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hopeful holds the tension/ dew jewels cling the sway/ clasped tight against the world/ not yet knowing it's ok/ the waiting deepens color/ trying to accept every sun ray/ gathering its truth song/ beauty at bay so long/ awaiting opening to day/

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Revelation is Interactive" ~ Papa Bill

Bumpy landing, with the exception of receiving "A" in crash-course on Blakely Island. Start of regular school in 5 days. Very excited and very overwhelmed. Staying with "parents" till November (except when they are out of town in which case,will stay with other "parents"). Focusing on school and healing (so, God in both cases).

Very happy to see kitty (Norris) after 3 months. Grateful for friend's excellent care of him. Will be with staying with me at "parents" house. "Parents" also have two cats; should be interesting.

Prayer and God's response deeply desired.
Until my next "away"...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Radical Symmetry

Have you ever had the thought, "How could things get worse?" I learned that the answer is...don't ask.

1) Through a frustrating and complete LACK of clear communication, I lost my job.
2) The final exam I just took...well, let's just say I failed to really "take" the exam.
3) The friend who was supposed to drive me to the Conference got in a car accident. (She's fine. Her car...isn't).
4) I STILL have no idea about the housing situation. I may be being picky, but I don't want to live just anywhere. And now, the job thing makes that harder. But, I need to decide by the 25th or fin a new place for my poor cat.
5) Fall quarter starts in ten days. I'm really excited to be studying theology again but...I don't think I'll be ready in ten days...

That's all for now. (I'm sure things still COULD get worse, but it's funny how, at this point in my life, any way you cut it, things fall (at least slightly) apart. Of course, this could be a good thing...and, it may even be an answer to the prayers I've been praying (since we all know how God's answers never really look like we expect). I'm leaving the island today (in about two hours) and, Conference still pending, this may be my last post for a while...though I do hate to end on such a cacophonous chord...so we'll see...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fictional Drag

Today I learned that my TA (that's her - Cyan - to the left of our prof Dr. Ridgeway after having just caught a horse clam earlier this morning) is younger than me...by a lot. Awesome. But, I get to go to the Spiritual Hunger Conference with a friend! And we're going a day later, which works out since I've got to figure out my housing stuff. That is a completely overwhelming topic that I don't really want to touch right now; the open room at the place I moved out of in June is "mine unless I say otherwise" (according to my landlord); I LOVE the place I was living, but I want to live with Christians (I really miss my old roommates), I've found what seems to be good roommates but either the place is too expensive or isn't in the right location (there are only so many bus connections yet in Seattle) so I'm looking into getting a bike, which is also an overwhelming aspect in and of itself (since I hardly know anything about bikes; the last one I owned I think I left locked up on the CU campus when I moved to Seattle three years ago!). I need to move at least by the 25th since that is when the guy who is taking care of my cat is going out of town...I really need to decide... School starts on the 28th which means I need to unpack and find all my school supplies (plus order and receive the books) - but I am SO excited to bey studying theology again (with the exception of the fact that people tend to blame you for all the moral and religious problems in the world), and ends up here in two days (this final is going to be impossible). Today, though, I got to talk to my friend who was in the ER - he's home now! Also, after our "sandy intertidal" hike (I got to go clamming for the first time!!), we got some time to study, finish our notebooks, and I got to get my class presentation (on the Portuguese Man-of-War) over with, though honestly, it wasn't that great compared to the others that went today, too.
Now, all that's left is a test, and a quiz (oh and the participation points you need to get from asking questions during other presentations...)
But, despite the persistent headache all this is giving me, I'm starting to learn (by experience!) that things always work out, actually, so I guess all this stuff rubbing on me is just fictional drag.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pisasters A'Plenty

So, yesterday was a study day. I didn't get nearly enough done. But, I did get a 93% on my midterm. I still have a presentation to finish, a paper to finish, a quiz to study for, 4 chapters to read and just a heck of a lot of work. A friend is in the ER with some weird stuff going on, which stresses me out. I really want to go to the Spiritual Hunger Conference but that depends on if I can get other people to go with me. I am overwhelmed with finding a place to live and don't know what to do with my cat. I have a final on Friday. BUT....
today we got up really early in the morning to catch a really low tide and do transect lines on the various regions of the intertidal zone and we got to see SO MANY PURPLE SEA STARS! They are, in science-speak (as in, that's their Genus name), called "Pisasters". It looks like it rhymes with "disaster" (and that is what they wreak upon ultimately defenseless mussel populations in the midlittoral regions of rocky intertidal zones) but it's actually pronounced "PIE-za-ster" which makes them THAT much cooler!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

I wish my baggage was microscopic!

Yesterday, we got to spend a few hours out on a boat doing some "plankton tows." These little critters are the most populous species (by biomass) on the planet - good thing, too, since everything else pretty much relies on them to translate the sun's energy into food. We did 5 tows - three "horizontal", where we dragged a net behind our boat for 2 minutes collecting species with different sized nets, and two vertical where we sunk a net attached to a rope down 15 meters with different kinds of nets. Then, we looked at the critters we caught under high-powered microscopes and either fried them under the light, or squished them under a slip cover. I couldn't help but feel really bad about that - one reason I'm basically vegan now (apart from being lactose intolerant..).
I, of course, began to theologize about all this (which is actually good, because I think a lot of my vocational questions are starting to be answered - or, since I believe that God knew me before I entered my mother's womb, the answers are becoming more sharp in my "vision field"): why does God rest the survival of the planet on some of the world's smallest creatures? Why does all of life depend on things most people can't see (and wouldn't know existed without the insatiably inquiring minds that are the fuel of science)? I think it's amazing that God hides so much - amazing in that the gift is as much the search as it is the finding. God isn't playing games, though - "Seek and you WILL find" - He just LOVES to be found. Maybe this is one way I reflect the image of God. (My thoughts are rather tangled this morning since I was up until 12:30 last night - talking! [finally I am part of a naturally-gloming group - you know how in groups, the initial shake-up of getting together naturally and inevitably settles into "cliques"? I've ALWAYS been on the outside of these groups and I finally think I'm actually part of one of these social aggregates - though that sentence right there could explain why I always feel "different" everywhere I go...:-P] - and today we've got an overwhelming amount of work to do since this class is over on Friday. Then, REAL craziness ensues...).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My first Weekend Mid-term

