On Friday afternoon, I had in mind a relaxing night of pizza and wine.  It had been a busy week, with a full week at school and visiting family from out of town.  I felt it quite reasonable to have some quality time with Erin and Rowan, relaxing in a now empty house and void of any school responsibilities until then following Monday.

My left knee had other ideas, apparently.  Just entering into the house, and setting some grocery bags down, and slipping off my sneakers, I immediately collapsed in gut-wrenching agony as my left knee popped out of its socket and went off exploring the left side of my leg, ripping and straining ligament, tendon, and cartilage along the way.  A sense of shock ripped through me as well, a foreboding realization a split second before the pain hit “Oh, no, not again.”  I was no stranger to the pain which followed, having twenty years ago experienced the same agony in my right knee.  But again, that was twenty years ago as a precocious sophomore in high school.  Only two years away from 40, I once again felt pain which can only be described as excruciating.  To give you some scope of magnitude, an orthopedic once asked his patient, a middle aged woman, what hurt more, a dislocated knee or having a baby?  The woman actually had to pause a bit and think before she replied, “The knee.  Definitely the knee.”

My wife called 911.  My 17 month old son was thankfully out of eyesight, but I could hear his cries of wanting to know what was happening to “Dah-deee.”  EMTs loaded me up onto a stretcher, injected me with morphine, which at least took a slight edge off the pain, and took me to the nearest hospital.

My adrenaline was pumping, but my hand was getting tired.  See, I was using my left hand as a brace against my knee cap so it wouldn’t slide any further.  With each bump in the road, my knee will jolt just a little and a wave of tension would run through my whole body.  My one thought was “Get this thing back in!”

Which thankfully happened, about a half hour later.  An ER doctor came into my sectioned-off area and ironically asked “And how are you today?”  I looked down at my knee and nearly glared at him, but my gratefulness at his impending ability to relieve my agony had me merely shudder out a grim “Could be better.”  I asked for more pain medication, and he looked bemused and commented that “The 10 cc’s we have already given you would have rendered me unconscious!”  But he conceded and gave me a slight bit more before he took my left kneecap in one hand, and just like twisting off a cap of bottled root beer, he popped my kneecap back in place.

That was four days ago.  I’ve been relegated to couch potato status, propped up and splinted in a knee brace, and whacked out with some heavy pain medication that makes me sleep like a log.  One of those nice mossy dead logs in the middle of the forest with lichens covering it and a family of mice in the middle.  I have trouble getting around on crutches.  My wife has been the saint of the household, undertaking everything that needs to be done, from taking out the trash to changing little Rowan’s diapers.  My gratefulness often turns into a guilt complex as I look into her exhausted eyes.

I’ve actually been dreading this time, as the pain somewhat subsides and the reality of my situation dawns upon me.  It is time to process, to face this new hurtle and the new challenges that lie ahead.  And this is falling upon a person who in a split second would rather turn on the TV and veg out to utter banality, or scour the internet for virtually any distraction, or, in the best scenario, pick out a good book and get lost in someone else’s narrative except my own.  But this is also falling upon a person who cried out to God in the midst of utter agony and said “Lord, please turn this into something good.”

I already knew a major change was in store when I collapsed, and not just a physical one.  I had been the hamster on the wheel again, running a hundred miles an hour, but getting nowhere fast.  Like the name o this blog suggests, I was the Wandering Tree, constantly looking for a way to move sideways when I should have been reaching up.  The cycle was tiring, I was feeling fatigued in mind, body, and spirit.  I resisted times of quiet, filling it instead with more noise, more activity, more stuff than I could handle.  The good gifts of God started being taken for granted: my health, my family, my house, my friends, my job.  I chocked it up to my personality, and while it is true that the good Lord takes pity on the nervous, jittery types like me, sometimes the one thing we need is to stop being nervous and jittery, put the brakes on, and let God show us what we need to see.  And the mirror which God holds up is often one I least want to look into.

Dislocation.  Not just my knee, but often my life.

The name of my injury doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It’s not like its cousin, subluxation, which is a partial dislocating of a joint- where the joint goes back in on its own after figuring out it is not where it should be.  Subluxation sounds like it could be anything, perhaps even relating to some sort of accounting.  Dislocating is straightforward and to the point:  “not in right location.”  There’s no skirting around the reality.  Something is out of whack, literally out of joint.

And it hits all my vulnerable points: it was sudden and unexpected, it left me helpless and in need of others’ assistance.  I was stripped of my ability to ignore weakness, to soldier on in my relentless pursuit of whatever.  And it hurt, real bad.  Real bad.  And the fear of that pain coming back sometimes freezes me where I stand (or lay, anyway).

