It tickles my soul and makes my spirit soar! No doubt, it is worth the effort!

Notes on a Kayak — August 3, 2015

Steeple Reflection

I have moored myself between the cypress knees on the shady east side of Big Cypress Bayou. I am about seven and one-half miles downstream from Jefferson, Texas, and maybe a half-mile from where I entered the bayou at my Dad’s property. Again, “Dad’s property.” He has been deceased almost three years, and I continue to have difficulty saying “my property.”

The dragonflies are buzzing around, hovering inches over the glass surface of the murky, brown water. Brown water that is somewhat out of the ordinary for water that is usually a clearer dark green. I assume that the water has not cleared up after the torrential spring rains and flooding. The water level is continuing to fall – thus, the dirty brown water filled with mud and silOff down the Bayou!t.

Anyway, back to the dragonflies, which I assume are responsible for the fish jumping just off my bow. I wonder if the fish will actually ever catch the darting dragonflies. Ahh! Could that be why the fisherman’s artificial lure is called a “fly?” Now, that just occurred to me as a new thought; however, as I think about it, I know I have known that or had that thought before. A brain blip, I suppose??

The stillness and the quiet are palpable. The cachophony of sound is delightful. Now is that not a paradoxical observation – or, more accurately, an auditory sensation! In addition to the aforementioned jumping and flopping back into the water and the dragonflies buzzing, I hear the cardinal singing, the woodpecker pecking, the squirrel chattering, a crow cawing, and the cicada’s chorus. Either bank is robed in towering bald cypress and decorated with hundreds of beautiful, yet grotesque looking, cypress knees bent in homage to the life giving trees. Oh, no! Can’t be! Yes, it is—an electric power line is running through the branches of the trees. Oh, well! So much for getting away from civilization.

Scupper plugs! Yes, I did buy and install some scupper plugs, yet I am still sitting in a bit of water. Albeit, not nearly as much as I was before. I’ll still have to work on that I suppose. I also know I have to go. I could stay in this place, in these waters, along these banks for hours on end. I suspect that’s Dad’s place and space still, and forever, in my heart.

Notes on a Kayak: July 23, 2015

Scupper plugs! Must get scupper plugs, as my bottom is wet! One of the perils, or lessons learned, I suppose, on a first outing in a new kayak. The lighter weight craft proves much easier on my back and shoulders as I carry, load, and unload it. However, the lighter weight results in a lighter load capacity. Thus, when I sat my bottom in the cockpit, the deck went down and water came in through the scupper holes. With my older, larger kayak I never used scupper plugs, and I never got wet. Well, at least I wasn’t heavy enough to sink the craft. I made sure of that before I headed out into the lake.

0723150917-00

The wind was up a bit when I first launched so I retreated to paddle along the shoreline as opposed to bucking the wind and risking more water in the craft. I enjoy the shoreline more than the open water anyway. The shoreline offers more to see and discover as I move quietly in the water and peer into the grasses, the bushes and at times the shallower water depths. I sometimes feel like I am playing “cat and mouse” with the water creatures. It is a challenge to see how close I can get to the turtles on the logs before they “plop” off into the water? Or, how long can I float alongside the ducks before they sense my presence and flap away?

I started out this morning thinking I would paddle around the entire perimeter of the lake. However, as I made my way around the lake – almost halfway – I decided, “No, I don’t want to do that.” This change of intention was not due to my limited time on the water this morning, but more from my need to just “be” and not to be “doing.” So I paddled into a small cove, found respite from the wind and sun, and here I sit, maybe somewhat

0723150919-00

reclining in the kayak. The silence and solitude is welcome and restful. The occasional bird song breaks the silence.   There have been two “plops” behind me, but I have seen no turtles since I stopped paddling. As I came into the cove there was a small turtle on a stump out in the water. I think it might have been a musk (stinkpot) turtle given its size and high dome. But, alas, it “plopped” into the water before I could snap a picture!0723150936-01

Dragonflies are fluttering all around me. In this cove I float on a mirror, flawed only by a wee bump. Wait! That’s a tiny little head. How close can I get? I move in silence and stealth. Ooops! There he goes into the deep – a large round body for such a wee little head. It is my friend — the turtle.  Now, to just sit back and “be” on this delightful sunny and warm day. Warm, mmmm! Except my wet bottom!  Yes, definitely scupper plugs!!

0723151009-000723151009-01

Appeal for UNITY Amidst the Christian and Gay Divide

rainbow02NOTE:  This post first appeared in the T. B. Matson Foundation blog,Weighty Matters, on July 11, 2015.