1) Where I took my mid-term (which was, class-consensus, really hard) since we were allowed to go anywhere within eye-shot of the prof (and how often do you get to take a midterm by a lake?):
2) The effects of stinging nettle (that I found on an hour-long hike by brushing my hand and legs against what looked like a dead, leafless tree) after an hour of trying to figure out what was going on:
3) Rowing out on Spencer Lake after my hike (by myself, which was very peaceful):
4) The peak with the class to watch the sunset (where we also saw what probably was a meteor entering and breaking up in the earth's atmosphere):

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's all about Chemistry

Chemistry testing (pH, NH3, NO3, salinity, alkalinity and CO2) of 4 different samples of seawater yesterday. I really geeked out (and probably annoyed some of my classmates) with how chemistry-OCD I am...(though there is one guy who actually just doesn't like me anyway and decided that the first day of class so makes a point to painfully mock me just out of earshot of the prof but within hearing range of the majority of the class).
Mid-term in about two hours. We don't have to stay cooped up in the classroom, though. We can go anywhere (presumably on the island) within eye-shot of the prof.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Changing what Owls Say"

We are 1/3 of the way through the class; I come "home" in week - though I am still searching for where that might be. Prayers are needed as I've recently told God that I will not compromise anymore (not just in the housing arena, in ALL areans - life without heart isn't only not worth it, it's a mockery and an offense to the One who Began and Gave it All), but it's hard to hold one's ground when one feels as though time is rapidly depleting and options are (seemingly) scarce.
Anyway, we have a mid-term tomorrow (gulp) and yesterday was our first lab. These labs are tedious (now I understand why I experienced burn-out so quickly as a ChemE major: the bio labs are relatively low-key compared to all that work (already 4 years behind me now...). We chose a few of the organisms we collected on Wednesday to put in a flow tank and see how they responded to the flow (our class is mostly concentrating on tidal zones so water flow is important), and that is a plume worm - or, actually, about 4 of them (they could be tube worms, too, it's hard to tell since they are wrapped around each other). We also tested a "sea slug" and a limpit.
I LOVE to learn, but I'm no scientist. Not only am I a "big picture" person (details actually give me a specific headache that settles and stews above my eyes), but the scientific answer to "why" questions simply isn't enough for me. It is, even at deepest levels, merely topically descriptive. I want to know WHY H-bonds are weak, not THAT they are. I want to know WHY our planet is the only one that has water that naturally occurs in all three states, not THAT no other planet does. I want to know WHY animals eat other animals, not which ones eat which and where and how much and at what times.
I do like the videos, though, probably because I'm way more auditory than visual (which may be why my eyes hurt at the end of a heavy-science day). Every night after dinner we watch a made-in-the-80's-cheesy movie and I LOVE watching those. I also love wandering around, my face to the sun (it's good for zinc and getting really cheerful!) and feeling a deeper-than-core longing for all this staggering beauty around me to be permanent...I'm crawling toward stability in the belief (not just the hope, for faith is the assurance of things hoped for!) that one day, it all (and me and my loved ones too!) will be. I am learning just how profoundly I LOVE the outdoors (and just how profoundly that love has been underground for so long...), but there is a certain pain to it; like even my bones know that they will one day have to say goodbye. But, as the inching progresses, I'm learning that it maybe, just maybe, won't be the forever I fear.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Critter Collection above our tectonic basement

Yesterday, our crew of 9 trekked down to the marina on the island and "hunted" for different sub-tidal organisms. We used nets, knives, rubber boots and our hands to scrape, pick, and catch different organisms we found around the sides of the marina docks as well as the shoreline.We were to collect as many different sea creatures (such as some adrift seaweed, a thatched barnacle (with limpits attached to it) and a sail jelly (we heard a sizzling noise one of us could come down...) as we could so that we could do experiments on them tomorrow. (This is why I'm a theologian not a bio major)...Honestly, though, I've been thinking a lot about the "intro"/foundational work of this course - that of plate tectonics and continental drift. See what I mean?:
My textbook's intro to biology - specifically, plate tectonics (and the theory of evolution, but I've sort of already dealt with that question a bit this summer...) - has really gotten me thinking about God's plan vs. the effects of sin and man's role in all of this. For example, did God DESIGN the earth to have moving parts? I can see their benefit (their facilitation of ocean currents which indirectly contribute to the mixing around of nutrients in the ocean, etc.) and the fact that they cause beautiful things (like the pictured-below view from the boat we took out here on Monday) but I can also see the seemingly undeserved horror they wreak upon, among other things, humankind in the form of earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanoes and other devastating effects of large masses of land moving and diving and heightening about. If God did not design the planet that way, then the theory of plate tectonics really adds a whole new dimension to "cursed be the ground because of you." It also makes me wonder how much of what we see, though it does, as Paul says, reveal the eternal nature and divine power of God, really is God's intended creation, and how much of it is tainted by/because of sin.

