Saturday, May 25, 2013

QOTM...*: Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

(*Quote of the Month)

Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: “O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!”

~~Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

In all times since Christianity began there have been ascetics called to a life of prayer. Some established themselves among their neighbors in cities and towns, though many, seeking to remove themselves from certain distractions in order to better concentrate, moved to wilderness places. Many moderns (perhaps especially Protestant moderns!) have considered this an escape from the world’s rigors, but at its basic element it was never an escape away from the world; it was rather an epic journey, a quest, into a spiritual world sorely neglected by the masses, for it was these latter persons for whom these ascetics prayed and gave counsel. Though they have errantly been perceived as ‘abandoning ship,’ these ministers of intercession perceived culture as shipwrecked already, and themselves, rightfully so, as those in lifeboats, rescuing as many as had the wisdom and gave the effort to be saved.

Additionally, an ‘escape’ to the wilderness was hardly that. It is only in the last 150 years or so that people have begun to see the value or beauty of wilderness; for the vast part of civilized history, people have considered wilderness something to be avoided at all costs – a place of constant danger, the habitation of wild beasts, the abode of deprivation. The superstitious even considered it to be the haunt of evil and of malevolent spirits. Persons called to live in these environs would be bereft of even the most modest of human conveniences, not the least of which would be easy access to other humans. But for wilderness ascetics, living here was the cost of doing this kind of battle on behalf of others.

Nicodemus of the HolyMountain was one such ascetic, of the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition.  He lived from 1749 to 1809 in Greece and Turkey, and spent much of his ministry researching, teaching and writing about historic Christian spiritual practices. He was instrumental in the revival of what has been called The Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner” – an ancient prayer based upon the prayer of the tax collector/publican in Luke18:9-14, especially verse 13. Prayer of this form was called Hesychasm, or Hesychastic Prayer. Nicodemus also championed a movement recognizing God as the source of all beauty, that it is the beauty of God’s holiness that allows us, created in God’s image, to appreciate lovely things. This provides the context for my quote of the month, again:

Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: “O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!”

Praise God, from Whom all beautiful blessings flow!

~~RGM, May 24, 2013

P.S. Next up? Haven’t decided yet – it’ll be either a POTM or an essay from my nature journal…

Friday, May 17, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind: Evensong

(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature 
on my blog consisting of an assortment
of nature writings – hymns, songs, prayers, 
scriptures, poems or other things – pieces 
I may not have written but that inspire me. 
I trust they will do the same for you.)

I am truly pleased to present on my blog today what can only be considered a ‘guest columnist.’ What makes it precious to me, though, is that the writer is none other than my beloved wife, Gail. She is not one to write much, as she considers our children and me the writers in the family. She also doesn’t do public speaking very often, for the same reason! However, I have always found that whenever she does either of these she does a great job, far greater than she ever would give herself credit for. So I guess the latter will be my job today.

Here is my case in point, something she wrote spontaneously a couple weeks ago. I really like it.

We have been blessed with a remote and simple little cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It sits on a bay of a small lake, and one of our favorite pastimes is sitting on the dock. Early mornings offer the beauty and peace of a new day unfolding. Midday offers a cool breeze and activity in and out of the water. Late afternoon or evening is a delightful time to watch the sunset, or maybe cast for a fish or two.

One beautiful summer’s eve I happened to be alone on the dock. It was a calm evening and the lake was like glass. As the sun lowered further in the sky, the intensity of the sun glare on the lake lessened and I heard the song of a robin. I love that cheer-up sound and was charmed in listening to it. Then across the bay another robin started its sweet song, a lovely duet across the water. Soon another and another joined the singing and there was a full chorus of 
robins, each singing their own parts of chirps and trills.         

At the same time I found myself suddenly surrounded by numerous dragonflies flitting around me and over the water, also a delight to watch. Twenty? Fifty? It is too hard to count them. I enjoy their graceful dance as they dart one direction and then another, busily skimming here and there and dipping into the water every now and again. Once in a while one stops to rest or watch, landing on the dock or even the tip of my shoe. Its wings glimmer in the sun and I am in awe of its lacey patterns and colors. But tonight I am delighted more so by their dance accompanied by a robin chorus!
It is an enchanting double performance for an audience of one.       

I am reminded of the time we visited our daughter and son-in-law when he was studying at Oxford. While there we had the opportunity to attend several Evensong services at various of the college chapels. It was a lovely way to end a day, listening to voices soar into the sanctuary in praise of God! But tonight, there are no walls or ceiling to this sanctuary. Tonight there is only bird song and dragonfly dance! What a wondrous praise to their Maker! I am blessed beyond words and add my own praise to the chorus.

“Praise the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” (PS 150:1,6)

~~RGM, May 17, 2013

P.S. By the way, it also coincidently happens to be Gail’s birthday today. This is not the reason why I have shared her writing, it’s only a chance co-occurrence. But it DOES give me the opportunity to give her a shout-out. Happy Birthday, my love. You are God’s second-most-precious gift to me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

POTM...*: A Little Lake with a Big View

(*Photo of the Month)

A week or two ago we posted a new cover photo on our Facebook page, and since several have asked about its location, I thought I might highlight it as this month’s POTM on my blog. I took it on a beautiful June day a couple years back. Before I share its whereabouts, though, I wonder if any of my Colorado friends recognize it… One big clue: RMNP.

By default, Facebook always crops photos people use as their cover so that they will fit their masthead. What that has done to my FB photo is make it seem panoramic, which also ends up emphasizing its mirror image. One friend even told me she looked at it upside down to see if she could tell the difference of which side was up! But as you can see from the complete snapshot above, the broader view opens up the mirror effect somewhat. Click the photo for a larger image.

