Thursday, December 15, 2016

"what we hold gently...."

"We have come to believe
there's hidden good in common things,
You can't always tell
but sometimes you just know..."

The connection between Carrie Newcomer's beautiful song, "Geode," and this post may not be easy to recognize. But there is something about knowing what to hold firmly, and what to hold gently, that celebrates the remarkable, in the common for me. The hidden promise, found in the familiar.

One of our oldest traditions at the Adventure Unlimited Ranches is a practice we call, "Alone with Your Thoughts." Once, during every two week summer session, campers of all ages gather around the fire ring. The Ranch Director shares remarks offered as a springboard for inspiration. Then, she tells the story of camp founder, Cap Andrews' time on a submarine during World War II.

This activity, held at dusk, is deeply meaningful for me. Cap's practice of spending time alone on the deck of a submarine - in the middle of the Pacific Ocean - inspired his dream of founding a camp to, in his words, "teach boys to appreciate God, and learn how to turn to Him in prayer."

Cap's story begins with a night alone in the dark. What started as a desire to consciously focus on God without any distractions, became a lifelong journey towards longer and longer periods of time in quiet contemplation of the divine. 

After the Ranch Director shares her own message and tells Cap's story, campers and staff are invited to find a quiet spot in nature and silently listen for inspiration.  No books, no media, no conversation -- just an hour alone with your own thoughts.

I've heard Cap's story scores of times over the years, and it always inspires me. I've heard many Ranch Directors share their inspiration and I've taken away something special from each of them. But there is one that stands out to me -- above all the rest. And it is an idea that I find myself turning to often.

It was Ranch Director, Alison Peticolas', first summer in her new role. It had been her first year making the final hiring decisions and job offers. In late winter she felt she had assembled a wonderful team of camp directors, program heads, and counselors. But by Spring it looked as if her perfect teams was falling apart. Family demands, internships, and financial needs started whittling away at the teams' shape.

As she returned to the drawing board,  she said that it was hard.  She felt as if she'd already had a perfect team in place, and it was difficult to let go of that plan. One day, as she was praying about the situation it came to her that she needed to be clear about what she needed to be holding firmly, and what she could hold more gently.

For example, it was right for the Whitewater Rafting Program Head to be an experienced boater, have demonstrated leadership skills, be awareness of safety laws, show compassion for campers, be organized, etc. Those were the things she could hold firmly as she explored new candidates. Whether it was a particular guy or gal, their number of years of experience, camp history, etc. -- those where the things she could hold gently.

She told us that from that moment on, she approached the hiring process with less anxiety and greater expectations. And every position was filled perfectly.

I think about this often in my life. What are the things I hold firmly as I make plans, consider choices, or frame expectations. Am I holding -- too firmly -- the things that are not essential? Or am I willing to be dispossessed of my certainties about what is "perfect," and discover a solution that is inspired.

Recently, I felt I had a very clear sense of how I thought things should work out in a particular situation. I found myself getting tense when it didn't seem to be unfolding in the way that I thought it should. That was when I was reminded of Alison's talk. It brought me back into alignment.

I remembered to ask myself, "what do I needed to hold firmly?" That was clear -- God is good, His power is unquestionable, and my purpose is to serve Him. And I also remembered to ask what I needed to hold gently -- the who, what, where, when and how of the outcomes. It was such a small adjustment. But it was enough. A situation that seemed complex and fraught with detours, fell into place in wonderful new ways -- ways I couldn't have even imagined.

Geodes are actually like that. On the outside they appear as muddy-colored, almost insignificant round rocks. There's just no drama to them. They are often buried in quarries or ravines, and overlooked by rock hunters looking for the obvious. But tapped with a small hammer and "voila!" a hidden crystal world opens up to you. By holding firmly all that is spiritually essential in our hearts and tapping into the changelessness of what is deeply constant -- while holding gently the details that are unfolding before us, we often find new perspectives, solutions, pathways that are more brilliant than anything we could have imagined.

For many years, Alone with Your Thoughts has enriched my spiritual practice with new inspiration, peace of mind, and a deepening trust in the divine. It's not a flashy practice, but quiet, modest, and without drama. But this quiet time with God has become as natural to me as breathing. I am grateful for Alison's humble and inspired sharing each summer. And tonight, I am simply grateful for this particular lesson about what to hold -- firmly and gently.

offered with Love,


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