Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Soliloquy on Swamp Singing

Would you like to come and join me? There is an extra seat right here. Tea if you wish and a lovely view of a curtains of wisteria embroidering the hem of my woods. It is Sabbath morning and all the birds are singing joyously in the early light. The spring frogs are chorusing from the sink hole down the hill. My roommate and I are relaxing on the back porch. Her semi-sleepiness tends towards philosophizing and with her permission I jotted down some of the jewels. I found life lessons in it - black velvet for soul music - perhaps you will too?


“After attempting to listen to recordings of copied and pasted nature sounds at the office while I work it is sooo nice that we can open our door and hear the real thing! We are home. I’m so happy! Listen to all of this! So natural. Peaceful. Your body resets itself as it tastes the different bird calls. If you are really far away from busy humanity - out in the woods - it is complete. The patterns and tempo of the songs contrasted with the quiet spaces when they don’t sing. Both the silence and the calls, when they are in natural sequence, are a complete circle. All these many circles of awareness.

This is true of how humans are when we are loud and quiet, comfortable and uncomfortable, and what happens when we get up and move through places. It is a version of chemistry. An organism cannot travel through a space without making ripples. You are constantly reacting and everyone around you is reacting in their spaces. There is not a complete neutrality. From microscope to telescope the cycles are still the same.

There are so many circles. Here we are sitting on the deck again. After the course of this challenging past year we are just sitting here and enjoying it. And you are not sick like you were last year! How beautiful the sound-scape is! The frog songs, and the birds are singing, and down over there is a dog. So beautiful. All these different groups are completing the circles of song and quiet, rest and work. Living centered lives - in balance even when there is a predator near.

You can never get this completeness in a nature recording online because they usually just select the high fancy notes and put them all together. It sounds stressful! Like garbled sentences - or as if the birds had ADD. Birds do have beautiful high notes in their songs, but these notes are very special because of the space around them that leads up to it. When the space around them is taken away it is like randomly selecting a few notes out of the a symphony and saying "Sing for us". They can’t. They are only a part of the song.

By removing them from their context it is hard to even hear the song again. The true beauty is lost.

It is like when people try to succeed by collecting all the pretty things in life. They are actually doing everyone a disfavor. If you see pretty things up close all the time you become calloused to true beauty. Even the beauty of something pretty - like a roomful of diamonds. The sheer quantity distracts from each gems individual beauty. But when you are looking for them in the wild it is much more joyous and precious.

The context the diamond came from is just as valuable.

To even begin to know what real beauty is we must have our perspectives calibrated by God. We can’t get lost and run after the wrong things. But to see true beauty - It’s stunning! Like the sunrises in the morning, geese flying overhead, friendships, and countless blessings! I like being outside especially in the spring when the frogs begin. It is a heart-felt praise to God.

Like the angels that always sing holy. We totally have that here!

We’re always surrounded by it if we choose to open our eyes. And the birds - singing their best songs - they are in love with God every day. They do not retain the anxiety of whether they live or die - the danger of a hostile world.

They cope with their deadly reality by singing to God and letting Him carry them. They hold peace.

Each individual frog has it's own pattern. They come and go in the chorus, but each one has a space to sing the whole length of its pattern.

Other frogs start in singing at different intervals, but they are each abandoned to the swamp and there they have the freedom to sing their fullest song.

To put their whole life into their song.

Even while they are in the swamp, singing praises to God through the mud, it swells and blesses others who may never see the swamp or them, but are blessed because they hear the praise. They hear the comforting songs with the full patterns that are soothing and nurturing.

Listen. You can hear the individual frogs and their own patterns. No one can record just a sound sampling with a microphone and understand it.

The only way you can understand it is if you go and dwell with them.

To see and feel all the nasty junk decaying in the mud of the swamp. To understand that the decaying mud is so rich with resources - that it grows abundant plant life. And the swamp has lots of water too for everyone to drink from the cleaner places. All the extra soil, plants, and moisture; it supports the frogs in an ecosystem and their song ripples out and blesses many others.

(Here the frogs suddenly stopped singing and I wondered why out loud. . .)

Maybe someone walked carelessly close by them. . . One of the main ways to prevent the songs of praise - the raw beauty and the turning of nasty things into rich mud to grow plants of strength and resources - all that can be stopped when we enter into a space with indifference, selfishness, or hurtful intentions. When we enter into that space with unkind words and unclean hearts we do not preserve the internal heartspace of worship to God wherever we are. God is not a physical temple we go and pray at. Gods temple is a continual presence. The temple is the gift of being drawn to Him to pray through every day - together Him and I.

When we allow other people to silence our songs of praise or teach us songs that are not praise, we are not fully surrendered to God.

But we can continually sing to God in our hearts. In our heartspaces He can sing a duet with us as we face the joys and hardships of life.