And, for that matter, just HOW does creation reveal those two otherwise completely invisible (to my knowledge) divine attributes? Further more, what exactly is man's role in all of this? How much freedom do we really have - or, rather, how much does our freedom really matter - in continental drift? Given Jesus' teaching of "What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven...", what is there possibly to be done about/in/around the Ring of Fire even if our free will was absolutely effective (which I have to argue that it's not if for no other reason that the fact of sin-caused depravity, but that's an *almost* entirely separate issue...)? What do you "bind up" in the Pacific Rim? The tectonic plate itself? Seems like too obvious an answer not to have unforeseen consequences on the other side of the globe or something...Ok, maybe THAT'S why I'm a theologian and not a bio major...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spencer Lake

As a little-things-lover side note, today is Nine/Nine /Nine (at 9!). Anyway, this schedule is really crazy - there are things I'd like to do here that don't involve school, and things I need to work on, too (like finding housing; speaking of which, apparently there is an open room in the house I moved out of (the reason I moved out is, apparently, moving out) and it would be awfully convenient, but I think I want more than just a room, I want a COMMUNITY...) - but yesterday afternoon was a nice break. It actually warmed up (and I was worried about not having brought enough warm clothes - as it is, I'm having my "parents" send me some, as well as the book for this class that I didn't order in enough time)...
I went out on a hike with the TA (really hoping I'm not going to be seen as "teacher's pet" - she's really just the nicest of us students up here, really friendly in a bubbly-innocent kind of way) and we found a cute little dock on Spencer Lake (the closest lake to the dorms). I can't get over how quiet it is out on these lakes...and I LOVE the smell of these trees; it really reminds me of camping (something I am really wanting to get back into). Things are a bit overwhelming, but I just keep remembering how fast this class will be over and am trying to really enjoy being up here (and am blown away that this is part of the state I've called home for the past three years.). The Pacific NW really is beautiful, and Blakely Island is just beautiful - which is good because it really balances out the fact the my roommate is constantly on Skype with her "boo" (fiancee)...good thing I can sleep through anything...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flowing, particularly when stressed

Yesterday morning, around 7am, my "parents" dropped me off at SPU so I could catch a ride with a really cool girl named Heather up to Anacortes. We got to Anacortes nearly an hour and a half before we needed to so we drove around, talked about boys and then went back to the Skyline Marina where we found the boat we were going to take, The Paraclete, with the rest of the BIO 1100: Marine Biology class (7 other people including the TA) to Blakely Island Field Station (owned by SPU). The ten minute boat ride took us to two big vans waiting to load all our stuff to take us across the island (it was starting to feel like a mini-Iona) to our main buildings: the dorm and the dining hall (both circular) with a beautiful pathway in between. There are trails, woods, animals and a deeply serene lake about two minutes from the dorms. The island is remote - as in, no cell phone service in most places, and the fastest they've seen the equivalent of 911 (the San Juan police) respond is 45 minutes). My roommate for the next two weeks will be Heather and the rooms are heated - thank goodness because, in all the rush of being back in Seattle, seeing friends (and a VERY special person again), beginning the process of finding a new place for Norris and I to live and getting used to the time change (which I've still not done...), I didn't prepare well enough for this two week trip here...mostly, I just didn't bring enough clothes. Also, my "parents" are going to have to send the book to me up here since I didn't order it in time. But, the class, for the most part seems totally laid back. Well, except for the tight meal schedule the resident manager's wife runs (breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, dinner at 6).
Oh, and the fact that we already had our first lecture today (once a day for 2 hours, plus an hour movie...readygo). It was about plate tectonics and how mountains form: "The lithosphere slides outward above the convection currents of magma underneath it in the anesthosphere; the oceanic crust (the lithosphere) flows, particularly when stressed..." (at this point, the thought "wouldn't it be nice if people were like that?" ran through my head).
To end my day, my roommate (Heather), the TA (a happy-go-bubbly Bio nerd who looks a bit like a clown) and I went out in a too-tippy rickety canoe on a heavy-silent lake (Lake Spencer) to do a "vertical plankton tow" just for fun: we paddled out in the middle of the lake, dropped a net and a "catcher" in to the end of our rope, dragged it up and dumped all the little critters we found under microscopes. It's a whole different universe down there, whoa hey.
Weirdly, I've got studying to do now....it's good to be back. :-P.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"It is Finished"

