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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Saturday by the sea began inauspiciously. Our lives disrupted during a home sale, we had taken refuge in a local waterfront restaurant.

“The call of Holy Saturday is to practice remaining.”

As we approached the hostess, the air grew cold and hard and distracted. We seemed like an annoyance to the young woman about to seat us and noted when she left to see what seats were available that her spirit seemed downcast. She returned and briskly took us to our table, and as she set down the menu, I asked about an unusual nose ring. As she told the story, her face softened and joy began to leak out. She sought and held eye contact and exuded warmth. Her step was light as she stepped away.

In her place a waitress appeared, and we both sensed her tiredness underneath her professional pleasantness. We paused to give full attention and to ask, sincerely, about her well being. Though others were there, we noticed she began to linger in her visits back as we continued conversation. As we prepared to pay our bill and leave, she stopped to make sure I noted the bill. On it she had written “Thank you” and her name. She pointed to the words again and got eye contact. “Really,” she said emphatically, “Thank you.”

“To remain with pain, to bear witness to wounds. This is central to the work of redemption.”

Spontaneously, we booked a whale watch tour a short walk away on the marina. The wind was bitter and hard, and as we waited in line, I noticed a young woman bundled up expertly against the cold and engaged her in conversation. As we entered the cabin, I asked if my husband and I could join her at her table as she seemed alone. We wandered through pleasantries until she ceased sharing about her job and family.

She said she didn’t want to make us uncomfortable, but she had her sister’s ashes with her and had planned to scatter some in the sea on the journey today. She pulled out a small wood box, and we shared stories of ashes, as over the years, we had been taking my mom’s with us to places she loved, leaving a little of her at each place.

“Witness and with-ness are practices of new life, practices opening new possibilities, practices of resurrection. Holy Saturday reminds us that redemption is encountered not in victory over death, but through remaining with death in a way that honors both life and loss, gift and grief, fear and wonder.”

Intermittently throughout the journey we connected and shared a bit of our life stories, until, at docking, I looked her in the eye and let her know that I knew how hard this must be, and that I knew she would be successful in her undertakings. I had wanted to ask her to join us for dinner but lost her in the crowd shuffling down the ramp and on to dry land. Suddenly we caught a glimpse of her ahead of us going a different way. She smiled and fought against the current of people headed with her. Approaching us quickly, she simply wrapped her arms tightly around me and then around my husband enveloping each of us in a deep hug. And then she was gone.

“No,easy answers. No quick fixes. No superficial attitudes. God meets us in deep, complicated and messy ways; God dwells in deep complicated, and messy places.”

Headed to dinner where we started our morning, another waitress approached us and I commented on her beautiful pearl bracelet. She smiled, “It’s not a bracelet. It’s a necklace I double over and wear on my wrist. It belonged to my sister who died. I play with the pearls and it reminds me of her.”

“To remain with pain, to bear witness to wounds. This is central to the work of redemption.”

This was a Holy Saturday not of our own making. At the front of our consciousness was the history of this dark day before Easter, so we nestled close to our Hope, and we opened ourselves to the whispers of a broken world around us. And a peace that truly passes our understanding settled in our bones and guided our words and attention.

And I was left with this reminder…..

Maybe our life’s purpose is simply this:

To be interruptible.

To be present.

To notice.

To be willing to ask the deeper questions.

To listen with all of our senses to the heart’s cries below the veneer of life.

To experience the Holy in the ordinary.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

To say “I want to be a feather on the breath of God” is easy. To live it out has its terrifying moments.

And so it is with me.

We are selling our home of 33 years. That is the only thing that is certain. All else keeps us in a state of what we call, “to be revealed”, which has taken an ironic turn as we prepare our home for sale.

On our mantle, we removed a sign leaned against the wall that says, “When you trip in life, make it part of your dance.” Oh, that this could be so. Behind that sign, mold is revealed, and when we go to wash it, my finger sinks through the wall. We discovered the mossy climate has destroyed a brick chimney and compromised our dry wall. The deck with lattice that was so attractive in its youth is now moss covered and encrusted with lichen. Who knows what else we will find lurking in the bones of this old home?

Or in our own old bones?

We are sifting through a many roomed house and are now down to what might fill a one bedroom apartment. Along the way, things we thought we could not do without have been “re-homed” through communities created on social media to support each other in sharing belongings.

In the process of this sifting we have come to see that having places where we can “put things” over these long years just led to an explosion of things, none of which are necessary in what will become our new life. We have found that in facing the possibility of a transient life, every keepsake undergoes rigorous examination.

Boxes once labeled “must stay with us” have been whittled down and whittled again, and today they may be emptied entirely. We are determined to not rent a storage locker for “stuff” we will not be able to use in our new smaller space. Or take with us when we go to the final destination that awaits us all.

This has led to some beautifully hard conversations about what truly matters in life.

I am reminded that when my mom moved in with us at 95, she came with five plastic bins with all her earthly belongings. After a few months in our home, I asked her if she wanted to go through them and bring things upstairs.

