When winds pick up

As I walked home one night from a soaking prayer evening, the world around looked like it had been soaking in God’s love too. All was still, a perfect reflection, tinted golden.

The scene that met me the next morning was completely different.


Winds whipped dark water into jagged whitecaps. Even when I managed to peek between strands of hair that whipped across my face, blinding me, I couldn’t see a single reflection. Not even a broken one. Only rough turmoil.

I ran anyway, leaning hard into the wind that resisted every stride.

Rounding the corner, I saw numerous small boats anchored out in the deep water, well away from the shore. I watched one boat as wave after wave threatened to roll over it, then tilted the bow up and rolled underneath, threatening to dunk the stern. The little boat stayed afloat.

At first I felt sorry for whoever might have been on those boats. All that rolling. I began to feel seasick just watching.

But I rounded another corner and changed my mind. What’s a little seasickness once you see a boat that sits tilted, fixed and unmoving, gripped by the rock on which it has run aground? One wave after another hit hard, sending spray over the boat that shuddered and groaned but could not roll, could not rise and fall with each wave. Each wave pounded and tore and fractured the boat a little more as it sat, fixed and helpless, in the shallows.

When winds rise, I often forget that deep water is safer. I fear the waves, the rolling seasickness of change. It’s not hard to imagine myself spread eagle, clinging with all my might to a slippery black rock, trying to keep myself safe while the waves pound me to pieces.

But slowly I’m learning that the real danger isn’t the waves at all, but my clinging to control, to supposed security, when winds rise.

Slowly I’m learning to hear in the voice of the wind the summons to move out of the shallows, out of the clinging to the familiar, the apparently secure, out into the deep, deep love of Jesus where alone we are safe.

“Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus

Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free

Rolling as a mighty ocean

In its fullness over me

Underneath me, all around me

Is the current of your love

Leading onward, leading homeward

To your glorious rest above.” (Samuel Francis)

The truth about learning to fly

dsc_0990I’m out running at dawn on this Canadian Thanksgiving Day. The gulls are wailing like the end of the world is near.

Words from yesterday return to mind, other birds touching our human story:

“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him.” (Deut 32:10-12)

I’ve always pictured “stirring up its nest” as pushing the eaglet out, albeit while hovering ready to scoop underneath and catch it and lift it again if it becomes clear the eaglet hasn’t yet gotten the knack of flying. But as I read about eagles, it seems like preparation for the first flight is a more gentle, though still firm, process, with mom hovering over the nest to show what wings are for, and baby practicing leaps and jumps to gradually strengthen its wings; with, some sources say, mom gradually bringing less food so the baby’s desire grows and weight drops, letting it be more easily lifted by the wind. It’s less a pushing than a coaxing, and babies may leave the nest several days or more apart, as each is ready. Sometimes eaglets fall to the ground, and parents feed them there, or lure them back to the nest.

Even with this gentler process I wonder whether eaglets ever feel like their world is ending as they’re coaxed out of their comfortable home? Do they sense the excitement of growth, or do they just feel the pangs of hunger and desire as the parent flies past with prey but doesn’t drop it in the nest, the confusion of apparent rejection by the one who had always fed them before? Do they feel the terror of falling as they leave the nest or are they so lured by desire that fear is left behind?

This might be the thing I’m most grateful for on this particular Thanksgiving Day: that, whether we feel it or not, the same Parent who coaxes us out of our comfortable nest is also hovering over us as the Spirit hovered over the waters, continuing the creation of our fullest, free-est selves. And all the discomfort of the process is part of the bigger truth of being shielded and cared for and guarded, and helped to grow into the selves we were meant to be.

The sky is lightening and the gulls are still crying but I see them wheel and turn toward the light.


Beach grace: the summer truth that could change my fall


Sunlight dances on wind-ripples, frosting the edge of each wave.

The tide is going out and little rivers trickle and rush their way between sandbars, braiding the surface of each waterway into a slightly different pattern.


Between the larger sandbars pools have gathered, hosting hermit crabs and tiny shrimp that tickle my invading ankles and toes.


At the other end of the beach, incoming waves meet outgoing ripples in a tic-tac-toe grid, each ripple passing through the perpendicular ones without cancelling it.


I run back along the shore, delighting in the feel of the sandy ridges that massage the soles of my feet.


A week into our two-week beach holiday I realize: every one of the treasures I am most deeply enjoying at the beach this year is a product of the interplay of the resistance of the beach and the ever-active, ever-pursuing touch of the water. Ridges, rivers, ripples, braided patterns on the water’s surface, sparkles frosting glittering wave-edges, tide pools hosting tiny lives—none of these would exist without the interplay of resistance and grace.


