Lenten Walk Series 7 (Mountain)

My spirit soars in swelling praise as I rise in altitude.  I come before these vistas as approaching the Lord’s table; the nourishment of sky and terrain feed my soul.  The cry of hawk and eagle are hymns directed by the whistling wind.  It is within the sky-blue walls of this sunday school classroom where these sainted sierras show me the grandeur of God.  Here, surrounded by and in the mountains, I find my many-steepled sanctuary.

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O tall mountains
of confidence in God,
you never surrender when the Lord tests you!
Although you stand far away from me
as if in exile, all alone,
you remind me that 
no armed power is strong enough to best you.
Your trust in God is wonderful!

-Hildegard of Bingen2013-02-21 18.01.29

The mountain opens its secrets only to those who have the courage to challenge it. It demands sacrifice and training. It requires you to leave the security of the valleys but offers spectacular views from the summit to those who have the courage to climb it. Therefore, it is a reality which strongly suggests the journey of the spirit, called to lift itself up from the earth to heaven, to meet God.

-Pope John Paul II2013-02-21 18.02.49The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God. This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength. The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity.

-Thomas Merton

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Lenten Walk Series 6 (Fire)

We walked our prayers along a Big Sky catwalk on this night.  The children had all fallen asleep and we left them in grandparents’ care while we went to crunch our way through the chilled, still winterscape.  What was immediately evident was the sensory experience of our supplications.  Every prayer was unleashed on a ribbon of breath while the cold night air stung our every lung.  With every step there echoed the crunch of Montana-high-country snow, which has its own taste and scent, too.  Everything seemed so still.  So absolutely frozen and lifeless.  Yet, it only took the mere twinkle of a star to remind us of how much dynamic movement there really was going on all about us: our very own earth planet was in cycle, as was the celestial sky above.  Every tree contained a dormant energy of growth and renewal.  So this became our prayer:

That when our lives appear stagnant and still, we know you are moving, O Lord.
That when we feel cold and dark, we know that You are our internal life-force.
That when we feel nothing moving in our dreams, You are there to light up our inspirations.

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And then we came back to the warmth of our Big Sky home and were immediately struck by the presence, warmth and dynamic movement of the fire within the hearth.  Its dancing, hot flames were in contrast to Winter’s silent setting just beyond the door.  This fire, this energy was a display of exuberance and reminded me of Annie Dillard’s wonderful words:

If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness…. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames. 

Lenten Walk Series 4/5

Gratitude for legacy and heritage have been on our praiseful lips these past two days  as we have made our way to Big Sky, Montanta for a week of skiing with family.  We overnighted in Butte, MT the birthplace of both of my parents and a landscape both sets of my grandparents intimately knew and loved.  My paternal grandfather, Knute Plate, immigrated from Sweden to Butte and worked the mines here in what is known as the “richest hill on earth.”  And, my maternal grandfather advocated and proponed any project or proposal that would keep this motto socially and theoretically true.

2013-02-18 20.45.03One of the projects in which my Grampa, Don Ulrich, was critically involved was the restoration of Blacktrail Creek, which runs through the mid-line of Butte.  This stream corridor, highlighted by the majestic presence of the nearby Continental Divide, had suffered adverse affects by “channelization” (or the straightening of the stream), livestock overgrazing, highway construction, and other urban development.  A primary restoration goal of this project was to improve public access and use of the stream corridor as well as 2013-02-18 20.45.49improving ecosystem function and biodiversity habitat.  The restoration resulted in a healthier stream and made a valuable natural resource more accessible to the public.

The pedestrian trail was renamed the Ulrich-Schotte Nature Trail and is now a two-mile segment of a Greenway system in Butte.  Named after my grandparents, Don and Kathryn Ulrich and their dear friends and civic leaders, George and Jennie Schotte, The Blacktail Creek Restoration Project was completed in 1998. These visionaries believed that this landscape could be more than what it was.  They believed that they didn’t have to be content with the status quo: a sickly stream that was a regular dump site for neighbors’ trash.  Over the years, the project grew from a stream restoration project to include a recreational trail used by thousands of area residents and visitors.  This grand vision resulted in something that would serve the greater community, humans and creatures combined!

Considering the stewardship work that we are currently about in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, I2013-02-18 20.48.11 was struck anew with the realization of all my grandfather did on behalf of Other and the Future.  In this context, he spoke on behalf of the healthy biodiversity that hung in balance depending on the health and well being of this stream corridor.  He had the insight and clarity of mind to foresee that healthy and vibrant ecosystems would result in a native, beautiful landscape that would mutually enhance the health and well-being of Butte’s people and generations to come.  It became clear that we do this work in our lives out of a great 2013-02-18 20.47.34hope for the future, but also because of the legacy and heritage of my family’s DNA.

