Sensory and informational overload, God and a fern…

I know, another photo of the beauty up here. But I can’t help it! This weekend we were privileged to tour a national park and it was so amazing. The couple we shared it with made the weekend even better. But, sometimes I get overwhelmed with input. You know how sometimes you can just get sensory and mental overload? I got that. My brain was blurring what I was seeing. Too much nature over too long of a time. LOL. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? That I saw too much beauty and my brain shut down? Sadly enough, it did. Perhaps if I lived in a completely different area, it would seem different or fresh. But it quickly became “more of the same.” Yes, it is stunning and amazing and beautiful. But when you drive in a bus for 8 hours in a national park, your brain starts to rebel a little bit. I had to fight to not take a nap!

Have you ever felt overloaded with information? I know that my kids have complained about it while studying for exams, and I recall the feeling in college, too. You actually look forward to the test, in some perverse way, to spout all that information you have been cramming inside your head, just to get some relief. When you study for the test, cramming just gives that information temporary residence. Once you take the test and spew it all out, most of us retain very little of it. And I was worried about that this weekend. I was seeing so much beauty and nature, I was concerned I would not (a) appreciate it to its fullest, or (b) retain my memories.

Sometimes when we are around something too much, we forget the beauty and the incredible part it plays in our lives. Sometimes we even forget we live among beautiful things, because we have had it all our lives. I’m going out on a limb here, but sometimes it reminds me of former smokers or drinkers, who love to talk about how life is better now, while you sip that glass of wine. Or, worse yet, converts. To whatever it is you already belong to, a convert’s joy and fervor almost drives you away. Ha-Ha. Unfortunately, I am a former smoker and a convert. So I have been teased and teased again for my excitement and fervor.

This weekend, I met some people traveling by cruise ship, who were bussed and took the train to where we were visiting. We had a nice chat. One lady was from Los Angeles and the other had retired to Tennessee. They meet at this hotel each year and go on cruises together, with this national park as their starting point. Their perspective on the state I live in was interesting. They love looking at it, but “could never live here.” Too much sun in summer, and not enough in winter. Although they did say they loved the long, summer days and mild temperatures, the winters scared them.

And I found myself listening in my head to all the things I had heard and seen this weekend, and some thoughts came to me. It made me sad that others loved where I lived, but “could never live here.” How often do we become lax and cynical about our faith, because it has always been there? For those of us who are new and discovering our faith (I’ve been learning and discovering for over 30 years now) we seem to notice all the little details and nuances, because we are learning. When it becomes old hat or repetitive, we need to take a look inside. Just like I was dismissing all the grandeur around me this weekend. I had to mentally slap myself in order to amp up my excitement and joy over what I was experiencing. I also knew I was cramming a lot of information into my little brain, and I desperately did not want to lose any of it. I quickly did a photo album on my FB page, to share with others, and I am posting photos here, as well as thinking about all of it. I am hoping it will stick!!

Some of us are suited to small, intimate gatherings and crowds just don’t cut it for us. We can relate one-on-one, but could never speak in front of a crowd. Sometimes we get what is called “over stimulated” and cannot wait for quieter, simpler interactions. I spent 8 hours on a tour bus peopled with complete strangers, with a wide range of personalities and excitement levels, not to mention traditions, cultures, and even languages. It was a good experience for me, but I could not wait to get back to the quiet of our little car and just the 4 of us in our party. I felt so full of voices and sounds and sights…I needed quiet. So off to our hotel rooms we went, to rest up before dinner. We had some down time and then enjoyed a patio dinner before rushing inside to avoid the rainstorm! What a memorable trip with some really fun traveling companions!