Long before the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all of our United States, the debate regarding the religious or moral “rightness” of same-sex intimacy was at fever pitch. The Court ruling, far from settling the issue and “putting it to bed” (pardon the pun) has, in many ways, added fuel to the fire, and the temperature continues to rise.

First, let me be straight regarding who I am. I am an out, gay, Christian woman in a fourteen-year covenant relationship with another Christian woman. We worshiped together for many years at the First Baptist Church of Tyler, TX. I believe First Baptist would be considered a fairly conservative Baptist church affiliated with both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I will not go into the details of my years of struggle coming to accept my sexual orientation and the journey, with God’s grace, toward reconciliation of who I am and my Baptist faith and beliefs. When asked how I reconcile being Christian and gay, the short answer is that I am a child of God through the saving grace of Jesus Christ and a woman who happens to have a same-sex orientation. However, my story and struggle is not the point of my writing today.

I write today because I am saddened and heartbroken, and to pose a question: What are we doing? What are we doing to our Christian brothers and sisters, to our churches, and, perhaps most importantly, to our witness to the world of the all-inclusive love and grace of Jesus Christ? Perhaps that is a question we should ask ourselves daily and not just in regard to current issues of sexual orientation and our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks.

Here’s the source of my heartache and sorrow. More and more regarding the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, I see battle lines being drawn, troops being mustered, and “war” strategies taking shape. I see the flourishing of a “them vs. us” mentality and thinking. I recall reading the call to arms by Matthew Vines, founder of the Reformation Project, to “eradicate homophobia through the preaching and teaching of the Bible.” (ABPNews, 9/13/2013) That was almost two years ago! Now, eradication of homophobia would be a good thing, a very good thing; however, I don’t know that it will happen through the preaching and teaching of the Bible. After all, did decades, perhaps centuries, of Bible teaching and preaching eradicate homosexuality? Go figure on that one!

Then there is the NALT – Not All Like That – Christians Project, launched in 2013 “to give LGBT-affirming Christians a means of proclaiming to the world—and especially to young gay people—their belief and conviction that there is nothing anti-biblical or at all inherently sinful about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender” (notlikethat.org). I am in agreement that it would be a good thing for LGBT-affirming Christians to be more vocal, to speak up and share their convictions in their congregations, Bible study groups, at work, at school, wherever they might be, in any circumstance and, particularly, in response to something hurtful or derogatory that has been said or done. Both The Reformation Project and the NALT Project are great, and they have done and continue to do good work. Yet, the fire still rages and the temperature still rises.

If we want to truly talk about and strive toward “reformation,” let’s talk about relationships. Let’s sit with one another and share our stories, our faith journeys, our soul yearnings, and see and come to know the Christ within – within ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is how true soul formation and reformation occurs.

What hinders us from sharing our stories? Could it be the “other?” How do we perceive, approach, behave toward, and relate to people whom we believe to be different from who we perceive ourselves to be? How do we get to know the “other?” Do we want to know others, to seek to understand, and to strive to live with respect and acceptance of those we perceive as different? If we answer “Yes” to these latter questions – and I hope we do – I would propose that we start sharing our stories, our heartfelt convictions, and listening to one another as opposed to entering battle heralding our proclamations and unfurling our regimental flags.

I sometimes wonder in this gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm, if both “armies” are more focused on attempting to change, convert, and convince the “other” side than on loving one another and fostering unity in the body. Again, I would ask a question: With regard to this issue, what is our desire? Is our desire to be “right,” or is our desire to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to be a witness to the abounding love of God through Christ?

I am reminded here of Paul’s urgings to the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:1-6 Emphasis is mine.) I see the division among Christians on the gay issue, and I am saddened. I see and hear the “gay-bashing” from many Christian groups, and I am saddened. I am equally saddened by the “church and/or Christian-bashing” coming from various factions of the LGBT community, even at times from the Christian LGBT community. Where is the humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, and eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? This breaks my heart.

As Christians, regardless of our beliefs on the gay/same-sex marriage issue or any other aspect of our present-day culture, we are bound together in Christ. I want for us, the church, the body of Christ, to be inclusive and affirming of one another, bound by Christ’s love for us, our love of Christ, and our desire to share His love with others. I want for us, the church, through and because of our bond in Christ, to be able to sit with one another in covenant community and engage in civil and respectful dialogue about all sorts of issues and questions – even, especially, the hard ones. Yes, we may disagree on some things, and – since Christ binds us – we can agree to disagree, be respectful of one another’s “soul competency,” and carry on with the mission to share the love of God through Christ. As Christian brothers and sisters, gay and straight, I want for us, the church, to live in unity and the peace of Christ, knowing that unity does not require uniformity in thought or action, nor does the peace of Christ mean there is no disagreement. I want for us, the church, to be the Presence of Christ in and to the world. Somehow, I don’t think we are being that, the Presence of Christ, in our responses to the gay/same-sex marriage and Christian paradigm. I am saddened and heartbroken. Again, I pose the question: What are we doing?

