Monday, September 29, 2014

QOTM...*: John Ackerman

(*Quote of the Month)

Some people simply cannot listen to God in scripture. (They) find God most readily in music or in the outdoors. Contemplation… is paying attention to the reality of God. Whenever we get beyond our own small preoccupations, whenever we have some degree of self-transcendence, whenever we are aware of the reality of God, contemplation has begun. If you are absolutely unable to meet God in your Bible, go outside, listen to music, or do whatever you need to do that puts you in touch with Something More.
~~John Ackerman

I am sometimes asked if I am a ‘contemplative’ or an ‘active;’ those who ask often seem to have a pretty settled definition of what each consists of, a much more settled definition than I possess. If it’s from the contemplative side, some of these persons’ definition of ‘contemplative’ seems to entail such adjectives as reflective, thoughtful and philosophical, yet reserved, sometimes introverted; ‘active,’ in these same persons’ construct, can mean brash, unthoughtful and impetuous, doing without thinking. From the active perspective, many type-A’s see the word ‘contemplative’ as a put-down, characterizing a detached naval-gazer who cannot get things done; these persons can often respect only the take-charge pushers, movers and shovers.

To say the least, I find these definitions simplistically lacking. Frankly, I don’t think the contemplative-active spectrum is an either-or kind of thing. In very broad brushstrokes, an ‘active’ is a doer, a ‘contemplative’ a thinker, but this does not mean the one does not possess the ability to do the other. And besides, the doer may be doing absolutely nothing that reflects a Christian worldview or advances God’s blessing, nor the thinker thinking anything of the attributes of God and God’s call to be a servant to his world.

Frankly, I don’t think the contemplative-active
spectrum is an either-or kind of thing…

I’ve been an extrovert all my life, it’s just the way I’m wired. But I will never forget what one of my accountability partners, a quiet man, said years ago, when I told him that I was anticipating an upcoming silent retreat. He blurted, “You’ll never be able to do it. It’ll drive you crazy.” Needless to say, I found him wrong.

I guess the point I am getting at, especially for those of us who are extroverts or chronic doers, is that a little bit of contemplation can go a long way in broadening our own experience of and service to God. John Ackerman -- pastor, spiritual director, and author of Spiritual Awakening -- drills down on the fact that even the Bible may not always take us to a place of peaceful meditation where we meet God as the strength of our souls or hear his call to act. Do we give thought about what else might take us there, like music or nature? Or do we just feel guilty because our Bible reading seems dry or academic? The key, as he says, is to pay attention to the kinds of things that bring us a deeper awareness of the Almighty, and more eagerly pursue these things as an additional spiritual practice.

Try it. Something More may be found.
~~RGM, September 28, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind: Name the Newborn -- A Pop Quiz!

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

OK, something just for fun this week…

My wife attended a baby shower at church some time back, and one of the games they played was ‘name the baby animal.’ Animal newborns sometimes can have some pretty interesting names. For example, did you know a newborn llama or alpaca is called a cria? Or a newborn hawk an eyas (pronounced eye-us)? How about a newborn platypus? Yup, I knew you’d get this one, a puggle.

Gail came home from the shower and gave the quiz to me. She had scored seventeen out of twenty and won the game. I was pleased to score seventeen also, and not only not have her beat me, but also receive the mild satisfaction of knowing I would have tied for the win had I been there. But then again, I’ve never been invited to a baby shower. And besides, we have enough dishtowels, or whatever it was she won.

So I thought it’d be fun to pass this along to my blog readers some time for light entertainment. Here’s the game. I’m going to give you twenty animals, the same quiz as the baby shower, and I want you to guess what the newborn is called. You could even keep your score and let me know on your honor how you did, especially if you beat me, which I suspect some of you will. I may even give a shout out to the highest scorers.

Relax, though: this particular quiz doesn’t include too many hard ones. Here you go:

          1.    Alligator
          2.    Armadillo
          3.    Cat
          4.    Giraffe
          5.    Fish
          6.    Eagle
          7.    Cow
          8.    Donkey
          9.    Coyote         
          10.  Goose
          11.  Duck
          12.  Dog
          13.  Goat
          14.  Dolphin
          15.  Deer
          16.  Frog
          17.  Hedgehog
          18.  Gorilla
          19.  Elephant
          20.  Kangaroo

Maybe some other time I’ll do another pop quiz of what the adjectives are for the male and female of a species, or if you want something truly weird, what groups of animals are called. (For example, did you know what a group of crows is called? A murder. Really. Check it out. Who decided that?)