Do you ever attend Church at a new place? Like when you are on vacation? And you don’t fit in, or you stand out, because you are different? We stopped at this little town on our way home and went to the most amazing little place, the “Roadhouse.” What a great experience we had. It is a family-style restaurant and hostel for people who are going to scale the large mountain we had just visited. The place is not fancy in any way. And I loved it. They had chairs and benches, lots of old photos and flags, telling the stories of people who had scaled the mountain, and those who had lost their lives attempting their climb. I enjoyed the best Mushroom/Swiss Quiche I have ever tasted. They are not afraid of mushrooms! And we all tasted some raspberry/rhubarb wine that was divine. I even brought home some hand-made cinnamon rolls we had for breakfast this morning. It is a place I will gladly return to again. But did I fit in? Not really. In some ways, yes I did. But one of the funny things is that I truly didn’t care. I just took it all in and found enjoyment where I was. We ran into people we know, whose daughter lives in a small town in Northern California, where dairies are around every turn in the road, and we know people in common. How random and how perfect for our weekend!

How often do we become “sensory blind” and not notice what is around us? How often do we miss little joys like a fantastic mushroom quiche served in a building that has been there since the 1800s? How often do we miss the nuances of life because we have become inured to them and don’t notice?

This can happen in our faith life, too. Every once in awhile I have an amazing experience where God physically and emotionally touches me, and makes me know He is truly here with me, in person. But for the majority of time, I trust. I have faith that He is here. I don’t worry about finding Him at each liturgy I attend. Some people look and if they do not see Him or “feel” Him, they leave. They want an “authentic” experience each and every weekend. And sometimes looking so hard overloads their input….like I experienced this weekend at the national park. We have to be conscious of our surroundings at all times, looking for the gentle whisper of God everywhere. I experienced that this weekend, imbuing myself with nature and the grandeur in which I live, learning to appreciate this all over again. Each and every time we pray, we read Scripture, or we attend Liturgy, we need to renew ourselves and our faith. And quite often, we will find something unexpected, like a fern growing so far north…

“Be still…”

Mirror Lake

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

This quote, by John Lubbock, spoke to me. We have had friends visiting from the “lower 48” this week and I know experiencing some pristine nature is never a waste of time. I have watched them visibly relax. I have seen the wonder on their faces and their joy burst forth when coming face-to-face with bears at the Wildlife Preserve, with watching the salmon jump as they climb to their spawning grounds at our Hatchery. I love sharing the blessing of where we live with people who do not get to experience it as often as we do. This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone, and I would not expect others to embrace where I live just because I do. I know it took me more than 40 years, once I first imagined this place, to actually live here. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). It is amazing to me how close to God you can feel, immersed in nature.

PalmerAK

I jokingly asked our visitors if they needed some time with asphalt and smog, with all this “nature overload.” And we chatted about how tired they are because of processing all that they are seeing, hearing, breathing, and tasting. It takes a lot out of you to travel to an environment that is so foreign to your daily routine. As we meandered along our coastline and mountains, we all remarked about how brave the early explorers were. We were imagining the native peoples making their home here, and the early explorers and then miners, making their way through these near-impenetrable mountains. There are places here that have never experienced the footfall of man. How remarkable that we live here, in among all the stupendous magnificence of a God who loves us.

Salmon ladder

Occasionally nature needs our help. In this state, we encourage natural activities and assist in raising the live birth numbers of many of our indigenous species. Most people who come here to sports fish would be sorely disappointed if nature was the only provider! Our Fish and Game Department is doing themselves proud with how they are helping our salmon spawn successfully.  There were approximately 6.5 million fish released into the waters of Alaska in 2016. Pretty impressive. We recently learned that an entire herd of Wood Bison, over 130 of them, were released successfully from our Wildlife Conservation Center. Wow! I love walking through our hatcheries, learning the stories of the many fish we have here in Alaska. At the Sealife Center in Seward, they work so hard to rehab the different animals back into the wild. In amongst all this nature, thriving here, you certainly feel humbled.

Aurora August 2016

One of the things that people always want to see is the Aurora Borealis, or the “Northern Lights” when they visit us. In the summertime, that is pretty hard because it doesn’t really get dark enough. Last night we got notices through our news and weather sites that the Aurora possibility was a +6, which is high. We stayed up until 1:30am, and even got up again at 3:30am, but it was either too light or too cloudy where we are. The photo above was taken north of us last night. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Hebrews 9:24). When you see the magnificence in the heavens, where the stars seem to dance, you certainly feel small, humbled, and in awe.

The experience of nature, up close and personal, away from the noise, smells, and interference of thousands of people, can ease your suffering and your pain. It makes your spiritual connection strengthen. I know for me, when I go to Church and can watch the snow dancing on the windows, and the candles are burning brightly, I can feel God. Learning to be still and seek His presence can be difficult in the midst of asphalt, smog, freeways, and social insanity, but it can be done. I found God in the middle of Southern California’s rush hour lifestyle. But I was constantly seeking my peace elsewhere. My prayer is that more and more can experience God in the stillness of His creation. It is truly magnificent, humbling, and breaks open those walls we place around ourselves when we live in a crazy, crowded world. Prayer seems to come naturally, in nature’s wonderland.

Be Still

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Aurora.1Sometimes the world can seem so vast. There is so much that we are not truly familiar with. And yet, we make judgement calls about the world all the time. Judges, meting out justice from the bench, are supposed to be using their knowledge of the law, and making a judgement based on the law. They are not supposed to make their own laws, but rather uphold the ones we have on the books. They spend years learning laws, learning ways to defend the law, or the person accused of breaking the law. Some people are called to be prosecutors, some defenders. It is a pretty black/white thing, taken in its pristine form. But, as with much of life, there seems to be ambiguity inherent with our law system. And opinion; one cannot forget opinion. Trust me; I have one, which is why I blog. I share my opinion, my thoughts, with those of you who are interested enough to actually read them.

Today I was confronted with attitude. From several different sources. I love that I was blessed to haphazardly find my way to Anthropology from my start as a pre-law major, morphing into history, and finally finding archeology. I learned to have a broader perspective about things, and I also learned to appreciate differences. To actually look for, and explore differences. I try to not accept things on the basis of the cover. I was accused of judging young ladies one of my sons was dating, simply by their clothing, tattoos, and wildly colored hair. And I admitted that I was prejudiced – in my head, a “normal” girl didn’t present herself that way. I was so wrong. I also have learned that there are so many things that are not truly known to me, or by me. The world is, quite honestly, more complex and varied than we think. There is such a variety in the way in which we approach things. There is such a variety in how God presents His world to us.

moon sky mountains

I was raised and lived in pretty much a 100-square mile area in Southern California. I know traffic. I know smog. I know crowds. I know the beach, the mountains, the desert. I can tell you how to get somewhere and the relative amount of time it will take you to get there. Malls – I know all the good malls in Southern California. I know where to get deals on pretty much anything. The good towns, the places to avoid, the amusement park deals. Parades and major league sports venues. SoCal is full of all of that, and more. I just never realized there was something more out there. I mean, who knew what seasons really were? I never understood the whole Fall/Autumn thing until we lived in Washington. Oh my goodness. Fall is glorious in the Pacific Northwest. I also found out I could plant and grow, successfully, my own tulips. I had no idea there were so many types of tulips. I did not get gourds (why do we carve pumpkins and devour pumpkin pies??) until I lived where they grow them. I never liked asparagus, either, until I could buy it fresh, for less than $1 a bunch and cook it in so many ways (I mean, garlic and butter pretty much makes shoe leather edible). Another experience was living in a snow state. It is a wet state (parts are considered rain forest) but it is also a snow state. I learned to drive roads that are almost verticle on all-weather tires in ice, and also learned to maneuver around all sorts of road construction in pretty awful weather. I LOVED it! And then we decided to have the adventure of a lifetime (while we were still young enough to do it successfully) and relocate out of the contiguous United States, to the very far north. I can honestly say it has lived up to my expectations, and outdone them in so very many ways. This land is something that I never expected, and something I will take the rest of my life learning about and appreciating.

mount-baldy-3-2015-07-10-3.jpg.910x680_q95_upscale-False

One of the things I have learned is that I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING. (Hope those close to me, who know me well, didn’t just have mini-strokes, or heart attacks at that declaration!). And I love to experience new things. I am so interested in everything. I try to expose my mind to new things all the time. I try to not be closed off or to place walls between myself and new discoveries, knowing there is just a vast amount of knowledge I do not have. I’d like to chip away at acquiring more, the rest of my life. I want to constantly embrace new things and fill my mind, and my soul, with all the things I can learn. I am trying to leave words that hamper this desire out of my vocabulary (never, can’t, won’t, no). And I am working on not pre-juding people, situations, or even places and/or experiences.

I get frustrated when people say things like, “I would never…” or “I can never do…” when they have never ventured, never tried, never gone there (insofar as experiences). It is like a judge, who has the law before him, making a decision based on an opinion gained by reading the newspaper. We may think we have all the information we need, we may have dipped our toes in the water, but the ocean is not the beach. Saying all that, I KNOW I could never jump out of a plane. I can barely manage flying in one, let alone stepping out of one. My son used to do it for a living and told me, years afterwards, that he hated jumping, but got a kick out of landing, successfully. Adrenaline rush, etc. Not me. I am a scaredy-pants, just like my elusive cat, Rosie. So I do understand not taking certain risks, or do life-endangering antics, for the kick of it. And I do not judge those who are able to entertain those ideas, and even to act upon them. So, for the sake of my musings here, I am discounting that section of participants.

From the Book of Wisdom 7:21-25 (Douay-Rheims):

“And all such things as are hid and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me. For in her is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtile. For wisdom is more active than all active things: and reacheth everywhere by reason of her purity. For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.”

I believe we all need to learn as much as we can. I don’t want to just grow older. I am praying that I also grow in wisdom. We need to make bucket lists and check those awesome experiences off, as we do them! I think we need to be brave, to embrace those roads less traveled and to not fear the new, the untried, the unfamiliar. Yes, there is danger around every corner. Sometimes there are no guarantees.

Looking back

I am the biggest chicken insofar as trying much that is new. I have the same clothes I have worn for the past ten years. I re-read the same books, over again, two or three times. I listen to music I listened to in high school. But about three years ago, as I was speeding down this very deserted highway (in a foreign country no less) at around 75 mph, on all-weather tires, on about a foot of ice and snow, I thought, “What are we doing?” My husband was trying to follow me, as I saw him through my rearview mirror, reaching out to manually wipe the accumulating ice and snow off his windshield. He was doing whatever he needed to do to stay wtih me. How blessed was I? Of course, he was also yelling into our walkie-talkie, telling me to “Slow down, woman!”  Ha-Ha. Good times. I doubt quite often the choices we have made. We plunge into things, thinking we’ve corned the market on all the possibilities. We try to really think things through, but inevitably, something comes out of left field that we had never expected. We got snow the week after we moved here – in June! I discovered icicles on my house and fell in love with them. (Now I totally understand icicles on Christmas trees, and those Christmas lights for your house that mimic real icicles!). What a bonus! I learned how to take out laundry in sub-zero temps. I can now cook moose and it tastes good! I can manage a sweater as my only cover in 20-degree weather. I have learned to make Ukrainian dishes for the different feast days. Me?! I am British, as in pot roasts and pots of tea! Ha-Ha!! I learned how to make Pascha cheese, in panty hose, in my shower (trust me – it really works!). But I am learning, still. I am experiencing new things. Still. I am trying to remove “no, can’t never” from my vocabulary. I am trying to not prejudge something I have no honest, direct, knowledge of. Please, let’s keep one another in prayer over the pursuit of Wisdom. Over the experience of the new, the unknown. The Lord has given this immense land to discover, filled with unknown adventures and a myriad of different people, traditions, and faiths. Let us approach these differences with an eye to this immense knowledge, and wisdom, of God. And let us at least try, one step at a time…

Babysteps

“…sweet consolation…”

Having a rough day today. My teenager was away at camp for 10 days and I guess he missed us because he chose to share the bug he picked up at camp with me! I am sick and it is making me cranky! This morning, there were 3 magpies in our front yard – two on the lawn and one in a tree – having a very loud argument. For those of you who are familiar with these large, loud birds, you know what I mean.  Even our cat, who is nick-named, “Scaredy-cat,” was angry with these birds. Her back was arched and she was hissing at them, as she watched them from the front window!  I woefully needed coffee to get my head to function and to help me wake up! Ha-Ha!  Not a fun way to be woken up when you have a lousy head cold. I am trying to get better soon, because I am flying 5+ hours to California to see my new grand daughter, and to visit “memory homes” with my mom.  It makes me sad, just prepping for the trip.  Sad because I will have to leave my son, his wife, and their new baby and sad because I will have to leave my mom and I am not sure how many visits with her I have left.

I have been struck with the cycle of life recently.  Our deacon had a stroke this past week.  Last weekend, he was his smiling self and then he was not.  And yesterday, a dear friend of ours’ daughter had their first grand child.  Just talking with her today was so much fun.  I was lucky in that we already have two grandchildren and our third is on her way, so I knew the overwhelming sense of love my friend would experience.  And she did not disappoint! The pure joy in her voice was incredible to share.  I also spoke with a sibling about my mom and her encroaching Alzheimer’s and how we’re all going to handle it.  It just seems that life is constantly cycling through and I was never in a place to really notice it until now.  I guess seeing as how I am a “senior” citizen and all, I notice this tenuous life cycle we have here on earth, while preparing for our eternity in heaven.

Little thingsIt is such a joy to share all these things that happen in life with those we love, those we meet, and those we may not even know.  The little joys are incredible.  As I watch my son and his little family, I see so many moments I had with him as a boy.  Times of joy that I hold closely in my heart.  There are smells and sounds, visions and memories that I will have always in my heart, that warm me and fill me with joy on days when loud birds wake me and I am sneezing, sleepy, and cranky! The joy of an ever-expanding family through the marriages of our children, the births of our grandchildren, and even the deaths of parents….we are cycling through life and it seems like it is getting faster and faster, and more and more frightening, the older I get!  Thanks be to God for my family, friends, and my faith. I am blessed.

And when I am stressed or angry, or feel out of sorts, there are memories and sights and sounds and smells that reinvigorate me, that I hold deep inside of me and are a part of my living faith.  I have such fond memories of many, many, midnight Liturgies of Pasca, swinging the lamps in preparation for the big entry; of meat dishes and their smells and tastes after the long fast of Lent; of songs and scents we only experience at different holidays.  I love being Byzantine and having dishes which are served on one day a year, using recipes passed down from mother to daughter over centuries of Christianity; recipes that have not changed in thousands of years.  I love feeling connected to Our Lord, His Apostles, and the early Church, knowing we use the same incense, the same tones and songs, the same words of the Gospel, that they experienced, too.

Someone asked me on Sunday what drew me to become Byzantine.  One particular memory, which I have shared in posts before, was listening to our Deacon intone “Sophia, Orthoi” while processing in with the Gospel Book.  It took me back in time to the Apostolic Church and the connection was so real, I did not want to ever lose it.  The sounds of the tones used, the smell of the incense, the way in which the Parish participated, took me back in time and I loved feeling that.  The Holy Icons, the Holy Fans, the words of the liturgy, the vestments worn by the priests and deacons…they all brought me into communion with our Lord and our faith.  I love history and tradition, so anything connecting back to the Apostles is wonderful in my eyes.  I love the unbroken tradition and the historical connection through text, song and scents, textiles and foods.  It’s pretty comforting for me; it grounds me.

St. NikolaiAnd as this week has demonstrated to me once again, we are cycling through life’s experiences at a rapid clip.  My emotions and my health are all over the map. Some days are incredible; some not so much – like today.  Times are tough right now, but our blessings are inordinate. And as each thing comes to me, I earnestly try to thank God for these experiences, to seek His guidance, and to wait on Him and His will for my life.

St. Anthony of Optina.2The highlight of my trip south will be the baptism of our grand daughter.  Although there will be lots of people and families baptizing their children, I am so thrilled to be there for this sacrament for her, and for her parents.  The changes our family has been through over the past year of weddings, births, and deaths…our emotions are pretty fraught with tension.  I will be saying goodbye to my son and his little family, and the ability to hold (and smell – I love baby smells!!) my little grand daughter.  I will be bidding my mom goodbye and I am not sure if more visits are in store for us or not.  My heart is so torn.  But through all these cycles of life, I thank you, God, for reminding me of these blessings and the love I have been privileged to share.

Russian baptism