More and more, I am being called back to Matthew 10:27, a verse I claimed many years ago: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear proclaim from the roofs. (NIV) I also like The Message translation: Don’t hesitate to go public now. Well, I have gone public!

Balancing Our Principles; Focusing on Our Calling

iStock_000018337463XSmall-booksgavelflag1With the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all of our United States, we must move forward in a reasonable manner balancing two of our most important national principles: 1) religious liberty and 2) citizen’s right to due process and equal rights under the law. As opposed to drawing battle lines let us be respectful of one another even, and especially, as we differ regarding the “moral rightness” of same-sex marriage.

With regard to the religious liberty of those in positions to issue same-sex marriage license, we would not want anyone to be coerced into doing something that they could not do in good conscience. If any governmental officer, such as a county clerk, because of his or her religious belief, cannot in good conscience issue a same-sex marriage license, then let’s just make sure that there is someone within the county clerk’s office who has the authority, and can in good conscience issue the license.

Also, even before the Texas Clergy Protection Act of the 2015 legislative session, clergy have had the option of refusing to officiate a wedding. Honestly, I don’t think any same-sex, or opposite-sex couple for that matter, would want a clergyman, or any other legally authorized officiant, conducting their wedding if the clergyman could not officiate in good conscience and with complete affirmation of their union.  Anyone in the wedding business, be it venues, cakes, or flowers, who can’t in good conscience provide the services to a same-sex couple can state that in a kind respectful manner and perhaps even offer referrals to those who can and will provide the services. And in the same fashion the same-sex couple on the receiving end of that message can and should respond with respect and kindness, “Thank you for your time,” and move on.

Perhaps, we have become too caught up in the religious right – as in “I’m right and you are wrong,” and in demanding our religious rights and liberties. It is not too late to begin focusing more on our religious calling – to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

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 EthicsDaily.com*

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.

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED. . .

Yesterday, Tuesday 9/16, as we left  Abilene State Park and headed north, we literally took the road less traveled. The marvels of the GPS and GoogleMaps are not lost on us as we use both as needed while on the road. We find the GPS helpful in getting from point A to point B. Once in a given area we resort to GoogleMaps, mostly me, as I tend to be the “navigator,” to actually see the map of the area and the street layout. At any rate, with both devices on and laying out a course for the day, they were “at odds.” We opted for the GPS version and headed out on what seemed the most logical and straight line of direction. I realized that the other route, though longer and more circuitous , followed the better main highway. But, the die was cast, and we went via Highways 89 and 126.

As went the road became a bit narrower and, thankfully, still paved and wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic with absolutely no shoulder. It would have been a thoroughly modern highway in the 1950’s. At times it felt as if we were riding a bucking bronc. Of course, pulling the travel trailer accentuates the bucking motion! Did I mention the curves? Fairly frequently the road made 90 degree curves — first to the left and then back to the right. Between those we stayed alert to the “S” highway markers. This continued for miles. When not watching the road, I was able to enjoy the country side. Lou Anne was driving. She is a “confident” driver, and I have the utmost of confidence in her driving.

Initially the landscape was washed and gullied and covered with scrub brush and miniature (by East Texas standards), gnarled oak trees. Gradually, the land began to flatten and precise rows of cotton and grains whizzed by us. Then we were into another type of farm — a wind farm. Huge wind turbines dotted the land as far as we could see. The winding road brought us “up close and personal” to the giant windmills of technology. Oh, and beneath the gleaming white of the turning windmills, the green of the cotton fields was broken by the black pumpjacks of the oil wells. rhythmically moving down and up — down to bring the black crude up. All and all, it was a conglomerate of motion — straight line, round and round, and up and down!

As I thought about all that I was seeing, I was struck with just how incredible our earth is! Within this small area the land is providing, at the very least, raw products for food and clothing. The wind is generating power for all sorts of purposes, and oil used in products to numerous to mention is being pumped from beneath the earth’s surface. Incredible indeed! Can we not say that we do live in the Garden! Regardless of one’s beliefs, thoughts, or opinions about the various creation theories — and there happens to be at least ten of them — I, for one, am of the opinion that there was, and IS, an intelligent, creative Higher Power behind it all — be it Big Bang, Creationism, Intelligent Design, etc. Again, JUST MY THOUGHTS! PS

GRATITUDE, WONDER, AND AWE!

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 

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