Wonder

Wonder is a word with different meanings. I get caught up in word definitions. My mind gets caught up in words. My heart gets caught up in meaning, working together with my mind to parse out what this life is for me and how to live it best. Upon first recognition, wonder came to me in the form of questioning. Questions always swirl in my being as a divine koan whether or not it’s true.

I wonder what G-d has planned for me now? I had planned to preach over the weekend at the church where I had served as a pastor. Had worked to be careful and not over commit beforehand or afterward. My best-laid plans fell through of course. Life has a way of reminding us that we are not the ones in charge. Life itself is.

Rime Ice 2019

“Life has a way of reminding us…” That’s a phrase I remember writing in other reflections. Human beings are forgetful. We forget the important things of life all of the time. We forget to eat right or follow the instructions of the doctor. We forget this and that and before you know it, time slipped by. I was no longer young and invincible. Now it’s hard to believe that I thought I was ever invincible.

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.” ~Frederick Buechner on Vocation

Standing to look out the door of my mountain home I pray about the days to come and what it means for me as a called person. In the past, I know I can say I was called to ministry. Through music, retreat leadership, word and sacrament, I followed that call. Even as I write I follow that call but in a different form. The standing still and quietly led me to be present in the moment. At that moment, the sun came out over the distant mountains and I was struck with wonder at its beauty.

Eureka! Wonder! That is my task in life. No. Wonder, that is my largest gift. Wonder comes to me as easily

2018 Foxglove (digitalis)

now as it did when I was a child. As a child, youth, teenager, I often got in trouble for taking too many photos of flowers, fields, and trees. Film was expensive then and mama always wanted me to have people

in pictures. She said she didn’t mind me taking pictures but it was expensive to develop them. So, please get photos of people if you are taking an entire roll of film; at least get some people in some of them.

I chuckle at the memory now. I don’t have many actual photographs of my adult life because I couldn’t afford to have that many developed. My vocation choices have always been those that have meaning, but that didn’t assure a healthy bank account. In those times when it did include money, I was mired in college or seminary debt. I don’t regret that either. There were plenty of times then when I wondered how I would survive. Now I wonder at the beauty of the long life I have had thus far.

Yesterday, days after I started this writing, the dog and I walked out in the fluffy, new snow. She pranced as we walked to the mailbox. I may have danced had the snow not been so slick. I have yet to dread it like so many others do. Nature continues to inspire and heal me. It’s no wonder I am filled with awe and struck by joy.

My dog, Birdie loves snow as much as me. 2019

Wonder can even be found in death. That lesson was taught to me while a chaplain at the Baptist Hospital in Columbia, SC. I was blessed with the opportunity to be present as many passed from this life to the next. Death caused me to wonder in a different way than life but I cannot say that it was a sad experience. Being at those deaths proved to me that there is more to us than this life.

Technical difficulties caused this post to take me longer to write than normal. In the days that passed between the beginning and the end, Mary Oliver died. She remains one of my favorite poets. She understood wonder in many ways. The first poem I ever heard of hers was quoted in a small mountain church. It makes for a perfect end to this reflection as the poet lives on in wonder.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

 

 

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A New Year to Love – 2019


The same power that moves the universe exists within our lives. Each individual has immense potential, and a great change in the inner dimension of one individual’s life has the power to touch others’ lives and transform society.


—Daisaku Ikeda, “On Hardship & Hope

Dear Reader,

I wish I knew your name as you read so that I could personalize this message. Looking through my Facebook posts and Twitter, I realized that it’s easy for me to love. Of course, I’ve always known this and there have been too many times it’s been my downfall.

Yet, in a world where it seems people are more and more ostracized instead of embraced; shot instead of heard; somehow, I want you to know I care more specifically about you as a person. Without hearing from you directly though, it’s not possible. And because I have a large family, worked in r attended large churches, it’s hard to keep up with the people I have met in person.

That doesn’t mean I love you any less. There are so many ways that love comes to us. It took me years to understand that love is more than a warm, cozy feeling. No, I cannot say that I unconditionally love everyone because I am human. Life has shown me time and again that I always have more to learn about love.

However, God had different plans for my life. That is not to say that God caused the end of my marriage because I don’t believe that one bit. The frailty of humanity caused the end of my marriage. What saves me is love.

