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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It changed my whole perception of reality.  It only took thirty minutes to do it.  Nothing has looked the same since.  “A Time to See” is the name of the educational film made by Reinholdt Marxhausen and published in 1985. 

Reinholdt Marxhausen was extraordinarily gifted in the visual arts.  He saw things others could never have seen had he not pointed them out.  There were bottles on the window sill in his kitchen over the sink.  They were just bottles — not to Reinholdt Marxhausen.  They were an adventure in light and shadows and colors and darkness, changing character at different times during the day, different times during the year. 

Alzheimer’s Dementia has stolen from him his extraordinary gifts in the visual arts.  His impact has continued in many of his students and all who have known him.  I only know him through friends and that film that made such a lasting impression on me. 

What brought the film to mind was writing the sermon for the ordination of Karl into the ministry.  Karl has been a student where Marxhausen taught.  Karl was influenced by the legacy of Reinholdt Marxhausen when he was the the peak of his ability. 

For me, the center of the legacy is the recognition that what a person sees depends on his/her ability to look past the object to its relationship with what is around it.  The capacity to really see, allows the most ordinary found items to become extraordinary as shadows and colors and shapes and textures suggest something far more than ordinary. 

There is a commonality about the story line in the lives of Reinholdt and Karl and PeterT (author of this blog).   Reinholdt has seen his ability to make art diminish as Alzheimer’s has taken its toll.  Karl’s mother died at the age of fifty.  At one point she was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease, a form of Alzheimer’s.  Karl’s Grandmother died of what appeared to be a form of Alzheimer’s Dementia.  My wife, Mary Ann, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. 

The objective realities in our lives hardly present beauty to the beholder, at least at first glance.  There is a painful ugliness in the world of Dementia whatever the specific diagnosis.  Karl and I have learned from Reinholdt that it is a time to see.  It is time to look at objective and sometimes very painful realities and see more than the obvious.  We need eyes to see what lies behind, above, below, and beside what we have experienced and are experiencing.  We need to see how what lies before us and around us looks from different angles.  We need to see the colors and shapes and textures, listen to the sounds of what we encounter.  We need to allow the possibility that there is more than meets the eye lurking what we have and are going through. 

There is beauty to be found, there is meaning to be found.  It can be seen if we have eyes to see.  It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I don’t suppose beauty really exists until we add the capacity to see it, to hear it.  If there will be beauty and meaning in our lives, especially those of us who deal with dementia, the beauty will come from within us as we look at what we are experiencing and see it for more than what first meets the eye.

My life has been enriched by taking time to really see what is around me.  Karl has seen what his Mother and Grandmother with through and has grown a gentle strength and wisdom beyond his years. 

Having said all of that, I am now struggling with finding the beauty in three hours of trips into the bedroom every few minutes to deal with one need or another, moments ago (1:30am) the need for some food, followed by the need for some water, after multiple turns in bed, trips to the commode, adjustments of the sheet and blanket and a few concerns with the wildlife in the bed.  Right now, I would find beauty in a wife finally getting to sleep!!

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.