This was the hardest thing I've done in my life. It also saved it...So, I guess it's like that song (can't remember who it's by): "Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same..."
Anyway, here is a brief overview of my trip!
1) Favorite country: Switzerland. I fell in love with this country 6 years ago when I went on a European Concert to with a group called SOA. We went through Interlaken and Grindewald, and I think I left part of my heart here. Now, I'm leaving more. I actually really liked the challenge of not being about to speak the language and having the "total immersion" experience of having to learn on the fly at least basic words. Not only that, but I stayed with a LOVELY family who blessed me more than I could think or ask, and the Vineyard Bern is an incredible group of 1,000 people as well.
2) Favorite place: Iona. Switzerland was my favorite country as a whole, but Iona was, and is now, my favorite place (in terms of culture, feeling, and sense-of-home-ness) in the world. I wasn't really expecting to bond in THIS way with such a place, but Iona is probably the place I would go back to first if I could. I would love to take someone I know as a friend or companion with me this time, too. And, really, I think anyone who is looking, seeking, questioning, asking or even just needing rest would benefit from going there, and I'm glad I was there for as long as I was - a day would have been two short and longer than a week would have taken the enticement to go back out of it...well, maybe.
3) Thing most missed: hearing the voices of the ones I love so dearly. At one point, I was actually unable to listen to the sermons my pastor preached online because hearing his voice made me long for home too much and I couldn't listen to worship songs by my worship leader for the same reason.
4) Thing I will miss the most: tie between the newness and freshness of experience out there and, ironically, the time to do whatever I want (as much as it drove me crazy). Coming home, Seattle feels rather 'new' and I understand that it is more me that has changed than the city, but it was still lovely to just walk around my first day back - not only did I find a new appreciation for walking on my trip (especially on Iona), but I realized how much the sun really does make me happy (I'd not seen it for about a week prior to coming home).
5) Favorite lesson learned: a tie between a deep-felt need for God (which is incredibly painful but the only thing that will save lives) and where "home" is. Homesickness (both with a little "h" and a capitol one) has really given me gratitude for the great city I live in, the nothing-like-it church I attend, the people who have adopted me and called me their own there, and has set my face deeper into the things hereafter...I now know what it means to sing things like "All I want is You, Lord" and MEAN it. From my heart.
6) Hardest thing about traveling: On an emotional level, it was a tie between being away from those I dearly love and "doing nothing" for days on end, a.k.a. learning how to REST (in Jesus). I did not come here to see Europe. I came here to find God and because I thought God was asking me to do so (or at least giving me permission since He worked out who will take care of my cat, where all my stuff will go, my job, places I will stay, the finances, etc.). Not that God isn't in the US, but I had to get away from everything that made me comfortable, everything I could run to to distract from the God that wants to kill me so that I may be raised again. Those things - the loneliness and the homesickness subsided, however and turned to a heartsickness that seared the longing for God and Christ to be real and really in my life forever. The hardest thing spiritually, was (and continues to be) the wrestle with death (and eternal life): not so much my own (actually, I'm fairly excited, not in a morbid way, but in a "all-my-questions-will-finally-be-answered" way), but the loss of loved ones as life goes on....and the belief in life eternal (will I really see my grandfather again?)
7) Hardest accent to understand: Surprisingly, Scottish. I had no trouble with Irish. And it was actually even easier for me to understand the "not so good" English of the people in Holland and Switzerland than it was for me to understand the Scots (I LOVE Scottish people, though!)
8) Hardest thing about being back: America has too much stuff. Even in the bigger cities like London and A'Dam, I didn't feel this frenzied with all the happenings and bustlings around. My first time walking around downtown Seattle was a bit disorienting and I wondered where all these people go to breathe. It's actually a lot harder to come back than it is to go - "reentry" shock is, at least for me, more overwhelming than culture shock...
9) Weirdest thing being back: Honestly, having a cell phone. I reactivated my phone the day I got back and it's just really bizarre to have people call me on it (I have the same number): my pastor called me to see when I'd be home and I heard my phone ringing but assumed it wasn't mine. I actually got quite use to not having a cell phone and, honestly, it's a bit of a burden right now to have it; I have realized that I am REALLY not a phone person. Actually, it's sort of weird to have internet access, too. It's amazing what one short week without the internet can do to your desire to be online and connected all the time. It makes me wonder we we are doing the souls of man by providing them with constant stimulation, constant connection with anything and everything of the world, etc. I thought I'd be climbing the walls without the internet (and I was for the first few short trips I took from Belfast out to London or Dublin) but as I got used to it, I realized how much freer I was without it) and I had even forgotten that I'd HAD a cell phone to begin with. I'm really not a phone person but, at least for now, it's probably necessary (for many reasons, some of you who know me well can probably guess why) for me to have a phone.
10) Best thing about being back: Hands down, seeing and hugging those I love.

I love that I actually got answers to a lot of questions (that I thought were impossible to answer) on this trip; God is SO good and not at all withholding (like I'd previously thought).
I also love that I didn't have to wait to learn how to wait (my soul GETS "wait on the Lord" like it never has before), and I'm very grateful for the opportunity to wrestle with what it is to really and truly forgive someone (I'm still in process of that but it is SO good). I'm also ever grateful for the 20 letters I received from friends, family and loved ones. You have helped me see more than you know. So, thank you to my grandmother, my parents, my pastors, my sister, my cousin, my friends, my "parents" and my mentors for taking the time to give me such wonderful gifts; not only can I see me more clearly, but I got to know something of you all as well.
I would do this trip again in a heartbeat - I look forward to further travels and adventures, of course, but I would do this specific trip again, even knowing the excruciating difficulties. I have learned that things aren't as painful as they seem at first, and, even those that are just as painful as they seem at first are huge growers of soul, character and context. I don't want to be cliche about that, but there's a reason that's such a common sentiment: I would be far less solid in terms of faith than I am now, and I am ever grateful for the closeness I've learned is available with God.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book Review: June-Sept. 2009

