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Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

For the second time in just twelve hours, I got rescued this weekend.

First there was last evening. I had been attending an intense conference on Friday and Saturday and was in need of some decompression. Right as it was wrapping, I get a call from my college friend, Rachel, who’s in town this weekend for Disney’s Princess Half-Marathon.

Though they’ve been few and far between, I’ve always appreciated our times of connecting over the years, with some common themes running through our respective paths. A enjoyable evening unfolded of sharing stories old and new, where I discovered some things about Rachel that changes the way I look at her and some of those stories. It was the gift of the unexpected—a place where God loves to show up—as the veil of the mundane parted for a little while.

It is a gift to be able to see, and be seen by another. We all want it like anything, but then we dread it like nothing else, so few are the times it seems that it goes over well. I felt blessed by my friend that evening, and as we parted ways, I experienced a settled peace, hope, and goodness about my life.

… Then came the morning, with a beckoning sense to take a walk at break of dawn. Even favorite routines can become too familiar, so this morning I listened to an inner prompting to choose another route, setting off on a path I’d not yet trod.

In a word, it was magic. I’ll not bore you with the details of the sunrise through the trees and over the lake, or the mists, wildlife, or sliver moon. But I would like to say a couple things about magic.

What is it? Magic is a world of the senses. It is sensuality—in the best sense possible—seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing a world that is alive with mystery and wonder.

But it is not merely seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing either. It is enchantment, where feeling—or thinking with the heart—transforms sensory functions to bring forth something new. An experience where how I see, how I smell, how I touch, how I taste, and how I hear make all the difference. In one, I may be a passive recipient, oblivious to what is there, disconnected, lost in some personal funk or distraction; in the other, I am present to the moment—body, soul, and spirit.

Of course, no one really has to be taught this, at least early on. As children, we intuitively cultivate imagination and play as twin companions. But given life’s effectiveness in beating these sensibilities out of us as we get older, we often have to relearn these basics.

So magic. What is it? It is finding ourselves again: in a world that is at once ageless and new. It is rescue from the routine—not necessarily with different data—but a different perspective. It is enjoyment of ourselves and the world around us. Free to love, laugh, and listen.

I’ve lived in some very beautiful places, places that can touch the spirit as few things can. I’m sure there are many days that my years of what some have called “filling the well”—building a vast treasure house of images and moments that can sustain me when the world around me appears anything but inspiring—have made the difference in getting through. However, I still find myself regularly succumbing to unbelief just as much as the next guy, and badly in need of rescue.

That’s why I’m grateful for magic, and a world that despite all messages to the contrary, is full of the stuff.

 


Sunrise Over Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, Summer 2005

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I’ve been meaning to post here for awhile. But things got busy. And of course, there’s the holidays. Etc. Etc.

It was a year ago that I began this blog. My intent was to try to post twice weekly. I had some success with it at first, but it wasn’t easy, as final drafts take more work to pull off than the initial scribbles that birth them. Perhaps it was the perfectionist in me taking over, rechecking several times when I knew there would be other eyes involved, though this may go against the grain of blog style and sense. Then I whittled my appearances here down to weekly, before eventually showing up sporadically or not at all for lengthy spells.

But there have been some writing successes this past year. Perhaps the biggest: I wrote my first book.

It’s a book I coauthored with a dear friend of many years, and with whom I’d often dreamed of collaborating together since we first met in Fort Worth in 1995. A chaplain in the Air Force, my friend, James, sought to turn his doctoral dissertation into something suitable for a wider audience. So in July of 2009 while visiting Orlando with his family, James invited me to help him with his project. And about a year and some cumulative 250 hours later, I finished my contributions to the work. It’s a book geared for helping pastors and laypeople who desire to walk with people on their journeys toward God, especially those who are spiritual but may not be particularly inclined toward church.

I’ve also recently been working on some pieces for possible inclusion in a new magazine devoted to the intersection of art, creativity, and the spiritual life. I’m pretty excited as it gives me opportunity to dig into an area I’m pretty passionate about, a place where God met me eight years ago and brought me great joy, particularly after picking up a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way, which helped me to cultivate a sensibility that our creative impulses aren’t just something that makes for a nice pastime. They often are the doorway to weighty matters, meant to be nurtured and developed, like a calling, and a place where God loves to show up, as all true creativity hails from the mind and heart of God.