So whither to now?  What about school, upcoming projects, trips out of state, family, the holidays?  Well, perhaps it is good that these things are up in the air.  Maybe I need to dislocate from my expectations, and allow blessings as well as tragedy to come by surprise.  Maybe I need to keep my eye on the moment, and not worry.  After all, people have been coming out of the woodwork- people I haven’t spoken to in ages- wishing me well, and offering prayers toward my recovery.  My classes are running well without me for the moment.  That’s a sign in and of itself.

No real epiphanies have been forthcoming yet, just inklings.  I pray that I take the time to linger on these inklings, to allow whatever wisdom to dawn upon me slowly, like the first rays of sun through a foggy misty forest.

Now it’s about time for that slice of pizza…


“No Massing:” Reflections on George MacDonald 19

“There is no massing of men with God.  When he speaks of gathered men, it is a spiritual body, not as a mass.”

Okay, so I realize I’ve let quite a few days slip without posting on MacDonald.  Rather than compiling the bunch that I missed, and trying to make a broad sweeping statement about them all, I’m starting on 19 and saying phooey to the rest.

Besides, this MacDonald reflection hits pretty close to things I’ve been experiencing this week. I caught up with guy I used to work with on Facebook, and then ran into him when I went to a Saturday evening service at Discovery Church.  Now, what compelled me to go to Discovery Church, a so-called mega church in Orlando, is still something I’m grappling with.  Suffice to say I’ve been restless in my spiritual life, and not necessarily looking for something “new,” but wanting to dive a bit deeper into my faith, and have the ability to communicate this with people my own age.

Now, I still call Emmanuel Episcopal home.  They were the church I stumbled on when I was in my deepest need to reconnect back with Christian life and community.  But I am not joking when I say that at 34, I am still one of the few “young people,” at the church, and definitely the youngest person in the choir, the next oldest being in his mid-forties.  Lately, it’s been a small issue.  I still feel so blessed to be a part of that community, and to be a part of the larger Episcopalian community.  For the past couple of years, they have nursed my broken and disjointed faith back to health.  I feel like Emmanuel has been a wonderful incubator for me.  I’m wondering now if it’s not time to start moving out of that space to start breathing on my own.  I could be wrong, so let’s just label it for what it is: a feeling.

Back to Discovery.  For the longest time I’ve been wary of mega churches, and for good reason.  They seemed driven by sheer attendance and not much else.  This is where a majority of the “prosperity gospel” ideas found their home, and why not?  A church with a $1 Million per month budget probably did have something to say about getting rich with the help of Jesus.  In addition, the high-tech “performance” sermons complete with huge video screens, rock bands, and a light show felt more like entertainment than a true reflection of faith.  One of my positions- and I do still hold to this- is that American Christianity would do well to pipe down and reside in God’s silence for a while.  This is why I see the practices of Christian monasticism and mysticism as better paths to a clear, balanced relationship to God than any other way (I realize I’m not being very concise in my words, but this is one of those “ramble posts” that I have about once every couple months).

So why Discovery?  I remember attending the church to hear Shane Claiborne speak on his Jesus for President tour.  Claiborne is/was part of the neo-monastic movement which I read about in addition to my studies of traditional monastic life.  So I had “entered the building” once, and I guess one Saturday night was hungry to do it again for a bit of spiritual refreshment.  It also gets to the point with me that I think “well, if it’s not going to tackle me and rip my head off, why not?”  And lo and behold if they weren’t doing some of the centering prayer techniques I’ve read and practiced from the ancient Desert Fathers.

I attended, and ran into Duncan, who invited me back to a young adults meeting the next Saturday evening.  During the “Young Professionals” meeting, we watched a video by this guy Rob Bell.  Never heard of him before.  Some of you right now are saying “Uh-oh.”  Oh well.  The NOOMA video Dust really resonated with me, and I googled “Rob Bell” and “NOOMA” when I got home, and opened up a whole new can of controversial, worms in the process.  Bell is part of the new “Emergent Church” which wants to radically change the perception and outlook of Christianity in the postmodern era, in order to make it more relevant and “stir up” what they (the Emergent Church) considers a stagnant and disconnected body.  They have a point- church attendance is down across the board, and many see the church as less than inviting, almost to the point of being exclusionary.

This brings us to MacDonald’s quote.  We have indeed become mass and not a body.  And when a Shane Claiborne or a Rob Bell comes along to point this out, the community eats him alive.  I found this great perception contrast on A Mending Shift‘s blog:

This is how we view the world:


I believe this is how God views the world:


One my heroes, C.S. Lewis, longed for the “petty divisions” among us to cease.  He wagered that we were still the “early Christians,” giving hope that we are still trying to get that Message, the Message of Christ’s, and therefore God’s, Love right.  We are a hurt, battered, and broken world, and we need to pull together through Him.  We need to lose that disjointed, disorganized mass mentality and reconnect.  Will it ever happen?  It has to.

