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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

A six week pandemic lock down in Washington State left its residents with being alone in nature as the only safe activity. In the absence of a schedule determined by outside forces, in the destruction of a “to do“ list that involved close social interaction, like my fellow residents, I was left with just...Myself.

A thought flew into my head. I could drive to Deception Pass alone, take my journal, and spend some time with God. I had a clear prompting from my inner Spirit that an encounter awaited me on the lonely, rugged coast in the early morning hours.

As soon as the thought was in my head, I literally felt the presence of an inner critic with her hands on her hips, girded with a stained apron. Her face was shrunken with hard, cold eyes and she spoke into my heart. "You cannot expect to just head off into the woods to connect with God for six weeks now, can you? You have things to do."

Just like that, I felt my spirit deflate as I contemplated her admonition.

But a stronger, quieter feeling was brewing. A promised encounter awaited me, and for the first time, I heard my own inner voice declare softly, "I just have to go." And I did, battling the whole time the Woman With Her Hands on Her Hips for the journey.

Arriving at the beach, I felt compelled to walk the shores rather than the forest. Again the Woman With Her Hands on Her Hips dug in. "You hate walking in the sand. Go to the forest. You won't walk very far. It's colder here." On and on and on... But a quieter, softly strong voice stood her ground.

I just have to go.

I turned to walk the shore near the lapping waves of the high tide. Watching my feet carefully, I noted old footsteps immortalized temporarily on the sand under my feet. Ahead, I noted a circle of stones, and drawn to it, I walked that direction. As I came closer I noted that the artist had taken stones with a sliver of white crossing their surface and had aligned those white slivers so as to create an inner circle within the stones. I marveled at the ingenuity and creativity of the circle and stopped to take a photo before moving on.

In the distance walked a woman in a bright red coat, a solitary figure like myself meandering down the shore. As we approached, keeping a safe distance, she spoke to me excitedly. "Up there by that tree trunk there is a beautiful sculpture of stone in the sand. You don't want to miss it!"

"And there is a beautiful circle of stones ahead of you, " I said, "I feel like the person who created this order in the chaos could be my twin!"

"That was me," she said. And then she explained that her friend was recovering from surgery, so she had created a hug circle for her and taken a photo to send it.

I told her of my search for prayer stones, flat and smooth. That these were chaotic times, but that like the ancient Jews, I wanted to reflect on where I met God each day in the chaos, and then build a rock pillar to be able to say,

God was here.

We said our goodbyes and I started to wander on. A voice, the quiet one, spoke into my heart. "You need to write about this moment." The Woman With Her Hands on Her Hips yammered on about the need to press on to keep up with a non-existent time schedule. Her pull was strong, but my inner pull to journal about the experience was stronger.

I turned to seek the first log suitable for sitting to capture this encounter. Walking towards it, head down watching my path, I reached the log and scanned for a suitable sitting place. To the left of me, on the log I had chosen from a distance, lay rock pillars...sentinels to this day, waiting...I think...just for me.

And I sat to write a Mediation on Stones.

The Woman With Her Hands on Her Hips did not disturb me for the rest of the day. I think in the absence of schedules and tasks and rush and worry, maybe for the first time in my life at 68, I could see her. She was no longer camouflaged behind the veneer and imprisonment of responsibility I had carried since childhood.

I made a decision this day to listen to the soft flutter of the Spirit's wings instead of the harsh voice of The Woman With Her Hands on Her Hips. I am not naive enough to think she is gone for good, but, like any challenge, once true identity is known,transformation can happen.

I only know this for sure: I came here today to meet God in a powerful way, to have an encounter that would leave me changed.

As always, God did not disappoint.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

At first glance, a Facebook video of Stephen Colbert arguing with the logic of a Christian author and a video of a former circus elephant being released into the wild might not seem like they have much in common. But by some chance convergence I ended up watching them both on nearly the same day, and their stories so complemented each other that I came away with a deeper understanding of my own faith.

Stephen had a self-avowed "Christian theologian" who had written a book exposing the supposed "conspiracy" of the writing of the Gospel accounts.None of his "ground breaking news" was new, and his shoddy conclusions showed a lack of understanding of the most basic of good research regarding primary source documents and how to determine the veracity of eye witness accounts. Colbert, however, did not travel the road of the Christian apologist; he took the road Jesus would have taken: he told a parable.

Most of you are familiar with the story of the blind men and the elephant. Colbert relayed that story to illustrate the point that each Gospel writer had only a piece of the story. When he finished telling the story, he simply looked the author in the eye, a wry smile on his face, and stated with gentleness, "Maybe Jesus is the elephant."