This was an ideal, which Grampa had to champion with both shovel in hand and policy papers in the other to get the City to support this intrinsic value proposal.  But I understand now that he had a vision that was rooted in justice.  It would be socially irresponsible to allow that stream to dry up due to the City’s mismanagement of resources.  It would also be a 2013-02-18 20.46.39holistic loss for both the creature’s depending on that landscape for life, and the inherent health benefits that would be available to the people if allowed to enjoy this native feature.  Peace is the presence of justice, Martin Luther King Jr. once said.  And the peaceful place that is experienced along this vibrant stream attests to the justice advocated on behalf of systems greater than our own.

For the past couple days we have been walking segments of this trail.  We have offered prayers of thanksgiving for our heritage and ancestors, the lives that link us to a lineage of justness and action.  It has also caused us to reflect more on our own “legacy work”–that great work of making an impact on something greater than, and beyond, ourselves.  We prayed that our children would be impacted by a need outside of themselves that would cause them to cry and subsequently stand up and fight for a better way.  We prayed that they too would continue to walk in our heritage’s path of faith, always looking to the mountains, from where comes our help (Psalm 121:1), for the vision to reimagine a better way on behalf of something greater than themselves.

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Lenten Walk Series 3

Walking through the streets of Seattle’s New Rainier Vista neighborhood can seem somewhat like a maze.  If you don’t keep your bearings on Mt. Rainier (easy to lose for non-natives on a cloudy day), you can effortlessly get turned about.  As we walked along the sidewalks of this redevelopment, the children picked up garbage; it seemed the only familiar act in which to respond to the ever-present litter lined up along some of these unfamiliar lanes.

red metal labyrinth new rainier vistaWe prayed for this new community that  has both displaced long-time Valley residents and offered new hope for immigrants and refugees from around the world.  We acknowledged that living in this dense urban village must seem very much like a maze for families who come without great resources from war torn countries.  However, we also prayed that, unlike a maze, these souls wouldn’t come here to get lost.  Rather, more in alignment with that of a labyrinth, these many homes and streets would lead to personal transformation and, ultimately, abundant life.

The children played for a bit at a happened upon pocket park surrounded by tall, dense homes.  As we followed the trail to exit the playground, we came upon a grouping of carved stones with labyrinth images.

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Today’s prayers echoed this ancient prayer, attributed to St. Brigid:

God of the Twisting Path, God of the Turning Spiral, God of Revelation, God of Infinite Mystery; may this God enfold and entwine you in every step. 

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The Legend of the Labyrinth of the Minotaur

Upon ascending to the throne of Crete, King Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a white bull, which he would sacrifice in honor of Poseidon. However, Minos found the bull so delightful that he kept it and sacrificed an ordinary bull, which angered the gods.  Aphrodite made Persephae, Minos’ wife, so desire the white bull that she bore its offspring, which grew to become the monstrous Minotaur, half man and half bull. King Mino had Daedaius, the master craftsman, build a giant labyrinth to hold the Minotaur.

The Athenian King Aegeus was compelled to pay Minos penalties every ninth year by giving up seven young men and seven maidens, who were forced to enter the Labyrinth of the Minotaur and ultimately be devoured. At the approach of the third sacrifice, Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, offered to enter the labyrinth as one of the virgins so that he could kill the Minotaur. He promised his father that on its return his ship would have white sails if he was successful and black sails if he had been killed.

Ariadne, on of Minos’ daughters, fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of red string, allowing him to retrace his path to escape. Theseus killed the Minotaur with the sword of Aegeus and led the other Athenians back out of the labyrinth. On the trip home, he abandoned Ariadne on the island of Saxos, continuing home with er sister Phaedra, who became his wife. Theseus forgot to put up the white sails, and when King Aegeus saw the black sailed ship he threw himself from a cliff lookout into the sea, which is now called the Aegean. Thereby, Theseus ascended to the throne of Athens.

Lenten Walk Series 2

Today’s prayer walk was under cloudless skies, which is a rarity for Seattle in February.  And instead of 10 prayerful feet, it was simply my own and Anna’s.  Funny thing how as soon as you draw your line in the sand around an intention, circumstances immediately set themselves up against it.  I’ve learned to identify this as the Pilgrim’s Path, others may call it Murphy’s Law; be it as it may, the boys were unable to get in on the practice today.