"Hearing God": Dallas Willard
As the first book I completed on this trip - on the plane ride back from London in late June - I am grateful that this was indeed the forerunner of the literary gang. It proved to me foundational than I could have known when I borrowed it from a dear friend. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that Scripture is often best digested in small pieces - it is better to deeply understand parts of Scripture and how they fit rather than read as much as one can and still lack any sort of understanding (paraphrase of Dallas Willard's thoughts). Very validating for me, who wrestled under the legalistic notions having to read the Bible every day to prove that I'm a good Christian - now, I actually want to read every day, but I've learned that it's actually very good to sometimes read the same thing for a few days, even if it is just one verse. Obviously, there is a lot more to this book, but I don't want to spoil it. It was really important for me on my journey, and I believe it is for most/all others truly straining to "hear voices." :-P
"Don't Waste Your Life": John Piper
I found this gem on the min bookshelf above the bed in the room I lived in in Saintfield for a total of a month. It really spoke to my black-hole questions of "What is my purpose?" "Why am I here?" "How is there meaning in anything?" "How do I not waste the few short years I have here?" "Does anything I do matter?" Pastor John Piper is a zealous preachy writer, but I am a zealous, preachy thinker so the two found lock-step quickly. His exhortations that only a life lived unto God - that is, living in a way that glorifies God and God alone - is the only thing that matters; all else is emptiness. For the time, this vague answer to "what is my purpose, God?" was very helpful. It even clarified a few things about "secular" vs. "religious" calling - like, sometimes, a secular calling is just as important (if not more) than a "religious" one because it is the secular world that still, by definition, remains "lost" and in need of the light of Christ. Parts of it made me very anxious, being on a two month plus trip of quite literally doing nothing, but still very inspirational - I love it when writers call readers to take RESPONSIBILITY for things they don't think they need to (that is a MAJOR issue of mine, clearly).
"The Wounded Woman": Steve Stephens and Pam Vredevelt
I read this gentle, sweet book intermittently - the chapters are designed as stand-alone units for whatever issue one might particularly be struggling with, such as anger, fear, trust, etc. It worked better for me to jump around rather than try to read straight through. I tried to reflect on the 4 questions provided at the end of each chapter as thoroughly as I could as I have been rather accused of lacking introspection (though, as I learned later there is such a thing as self-indulgent soul-searching that perpetuates the "me-me-me" culture who we have to thank for the "You are your own God" theology and, in my opinion, moral relativity). Written by a man and a woman (not married to each other) who have suffered deep blows in life, this book offers suggestions on how to heal in a very accessible, almost child-like but stern and serious, validating way. Obviously, these suggestions are not just for women; I think the title simply refers to how the book was written, not necessarily only what it said. While it was helpful, it didn't do what it really talked about people needing: that is, to love and be loved CONSISTENTLY in long-term relationships in a safe community. But, I wasn't expecting that from a book (it is just frustrating to hear so much talk of something I want SO deeply...). I didn't end up finishing it because I think that is geared more towards specific situations and instances rather than an overall "vague" pursuit of general healing.
"No Compromise": The Life Story of Keith Green": Melody Green and David Hazard
Wow. This book was amazing. Someone once very close sent this book to me in the mail as a complete surprise when I started getting into his music around March or so this past spring. A number of Keith Green's songs really did capture me, but I still, for whatever reason, honestly wasn't feeling that interested in it. When I first started reading it, it was painful because I saw a lot of myself in Keith - except without the drugs, the almost-fame caliber of talent (and it's not in the area of music, mostly, either), the extreme extrovertedness and the inseparable quality of friends. But, the seeking, the hard-after-truth determination that sometimes sends those of us (Keith included) extravagantly emotional types into deep, dark pits of confused, anxious, crazy-making depression, the frustration and pain of being consistently misunderstood, the all-or-nothing level of wanting so much to know and be known...I felt myself wishing similar thoughts as I had in a car with my dad driving through Utah listening to Rich Mullins: that I had discovered him before his death. This book proved to be a source of comfort and encouragement that there were other "confused" Christians that don't have all the answers but are really just wanting truth. Although the writing wasn't superb, I couldn't put it down (much like William P. Young's 'The Shack'). This book shook my very soul and I couldn't put it down until I was finished reading it and then, I cried and cried and had a bit of a faith crisis (in the life-saving kind of way). I can see why it's a best-seller!
"The Screwtape Letters": C.S. Lewis:
I was really ecited to find some C.S. Lewis on Sally's shelves (she's got a mix of all kinds of stuff) and I'd heard great things about this book. However, about 5 or 6 letters-from-Screwtape-to-Wormwood in, I started to realize that this book was really messing with me and that I was becoming paranoid, and overly worried about the state of my own soul and how Satan was tempting me and if I was "really" a believer or if I was on my way to Hell and I just didn't know it. I don't want to make the mistake of not acknowledging the power of the "enemies" but I also don't want to give into their own temptation of worrying about whether or not I'm saved, if I'm a "real" Christian, etc. So, I think I'm not just quite ready for this book yet. I do want to read more C.S. Lewis though...I'm sort of surprised I didn't bring more of my own C.S. Lewis along with me on this trip.