There is so much hope here for me!

I dislike resistance. I desire to live with my heart open to God, and I grieve the ways I resist his love with my own fear and pride and desire for control. Yet though I grieve, I seem to have about as much ability to change my own heart as the sand does to remove its own bumps and ridges.

But as I watch the water, I begin to see. My resistance, and my inability to fix it, doesn’t shock God, frighten him, or perturb him. He knows that in the physical world of which he has made me a part, resistance to movement and change is a universal part of being. (That’s one of the few things I remember from Physics 101.) Resistance to change is a psychological reality too, and since something in me knows that opening to love will change me, I resist. And God has compassion on me and is patient and gentle, forgiving, healing, crowning. Remembering that I am dust (Ps 103).

He knows too that resistance can be an important part of becoming. The repeated “no”s of the “terrific twos” are an essential part of the child growing from an extension of her parents into her own God-created self. As God keeps loving me through my childlike “no”s, they often become grace-places in which I experience most deeply that I am loved, as myself, not just as part of Christ’s body. I am loved even when I am insisting on my separateness. And my knowing of myself as a separate person, and the other’s acceptance of me as a separate person, turns out to be a prerequisite for the development of intimacy. There must be separateness for there to be union.

The tide turns. At first nothing seems to happen. The ridges lie exposed, the beach bare. The waves continue their patient lapping. Then, slowly, gently, the water begins to inch back up the beach, following, like a well-mannered gentleman, the channels between the sand ridges, flowing left, then right, a pilgrim passing through a maze.


Then, as the water continues to rise, the truth becomes clear: the bumps and ridges are no barrier to the water at all. Laughing with the holy delight of limitless love, another wave forms and breaks, and another, the lover pursing the willing beloved. The walls of the maze give way and the water rushes through its newly formed channels then floods over the tops of the ridges.


I turn to look at another stretch of sand and when I turn back a moment later the sand has disappeared, enveloped, embraced.


Above all, trust in the slow work of God,” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ’s words ring once more in my ears. I’m sure I’ll forget and fear again, but standing here on the beach watching the water rise I realize: at least in this moment of seeing, I’m not afraid of resistance. Here I see that—incredibly!—what seem to me like barriers often turn out to be landmarks on the way into union, the very places I experience myself most deeply loved. Glory glimmers at the interface of resistance and grace.




The bumps of my resistance which seem so obvious when I walk over them barefoot or see them lying naked on the shore, seem almost irrelevant as I watch the water rising over them, no match for God’s ever-flowing love.


I wander back down the beach and smile at the gulls perched on the last remaining island of sand. They remind me of myself, huddled on a bit of resistance while love is lapping the edges away. I wonder how small the island will have to shrink before they surrender and float or fly. Before I surrender and float or fly.


High tide nears, and I stand in the edge of the sea as wave after wave washes over my feet, adorns me with an anklet of sea grass, then tugs a layer of sand from beneath my feet on its return to the sea.


As each wave rolls over then under my feet, resistance is worn a little thinner, settling me a little more deeply into the love that surrounds and welcomes me.


“Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus

Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free

Rolling as a mighty ocean

In its fullness over me

Underneath me, all around me

Is the current of your love

Leading onward, leading homeward

To Thy glorious rest above.”

(Samuel Trevor Francis)



The first and the last two photos are courtesy of Marny Watts. (Thanks, Mom!)

What (many of us) grown-ups have forgotten


I sit with the friend who most intentionally helps me listen for God’s voice in my life and confess that lately I’ve been coming up against the hard truth that every single thing I’d like to be able to think about myself is not true, not the way I’d like it to be. I’d like to think of myself as disciplined, but the chocolate in the kitchen drawer could tell another story. I’d like to describe myself as gentle, but then I hear the harsh voice in my head berating me again.

She listens and questions and shares how she’s been back in the story of the little boy’s lunch again and has been realizing, That little boy probably had no idea that what he was offering was utterly inadequate. He’d simply overheard the adults asking if anyone had any food. “Here, you can have mine,” he’d said.

I picture Jesus smiling at him as he accepts from the boy’s hands the five little rolls of bread, a bit crumbly and squished, and the two small fish that have been sitting all day in the hot sun. Jesus smiles at the boy and winks, the two of them sharing a secret. The little boy smiles and winks back. He doesn’t yet know the whole secret and he might not be able to put into words the part that he does know, but somewhere deep down his heart knows the truth that the worried grown-ups have forgotten: Placed in the hands of Jesus, what I have to offer is enough for whatever Jesus wants to do with it. 