Whatever laws were against our family participating today in our Lenten commitment, Anna had clarity of purpose and firmly directed our route.  These pictures represent the prayers for our community, on Anna’s Spirit-led route.

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Creator of every country, color and kind,2013-02-15 20.49.31

Forgive us when we see difference instead of commonality.

Forgive us when we we react in fear of Other instead of celebration of diversity.

Give us the eyes to see the intrinsic beauty of cultures other than our own, and develop in us a posture of learning, 2013-02-15 20.48.51gratitude and respect.

Guide us away from judgement, misunderstanding and offense and bring us to the holy grounds of community and neighborly care.

Amen.

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We pray against fences and barriers of all types.2013-02-15 20.46.28

We pray against the fences that keep people out…and the ones that keep far too many others in.  We pray against the chain-links that mark something that some may have, but others may not.  

We pray for the sense of safety that can only come from you, O God-that people so desperately need-because there is so much fear in the world and in our own neighborhood.  

We pray against the violence that fences are 2013-02-15 20.47.34want to proclaim through graffitied messages of hate, intolerance and territory.  Bring peace and freedom to those who rally against the barriers in their lives; may their fists shake their confines with justice, and not bloodshed. 

Amen. 

 

Lenten Walk Series I

2013-02-14 18.07.33 The last couple weeks leading up to Lent, my children were bemoaning the Lenten possibility of eating only rice and beans for dinner (as we did last year).  While I am really glad we did that practice last year, it didn’t seem to fit where we all are this year.  Giving up coffee, chocolate or wine are never very realistic options for me for obvious reasons, but on the whole, I’m just not inclined towards the “lack” this year.  We all seem to be needing something more…. 

I’m grateful to Joel for the inspiration to practice a daily family prayer walk during this season of Lent.  When he first brought up the idea, it clicked with everyone immediately.  The intention behind it all being that we, all five of us, rain or shine, will take a walk and pray intentionally for our neighborhood, or whatever else is stirred in us as we ambulate through our community.  It will give us time together, a healthy practice and continue the ever challenging charge to be OUT in our neighborhood, an all too easy bidding from which to back away when gun shots and sirens are our common caterwauls.

Today we set out on our first Lenten Walk and we went to the landscape that is both near 2013-02-14 18.06.26and dear to us: Cheasty Greenspace.  As we walked on our beloved trails, we thanked God for the countless volunteers who have given of their time and energy to create this much needed safe access to Nature for our community.  We gave thanks for a supportive Parks Department and staff members who have become friends through this long and arduous process.  And we prayed for the process that would lead towards the dream to see this greenspace in its entirety restored, reclaimed and reimagined for the greater good of our neighborhood.

On our way home, as my tummy tumbled and turned with the tensions that have arisen out of this greater work, we came upon this tree.  Given that today is Valentine’s Day, and provided I was praying for softened hearts, I couldn’t help but accept this tree’s message as a gift from God.

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Great Impressions

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Richard Twiss (1954-2013)

There are some souls you come across in your life whose imprint they make on your own is more than the hands you hold every day.  Richard Twiss (Taoyate Obnajin: He Stands With His People) was such a soul.  And today, as the world cries, dances and drums their response to his death, I am humbled and challenged by the deep and lasting impression Richard made on my life.

A personal sense of what it means to live on behalf of something began to form soon after I first met Richard at Seattle Pacific University in 2004.  His story and teachings from the perspective of a First Nations person silenced and stunned me, and implored that I reject the insidious ethnocentric ways of our culture and Church.  His dancing prayers displayed an understanding of the Creator for which I had always yearned, but never found within the four-walls of our standard sanctuaries.  Richard’s visceral understanding of all actions, decisions and hopes being born out of a respect for future generations shamed my consumer-lifestyle.  The deep joy of living forward from this place took hold of me!

I had the wonderful opportunity to facilitate a Native Expressions of Faith workshop for Seattle-area church and lay leaders at Seattle Pacific University in 2007, where once again I was able to work alongside this tremendous soul.  As I danced with my prayers and my feet kept the drum circle’s beat, I recall feeling the clarity and formation of a personal mission statement that has informed my vocational call and way our family lives our life: to live on behalf of Other and the Future 

I bow to you, Richard, in deep gratitude for the life you walked along the path of the Waymaker.  I am forever changed because of your response to the Creator.  May the Spirit brood over your family as they continue their journey on this side.

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Our prayer table for Richard