Growing Pains

For years I had avoided purchasing a “smartphone.”  Not because I am a luddite, but in hopes of preserving an old-fashioned kind of privacy; the solitude that comes from being occasionally unavailable. Finally, younger heads prevailed (my adult children) and I was dragged into the twenty-first century.  Now I can text and skype and email with abandon like a normal human being. Also, I can check the latest political news. This is a problem. I am a complete political junky. Yesterday morning I resolved I will spend less time checking on my favorite political nemesis and more time contemplating the astounding grace that is offered to us in every blade of grass, every shaft of moonlight, every fellow human that we encounter on our journey.  Yesterday afternoon several family members and I visited an ancient sycamore tree growing near Aliso Creek. A bronze placard states that the tree is 500 years old. Awe-inspiring! We came home to the latest news from Washington. My resolution will not be easy.

by Nathaniel

Gift of Peace

In this Advent season, I watch, wait, for the coming of a new Peace. Emanuel. God with us. He will surely come. I know that he has come. Still, lately, the world seems to have descended into more than the usual amount of cruelty and chaos. But, peace is all around us, and I found it again, at one of my favorite places. A couple of times a month I bring my guitar and lead a sing-a-long at an assisted living complex in Costa Mesa. All of the residents are living with symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Today is a special day for my friends. A fresh, fragrant, unadorned Christmas tree occupies a corner of their large living room. They are excited and happy to see me. I strap on my guitar and begin… “Silver Bells”… (they echo). “Silver Bells”… and on and on… “Feliz Navidad”… “Feliz Navidad.” Infectious joy!  Ripe with Love!  They do not know that they have gifted me with a most precious peace. Or maybe they do!

by Nathaniel

Saint of the Post Office

I really enjoy going to my local post office. It is a tiny pre-fab building, in the parking lot of a Laguna Woods clubhouse. The place is often crowded with older folks struggling with boxy packages, mailing envelopes, letters, or cards headed for all parts of the world. Alma runs the place. I am sure she is destined for sainthood. The first time I met her she was waiting on a senior who was trying to mail a  care package to a nephew in prison. The lady didn’t have the correct address and seemed embarrassed and frustrated. Alma looked up the information on her computer. She put the correct postage on the box, making small-talk in a kind, calm voice. The place was packed.  Alma radiated serenity. I was the last one in line. I said to Alma “You are so calm and serene. You must be a Buddhist or something.” “No. I’m a Christian. I used to be very impatient. I think God sent me here to learn patience.”

by Nathaniel

Grateful Farewell

Mohave Desert: A few clouds drifted above variegated landscapes, breathtaking rock formations, stunted yellow grasses, Joshua trees. We had come by jeep to say a grateful farewell to our remarkable friend, Randale Rudy Skates. If you met Randy, you didn’t forget him. He stood seven feet tall– a giant.  His heart, spirit, and intelligence were in proportion. In 1969, he came to our school. The coaches were immediately smitten. So was my friend, Susie. She was 5’3” with long dark hair and brown eyes. That was it for Randy. They married at the end of high school. Later, Randy and Susie lived in the house next to my family and we shared meals and music and dogs.  Randy loved dogs and all animals. They loved him. We all felt his love.  In this earthly paradise, friends scattered his ashes on a giant boulder. We sang Dylan: “I see my light come shining from the west down to the east; any day now, any day now I shall be released. . . .”

by Nataniel

Easy Day Blessings

Wednesday, November first. All-Saints Day.  My work day is light; public middle schools are closed. Not for religious reasons. Maybe to circumvent the after-effects of massive Halloween candy corn consumption by students. Mid-afternoon I take an unhurried drive to San Clemente. The western sky is dressed in a blanket of soft stratocumulus clouds. A beautiful day the that the Lord has made! When I arrive at my destination, I have messages. My next two students have canceled. I go to nearby Pines Park, on the cliffs above Capo Beach to meditate. My kids loved playing here when they were little. It hasn’t changed much–lush grass, stately pines, walking paths bustling with happy moms and dads and toddlers. The harbor view is stunning an hour before sunset. It is the golden hour. I have time to visit Our Lady of Fatima Church. I say my prayers and admire the Dia De Los Muertos altar, all lit up with fire-colored marigolds. My final student cancels. World Series. I find the ball game on my radio. Blessings!

by Nathaniel

Nun Birds

My wife, Kerry, flies north to the Oregon border this time of year to visit her family and enjoy the pristine wilderness.  I was missing her the other evening when I took a short break from my gig in Laguna to breath the ocean air. The beach is illuminated by lights from the Hotel Laguna. There was a wedding party on their patio. I stood on the boardwalk, above the shallow breaking waves and took in the happy scene.  Kerry has migrated north, but her favorite birds, the “Nun Birds” have returned here. The little birds move quickly in small groups in graceful unison, as they scan the sand for crabby invertebrates. My wife says their habit-like outfits and dignified demeanor remind her of the nuns at her old grade school. The Western Snowy Plover weighs only an ounce or two. It sometimes builds its nest in human footprints on the sand. My wife has missed her “nun birds” this year, but she will fly home soon. Boy, her arms will be tired!

by Nathaniel

The Paschal Mystery

Autumn, for me, starts one morning when my bare feet are surprised by a pleasant nip of coldness from the concrete patio. The air is crisp and clean. After the passions of spring and summer; unfolding leaves, and kaleidoscopes of colorful fruits and flowers, nature seems to be winding down. Foliage is thinning on trees. Branches are becoming bare. But there is one magnificent creature at the hight of her glory: Araneus diadematus, the Cross Orbweaver. In spring the newly hatched spiders are tiny and build miniature versions of the orb web. This time of year their gold and brown abdomens are large, plump and sometimes decorated with a white cross. The span of graceful legs is inches in diameter. I spotted a big one in the park recently. My heart swelled with gratitude, wonder, and a little sadness. Soon she will lay her eggs and die. In spring the cycle begins anew. This is the Pascal Mystery. All things must pass away to be resurrected in glory.

by Nathaniel

It Started With a Prayer

“There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I have often recalled these words from Hamlet since the beginning of my spiritual journey.  Consumed by anxiety over my wife’s health and state of mind, I felt like I was caught in a vice. Chris Smith was the supervisor of my after-school guitar program. He could see that I was pretty much a basket case. Chris approached me after class and asked, “How are you doing?” “Not good.” He listened attentively as I told my story. Chris is a Christian Minister. I was a non-believer then. He did not preach or proselytize. In a gentle, confident voice he said, “Try praying.” I had tried everything else. If I could not pray now, it was my own foolishness, hubris. The next day my wife and I walked to the church on the hill (St.Edward), and for the first time in my life, I prayed. Silently. Fervently. Slowly, surely, God’s grace has unfolded a vast new world I never dreamed of.

by Nathaniel