Babies hold out soggy cheerios in their newly-mastered pincer grip and toddlers extend dandelion bouquets in chubby fists with full confidence that their offering will bring delight. Only grown-ups are ashamed of their gifts.

Little children seem to know something else we adults have forgotten: It’s not really about the gift at all. It’s about the relationship. The children are offering their love, their trust, themselves, to someone who loves them. What could be not to love about that?

Jesus isn’t critiquing our soggy cheerios; he’s savoring our love and our trust.

Here, you can have me, I say to Jesus, watching him smile and open his arms to receive the gift. I can’t keep myself from smiling back.

And so during August I’m setting aside (as best I can) the part of me that thinks I always have to do more to make my gift acceptable. I’m stepping back from blogging and other writing so I can be fully present to Jesus and family and friends, giving myself rather than what I produce and polish. And while some critical adult voice in my head says, “I can’t believe you’re going to write that,” the little girl part of me that is smiling at Jesus smiling at me shrugs and takes Jesus’ hand and skips off, borrowing my parting words from Lynn Ungar’s poem, “Camas Lilies”:

                                         “. . . Gone

to the fields to be lovely. Be back

when I’m through with blooming.”  

Above all, trust . . .


Twenty-three days ago, a friend who came for dinner brought three yellow roses. Two aged as expected, their heads drooping after seven or ten days, begging to be laid to rest. The third chose a route I’ve never seen before, its face straight up as though transfixed by the light, still standing tall and strong while age continues to creep in from the edges, crisping its petals from a silky baby yellow to a richly veined gold.

It makes me think, somehow, of my Grannie whom I watched deepen in grace through her eighties. Just a few days before she died, less than two months short of her ninetieth birthday, she wrote in her Bible next to Luke 2:25, “New Year’s resolution: everything for God.”

Rob Des Cotes often used to ask young people with whom he was walking what kind of old person they wanted to be. He encouraged them to start preparing now for the kind of person they want to be then because the journey to the character of a wise elder consists, as Eugene Peterson so beautifully described it, of “a long obedience in the same direction.”

I’m not so young anymore but I’m not old either and I’ve been considering Rob’s question this week as I’ve been drawn again and again to the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. I read them first punctuating a fellow pilgrim’s blog post. I posted them on facebook, wrote them in my journal, began to memorize them: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God . . .1

What kind of old person do I want to be? I want to be characterized by what Paul said is “the only thing that counts”—“faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6) I have a long way to go. But I have realized that each time I come face to face with my own inadequacy or fear or sin, I am given a chance to develop the character I want. I can focus on my failures (which leads me away from faith and love into self-condemnation and a drivenness born of a desperation to make myself lovable) or I can focus on the gentle, ongoing work of God. Actually trust it. Not just bemoan its slowness, post the poem on my bathroom mirror, or write it in my journal. Trust in the slow work of God. Lean my weight on it. Tie my hope to it. Look at Jesus again and again and see him loving me. Linger in one of the images of surrender I wrote about last week, knowing myself embraced, carried, cared for rather than conquered. Get up and go out in the sun to reach between the thorns and pick, one by one, the graces that hang ripe and juicy and sweet on the vines, begging to be brought home and savored and shared.

Trust in the slow work of God: It seems a slightly altered echo of the words I’ve been hearing for weeks, “Carolyn Joy, let Me be God.”

God’s work is slow. I wonder how many of the graces that I saw grow in my Grannie in her eighties she had asked for in her forties, or in her teens? And God’s slow work is beautiful. I see Grannie again, sometime in her last few years, setting aside her proper British upbringing with a chuckle and a glint in her eye to lick her dessert plate in response to a dare. I want to be that kind of young old person—the kind with soft baby yellow peeking out between deeply-veined gold, the kind with increasing freedom and playfulness born of opening to love and choosing again and again to trust God’s slow work.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. I can because, as the apostle Paul assures, “there has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (Phil 1:6 The Message).


1Here, for the curious among you, is the rest of the poem I’ve been savoring:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything

to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something

unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through

some stages of instability—

and that it may take a very long time.


And so I think it is with you;

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,

let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on,

as though you could be today what time

(that is to say, grace and circumstances

acting on your own good will)

will make of you tomorrow.


Only God could say what this new spirit

gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing

that his hand is leading you,

and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself

in suspense and incomplete.”

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

excerpted from Hearts on Fire