But I know it will take a while.  We’re imperfect, we struggle, and we’re near sighted.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed and disjointed tonight, I took an evening walk with God, asking Him to open my eyes to see the peace of the night around me, and to dwell in His silence and peace.  As I walked, I passed this tree that to me has always looked like an angel praying in profile: A large, arching group of branches representing a wing, a rounded bit of branches on the lower right representing a bowed head.  It waved a bit in the chilly breeze, but still stood firm, head bowed, in silence except for a few rustling leaves.  It looked like something to emulate.  I kneeled down in the grass by my house, felt my head bend low, my hands fold.  The wind ruffled my hair a bit, and I was still, my body intact and directed toward God.

The Beginning of Wisdom: Reflections on G. MacDonald 4

…The worship of fear is true, although very low: and though not acceptable to God in itself, for only the worship of spirit and of truth is acceptable to Him, yet even in his sight it is precious.  For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them that they might grow to it.  Therefore a thousand stages, each in itself all but valueless, are of inestimable worth as the necessary and connected gradations of an infinite progress.  A condition which of declension would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint.

Faith and Focus for the New Year: George MacDonald

George Macdonald (1824-1905)

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, “Thou art my refuge.”

Happy New Year to all! I have not made any New Year’s resolutions per se, but in order to offer some focus to this blog, my writing, and my devotional meditations (3 birds with one stone!), I am embarking on a journey through C.S. Lewis’s anthology of George MacDonald. This consists of 365 readings of the Scottish novelist, poet, and clergyman focusing on everything regarding to the faith, from God’s Love to Death, Forgiveness, Prayer, Miracles, and everything in between. I will use the blog to either simply post the daily reading as I go along, or reflect on portions of the daily reading. Normally my modus operandi consists of devouring several books at once, and from there attempting to sift through the information to find a kernel of wisdom lost from the inundation of my gluttonous reading habit. This different approach, similar, I think, to the monastic practice of lectio divina, will hinder the sense of confusion which usually results from my normal practice, and do what all good reflective reading is meant to do: slow down the mind. I usually stay away from “devotional reading” books as I find them trite and often too sentimental. I trust that this anthology will be different, as I do have respect for the discerning mind of its compiler.

For those of you who do not know much about George MacDonald, you can find a biographical sketch of his life here. The Golden Key is another good resource.  MacDonald was influential in the writings of both C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and many others. Oh, and we share a birthday, too. When you get a chance, please wish him a happy 184th birthday.

So, onto the quote above “That man is perfect in faith….” Here I think we start off the year with a wonderful paradox. How can one be perfect “with the weight of low thoughts” and “wandering forgetfulness?” We are able to come to God in prayer sometimes with a joyous heart- if we have had a good day, or in the memory of a good day from the past. However, often I know I settle down for my prayers not even wanting to pray, with my mind distracted with thoughts and activities that either will be coming up (morning prayer) or which I have had to deal with (evening prayer). But MacDonald seems to bring that act of prayer back to its barest essence- the recognition that, with heads bowed, our reliance is on the God who offers Himself as refuge for us- no matter what the circumstance. For we are perfect in faith when in any situation, we rely and hope in the love of God the Father. When we see those low thoughts, distractions, and failures as the ultimate reality of our lives, then we have no faith. But turning to the One who can lift us beyond that “reality,” therein lies the hope and joy that comes from life in Him.

Seeking God: Julian, the Monk, and the Fish

In Chapter 10 of her Showings of Divine Love (LT), Julian of Norwich writes on the importance of seeking God:

“It pleases God a great deal if the soul never ceases to search; for the soul can do no more than seek, suffer, and trust…Seeking with faith, hope, and love pleases our Lord, and finding pleases the soul and fills it with joy.”  St. Julian goes on to say “It is God’s wish that we should observe three things in our seeking: the first is that our search should be committed and diligent, with no laziness, as it may be through his grace, glad and cheerful without unreasonable depression and unprofitable misery.  The second is that for his love we  await him steadfastly, without grumbling or struggling against him, until our life’s end, for life only lasts a short while.  The third is that we should trust him utterly with sure and certain faith, for that is what he wishes.

I immediately thought of a short film I viewed not too long ago that gives a great animated analogy to her idea (the hazelnut that you see in this iconic picture of Julian parallels the fish in this video)

More signs of hope

As a Christian, the fundamentalism of some who practice the faith deeply disturbs me.  It disrupts the spirit of embracing “The Other” that Christ so adamately demanded of those who would follow Him.  I stumbled upon this clip while perusing through Youtube, and find a rational, balanced, faith-driven assessment of the faults of fundamentalism, particulary as it relates to holy scripture: