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Saturday, October 17, 2015

My eyes to the (West Virginia) hills, or the paradox of sabbatical and the chipmunk's response

How can one post this blog about the suffering of our friends in South Sudan, and this one about the joys of having kids home for Fall Break, in the same week?

This is I suppose a microcosm of the paradox of living on sabbatical, or living most anywhere on this earth.  Sorrow and brokenness, so tangible and pervasive, yet beauty and redemption flood our souls too.

The juxtaposition at this particular moment tends to make me feel guilty.  I revel in the crisp sunshine, the palette of orange and gold, the wholeness of just standing in a kitchen flooded with light and watching a no-longer child study, the secret wonder of hiding a couple hundred daffodil and tulip bulbs all over the lawn and forest edge to surprise us in Spring.  Yet my heart also breaks for the people of Mundri as I imagine them slogging through rainy-season mud to find a place to camp for the night, distant gunfire, the frightening thud of a helicopter rising over the trees, while their government dissolves.  Or for the people of Burundi as  civilians are murdered, with conflicting reports blaming either the police or terrorists, and the African Union considering intervention. Or for our Sergers all over eastern and central Africa, bombarded by need and loneliness and ants and unrest, risking protests and poor roads and misunderstanding.  It's a rough world out there, and it feels disingenuous to sit out this year's crises.

A few weeks ago I was swimming in the river, alone.  This swimming hole is a stretch of deep water before the river bends, with a sandy bank. Boulders and circling hawks, freezing purity of the water like a repeated baptism.  As I crossed to the far side and paused to tread water, I saw a chipmunk twittering and scurrying on a branch overhanging the water.  Now you have to know that chipmunks remind me of my dad (as do so many things around here), because one time we went on a National Parks vacation out West and he took so many pictures of chipmunks (in the days when every photo was developed into a slide and projected), that he was teased about it, and it became a symbol of either wasted film or the simple delight he took in nature, depending on how you looked at it.  Anyway that moment, that chipmunk, that holy place, brought an epiphany of two truths.

First, I was marveling at the bittersweet truth that my dad would have been so happy to see us enjoying his West Virginia hills.  A huge part of his life poured into provision.  For my mom, my sister, and me.  And we are living in that now, on the acres he left us, in the house he began to rehab, in the town where he was born and grew up.  Nothing would have made him more deeply happy than to see us finishing the roof, planting fruit trees, living life in this spot.  As a father, his joy would rest in seeing US enjoy the place he made.

So the second truth that came from the chipmunk's chirp over the river was this:  if my dad would take such delight in us being here, then how much more does God revel in our grateful gulp of this slice of creation?  Surely God, as parent, provider, lover, friend, smiles on this time.

Somehow that glimpse of God taking joy in our joy helped me come to terms with the paradox of this season.  Yes, God calls us to take part in the restraining of evil where the poor bear the disproportionate burden.  But as today's Psalm, 121 (also my dad's favorite) says, we lift our eyes to the hills and remember that it is ultimately God's work of redemption, and as a parent and commander he can both support our courageous forays into the fray and smile upon our respite.

And we as the people of God can hold onto the polar points of this world, the gritty reality of evil and the wholesome goodness of beauty, both.  Not either/or . . . but both/and.  Not finding a compromise middle where we are mildly comfortable but never too hungry or too exuberant.  Not choosing one extreme and rejecting the other.  Holding onto disparate realities, both legitimate, and living in that mystery.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So wise. Glad you had that epiphany about fully enjoying this gift of time and place.