There are just a handful of us, usually four, who gather on the back deck or in the downstairs when the weather is uninviting (this is Kansas).  We begin at 7:30am each Wednesday morning.  With the disjointed and erratic sleep patterns in our household, caffeine is a great gift from God! Hot coffee is the delivery system of choice — yes, even in Kansas on hot summer days (not many this year).

Our central purpose for that two hours is to grow in our ability to engage the presence of God midstream in our days, no matter what we are doing.  We are a little slow.  We have been at this for probably seven years now and haven’t yet gotten it worked out.

That Spritual Formation Group time is one of my life preservers.  It is not a therapy group.  We have a book with readings and reflections to spark our thinking.  We do not understand life to be divided into compartments, one sacred and the other secular, or one physical and one spiritual.  We understand life to be one thing, and God to be its source and sustenance.

For whatever reason or reasons, this is a particularly unsettling time for me.  I am grateful for the lifesavers that are available to me.

One of the lifesavers is the sanctuary that is emerging behind our house.  The deck has always been an inviting place.  While it is probably no more than thirty feet from the back of the deck to the wooden privacy fence separating us from the next subdivision, there are now many good sized trees filling that space, some that we planted.  The trees and the view to either side extend pretty much without obstruction for the equivalent of at least a couple of blocks.  The fence behind us is up a fairly steep incline.  The combination of that hill, the fence, and the trees create the feeling of seclusion.

The multiple bird feeders and those who dine at them add to the sensation of an outdoor sanctuary in the woods.  Then there is the waterfall.  Four levels cascade over well placed rocks, each level adding to the volume of that wonderful sound of falling water.  That sound covers some of the people and vehicle sounds, feeding the sense of seclusion.

Some friends, Doug and Marikay, brought over additional plants for the wetland area created around the waterfall.  They also brought an old branch and placed it on the gravel base among the plants and rocks.  I am intrigued by that old branch.  It is certainly old — old enough to have patches of lichen covering it. The color of the lichen matches the lichen on the rocks and the color of the needles on the cypress tree that hangs over that part of the waterfall.

One of the things that intrigues me about the branch is the metaphor it provides for life, certainly the life we are living.  The branch is weathered and gnarled and without symmetry.  Any old farmer would have long since cut it up for firewood or burned it in a brushpile.  By the way, I like old farmers.  There is an old farmer living inside me — along with a young rebel.

With eyes to see it, there is an elegance and beauty that transcends symmetry and smooth surfaces and orderly shapes.  I wonder what that branch has seen, who has stepped over it, or climbed on it, or made its nest in it, what has marked its territory on it.  I wonder what stories it could tell.  Life as it is really lived is weathered, gnarled and without symmetry.  Trying to make life pretty and pleasing to the eye, wastes precious time needed to live it.

Our life is not pretty.  It is often smelly and ugly and messy, and certainly without a shred of orderliness.  It is also beautiful, deeply fulfilling, bursting with meaning and purpose, often emerging from the very ugliness itself.  I would not trade our cracks and crevasses and patches of lichen.

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