There is something quite lovely about mirror images in water. Gail and I have loved finding locations for them, on certain trips getting up in predawn hours just to be able to catch them at sunrise over still surfaces, even over beaver ponds. Interestingly, reflection sometimes changes a landscape’s color, or the very image itself, by reflecting wavelengths differently than the way our eyes see them. For example, we have photos that reflect clouds in water very differently than how we see them directly with our eyes, reflecting some we cannot even see! This photo is pretty accurate – the differences you see in the lake’s foreground are actually underwater rocks.

OK, this one’s location? It didn’t even require a hike, one of those amazing photos that can almost be taken from a car window (though we didn’t)! Rocky Mountain National Park has four entry stations on its east side that are staffed by rangers at an entry booth.  The southernmost of these is the Wild Basin entrance off Highway 7, north of Allenspark, which leads to some of our favorite places to hike. Just inside the kiosk you will find this beautiful little tarn, Copeland Lake, adjacent to Copeland Moraine to its north (at right in the photo); I believe the mountain the lake reflects is Copeland Mountain. (If someone knows differently, correct me if I am wrong!)

Copeland Mountain is one of many thirteeners in Rocky, and one of, believe it or not, over 600 in Colorado. A thirteener, for you lowlanders, is a mountain 13,000 feet or higher. Copeland is 13,167 feet, advancing well above treeline, which is about 11,500 feet at this latitude. But the crazy thing about Colorado is that it contains 54 of our nation’s 87 fourteeners, or 62%, and 637 of its 884 thirteeners, a whopping 72%! Alaska, of course, has the nation’s highest peaks, in fact the nation’s eleven highest, topping out at McKinley/Denali’s 20,328. California has the highest in the Lower 48, Mt. Whitney in the Sierras at 14,505. But it’s just the raw number of high peaks here that makes the place so amazing, and it is no wonder that one of the state’s nicknames is “The Highest State.” It has by far the highest average statewide elevation (about 6800 feet), as well as the highest low point (3,317 feet). So, contrary to what you might first think, the nickname has nothing to do with the legalization of a certain green herb here last year, nor of the fact that one of our official state songs is Rocky Mountain High by John Denver!

Many people here make it a goal to climb all the fourteeners, and some even all the thirteeners! We have only climbed one of these so far, Mt. Bierstadt at 14,065 feet, the photography of which I featured in last week’s blog.

Anyway, one of the things we love about this place is Rocky Mountain National Park, a must see if you visit Colorado. It never ceases to inspire us. Come, and we’ll be glad to take you there!

I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)
~~RGM, May 12, 2013

P.S. And in the "Useless Piece of Information" category, did you know that of the 637 thirteeners in Colorado, five of them are named Grizzly Peak? Not only does that show an embarrassing lack of creativity among namers, but there aren't even any grizzlies IN Colorado...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

From My Journal: Going Up You Get Tired, Coming Down You Get Hurt

I don’t know how many inexperienced hikers I’ve told that old adage to. Back in the flat Midwest it’s not something one says much, but here in the Rockies it is advice well heeded.

On top of Mt. Bierstadt, our first fourteener 
(and only so far)
Going up you get tired. Many trailheads, in fact most here, seem to start at the bottom of a long incline. Before I became more accustomed to the altitude, I wouldn’t be a quarter mile in and I needed to stop to catch breath, filled with the wondering of whether I was going to be able to enjoy this hike after all. But I found even then that I would finally hit a steady rhythm, "pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down" one foot ahead of the other, and the steady pace, even if modest, gave progress.

Goin' up...
But going up you get tired. You long for the summit, or at least time or trail’s apex, because the ascent is wearing you out. Going up has gotten all of your attention, especially if you are a novice. It’s up and to the right that is the order of the day. Maybe all the while you know you have a final scramble ahead of you, following cairns, picking or pulling your way through boulders. Your heart is pumping wildly, your lungs ache, you’ve perspired to the point of dripping, and you long for the time you can descend. You even hear your inner monologue: “Oh, going down will be so great,” you say, “all of the beauty and none of the pain, objective accomplished!”

You forget (or don’t know) that coming down is the more likely time when you can get hurt. It’s a bit counterintuitive. With the strain of the ascent one is lulled into thinking the descent can’t be much, nothing but a piece of cake. But physical exertion has already been exacting and one may not realize how tired they already are. Muscles have been taxed, and sometimes that shaky feeling of adrenalin deprivation has even set in.
'Tis the art of the skillful
descent that should require
as great an attentiveness...

Comin' down...
So coming down is usually when you get hurt. Your foot slips. Your hand fails to grip a hold. Think of it: mechanically, going up is actually much easier than coming down. On the way up your body leans into the angle’s pitch, it hugs the trail, the path almost welcoming the next footfall. Going down, the center of gravity has been reversed with centrifugal rather than centripetal force being exerted. The body now leans away from the angle’s pitch, away from the trail, and every single step is a lurch forward into space, into nothingness, into unwelcomeness. You discover that both the ascent and descent can be painful, though with different kinds of pain. Going up it’s the exhaustion of exertion, lung pain. Coming down it’s the checking of momentum, the jarring of knees and hips, and even the occasional fall or injury.

'Tis the art of the skillful descent that should require as great an attentiveness.

So in life. We long for the pinnacle, then for the chance to be done with the hard pulling and enjoy the downhill coast. But coming down from a height to a place of normalcy is where I can fail, or fall, where I need to humble myself, remove myself from my exalted position. Yes, the skillful descent requires a retiring grace.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face (see Exodus 34:29-35) so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor... And we all, with unveiled face reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another... (2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 18)
                                       ~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry,
Adapted for Blog May 3, 2013