We need to sing for God even when we feel alone, because others listen and it can encourage them to sing for God too.

To sing. Always sing.

Through beautiful days, tempests, thunder and lighting, blazing droughts and winter snows. To always sing. And as we try to keep singing God enables our voices to continue.

To not sing is a great tragedy, not just of our ourselves but also for the entire world.

If the birds stopped singing the whole ecosystem would be at a loss. This would eventually bring down the infrastructure for animals to communicate and for people to be restored - for God to refine us.

The frogs are still singing. . . I could spend days out here. I think it could be good if we spent most of the day out here. The big things we can let go of. We need to put God first and strive continually for Him. Each voice - if it is snuffed, out even one by one, is a horrific loss. It is very important for each of us as we try to be God followers, to hold our life space and give continual permission for Him to work.

Remember - at Pentecost it wasn’t the visual effects that made any difference, but God working in each of them. Preparing them, giving them resources they needed and He carried them through. Also - thinking about the end of time: If we continually choose the presence of God and let Him teach us to draw from the deep places and learn from Him, it will be okay. It is not about the daunting trials and hardships, but that God will give us what we need. He will guard and protect our hearts.

When He covers us, and He really does, we will get through anything.

Even if we are martyred it does not diminish the biggest joy that we are going home soon! And God will take care of all the details between here and home. We can be excited because God will carry us through! He will help us to have the motivation to dig deep and study so our foundations are strong. God gives us faith and carries us through the hard places.

So go forth with a singing heart. Like the frogs in the swamp! Like the time when the army was led by a choir (2nd Chronicles ch. 20). Because it is God who does the work and not us. My responsibility is to keep Gods’ praises first more than the humanness of doing.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Someones graceful fingers are playing old tunes from golden years. Grand piano music lilts through the air of the waiting room in the cancer center. I sit in the same spot on the same couch and the same staff bustle about. It has been a year since I finished radiation treatments and I'm here for a follow-up visit. The same spot - but I have traveled a full earth orbit and back since then.

Somebody's grandpa rolls out in a wheelchair and stops at the brass bell on the wall. Tugging the cord he rings it loudly and everyone cheers. His radiation treatments are complete. And he grins - proud to be sitting there to grin. There is tenderness in my heart for him - and I smile that I was to shy to ring the bell on my last day. Then they call me back to see the radiation oncologist.

When the doctor, who has become my friend, enters the room there is a joyous warmth in his eyes. The kind of honest warmth that only can come from entering utter hopelessness and unexpectedly discovering God. He grins broadly when he asks how I'm doing for he can already see that I'm healthy. His thorough assessment affirms this and he asks if I have any further questions.

"Yes." Pausing. I'm not sure how to phrase it. . . "I never received a bill from you. . . It has been over a year."

Kind eyes twinkle, a fountain of merriment, as he shakes his head in mock disgust, "My staff is horrible! I'm going to fire them all!"

Then in gentle seriousness, "Don't worry about it."

This ~ After the scores of care providers I've seen, stacks of bills, various versions of financial assistance applications - a maze of financial headaches. And how many 100,000's dollars of care was this gift worth? The gratitude makes me dizzy - I can hardly mumble thanks. It seems incredibly insignificant word.

"Do you mind if I give thanks for you?" He asks.

Grinning, he bows his head in the same humble way that he has ended each of our visits - Thanking God for His love and grace. The absence of pretension, cockiness, and condescension creates a beautiful space for God's presence. His trust is not resting on the astounding achievements of scientific technology or his own intellectual competency. His confidence is in God.

When I was bleeding out from an angry looking tumor and none of the doctors knew what to do, he sat down on the side of my bed and bowed his head and thanked God for me. Now, over a year of thanking later, he thanks God for my healing. This thankful trust threading through all. Gratitude in death and in life.

When my roommate and I parted in the parking lot, she paused in beautiful wonderment, "God must be like Dr. Rice." And I agreed, for the noblest, humblest, and kindest man on earth is but a faint reflection of my God.

As I merged into traffic towards home I remembered the first time I understood what grace meant. It was 2005 and I couldn't apply for college until transcripts from my high school were released, and this must wait until the several thousand dollar bill was paid in full. I had no way to pay it off even if I sent in all my summer earnings.

When I received a statement from the school I opened the envelope with a heavy heart, but heaviness lifted into incredulous amazement. A friend had paid it for me! Earned with blood, sweat, and tears of hard labor. Money that could have gone towards their college expenses or purchased a first car. This sacrifice of love redefined grace for me. A deep desire grew - to attempt to pass onto others even the tiniest bit of this beautiful grace I had received. Perhaps someday I will be able to.

I once thought myself somewhat educated. But then there are these moments when I'm not sure I even understand the most basic definition of a one-syllable word.

God, please teach me how to live grace.