"Thirst": poems by Mary Oliver
Wow, if only I could write like her. She's very nature-oriented, simple until the last line or two when she says something totally unexpected but, as soon as you recover from the shock you also most wonder why you didn't think of it. She's apparently been at this for 4 decades and this particular volume is dedicated to her "partner" 0f 40 years...and grieving her loss. In this collection, it's a tie between "When I Am Among the Trees" and "When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention". During a group meeting for the Iona Pilgrimage I can't WAIT to be on in about 3 weeks (whoa, hey!), another of Mary Oliver's poems came up, and I think it's the best poem, aside from my favorite forever, of course,) yet written. (The goose, for the Iona community, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit). This lady rocks, and it sort of hurts my soul a little bit. But, you can't ignore good poetry, eh? :-).
"TrueFaced": by Bill Thrall, Bob McNicol and John Lynch
This book was the only book in English at the Stu(e)rmer's house when I was in Switzerland that wasn't about computers or engineering (or Spanish). Good thing, too, because it revolutionized my way of thinking about God, dreaming and relationships. It was a fresh, never-before-encountered (by me) look at what it really means to trust God and the abundant, almost unthinkable life it brings. This is a life we all, in our own ways, dream of, perhaps we cannot put words to it, perhaps it has been too painful to think about, perhaps we use different words for talking about it, but this is a spunky, written-like-you'd-talk book about the very thing set deep within all of our hearts. I had to hurry through the last few chapters of this book because I ran out of time (I was too busy having an amazing time in Switzerland with an amazing family!) but I will probably need to come back to this book again, when I've healed more deeply - enough to where I can actually hear, accept, and believe/apply the things they talk about in this book (as in, when I'm not in the thick of a faith crisis...).
"Can Man Live Without God?" by Ravi Zacharias
I started reading this book due to a really intense crisis of faith born out of the painful reality of death (and the confusing nature of eternity). I'd been asking a lot of questions like, "Given death, what is the point of life?" and, in the midst of my own struggle for emotional and mental health, wondered what could possibly be the point of all this if life was so short and no one escapes death. The world didn't make sense (with or without God), and I felt like I was right where I was three years ago, only this time I WANTED to believe in God, I wanted there to be more...the world makes less sense if there is no God. I seemed to have gone from an astonishing "certainty" in my Christian faith - the Bible was being illuminated, I saw God everywhere and worship was finally making sense to me - to an all-consuming "is God even REAL? Is Jesus alive?"/"How can we trust the Bible?"/"What if we're wrong?" collapse. The effects of this alone might be able to prove that an atheistic (which is more often than not ANTI-theistic) worldview is not only logically incoherent, but has deadly results. Just as Mr. Zacharias argues. He even asserts that there is a "leap" of faith involved...but, unlike Kierkegaard who argues there is a leap "either way"...he says that the leap is really only in the direction that there is no God. His best argument, in my opinion was an answer to those that reject God and Christ on the basis of the untold violence wreaked upon humanity in His name. Zacharias argues, "Yes, but that would be inconsistent with the Christ of the Scriptures. (So, don't blame God for man's moral bankruptcy.) There has been just as much, if not more, violence, done because "there is no God." Such violence is actually NOT inconsistent with an atheistic/anti-theistic worldview, and that is the scariest thing of all." Anyway...really helpful book for those who need intellectual (as in, beyond the "I just take it on faith") answers to "Why God? Why Jesus? Why the Bible?" (in the face of unbelief and other-belief). (To be sure, I agree that we must take some things on faith, but FAITH itself cannot - logically or otherwise - be one of them). My only beef with Mr. Zacharias is that he merely assumes the authority of the Scriptures which may sound like a good Christian thing to do, but you don't even have to assume the authority of the Bible. Which is good, because that's not going to cut it for one who, a priori, does not. Anyway, this is an incredible book, not only for the questioning Christian, but for the Christian who wants to engage an increasingly anti-theistic world.
The Healing Path: by Dan Allender
I read 3/4 of this book on planes from Glasgow to Philly and Philly to Seattle (a total of 13 hours) and REALLY enjoyed it. I love the way Allender writes, it's lyrical, flowy and windy. As a friend who is attending the graduate school of which Dr. Allender is president once said, "Listening to him talk is like trying to drink from a fire hyrdant." Reading his writing is a bit like that, too. I love how he offered a fresh perspective on pain - he neither denies nor glorifies it - and how he handles people's woundedness - he affirms the difficulties that cause us all heartache while refusing to strip anyone of the dignity to make choices about life. His words are hopeful and encouraging, building-up to anyone (everyone?) who has experienced living on this planet for more than five minutes and is conscious.

Overall, I wish I'd read Zacharias' work first, or at least before "TrueFaced" because I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it, but I also think that the order in which I stumbled upon these books was somewhat ordained, too. I know I rant and rave about every book here, it seems, and that's because I generally love reading, but I really do think that my summer reading comprises a formidable list for anyone struggling with issues of healing, God, and life in general...from the Christian perspective, of course since I fully believe that is the first and foremost call on my life. I don't think I'll have too much more time to read until December with summer school and then the start of fall quarter (my 2nd to last quarter of college!), so I'm glad I got these books in!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Iona: The Pilgrimage Place

I traveled with 8 other women from SPU - 5 other students (two just graduated) and three "adults". The community aspect of this was challenging for me; being thrown into an intimate (after all, this is a vocational discernment pilgrimage) settings with strangers and having next to no time for bonding or establishing appropriate relational plateaus for actualizing long-term relationships (which is really the only kind of thoroughly healing relationship) was difficult, but I was still able to open up drastically more than I thought I would be able to. Also, because of our leaders - Mary - had been to Iona about three times before, she had some "ins" that got special treatment for our group (crammed, mostly, into one day).
For example, we got to explore in more up-close-and-personal detail the otherwise just-a-hint-in-the-air of the arts and crafts personality of the island. Mhairi (pronounced "Vari") is a painter who dipped into family tradition upon request: her family inheritance includes a legacy of original silver-working patterns that was valuable enough to attract the attention of big-name producers. Mhairi's relative didn't want this stuff to be mass-produced and instead offered his business, his patterns and his training to Mhairi if she would keep it small and in the family. As a result and a serendipitous twist to Mhairi's deeply-encouraging-to-the-struggling-artist-of-any-variety story, she accepted the responsibility of carrying out the original and special work of Iona silversmith jewelry and opened up shop. Well, except for the hour she shared her story with us: She closed Aosdana (pronounced "O-Shauna"), her little shop across from the Columba Hotel and sandwiched in between one of the island's two craft co-ops and another multi-purpose building, and presented her journey through life as an artist. It was incredibly inspirational to listen to her true-to-her-heart persistence, struggle with waiting for her dreams and eventually, her receiving her hearts deepest desires (as to be expected, not in a way she ever expected). Now, she owns an operates a jewelry shop which sells original, only-to-be-found-on-Iona pieces and features others artists in her modest but truly inspiring little shop. Mhairi's presentation really helped me learn what an artist actually IS and how we as artists move through the world: an artist is a go-between, someone with the gift and "can't not" to make the invisible visible." Oh, and she's the sweetest lady, too!
After this, we met with the only person in the world who has a PhD in Iona Rocks. For two and a half hours, we learned about how rocks are made, what makes Iona rocks special (they are, if you go along with scientific "findings" 2.8 billion years old), and the formation of Iona's incredible stones. And these stones really are incredible...I mean, normally you'd go shell-collecting on the beach but for the week we were there, we went stone collecting (so yes, a few of us actually DID literally have a bunch of rocks in our bags). Fiona's husband owns the pottery gallery on the island, and Fiona is a precious nerd of a lady who simply loves rocks. Our meeting place for the week was the shed outside the hostel we were staying at (since we didn't have the whole hostel to ourselves, we couldn't use the main lounge are there) and so she came to the shed (which eventually got renamed "The Shack"). She taught us basic geology and then, we walked along North Beach (the beach about 45 seconds from the hostel) and she explained the when's and how's of the placement, coloring and formation of the rocks we found there. One of the things she explained to us was the "Trash Heap". Apparently, a guy named Dugy used to collect the islands garbage and dump it in one heap at the northern tip of the island. Then, in the 1970's, Iona began shipping their garbage and waste to the island of Mull, but the collection at the north tip of Iona had become so large and such a factor in erosion control that they were never able to remove it. Today, it serves as a reminder of how human beings can scar the planet and a treasure trove for people who like sea glass and the like.
Fiona was wonderful at explaining all of this stuff about what makes Iona rocks so special. Although I'd recently come across information that leads me to believe that the earth really isn't that old, her explanations of how rocks came to be is very intriguing, even if the "when" of it doesn't square with what I believe anymore. Either way, it was definitely a treat to be able to meet such an educated, passionate lady!
After THAT, we went straight to a full-fledged tea party. Yes, the kind you have as little girls. Mary met a local lady named Jane on one of her previous visits to Iona and Jane invited all nine of us to an abundance of teas, sweets and wonderful stories. Jane is the widow of Dugy (the garbage guy!); she lost her husband and her son in his twenties on an infamous boating accident that drowned 4 men in 1999. This incident still hangs over the Iona community - losing 4 people is a lot when there are only 150 of you -but Jane is one of the brightest (blue) eyed, sharply observant, keen-spirited souls I've ever met. We heard stories of how and when the water becomes torquoise, how to take care of anxious cows, and where you can find certain kinds of birds at certain times of the year. It was unexpectedly refreshing to meet someone still that in-tune with nature and the ebb-and-flow of that world.
Our group, for the most part, met twice a day for "circle time" in the shed by the hostel. This little place affectionately became known as "The Shack" - one because one of us was reading that book and two, because it became a place of story, meeting God and, on a very deep level, coming home. Here, during our meetings, we had a "pilgrim's altar", where were were invited to present an artifact of our day, tell a story or, in my case, read a poem. Here is where a lot of the get-to-know-you happened, and I found myself not being as "different" as I'd felt. Struggles, pains, victories, and questions ran similarly through each woman's veins despite their difference in expression and I really began (though only just began) to see that my "I'm different" complex is much more in my head projecting outward than it is anything else.
The last full night we were all together was Sunday night. One of us had to leave a day early because she was starting graduate school in Boston the day we were all due back in Seattle. We went around the group and each person got asked three questions by any other member of the group. You could pass a question if you wanted, but each lay answered each question asked - and some of them were real zingers. or example, Mickey (the youngest of the group) asked me to tell about a time I had to sacrifice something and if I ended up finding it a good thing or a bad thing. Sarah Barton asked me (more fittingly than she could ever know, but Sara Ramquist knew because we'd spent all day Friday talking about this very thing) what my most favorite beautiful thing about myself was. Deb Nondorf (one of the leaders) asked me what my favorite poem I'd ever written was an why (and this is when I gave each girl the poem I wrote for her). We ended at about 10:30pm that night (usually the meetings were over within an hour) in the pouring rain.
I have yet to figure out how to express my struggle with, gratitude for and peace found in such a crowning-jewel ending of my summer and, in many more ways, beginning of new life - for life is only found in Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Iona: The Thin Place

Iona is the birthplace of Celtic Christianity, the location of the writing of the Book of Kells (which is housed in Dublin at Trinity College) and has been a world renowned site of pilgrimage for 1700 years. George Macleod started the Iona Community that runs the Abbey, hosts international guests most of the year-round, and does general community, out reach work back in 1938. They are still going strong: the Abbey holds two half-hour services a day: 9am and 9pm. The morning services are similarly formatted with readings from Scripture (the whole week I was there, the readings were from the book of Mark), responsive readings, hymns and intercessory prayers. The evening services are themed, so Monday nights are "healing", Tuesdays are "creative space", etc. I unfortunately didn't make it to an evening service, but heard that they were excellent. On Sundays, they have a "regular" church meeting with a sermon (the one I attended was about food - specifically Babbette's Feast, which makes me want to see the movie even more now!). This sharply unique island is home to the starkly well preserved ruins of a Nunnery where women served for over 300 years, though we know not one of their names. The focus on the Abbey (traditionally all-male) throughout Iona's recorded history is but a microcosm of the blemish of sexism on the human face; I connected deeply with the nunnery (pictured left): the soft presence of the servant hearts of women feathering the aging yet still-structured stone-and-brick that housed these anonymous gals, the crash-and-rip of the ocean less than 20 yards away, the whisperings of history we'll never know this side of eternity.
The island itself is 3 miles long and a mile wide; people walk everywhere and there is this intense, almost traumatic sort of freedom for people: you can walk wherever you want as long as you close any gates you open, you can scale any rock, tramp through any marsh, barrel roll down any hill in any little bay (each bears a singsong name, like "Bay at the Back of the Ocean" or "Bay of the Young Lad's Rock") or pet any cow (if they don't run away from you; although the sheep outnumber the people on the island, the people here have maintained such a low print on the land that most of their animals are appropriately un-socialized). There is, not surprisingly, a long-standing tension between locals and visitors, but I suspect that has more to do with when visitors disrespect this fragile slice of unveiled sacredness as one in throngs of people is bound to do, unfortunately.
The southern part of the island is covered in purple heather and disorientingly rolling hills, open for hiking but hearing few trails and many bogs (especially after heavy rain), most not as easy to recognize as that one. To be sure, one shouldn't leave the hostel (or either of the two other hotels on the island that house its 100,000 annual guests) without hiking boots not only because simply being out and out will probably strike up the mood for hiking but also because you're likely to do 5 or 6 miles of walking just getting around the island.
The people have a deep sense of preservation of nature (there is only one grocery store on the island, so most raise their own food, gently and patiently) and for their history; the island is home to many craft workers and has three arts and crafts co-ops; each artist with her own story and legacy. One of the ladies has made a business out of making jewelry from green stones - these serpentine marble stones you can only find on Iona's southern bays (and even then, only if you really seek). I found 6 small stones and requested dangly earrings - she'd never done earrings that way before, so I truly have a unique pair of earrings.
The culture here is truly unique - I did not even notice not having a cell phone or regular internet access - there were too many beaches to dance upon, stones to seek out and hills to climb, and so much purple heather to scurry through. The locals are rougher, but that makes them realer, and they will tell you how it is: "Iona is not a gentle place, it really makes you see." Truly, Iona made me see, and I'm sure I don't know just how much yet. I actually miss it already - I knew before I left that I didn't want to leave and thus was able to enjoy it instead of, as per my usual, oning-to-the-next-thing or waiting for time to pass before I could return home. In many ways, (too many to describe, and too deep to describe accurately), Iona was more my returning home than arriving back in the United States...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Iona: The Tucked-Away

One cannot get to Iona by happen-stance; it requires intention and patience. One must fly to Glasgow, Scotland, an interesting and rough-shaggy place in its own rite. I found Glasgow (pictured to the left) to be eerily similar to Edinburgh, but with more warnings of "don't cut through the park (by the - stunningly beautiful! - university) at night", and more...nitty-gritty realness. After that 13+ hour flight (for those of us coming from the West Coast of America), you must take a ten or so minute nervous-feeling bus ride (could just be that I'm STILL not used to the 'wrong' side of the road) to a train station where you must hop a train to Oban (pictured in a previous entry), being selective of which train car you park it for the 3 hour journey up the northern coast of Scotland; the first two cars continue to Oban and the last 4 or so split off and go to another Scottish city further inland. The journey is beautiful, taking you through sighing hills of green, thrashing trees of strength and beauty like Switzerland (with more rain). Once in Oban, you'll find the 45 minute ferry ride to the Island of Mull a rather peaceable relief from the churning of train tracks, only to be met with yet another arduous albeit scenic toss-and-jolt: the bus ride across the Island of Mull is an hour long on a narrow-even-for-a-single-lane road with passing" sections" (big enough only for cars - not buses - to pull into). The pictures are abundant for the taking, though, and the windows even created some cool glare into the shots. It was on this ride across Mull to Iona that I wrote a poem called "Beauty"; I was bold enough (apparently) to share it during "circle time" with the group of 8 wonderful women I had the privilege of sharing this past 9 days with. After my reading of it, three approached me and asked if I would read it again so they could write it down! (I started to cry).
Anyway, after the Mull bus, you take a short (10 minute) ferry across the Sound of Iona to the Island of Iona. You'll see the Iona Abbey up to the right, small crofts, shops and cute houses lining the (west) coast, and the ruins of the Nunnery more centered, as the rocking ferry slides into its dock to let you off to begin your at-least-one-mile trek to wherever you're staying. Only some locals are allowed to have cars on the island (and even then, the permits are hard to obtain) because the 150 (11 of them children) inhabitants on this 3-mile-by-1-mile island understand the delicate and, these days somewhat precarious balance their "thin" (in terms of the "already-not-yet" veil between divine and earthen) place is in. Here it is; the place of longing. The place I'd set my heart out for nearly 8 months ago, the place that sparked this summer's trip: Iona.