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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ 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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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — Philo of Alexandria

It appeared I was in for a rough landing as I arrived into the new weekend last Friday morning. Not feeling so well, I almost canned my trip to the gym. But while a release of endorphins in a yoga class set me in a better frame than before arriving, it would not last.

Back home, I knew I must have some sort of stomach bug. So I found myself doing the best thing I could do: I rested. Sinking into the sanctuary of my mattress, I spent most of the day there, occasionally falling into slumber, all the while watched over by a playful, gentle spirit inhabiting the body of a calico cat named “Fiji,” and periodically getting up to take nourishment with my new diet of chicken noodle soup, toast, and Gatorade.

It was a space for grace.

Illness is the body’s call for us to surrender, and allow it to work its own recovery as we rest. I remember how the surprise of this hit me when over five years ago I suddenly found myself hit with pneumonia. While this illness was no picnic, paradoxically, lying in my hospital bed at that time, I found myself experiencing a rest and peace that I had not had in months.

And following a day of rest Friday, the next day I arose in a better place.

Logging into Facebook, I was surprised by the drop-in live chat by a newly added friend. It was someone I’d not spoken to in years, that is, until a few weeks earlier when he sent a friend request. But my last memories of this person were not so fond. Casual friends for several years, we’d enjoyed some really good moments together in the company of a larger social circle when we both lived in another city and state.

And then recently reunited a few years ago under new circumstances, it was not long afterward when in a time of need my friend invited me to speak with him about possible employment leads for which he was well-connected. We had an initial exploratory discussion which went well, and I left with a sense of renewed hope as he invited me to continue the conversation.

But it never happened. While calling and emailing multiple times, all attempts to connect went unacknowledged. I felt feelings of dismissal, like I’d been played the fool. And some measure of self contempt for having hoped. While clearly, these were deeper issues that went much further back than this experience—and served to trigger such feelings—regardless, I had no problem justifying my anger in this situation. And I invested some energy in what I might say (none of it pretty) were we to cross paths again, as my original expectations had been upended. That was then.

But flash forward more than four years. And now this. What to do? Go off?

Accept or decline friend request?

Or take it, fake it, and act like nothing had happened?

Or run, and risk stirring up an old pot anyway?

Or use those rehearsed but now tired old lines which seemed a bit out of place?

Ugh. I hate such quandaries—even more when I risk seeing something of the prison I’ve put myself in by accepting them as my only options.

Forgiveness, with no exceptions, ensures peace.

What’s that?

Accept; don’t expect.

Oh yeah. The words of a former teacher were coming back to me. And then another line:

Don’t react. Respond.

Not easy to hear, but they brought badly needed perspective. And I realized that I had a choice, when after several weeks of doing nothing, I shot out a message to my friend from long ago. Having prayed about it beforehand, I felt that it was legitimate to respond with some super brief acknowledgement of my previous anger, but only if in doing so I was ready to risk opening the door to relationship again, and not trying to make it an issue and then disappear.

And now a few days following my message, he was contacting me.

I don’t want to discount the sting of the earlier offense, nor minimize what I’d done with it in the time since. But I’m glad I listened to a different voice of wisdom the day I responded to the friend request. As it turned out, years earlier when I’d tried reconnecting, my friend’s world was crumbling around him in that season of his life, of necessity diverting his energies with issues which had nothing to do with me. And he has been in a long journey of recovery since. Of course, how could I have known this? I didn’t. Humbled, my heart began to move out of darkness into light as over the next hour I was invited into my friend’s story.

The Scriptures counsel us to “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). How often I have failed at this. But I am grateful for the act of faith that led to my having an alternative experience bearing much fruit that I would have missed had I acted on my initial feelings. All I can say is—thank you, God.

And a day that started well ended well, too, as stories of redemption continued into the evening.

On Saturday night, I had the privilege of helping out with a fundraiser event for a most worthy organization here in Orlando called Samaritan Village—for women caught in cycles of addiction and prostitution. It was born out of one woman, Rhonda Stapleton’s, vision to offer a safe transitional space for women coming out of jail or off the streets, as in her work she found they often had nowhere else to go except back to cycles of violence, death, and shame they’d been living in. She wanted to offer a refuge that would help them to unlearn old patterns, which takes time. And moreover, not just to help leave behind an old life, but to offer a chance at learning a new one.

The catering was top-notch. But the best feasting took place as some of the women of Samaritan’s Village shared stories of changed lives, bringing the face of a vision and organization to life. At close, you could feel an energy in the room palpably greater than before.

It was another space for grace.


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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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Hi Everyone,

I’ve been on vacation lately. A blog vacation, that is.

I know. I know. These are not welcome words, particularly coming from the fingertips of a writer—where among other things—consistency is key in branding ourselves.

How many times, for instance, have you come across a website where you find someone already claimed a domain name you felt to have great potential—only to see that most unspeakable of horrors… Only one or two entries, and then nada!

A dead blog. And nothing posted in months or years since the initial enthusiasm that gave birth to the only evidence that someone somewhere even bothered to create it in the first place. Which is right up there with “This web page is parked free, courtesy of …” or “Under Construction” or “Coming Soon!” and other dead ends in cyberspace. The internet equivalent of commercial building projects gone belly up in the real world.

Now on the positive side of things, it’s not as though I’ve stopped writing. Far from it, in fact. It’s just that publicly I’ve been largely incognito, save for an occasional article, and now—Tweeting. Most of my writing has been behind the scenes: journaling, business or ghost-writing assignments, and thus, off the grid.

I like being off the grid, actually. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, because when I am, chances are very good that I’m playing in fine style: exploring a new city, a new country, a new wilderness escape, or a new art museum.

