Let It Be: 2014

Snowy tree-lined road at sunrise.

Call them resolutions, aspirations, intentions, whatever. I pray that a year from now these will have been true of me in 2014:

1.  She lived in and led from the roominess of God.

“The Good Shepherd leads his sheep out of the tight and tiny boxes in which we lock ourselves into his spacious pastures.”
~ Timothy Radcliff

“All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Spirit.”
~ Thomas Aquinas

2. She wore her own face.

“Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces…”
~ May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”

“The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation… and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but their own vulnerable selves.”
~ Henri J. M. Nouwen

3. She was mindful of each moment.

“We spend a long time wishing we were elsewhere and otherwise.”
~ Robert Farrar Capon

“The present moment, like the spotted owl or the sea turtle, has become an endangered species. Yet more and more I find that dwelling in the present moment, in the face of everything that would call us out of it, is our highest spiritual discipline.”
~ Philip Simmons

4. She practiced stillness.

“I learned…that inspiration…comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness…The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.
~ Brenda Ueland

5. She operated more often from love than from fear.

“Our fear is in the service of all the little ways we have learned to protect our false self. But love is really who we are. We’ll never see the love we really are, our foundation, if we keep living out of our false self of self-protection and overreaction. We must remember that ‘perfect love casts out all fear’ (1 John 4:18).”
~ Richard Rohr

6. She chose joy.

It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation…
~ Mary Oliver 

7.  She finished that dag-nabbity book!

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
~ Thomas Mann

Good and gracious God, let it be.

photo cc flickr.com/photos/18_2rosadik36

Lessons from Stone Mountain

Julie on Stone MountainIt all started with my teeth. A couple of years ago I was reclining in the chair of my dentist, Dr. Uetsuki, waiting for the nitrous oxide to kick in.

Are you doing anything special for New Year’s? he asked through his blue paper mask.

Nothing out of the ordinary, I said.  Just black-eyed peas for luck.

Have you ever climbed Stone Mountain?

Well, I’ve been meaning to.

My wife and I climb Stone Mountain every New Year’s Day, he said. To watch the sun rise.

I listened with interest as he described the ancient Japanese custom of marking the “firsts” in any given new year. Every first of January, throngs of Japanese men, women and children travel to the coast or to a mountain to observe Hatsuhinode—the first sunrise of the new year.

Could I?

In that moment an idea was born. With my 50th birth year just days away I found myself wondering:  “Could I make it up Stone Mountain fifty times?”

Twelve months later my 50th birth year passed into history as I completed climb number Five-O in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve.

During that year I stood atop Stone Mountain beside pools of ice and under a sun so hot, I swear you could fry bacon on that rock. I climbed at sunrise, sunset, noonday and once under a full moon.  I climbed alone and I climbed with kinfolk, church friends, neighbors and houseguests from around the world.

I spent a year schlepping myself up and down Atlanta’s most famous piece of granite and I have news:  Stone Mountain is a treasure. Climbing the mountain gave me some marvelous gifts that year, among them these memorable lessons:

Lesson One:  There is big value in feeling small.

Standing on a piece of rock that pre-dates me by a few million years and will still be there long after I’ve entered the cloud-boat, as Mary Oliver puts it, has a way of putting perspective on some things. Like the size of my troubles, for instance. The shape of my priorities. The difference between the truly important and the merely urgent. My place in God’s bigger picture.

Lesson Two:  Everyone needs to stand on top of something.

A mountain can be a great metaphor for life. The physical act of ascending a mountain brings a sense of overcoming, not only the rock itself, but other obstacles as well. Some challenges we face are relatively minor: Irritating people. Frustrations at work. Everyday stress. Others are more daunting. In May, on the day when my husband’s brother took his life, I stood on the summit, shook my fists in the air and shouted at death: “You don’t get the final word down here!”  In some mysterious way, my feet seemed planted not only on the crest of that mountain, but also on the neck of everything that wants to break us down here:  Depression. Cancer.  Addiction. Death.

Lesson Three:  Some moments are meant to be savored, not seized by the lapels.

I lean toward the sin of workaholism. Sometimes I’m so busy maximizing the moment that I lose sight of this cardinal rule:  When it comes to life, you must be present to win.

During one of my climbs early last spring I was marching up the stone trail, iPhone in hand, fielding calls and sending text messages. Somewhere near the top, during a water break, I caught sight of a Red-Tailed Hawk circling overhead, every movement of his wings so effortless, so graceful. As he swooped near the place where I stood jabbing at my phone, I thought I saw him shake his head and roll his steely eyes at me, as if to say, “What’s the point?”

No Time Like the Present

I heartily recommend the practice of marking each year in some intentional way. If you’ve never tried it before, there’s no time like the present—it’s not too late. Here are some possibilities:

Plant a garden. Run a marathon. Finish writing that book. Try talking to God. Try listening to God. Forgive somebody. Forgive yourself. Climb a mountain. There are a million ways to bow your head and say thanks for the gift of life.

Originally published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution January 9, 2011.