The next day, I was compelled to watch an elephant video on Facebook. A circus elephant, aging and bone weary, was about to be set free into an elephant sanctuary.Awaiting her, after a 26 year separation, was a much younger elephant who, as a baby, had spent time as part of the same circus.In the video, the narrator explained that these elephants had been separated since those circus years, and all were wondering how they might react to each other.You can imagine the touching scene that awaited.

But it is what transpired before the release that captured me.The elephant keeper who had been caring for her gave her one last bath.And as he held her aged and scarred foot, which she gently lifted into his hands, he ruminated on the chains that had been part of her existence for decades."I don't know who the first person was that put her in chains," he said quietly."But I will be the last one to take them off.She is free."

The footage of her welcome by her young friend was breathtaking.They embraced trunks, and she leaned into the healthier, younger elephant as though they had always been best of friends.If they had been human, they would have run into each other's embrace and kept kissing each other pausing only long enough to pull away and gaze into each other's eyes with love and gratitude that the journey had finally brought them together.

Then it hit me: this is how it will be when I meet Jesus.I will run to Him like a long, lost, precious, friend who never forgot me and who held me always in his thoughts.I will rest in His green pastures and lie beside His quiet streams, my pain forgotten, my heart healed.

But before I do, I will have a loving Creator and caretaker who will release whatever chains have bound me, wash me one final time, and announce,

I know who the first person was that put you in chains,

and I will be the last one to take them off.

You are free.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Someday I hope to become better at dancing with elephants. This is an important skill because they are everywhere: in the center of some family gatherings when that "friendly relative" acts out because of the disease of alcoholism and everyone looks the other way; in the parent lashing out in anger and breaking the heart of a young child because that is all he knows how to do; in the kitchen with a wife who stands silent because to acknowledge the elephant in the room is too painful. But I can no longer sit and stare at the elephant before me, and I want to not only acknowledge it, I want to accept its invitation to dance. For this elephant is present in every life at every waking moment, and none of us know of its existence until the sudden phone call, the hard words spoken at the doctor's office, the unknown now known and placed before us---

Death. When my mother and I climbed back into my van following her doctor's appointment to determine the cause of a large lump in her chest, the elephant was there waiting. Small talk tried to invade our space; false comfort tried to creep in.

The same voice that spoke in my head about finishing my dinner because of all the hungry children in China now accused me that to lose someone who had lived to 94 was somehow a blessing, as though there were some magical age when losing a loved one didn't matter. This was an elephant I did not want to acknowledge, but it was sitting in the back seat staring at me in the rear view mirror, silent and waiting. I took a deep breath and turned to my mom, who is hard of hearing. "Is there anything you did not understand about what the doctor said?"

Mom asked a few medical questions and I clarified as best I could. Then I swallowed and asked the question on the elephant's mind. "Are you afraid of anything?"

She was quiet for a moment. "I am not afraid of dying," she said, "but I don't want it to hurt." There it was. The elephant breathed.

"Marijuana is legal in Washington State," I answered, " and I make great brownies." I do not know what made me crack a joke, but I have been doing that with my mom for the forty six years since my dad was killed in a head on collision with a drunk driver. It is my job in the family…one that I have mastered.

Even though the family joke is that the shortest book in human history is called Four Hundred Years of German Humor, she laughs outloud. For years, mom, who is an immigrant from Germany, did not get jokes. But over the years, she has learned the nuances of American humor, and I am comforted by what passes for a belly laugh. A memory crowds into the space in our conversation, one of when I was about eleven, and my mom came home from Germany with a stuffed white elephant as a gift. When I asked her from the back seat of the car why she brought a white elephant, my dad answered, "it is the damaged car in a used car lot that no one wants." He meant it another way, but today I think he was right. No one wants this white elephant, and yet all of us live with it every second of our lives. We labor under the illusion that we have all the time we need to dream and plan, and yet there it is lurking in the corner of every experience we will ever enter. And so, I decided today that I want to dance with the elephant. I want to embrace it fully and surrender to the lessons I am supposed to learn.

The "what if's" in this situation would fill a universe, and so I am learning to breathe in deeply when one bangs at my door, and I release it to the unknown future. I am learning to stare at the Light that illuminates only the step in front of me and plan no further ahead. I am learning to follow the lead of the Author and Perfector of my faith, the One who carefully plans each invisible step.

For in the certainty of death, there exists the uncertainty of the timing, and so I have to learn that the only moment I can live in is the one happening right now as I write these words. And in the process, I am learning to dance.

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