Yet, the amount of love I have, however small, has made a tremendous difference in my life and in the lives of those around me. When 2018 started, it was with the knowledge that my wife of 12 years was most likely going to ask for a divorce. On the other side of 2018, had you asked me about my life I would have spoken of my devastation. Since I thought I had found THE ONE, it seemed that the rest of my life would be lived out in lonely misery.

The love shared with my wife through those years gave me a good grounding in love. Not only love of her family but also a different understanding of the love of self. My friends, family, and church were there for me so that I knew I wasn’t alone. Of course, the sweet dog was my constant and healing companion even as she grieved with me.

Because I could see the love in my past and the love that surrounds me in the present, I often find myself continuing to say, “I love my life.” That phrase was a constant phrase when I lived in Sylva (the first town where I felt I really belonged). There is a belonging here too, even though it’s different. Some part of me always felt I belonged in the mountains even though I grew up in the flatlands. Belonging is a part of love too.

As we start this new year, my heart is full of hope in you and in my own life. I’m not one to make resolutions on New Year’s Day. Each day is really a new beginning anyway. Each day I am alive, I pray for the strength to be kind. How can I care for the earth and love my neighbor? How can I disagree with a person but still treat the other with respect? There are still questions of course.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

It seems I’m learning to “love the questions” of my life. When I was younger, I loved asking questions because I wanted answers. At the very least, I wanted clues to the answers to life’s lessons. Rilke, the poet, was right that each answer only leads to another question though. If we don’t learn to love the questions of our lives, then we can be questioned to the point of madness.

When we can understand that no ONE person has all the answers, it empowers us to look at each other differently. No ONE human being can be all right and though we might think it, no one can be ALL wrong. I don’t think that a person who made only wrong choices would have survived to adulthood. I can be and often am wrong. Still, think about it.

Let’s think about how we can better live together in 2019. For me, that means how can we work for the well-being of others AS WELL AS work for our own well-being. It’s a both/and way of looking at life and it can be quite tricky to navigate. To live in such a manner requires that we LISTEN in love as well as talk of love.

My new year has started out with love, laughter, and friendship. I pray that yours has started with such gifts. Loss happens to a lot of us at this time of year. It can be a hard time of year. Still, hold on to the love.

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Flying years and poetry

New Cover for 2018 release.

It’s amazing how fast this year has flown. There have been beautiful moments, but also moments where you wonder what happened. I’m not alone in this either. Even some of the younger people I know are already talking about how time is flying. Of course, only us poets continue to talk of poetry.

Earlier this year, I had hoped to re-issue my poetry collection, More Than Knowing. It is a good collection. Life intervened to prevent me from retyping the entire book. I lost the manuscript or perhaps I thought I would never need it again. So there’s also been a bit of laziness in not wanting to have to write it all out again. I tend to write poetry with a pen and paper and then later type it. Since I had already done the hard work for the book issued in 2014, had hoped it would be easier to get this one released in a newer format.

Not so. The additional challenge is that though I type quickly, poetry is filled with emotion. More Than Knowing was written in the happiest time of my life. Going back through the book reminds me of the happiness that I get to keep. However, it also reminds me of the happiness I lost. Fortunately, much of the poetry is about nature and could also fit in here at Beech Mountain. That is the reason I am determined to finish this by the year’s end. Something good has to come out of 2018. Might as well be my book of poetry praising nature and love.

I always hope my poetry is descriptive enough that an actual photo is not needed. That you can create in your own mind a place that moves you. Yet, as I relive this poetry, I find that I want to share some of the photos I took with the poetry. I think you’re going to like this second edition even better. Take a listen to one of the poems I recorded for you today. It is a poem I mean as much now as I did when I wrote it. For each poem I read again, the message is only richer and deeper. I hope you will enjoy it again.

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Gratitude for You

“The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”

~Br. David Steindl-Rast

Families throughout the states celebrate thanks today. Though I do not want to proliferate the story we were told as children, I would be remiss not to mention my

Books by Robin

gratitude for you. You, my friends who have read my books, listened to my music, and most of all, supported my dreams.

There are many ways the support has come. Words of encouragement, prayers, editing stories, taking pictures, and through your financial contributions. There are so many of you who have believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Though confident in music, I am less confident in writing. I never thought I would be a public speaker; though I hoped to be a teacher.

©Rick Messina, Advent Lutheran Church, Charlotte, NC. Used with permission.

