Plumb Line

The dog and I are just back from a midday walk.  Now, she pants out a tale of the tennis ball she pursued through thicket and grove while I sit here, trying to hold myself within the afterimage of our outing.  Mid-May in my corner of Montana means the hillsides are studded with sun-yellow balsam roots, aspens wave newborn leaves, and choke cherry bushes are top heavy with their spires of blossom.  Literally, every step is a passage into something breathtaking.

In this week’s Consider, Kim writes, “Beauty awakens questions that have been sleeping within us.”  Today, as I walked through the incredible momentary show May had conjured, I didn’t so much think about this quote, as experience it.  I had no moment of lightning insight, no one great question rising.  Rather my on-going inward conversation dropped below all the edifice upon which daily life runs (appointments and errands, chores and checklists) and touched in with deeper, foundational ground.

It’s an astonishment really, this business of being here. We are here.  And we are aware of being here.  And we continually ask questions of this awareness to plumb the meaning of our being here. This is surely the miracle and gift of consciousness.  And its weight and wound.

While I walked just now, I knew that by next week the balsam roots would pale to straw.  In another week, they’ll be memory.  And yet, I am permitted to walk through their abundance now, to send the dog tearing through them, nose to the ground, living out her singular fixation on retrieval.  All of this is, as they say, here today gone tomorrow.  Yet it bespeaks something timeless.  Despite its fleetingness (and my own) it cracks the door on eternity.

A few years ago, my husband and I drove Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park.  This corkscrew of a drive, hewn to the side of a plunging valley, is truly a feat of engineering.  Yet the vast expanse of human ingenuity seems but a mote in this dizzying landscape.  We’d turned off the radio, opened the windows, ceased to talk.  It felt like the air those peaks passed between them was somehow older, deeper.  As we neared Logan pass, Tim broke our silence, “This place makes me want to be a better person.”

This and feature photo by Ken Cockroft

That’s just it.  Beauty plays upon some imprint so deep inside of us, we’ve nearly kicked over its traces in all our day-to-day shamblings.  But, these fugitive encounters invite something deeper, urge a communion we perennially crave.  Each time is an opportunity to send the plumb line down and see just how deep we go.  As for me, I hope to never hit bottom.

Travel Log

This morning I said goodbye to the girls and my husband, Martin, and I drove through rare and welcome midmorning sunshine to the ferry dock.  After a peaceful hour’s ride, we exited the mouth of the ferry, whisked through the bustle of Seattle, wound up the still-snowy mountain pass, and rocketed out into the vast, desolate rolling hills.  No kids in the back seat, a podcast murmuring quiet wisdom, and a hot cup of coffee: bliss.  A chance at last to cultivate what Lindsay talked about so well in her Consider this week: the art of inwardness.

Now I sit alone in the hotel room with the hum of the air-conditioning and congestive rattle of the mini fridge.  As soon as Martin left to see colleagues (this is work trip), I fought the urge to flip on the T.V.  Instead, I sat down with a glass of wine to mull over what Martin said after I got off the phone with Lindsay this afternoon.  “You’re so busy,” he said, “I wonder if you’ve taken time to slow down and reflect on the process of launching Each Holy Hour?”  You mean like metacognition, I answered, using a word educators love.  He smiled.

Metacognition is about thinking and talking honestly about your own learning process.  So as I begin to narrate the process of building Each Holy Hour, a project for wonder, I admit to myself that my recent preoccupation with the many “ticks on the to-do list” that Lindsay described in her meditation has had nothing to do with encountering wonder.  It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed moments of loveliness as I’ve waded through a thick morass of details of building a new website and content.  Even in the thicket of logistics, even as I clawed my way up the steep learning-curve of technology, I’ve found time to hug my kids, take in our blooming cherry tree, stand hushed and awed over a nest of newly hatched chickadees.

But I’ve reflected very little.  I’ve been glued to my phone and my computer so much that my eyes have become achy and bloodshot.  I’ve been myopic and obsessed, not inward–there’s a big difference:  “Inwardness is a summons that resists stress and hustle, an orientation to the world, not something that can be gained by doing.”

I struggle with the tension of keeping my life balanced.  When you parent three kids, work a part-time job, and write to boot, getting things done is hard-won.  On launch day, all my daughters were home sick.  As I face-timed Lindsay about the first Consider, her daughter (home sick!), jostled her elbow and asked questions.

But now after two weeks of doing, I feel unmoored from the very things that Each Holy Hour is all about:  solitude, reflection, face-to-face, unhurried communion with people.

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Flashback two months ago to a walk on the beach by grey Puget Sound.  Lindsay had made the drive from Montana to visit us.  Our kids picked their way through shallow pools, collecting crabs and eels. We tiptoed through thousands of sand dollars stacked in the sand–like shingles, Lindsay observed.  We dragged sticks in the sand, bent down to pocket smooth, ancient stones, lingered over driftwood.  And we discussed our passion for contemplation and our need for silence.  We talked about Each Holy Hour.

Life is about dwelling in that tension between doing and being.  Some hours are as spacious and silent as the hilly farmland we drove through this afternoon; others are as hectic and noisy as downtown Seattle.  Sometimes we hold our breath, lower our gaze, and plow through the crowd, and other days we wander blissfully under a wide, open sky.

But finding balance demands more from me than just silencing my phone for a few moments to snap up some convenient inwardness.  Inwardness is an “orientation to the world.”  It’s a way of being, a way of breathing, if you will.  And in a culture that measures me by my productivity, I need to  exhale and open my hands.

–KLC