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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Some days come with their own unexpected beauty.  Beyond the sunrise, beyond that first sip of dark, hot coffee with a treat of sweet cream, beyond the dreaming puppy alongside me on the couch.  And perhaps it is the unexpectedness that is the most sweet.  But on most days, I simply settle for the expected.


You see, I am not a visionary.  Ideas are crammed into my head like cotton balls, but I mostly leave them there in pursuit of other goals.  Or no goals at all, honestly.  But I love coming alongside visionaries in whatever way I can to support their grit and determination to make the world a better place, one person at a time.


Last week, for some reason, every person we love dearly who is on the front lines of their visionary work sent photos and updates for the fields in which they work.  And that one day alone, my texts were filled with joyful news and even more opportunities to participate in a more just world


Honestly, my heart was so full from joy that even the prospect of the chaos of a necessary mid day trip to Walmart could not dampen my spirit. It was one of those days when the entire world seemed to expand around me.  Every person in the store seemed more friendly.  The colors in the aisles seemed brighter.  The very air seemed filled with goodness.


And then I heard it.


Very loudly, coming down the aisle, a young mother was singing “The ants go marching two by two hoorah, hoorah” much to the delight of her toddler son sitting in the seat of the cart.  As she came closer, I could hear her stop between each chorus and ask him, “How many next?”  And right after his answer, she would burst into the next verse.


As she neared me, I made eye contact and told her she had a beautiful voice, and that I too used to sing out loud in stores with my kids.  As I spoke, her son sat transfixed by her, smiling from ear to ear.  She smiled back at him and looked back up at me, pausing in her song, and simply said,


I would do anything to keep my son happy.


That was it.


I would do anything for my son.


I stood there and started to cry.  Right there in the middle of the aisle, as unembarrassed about my overflowing tears of gratitude as she was about her singing.  This day, this one day, I had been hijacked from my worries and concerns by unexpected beauty.  The beauty of knowing that someone, somewhere, might be working their way towards economic freedom. The beauty of knowing that someone, somewhere, was having a warm breakfast and fellowship.  The beauty of knowing that someone, somewhere was experiencing abundance in a new land.


I wiped my eyes and glanced at the woman and her son as I shopped the aisle. She continued to place items in her cart, now singing, the ants go marching six by six, and as she passed, she smiled and added,


And I don’t care who hears me.


Friends, today as I write this, my soul bursting with a song of gratitude, I feel exactly the same way. I cannot solve the problems of the world even with all the cotton balls in my brain. But I can do tiny things and you can do tiny things that will spill over into our ordinary comings and goings and bring hope and healing and unexpected beauty into a hurting world.


And that is worth singing about, no matter who hears you.




  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

I believe this is the reason for the endless fascination of golf.

The game is a metaphor for the soul's search for its true ground and identity.

Steven Pressfield



Years ago, I gave up trying to explain to people that Tim’s life long passion with golf is a spiritual discipline.  But it is.


In the confusion and depression of his youth, he would take his clubs out to a field near his home and practice in the setting sun as the breeze rustled the trees.  He explained to me early in our courtship that when the wind came through those trees, he felt the presence of a Holy Soirit, and thus began his lifelong conversations with God on that field and all others to follow.


As you might imagine, since his preferred form of prayer was talking to God on a practice field, finding his “spiritual tribe” was a struggle. But, after coming into contact with the readings of the Shalem Institute,  I thought he would be drawn to the deep, quiet spirit of this group, and when they announced their first West Coast spiritual formation retreat, I signed us both up.


We arrived at an old monastery in California tucked between two deep hillsides on acreage filled with prayer circles, stone buildings and narrow paths into a small gorge. After our first day in meeting and prayer, Tim and I debriefed in our room, and during his reading of one of the selections, he turned to me with quiet joy and announced, “I known who I am…a contemplative…”.


He had found his tribe.


On the evening of the second day, we were sent into our small groups to prepare for the next day’s silent retreat.  Our given task during the silence was to watch and listen for what God had to say to us in our journey.  Tim asked in his group how to best prepare, and a seasoned spiritual director said, “Take an orange with you,” because, as she later explained, the smell and the touch of it would keep him grounded.


The next morning, each of us was given several passages of scripture to read to ground ourselves. Tim sat in his group and silently read the first line of the first scripture, which started with the word “Go”.  He could not get past the first word and rose after only a few moments called by the Spirit to be alone and drawn to the path that cut through the gorge to the top of a hill.

Coming to a small bridge over a creek, he noted a flash of orange in the distance upstream.  Pausing to watch, he saw it meander slowly towards him from ledge to ledge as it traveled down the gurgling stream.  As it got closer, he realized it was an orange floating down towards him. Incredulous, he waited until it bobbed down the current to the bridge and knelt down to pick it up. In that moment, he realized that the Creator of the universe, with a million other things to watch over,  had set a divine appointment with him.


Holding the orange in his hand as he walked, he placed himself in an attitude of open listening. With all of the baggage being an athlete carries, he had struggled his whole life to believe that he could actually be in communion with a Holy God simply by doing something he loved, something that brought him peace, something that filled his soul. The question on his heart was the same as always.