This morning, I think of a host of beautiful people I know. Most live on the East Coast of the U.S. from Maine to Florida and over to New Orleans. Then, there are other angels scattered around the world who have loved me through many difficulties and celebrated when I reached the other side.

I added photos below to just a few of the old and new friends who have changed my life. Working in churches means that I know a lot of people and many I am honored to call friends. Friends are a different kind of family. And family are also friends in their own way. Bless you. I can’t put photos of everyone because I don’t have enough time to thank all those who have made a difference in my life. Yet, I hope this post is the beginning of showing my gratitude for your presence in my life. Bless you.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” ~Thomas Merton

 

 

 

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson

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Gratitude, A Way of Life

Gratitude is thankfulness, but without the gluttony, don’t you think? As we enter into the winter holiday season, my mind turns to the aspects of the holidays that we love about the holidays. Some of the holidays are religious, but others, like Thanksgiving were created by a President. These holidays have meaning for us all in different ways. Today I ask myself the ways we can celebrate family or community that aren’t filled with political incorrectness, materialism, or religious antagonism. That may be a monstrous task. Yet, our society has been in disarray to the point where we must look at our lives differently.

 

In my life, I always loved the Native Americans and their love for nature and the land. When, as an adult, I discovered the truth in our country’s Thanksgiving lie, I was torn. Torn because I didn’t want to celebrate what had happened to the Wampanoag, that both saddened and angered me. At the same time, Thanksgiving was the time it seemed my family got together and celebrated. The season was not as stressful as Christmas. Even as a child, I could feel the tension in family at Christmas that wasn’t there at Thanksgiving. At the Thanksgiving meal, everyone was merely peaceful and thankful.

My dear cousin married a Navajo musician and was the first to explain to me why she no longer celebrated the U.S. holiday. She is a kind woman who I know I can talk freely with and explore feelings, thoughts, and even dreams. Also, when talking with my cousin, I didn’t have to explain the tensions or dynamics of a big Southern family to her. She knew and lived a similar experience. Each year afterwards though, I think of the truth of how the Native Americans were treated, used, and then later, not only abused but massacred…some tribes to the point of extinction.

These stories are learned through reading the histories of Black Elk, Tecumseh, and The Trail of Tears. When I lived in Oklahoma, my favourite thing about living there was to see signs saying that the person was entering the Sac-Fox Nation or the Pottowatomie Nation. I was excited to be able to live among such noble people. Yet, they were treated as outcasts. The Native American there was treated like the blacks of the South were treated when I grew up in the 60s.

Years passed and I continued to learn how unmerciful the whites were to the tribes. In the book, 1491 (Charles C. Mann) a history is laid out about how the tribes welcomed the white man or the Spaniard, and then were exploited through the Americas. They were not immune to smallpox brought here by the Europeans. We stole their land and moved them to reservations or Oklahoma. In the comedy show, Latin History for Morons   Netflix says, “John Leguizamo won’t rest until every moron becomes less of a moron.”

Usually, in writing blogs, I like to have plenty of photos to break up the words. As we enter the “holiday season” I exhort you to change the holiday. Let’s take a holiday from bitterness, greed, and strife. Let’s choose to love one another and care for our world and our neighbor so that each day we live a practice of gratitude. Gratitude does take practice too.

Human beings that we are, it is easy for one to focus on the negative aspects of life. We forget the beauty and gratitude of merely waking up. Grief does not rest during these times either and can even be exponentially triggered. Can we take a holiday from the rush-a-holic business of this time of the year to pay attention to feelings: both the feelings of self as well as the other? Can we practice that each time we think something is wrong with a person to try and find what is right?

Even writing that paragraph was a hard practice for me. Why? Because I know that if I ask another to practice something, I must also look in the mirror at my choices and my actions. This practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be vocalized and in fact, vocalization can mask a dark reality. Look deep inside of yourself. What do you see there? Can you give thanks for all that you are? I know I can’t. Yet, I can give thanks that I have friends who love me just as I am.

My dog sits at my right foot watching me as I write the end of this blog. She thinks I sit at the computer for too long. Pets teach us the true meaning of gratitude, so does nature. Turn your Black Friday into a green one by going for a hike in nature with a loved one. There are many ways that we can practice gratitude that include all of humanity and our world. Let’s start this year.

 

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