Speaking of Ms. Cameron, of everything she preaches, the most important is a practice she calls Morning Pages. The idea is to spend 30 minutes at the beginning of the day writing freehand for about three pages. She contends that nothing will kickstart your creativity like this practice (along with taking time at least once a week for “Artist’s Dates”—time you set aside just for yourself doing whatever activity it is that is fun, brings you joy, and releases the heart of the child within). Moreover, you’ll see the payoff not just in showing up to the pages, but in your daily routine and relationships as it enhances these, whether artist or attorney by trade.

In short, I agree, as I became a disciple of the practice myself, awkwardly beginning one day on a bus ride from Christchurch, New Zealand over the Southern Alps en route to the west coast community of Greymouth, while passing through Lord of the Rings country (These doses of beauty—great stuff for Artist’s Dates—really do help the process). In about three weeks time, I began to notice a shift taking place, where my morning musings did not have to be coddled to come forth; rather, they began to burst forth onto the page. And the quality of the work reflected this over the course of the next year.

So while you’d think I know how to follow my own advice on this, I realized over the past few years that though I journaled frequently, and usually early in the morning, I had long since stopped making my handwritten work the locus of activity, choosing to type it out on my laptop instead. I’m not saying one always trumps the other; do whatever works for you. But having a conversation about this with my writing coach, Jamie Morris, about a year ago, I realized that it may do me good to return to “Old School” Morning Pages again. So that is exactly what I’ve been doing now for about two months. Some days, it feels like routine. But on the whole, it is helping me return to a creative center.

Another creative endeavor of note: It looks like the short film I wrote and directed in a summer class out in LA over two years ago may see the light of day, going from a hard drive in storage to an upload on Vimeo or YouTube. That may not seem like much given how multimedia savvy we are nowadays, where your neighbor’s kid may have put out a better production than Steven Speilberg’s first piece in film school. However, I’m deeply grateful for that experience, facilitated by my writer/director/producer friend, Jim Lindsay (Jim’s spent many good years creating primetime programming for NBC and the History Channel among others.).

Anyway, the principle acting role in the film was by a young woman who is beginning to make some great connections in Hollywood, as she just worked with the writer/director of an up-and-coming A-lister filmmaker on his latest project. So it will help her in getting more exposure as she pursues her dreams. And if I can get another published credit out there myself, so much the better.

That’s all for now. I will return in the New Year.

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Vanilla Sky

The other day I was coming out of LA Fitness, when I was surprised with a visual feast—a late afternoon sunset following the cloud break of a recent shower.

Now Florida already has some great sunsets. And due to the fact that most of the state sits between two coasts, the collision of moist air currents can make for some spectacular storms. But to say it was a beautiful sunset doesn’t quite capture the encounter that led me to take another way home just so I could stretch out the experience a few moments longer.

It was a quality of light that some artists have been known to chase after. Pacific Northwest photographer Mary Randlett probably says it best: “I have always called it Toledo Light [for the dramatic sky in El Greco’s noted painting Storm over Toledo]. We have wonderful liquid light in the Northwest.”

Liquid light. That is what I experienced on the drive home that evening. Back at the house, the sun now safely hidden behind the trees, its effect could still be seen in the clouds above—carrying a luminescence that seemed almost unnatural. Around that time, my roommate stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, as he settled into the comfort of a lounge chair. He cracked a wide grin and nodded his head upward.

“Vanilla sky,” he said.

I nodded in mutual admiration of the moment, about something touching on the transcendent in an otherwise day-is-done routine. I have a huge capacity to be stirred by nature, which is why I’m grateful every now and again to be jolted like this.

I’ve other moments very similar to this one in its quality of light: the late afternoon ride back to Seattle from Vancouver with my friend, Rob, following the breaking of another storm; the surprise of the sun managing to peek through gloomy skies shrouding the slopes of Chile’s Mount Osorno; and the brief penetration of light through a veil of valley mists following a soggy afternoon in Dorrigo National Park, Australia. Experiences of the holy breaking into the now.

I’m reminded of John Eldredge’s statement: “The world is overflowing with beauty. God seems to be rather enamored with it. Gloriously wasteful. Apparently, he feels that there ought to be plenty of it in our lives.”

Gloriously wasteful is right. I don’t always notice. But in moments like this that I do—Wow.

The Glowing Veiled Forests of Dorrigo / Brian Bragdon

Dorrigo Mists / Brian Bragdon

Late Afternoon Light Near Osorno / Brian Bragdon

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