1800 Miles of Meditations
In March, I turn 60 years—and this is the 60th blog posting on my website. So, I’m going to take a break from this writing project, at least for a while. Until I return, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts from my artist-in-residence ventures in 2019 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Homestead National Monument, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
At each location, I wrote daily meditations using some creative constraints. I won’t bother you with my “rules” (which you might infer from what follows), but I will share with you just two selections from each of these National Park sites.
Baptism: The first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, consists of immersing in water, or pouring water on the head, while pronouncing the invocation.
Water trickles down my face, soaking my shirt. Dripping with perspiration, I ascend 3,000 feet from the trail head up to Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Sweat seems a fine way to wash away the original sin of our times: arrogance. Despite modern technology, we are humbled by thirst. Desert hikers are reborn by water (thank God for electrolyte tablets). The unrelenting climb draws me closer to the heavens—and to the divine as understood by William James: that which is enveloping and real, to which the individual responds solemnly and tenderly. I am immersed in fossilized reefs, tenacious shrubs, and skittering tarantulas, all testifying to everlasting life—or at least a biological story deeper than I can fathom.
Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction, Last Rites): Prayer and the anointing of the body for a baptized person in danger of death to provide a special grace of healing and comfort and the forgiving of the person's sins.
I marveled at a tarantula with a jewel beetle struggling between the spider’s fangs. Later, I came across a hawk moth fluttering desperately among the rocks, having become hopelessly tangled in spider silk and beaten its one free wing to shreds. The black widow’s lair was a foot away, so the web-bound predator would never reach the prey which would slowly bake in the dry wash. Insects are unaware of impending death, but do they suffer? I don’t know about them, but people do. I swiftly crushed the moth, anointing my boot with oils from the burst, thumb-sized abdomen. Did I interfere with nature (and violate Park policy)? Perhaps, but release from suffering when there can be no healing is a kind of grace.
In 1863, we homesteaded what was valuable—land.
What if today we homesteaded what is valuable—time?
The Earth is 126 billion acres;
Homesteaded land was 270 million acres.
Americans homesteaded 0.2% of the planet!
We take about 24,000 breaths per day.
And 0.2% of 24,000 is 48.
Stake a claim to 48 breaths!
Let’s “homestead” three breaths
each of our sixteen waking hours,
and use that time:
to engage beauty,
to pray softly,
to forgive truly,
to defy gently—
the powers that threaten autonomy, freedom,and hope.
Eighth graders were asked
to sit quietly in the restored prairie
for 15 minutes.
The most common feeling:
Homesteaders were required
to work steadily on the virgin prairie,
for 5 years.
Surely they shared a feeling:
Does having nothing to do
and everything to do
form a circle?
Today, we are unpracticed in the labor
of making from empty time something of value,
even if that something is nothing.
Plains Indians flourished
in a “boring” grassland stretching to the horizon,
like 15 silent minutes of silence for an adolescent.
No longer human beings—
we should call ourselves human doings.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
According to anthropologists, the most popular children’s playthings the world over are: sand, water, and ball. Lacking a ball, I made do with wet sand at Platte River Point (wet sand = 120 lbs/ ft3, so 120 words).
A morning bike ride on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, braking for the slickness of wet leaves on the turns—an excuse for slowing down. My brother had a heart attack last month while biking. Like me, he eats well and exercises regularly. Damn genes. Amidst the golden-chartreuse, orange-redness of overhanging branches, I’m pedaling into the autumn of life, hoping to make it to winter.
An afternoon at the lakeshore with my plastic pitcher, mounding up 27 gallons of damp sand, forming a knee-high, 380-pound pile. Each of the 2 billion grains represents one heartbeat of my life, so far.
An evening walk into the woods, so lovely, dark and deep. But I have miles to go before I sleep.
We call a shovelful of soil, “earth”—which is something like calling a skin cell, “human body.” But the earth’s delicate skin sustains the farms and forests above the lakeshore (packed earth = 125 lbs/ ft3, so 125 words).
Looking into the inky night sky from Empire Point, I would’ve guessed there were a million points of light—and then how many planets, how many earths? In disappointing reality, about two thousand stars can be seen on a clear night.
With a hobbyist’s 3-inch telescope, the number of visible stars jumps to one hundred thousand. That’s a lot, but it’s just one out of every ten quadrillion, given that there are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe. Here’s how to grasp this enormous number—well, sort of…
First imagine draining Lake Michigan and leaving a really big hole, then refilling it with sand. Then picture each grain as a star. That’s the stellar universe.
Now imagine plucking one grain, our sun. Feeling pretty insignificant, eh?