                    Ask the animals, and they will teach you,
                    The birds of the air, and they will tell you.
                    Ask the plants of the earth,
                    And they will instruct you;
                    And the fish of the sea will declare to you.
                    Who among all these does not know that
                    The hand of THE LORD has done this?
                    In his hand is the life of every living thing
                    And the breath of all humankind. (Job 12:7-10)

~~RGM, September 17, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

POTM...*: Meet the Organs

(*Photo of the Month)

OK, I’d like to introduce you to something most of you are not likely to have seen before, the rugged Organ Mountains just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Let me know if you’ve seen them!) Gail and I have been coming down here for several days each month to work with a church of fantastic people, and a collateral blessing has been our opportunity to gaze upon this vista many times each day. In fact, I’ve come to consider them one of the top mountain views I’ve seen in the United States, right up there in my estimation with Colorado’s Maroon Bells, Wyoming’s Tetons, and Washington’s North Cascades. I think the reason I like them so much is that they always look different; the varying crag or cloud shadows, light angles, cloud cover, and particular vegetation catching the sun assure that they never look the same five minutes from the time before. It’s almost kaleidoscopic. We took this particular photo one day our last time here on our way to an evening hike.

This is a very interesting part of the country, barely forty miles from the Mexico border. Throughout southern New Mexico and elsewhere, small mountain ranges rise up in profusion out of the vast flatlands of the Chihuahuan Desert, the third largest desert in the Western Hemisphere, shared with Arizona, Texas and Mexico. The small ranges are called ‘sky islands,’ a very fitting description, towering over the lowlands around them, possessing much cooler temps, higher precip, and extremely different flora and fauna than that found on the desert floor a very short distance away. The Organs themselves are a range less than ten miles long from north to south, and perhaps three wide east to west, with a maximum elevation of only about 9000 feet; but standing at any high point in Las Cruces, which is itself about 3900 feet above sea level, one can scan a 360-degree panorama and see numerous sky island ranges like them at varying distances – the Dona Anas, Robledos and Potrillos among them. The name is given to this range for its supposed likeness to organ pipes, a stretch to be sure but a classy thought!

So far in the Organs themselves, we’ve been able to hike the Dripping Springs, Aguirre Springs and Soledad Canyon areas, seeing cool plants and animals endemic to these kinds of habitats. (Aguirre Springs is where we snapped the photo of that Mexican Screech Owl that was my photo of the month back in June.) And since it’s all a new habitat to us, we find ourselves enjoying it immensely. Additionally, and also new to us, the extended area contains thousands of acres of pecan trees and chili fields nestled along the Rio Grande Valley.

Finally, and interestingly, since beginning to come down this way early in the year, the Organs and several surrounding but separated sky island areas have been incorporated into a brand new national monument, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, designated May 21, 2014. This always seems a controversial thing locally as the government assumes land, but it truly is a unique and lovely area worthy of some kind of recognition.

So we gaze upon their beauty often. You should have heard the people coming into church last Sunday morning, “Did you see them today on the way here?”

Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name! Say to God, “How awesome are your works!” (Psalm 66:1-3)

Shout for joy, you heavens! Rejoice, you earth! Burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. (Isaiah 49:13)

~~RGM, September 8, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

From My Nature Journal: The LBJ...

An LBJ… That’s a phrase birders use to refer to any nondescript little bird they cannot identify, or choose not to for the trouble of it. An LBJ is a ‘little brown job,’ generally a sparrow of some sort. One hardly has to pay attention to spot them. They’re ubiquitous, everywhere. Some folks call them LGB’s, ‘little gray birds,’ but the birders I have known prefer LBJ.

In walking through a natural area just now, I picked up a little grey-brown feather actually floating down through the air from some passing little brown job. I could never begin to make identification at this point. The bird is long gone. What’s left is just an indistinct little feather from some indistinct little bird.

But nondescript? I look closely and find it quite lovely. It’s
only about three and a half inches in length, soft-white shaft, soft grey-brown hairs.

Nondescript? In what way? The closer I look the more astonishingly beautiful it becomes. The shaft is not all soft-white, nor the hairs all soft grey-brown, but of differing hues; even the individual hairs are multi-colored. And there are hundreds and hundreds of those soft hairs, starting so minusculely small I cannot see them with my naked eye, then gradually getting longer until they are about three eights of an inch at their longest on the one side, but then shorter again, somehow tapered toward the top in such a way as to leave an impression of a rounded tip. (How does it do that?)

Nondescript? In what way? The 
closer I look the more astonishingly 
beautiful it becomes...

Nondescript? Hardly! I imagine if I held this feather under a microscope, I would be even all the more thoroughly amazed by its complexity. And this from just one indistinct feather from what many consider an insignificant little bird!

Lord, I am an LBJ, self-confessed, in fact a card-carrying member of the club! I struggle at times to know my own significance in this world, in my current ministry call, in what You seem to be calling me to. But Lord, You know what?
can sing my little heart out for You, too. I can sing it from the top of my little insignificant lungs. I can add my voice to the praises You hear from Your hills (from whence my Help comes), or from Your trees (that clap their hands), even from Your very stones (as they cry out Your praise), let alone the praises of Your people! Yes, I am a little brown job… For even in my insignificance, You do Your astonishingly beautiful work.

                                                   I am Your workmanship.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest, at Your altar, O lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise! (Psalm 84:3-4)
~~RGM, From an earlier journal entry,
Adapted for my blog September 6, 2014