How can something like practicing a simple sport bring me closer to you?


He hiked higher, the hillsides crowding in on the trail, and as he pondered his question, a tiny flash of white caught his eye.  There just above his head, so stuck as to almost be invisible, was a golf ball.  He excavated it from the hillside and placed it in his pocket, continuing on.  Suddenly another ball appeared stuck deeply in soft earth.  And then another.  No golf course was within miles. Nothing had been on this trail when he hiked it the day before.  And now, there was abundance.


Hiking on and still holding on to the orange and the two golf balls he had decided to keep, he continued climbing to a small clearing in which stood a single spreading tree and a large boulder split through its middle.  Staring at the cleft in the rock, he realized he had received his answer.  A deep peace flooded him.


Yes, the God who loved him unconditionally could meet him in his quiet passions; He had, after all, created him that way.


Decades have passed since that divine encounter revealed to Tim his identity. He continues his daily practice of long prayer conversations as he tosses his questions and his concerns patiently in Spirit’s direction, and the breezes whisper to him insights and answers.   His relationship with his Creator is a moment by moment, living, breathing friendship.  And I have given up trying to explain to anyone his unusual spiritual discipline because his life speaks for itself.


He is a man who knows He is deeply loved by God.  He is a man who is at Peace. He is a man who lives in a state of grace.


And when the sun comes up in the morning and shines its light on the oranges now ripening on the tree in our own desert backyard, I am reminded daily that God will use whatever He can to get our attention and speak to us of Love.


Even an orange.



  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Every Tuesday morning for almost a decade, artist Alvaro Enciso and volunteers based in Tucson have gone into the desert to plant almost 1400 handmade crosses, in bright shades of orange, purple and green, at the sites where immigrants died on their journey north.  Encisco, a 77-year-old Colombian immigrant, calls this project, “Donde Mueren los Sueños,” Where Dreams Die. 

 

The Artist does what he can.  On Fridays the coroner’s report comes out with the cold hard facts of who died in the desert that week.  Sometimes there is a name.  The name matters. Sometimes it is simply annotated “unknown”.  But the name still matters..


But what matters even more, for the nameless and the known, are the coordinates of where the remains were found in the desert.  It is where The Artist will travel, carrying a lovingly crafted cross to where a fellow human, just passing through, just hungering for something better, has taken his last breath.  Or her last breath.  A weak gasp of a dehydrated man, or woman, or the barely audible breath of a child.


Hiking through the ocotillo, the palo verde, the occasional saguaro, The Artist will come to rest at those coordinates, pausing where perhaps now only the dusty remnants of a rude grave remain.  Perhaps there is no longer even a trace of a life lost, for the scorching winds carry the dust and send it across the desert in the brutal summer. He will stand each time over the place where these coordinates meet and place the cross in the ground, set in hastily created concrete, to keep it upright in monsoon rain and wind.


And then The Artist will call the name out and pray, sending what story he knows to the heavens.  He will honor the name of the departed until his final cry, rest in peace, settles into the desert soil. Until the coyotes carry it through the washes and into the mountains. Until the owl at night repeats the name, and the sun declares its glory both rising and setting. .


The Keepers of the Law do what is required.  They find the searching and the lost and the frightened and the traumatized and place them in a transport vehicle to be processed.


Or not.


But before entry to be transported, they must leave their belongings behind them where they were found. 


And the desert becomes a graveyard of things.


Half full water bottles, saved perhaps for essential thirst. An unopened bag of chips held in the hand of a child, perhaps as a “not yet” until safe arrival to the night’s destination. An apple, whole and fresh, saved perhaps to savor when hope is on the wane and starvation circles like a red-tailed hawk. 


And here and there, in the desert, other remains in this graveyard of things litter the landscape.  A single shoe. A baby bottle. A well loved stuffed animal. A bright pink child’s backpack. What did it contain?  A love letter from an abuelita? A bracelet from a beloved tia who sang songs of comfort in a tiny room at night?


Quien sabe?  Who knows? 


Every memory, every sacred comfort, every holy memento, is discarded by the side of the road into an unforgiving desert.  Along with compassion. Along with their dreams.  


Along with their bones. 


But The Keepers of the Law are “just doing their job” as has been done by conquerors since the dawn of man. They do it armed and dangerous. They do it carrying thick protective shields forged in the power of their privilege. The only truth they know is birthed in soundbites and nurtured by deceit.


And the work of The Keepers of the Law

writes headlines in irresponsible ink

attributed to The Law and held sacrosanct

“for the betterment and protection of human lives”.


But not all human lives.


And The Artist is “just doing his job”.  He is turning ashes into beauty by wrapping himself in remembrance.  He does it softly, armed only with mercy and a wooden cross decorated with remnants from the graveyard of things. The only truth he knows is the truth he experiences, not the shrill voice on the street corner, not the screaming headlines, but the sound of a fading heartbeat and a struggling breath.


And the work of The Artist

echoes across the night sky 

where the stars weep

and the moon keeps vigil

and coyotes carry a funeral prayer


while The Keepers of the Law sleep.

 



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