“Why would I I?” she replied, “I have been fine without those things up until now.” This from a woman who survived Hitler and the rain of bombs on Frankfurt…who lived on dandelions and K-rations and immigrated to America with little but the clothes on her back and a spirit of adventure which she carried her entire life.

It is her spirit of adventure I need to channel now.

For of all the things that have been hard about getting ready to jettison home ownership, the hardest has been this: we do not know where we will be.

Yes, we know we are headed to Bellingham. Yes, we know a life awaits us there that will be new and filled with blessings as we get to know our Bellingham grandkids better. But where will we lay our heads at night?

My mom must have had those same questions and more as her ship crossed the Atlantic and the Statue of Liberty came into view, swelling her heart with an image she said she was never to forget… an image of promise and hope. She embraced the unknown every step of the way and never lost her ability to step through the fear and questions, her soul’s voice of adventure overcoming her doubts.

Our journey is so much easier than hers. But having not practiced sailing on unknown seas in these 35 years of domestic settling, my feet have become land bound. I see the ship on the horizon. I know it carries my name. But the destination painted on the bow is unclear at this angle.

And so I sit in my “unsettled-ness” and carry a vague sense of dis-ease in my bones.

And then I remember the woman who birthed me, with whom I adventured every summer for decades… the woman whose entire body vibrated at the word “adventure”. I remember the woman who stepped off a boat and wandered the streets of New York with only a vague notion of where she might lay her head that first night.

She embodied being “a feather on the breath of God” and I can only pray that, like her love of nature and learning, this too, has been passed down from her DNA to mine.

Somewhere in Whatcom County we will lay our heads. We will stare at empty walls and step into a transitory life until the next step and the next step get revealed. It is disorienting. But in this uncertain time, I am leaning into the certainty of a God who provides, and I have learned to claim these words:,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.”

He will not let my foot slip. And He who watches over me will not slumber.

He is the captain at the helm. The sails, like feathers, fill with His breath. And I can only wait for the turning of the bow and the revelation of the destination.

It is enough.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

The daily drive into the Snohomish Valley provides ample opportunity to notice the patterns of nature. At the top of the Seattle Hill Road, an opening in the trees reveals the valley below and provides an unobstructed view of the jagged Cascade range on the other side.

In winter, the fallow fields often become soggy, providing rich habitat for migrating snow geese. The gullies between the precise lines of blueberry bushes that fill the valley floor often become flooded. And when the cold sets in, a frosty wonderland of broken stalks and icy puddles often erupts overnight.

Then in spring, corn fields emerge on the south side of the road promising future mazes that will delight families when the fall holidays arrive. The marching of summer days coaxes the stalks ever higher, obscuring vision to south, and I drive as though through a maze myself.

But it is the fall that brings the grandest version of this valley on my early morning drives. The sunrise sky in the all the previous seasons had been like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. But this first fall sunrise sky was Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,”the reds and oranges battling each other, exploding above the jagged peaks and wrapping them in smoke-like clouds.

So compelling were these skies that I began rising earlier and earlier just to catch another heart stopping glimpse. To no avail. My subsequent valley views have been filled with thick mists. Even more disappointing, on the mornings when my home skies are clear and I reach my viewpoint full of anticipation, the valley has been filled yet again and again with a fog obscuring all but the road in front of me.

One such morning, I noted my inner intense dissatisfaction with the fog as I slowed down even more due to its thickness. I found myself almost angry that nature was not providing me with a sunrise that would fill my soul, as though I deserved an ecstatic experience every day. In my grumbling, I paused to look out my windows, blurred by the thick moisture.

The landscape was awash with gray. Ghostly stalks of corn peered at me through the mist, lined up like soldiers ready for battle. Blueberry bush tufts poked up from beneath the fog like washed out, perfectly aligned bouquets. And the road literally disappeared in front of me, giving me vision for only several yards instead of hundreds.

In truth, I realized that like the enshrouded valley around me, my own inner weather was often overcast. And I had let my limited vision in those times affect my view of the whole world while waiting for the inclement weather to lift and bring clarity. My vision had become earth bound.

And my hungering for that fall sunrise to be “like it was” simply mirrored a deeper desire for the rest of my life as well.

In the onslaught of what has been happening around me in this last year, I had lost the perspective that the sun still bursts into the world every day, no matter the weather, and would do so until the end of time.

Like most of us, I think, I have become hope starved this year. But hope is not nourished drawing from the past. Hope is not nourished by clinging to mountain top experiences and trying to force them on the present. Hope is not nourished by wishing away a state of dissatisfaction.

Hope is claiming a certainty above our current vision. Hope is choosing a reality that is often not seen at ground level. And hope is knowing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what is above our own inner weather is glorious.

So tomorrow, when I crest the hill, I expect the valley will be filled yet once again in a layer of moist gray. But in my heart, I will choose to hear the ” 1812 Overture” filling the horizon beyond my vision. And I will rejoice in the reality of a hope that lives beyond my current circumstance.

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