But in this case, not so much. I just got behind. Busy. Distracted. Pulled in many directions, which ironically, has included looking for writing opportunities. And even lacking in inspiration some days to write here while attending to all these other matters.

Ahhh… WWJD? What would Julia (Cameron) do? My Morning Pages Muse.

Okay, so maybe not all the best reasons in the world. But hey—this is my confession.

Anyway, good to be back. And I hope to be checking in with you a little more often.

See you soon,

Brian

Gone on Walkabout

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The 82nd Academy Awards took place Sunday night. The critics have already given us their takes, variously repeating back to us how they think we felt about them, or else how we should have felt. How tag-team hosting by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin fell flat, or how they did fairly well, depending who you hear. And of course, there’s the talk on it being a night of firsts, the biggest being the first ever female winning for “Best Director,” for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. It’s the kind of talk that’s meant to sell audiences.

But all punditry aside, I had a few observations of my own. First off, Kathryn Bigelow is hot!

While this wasn’t really discussed during the ceremonies, with the focus instead given to her artistic talent, former marriage and continuing collaboration with fellow contender James Cameron, and of course, the strong possibility of her making history… blah, blah, blah… I had to wonder, “Man, does anyone else think this woman is really attractive?” And at 58, pretty hot! (Or any age for that matter.) To confirm my hunch, I later punched in “Kathryn Bigelow is” on Google to see what would pre-fill. And sure enough, “Kathryn Bigelow is hot” showed up, with thousands of hits. A couple times during the show, they spoke with James Cameron about her. Not known for a subdued ego, “I’m the king of the world!” Cameron nevertheless offered fairly glowing praise for his ex, as well he should. Yet despite how positive their relationship may be today, all I could think was, “Man, you idiot!”

Then there was the notable true Cinderella story of Gabourey Sidibe, star of another indie favorite, Precious. Throughout the night, Gabourey glowed as she shared top billing with the world’s most famous and beautiful people, based on her freshman film effort. It was really cool to see how so many people responded to this new star with genuine warmth and praise, in a town often known for its obsession with outward beauty and status. Yet, I found one response to be telling, when speaking of Sidibe’s performance, someone asked with amazement Where did this come from? In other words, how did someone without a Hollywood pedigree command such attention?

While I have yet to see Precious (As with many, one of the things I like about the Oscars is getting the popular and critical buzz on films I’ve yet to see and might enjoy.), I was not surprised at all. Not everyone may have it within them to put forth an Oscar-winning performance, but I have this conviction that everyone has within them a glory to bring to the world. A glory that when truly seen, should cause people to go, “Whoa!” Of course, how often do we truly see another person’s glory? Or how often if ever have we been able to tap into this inner place and get seen? Which at least makes the surprise behind the question somewhat understandable.

While it did get slow at times, at certain points I was aware of some warm fuzzies coming over me. For example, there was the moving tribute to the late John Hughes, creative genius behind such classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone. But I think this is about more than nostalgia. For I don’t care who I talk to, but practically every person I’ve ever met has some sort of emotional attachment or response to certain stars and films. We need bright and shining stars of some sort to inspire us, whether in our actual lives, or at a cultural or artistic level, as with celebrities. While it can be taken to excess, I don’t think such attraction is lame. And nothing seems to span the chasm in our existential aloneness than our common intrigue with art—and story in particular. All the better, however, when such inspiration offers something authentic and personal or something transcending the status quo, as with Sidibe and Bigelow.

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Finally. This week my life can begin again.

I’m only joking. (Almost.)

This week begins the final season to ABC’s amazing six-year run of Lost, one of the most popular shows in recent memory. As with several million faithful fans around the world (shy a few million former regulars who gave up following from impatience with the show’s seemingly never-ending plot twists and drawn-out character studies), I’ve anxiously been awaiting this moment since last season’s cliffhanger finale in May, where we were finally introduced to the mysterious Jacob–only to see him apparently killed off by Ben Linus, at the behest of John Locke–who, as it turns out–isn’t really John Locke anymore.

Okay, sorry to barrage you with details. Lost is one of the shows you either love to follow or not at all. There’s really no in-between as it is a true serial, renowned for so many story lines and connecting links in a dense story structure that if you miss an episode or two, you’re pretty lost yourself. Even as a follower, there’s so much stuff going on that I forget half of it. I was trying to remember the other night, for instance, why did the cast get split up into two story lines taking place thirty years apart? In truth, a revisit of this series from start to finish may be in order when this season finally wraps, where as with any good whodunit mystery, so many of the things I thought I knew were taking place were not what I thought them to be at the time.

Anyway, my point isn’t to talk about this show. It’s more about the anticipation of waiting for something that you are eager to experience. While I admit the plot got a little tedious at points–particularly in season 4–Lost has nevertheless been a source of great enjoyment for me. Escapism at its best.

Also, it’s about finding refuge in something to help take your mind off the rest of your life.

Like with a lot of people, the last two years have been very challenging ones for me. There have been times that things were such that–well, let’s just say there were times that watching Lost became the highlight of my week, giving me something to look forward to in an otherwise dismal routine.

Maybe that sounds pathetic, but what about you? Can’t you relate? The point isn’t whether it’s right or wrong, but the fact that we do this. Maybe this isn’t something to truly celebrate, but there could be far worse things. I’m glad to know at least that I’m part of a tribe some 15 million strong or so. This is after all the one show that brought me back to watching prime-time drama.

So come Tuesday night, I gladly escape again back to the Island (or wherever our Oceanic Flight 815 friends happen to be now).

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