Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Norway

May I share with you some thoughts about my visit to this country?  It is MAGNIFICENT.  It awed me and then effortlessly outdid itself and awed me again at least a dozen times.  I loved being there and especially being there with ones that were dear to me.  

Fam + flag= fabulous
VIKINGS, or as the natives sometimes said WIKINGS


Love is light


Hahaha, we kind of continue the red and blue pattern.  Folk life then and now. 

Mum.  What an incredible woman. 
The first week I spent with my mom and sister in Oslo, a bustling but friendly metropolitan area with plenty to do, and Kristiansand, a delightful smaller town happily established with mountains on one side and the sea on the other.  The sites were lovely and the company even more so, and the generosity of those who hosted us surprised me again and again.  After much laughter, exploration, and rejoicing, my mom headed up north to meet her parents who are serving as missionaries in Trondheim while my sister and I met up with a close friend of mine to hike Priekestolen.  


Iconic Norwegian Waffles

This hike included traipsing along stone-slab built staircases, a meadow of spiderweb strewn grass shimmering with dew, lake pocketed expanses of rock to get to the destination: a 604 meter (1,982 foot) cliff overlooking the Lysefjorden.  I loved the hike, though I must admit, as one who is extremely wary of heights due to an inexplicably deep fear of falling from them, the idea of coming to the edge generously gave me some apprehension.  When we arrived, mist and clouds swirled over the fjord and just beyond the cliff and this obscurity somehow provided me the gumption to approach the edge. 

a
Surreal Meadows

And you know what, dear reader?  I did it.  I came to the edge.  And I kind of loved it.  I sat there, feeling fear and yet not being overwhelmed with it like I had before.  Swinging my legs over the edge and experiencing the view from that edge was remarkable.  Exhilarating.  Serene.  I became audacious enough to go back when the skies had cleared spend some more time at the edge, this time seeing exactly what was there.  Still the same incredible feeling, yet perhaps with a greater dose of the precariousness of my perch.  I love the clarity and courage I felt there.  I felt deeply grateful such a place existed and that I experience it.  


 

We Three

Feeling renewed, we headed back down the trail and took time to admire tiny frogs and tadpoles surrounding the lakes we'd passed earlier...and then diving into the lake to join them.  Wonderfully cold.  So wonderfully cold.   


Delight 
That appreciation continued as my sister headed to Bergen and my friend and I ventured through ferries, tunnels, mountain roads, switchbacks, and some of the narrowest roads ever to the the Valley of Waterfalls, Odda, and Trolltunga.  The beauty of the roads, green deep woods surrounding lakes and waterfalls, some sheep and few houses stunned me.  And then we arrived to Låtefossen.  The power of water as it surged over two wide twin falls was majestic.  A smaller waterfall mimicked the greater waterfall with its white plunging flow at the base of our camp that night, though thankfully it growled rather than roared.  


One side of Låtefossen
We arose early to start our ascent to Trolltunga and the day greeted us with us mist, which stayed with us until we reached the summit.  My friend captured it perfectly in saying that it muffled the trail and I couldn't agree more.  While several hikers joined us on the trail, the mist blurred them into vague outlines and kept the surroundings well hidden.  Droplets of water clung to our hair and skin, not quite drenching us the way a sudden dousing in a stream or lake did, but deliberately settling on us for a while.  It was ethereal and as we came to a meadow, we could see that here too the mist here had gifted drops of water, though this time to the foliage.  The light on them created something storybook like, and it seemed that we were bound to encounter a troll or fairy or some sort of fantasy creature on our way.  And while we did not see one, we did a little harmless trolling of our own by wading in a stream under a bridge after finishing the hike.  


Before
  
After
Once we had come to the impressive (yet a slightly overrated) protrusion that is Trolltunga's boast, the sun shooed the mist away and we could see all that we had passed through--huge fields of boulders and vast expanses of stone.  My friend and I marveled at the difference between the two hikes and that we had crossed all of this without even knowing it because of the mist.  Mist, man.  It is wispy, but by no means wimpy.  It is a powerful force that shapes your perception.  




Trolltunga

We then made our way to Bergen, a completely different feel than quiet and quaint Odda.  Bergen is a little more ostentatious than the other sites we visited, and it has every reason to be with Grieg's home and composition in its vicinity, a bustling seaside market with buildings several hundreds of years old, vantage points with sweeping views of the harbor, and an impressive collection of trolls kept within a forest.  It is also home to a nocturnal bird with one of the eeriest calls I have ever heard.  It added to the mystery of the place, upping the suspense by several points.  (I feel that I must add at least one piece by Grieg to complete this post.  He deeply appreciated music, and composed some incredible pieces, and they may deserve their own post soon.  Until then, this piano piece will suffice.)


Grieg's Workspace
Grieg's Backyard

Bergen Harbors Stellar Nightlights
Fjord Morning

The Land of Hobbits, Trolls, Fairies, and possibly Robin Hood

As our time in Norway tapered off, we spent a day on the water in a guided kayaking tour.  That perspective and the rhythm of paddling in the water and feeling so small shouldered by huge cliffs on either side and a broad stretch of water between them brought back more exhilaration and serenity.  The water was so cold and clear, the green of the trees so bright and vivacious, and the sky wonderfully blue.  It was glorious.   


Kayaking Stop
Another Waterfall; Just Norway Being Cool Again
Dear reader, the landscape in Norway is venerable, severe but not unkind. It is fierce and unpretentious in its beauty.  Water spills from massive heights, seeps through rocks and soil, whisperingly gathers in mist, surges in beautiful rivers, lies in repose in lakes and fjords while glistening meekly with light.  Water feels so abundant here, and perhaps that is one reason it felt so clarifying.  Cliffs are quietly vibrant with moss and boulders and trees and lichen and flowers and brambles and grass.  The pristine and powerful wilderness proudly waits there to be faced and admired by venturers.  There is a sort of weariness to it, as moss covered rocks and forests imply several years of growth and experience.  Yet with that weariness, there is also an incredibly deep peace there; acceptance of what has happened and an ability to yield.  Norway is rich, and an abundantly willing giver of good gifts if you are brave enough to ask for them with some effort. Bracingly cold swims in some of the clearest water, sweet berries for spotting and picking and savoring, cheery trolls to discover, beautiful climbs that result in stunning vistas. It is something else. Being there was invigorating.  


Sverd i fjell
Sometimes I saw Norway as a weathered soldier, elegant stately trees decorating the shoulders of battle torn valleys, fjords left by relentless, powerful, irrepressible, inescapable glaciers. Are they retreating? Or simply moving on to carve and leave scars on other lands?  It is painful, but beautiful, yielding deep, gently salty fjords in its wake, or boulders of all sizes scattered in fields.  My brother brought up a good point that the landscape and the people there mirror one another.  The Vikings who lived there were a fierce people, undaunted in the face of anything and experience plenty of setbacks.  Yet their artifacts demonstrate such artistry, such craftsmanship, that words such as brutish or boorish that people often label Vikings with don't seem to stick anymore.  

Go North, young man.  Norway harbors adventure, clarity, beauty, and much more for you.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

In the Meantime

I promise I will write all about Norway soon.  There is so much I am excited to share with you, dear reader!  Norway is truly a wonder.  Until I gather my thoughts together, here is a video my close friend shared with me while I was there to tide you over.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Word Defined, and Lived | Stumble

Usually to stumble is not that pleasant.  It can be embarrassing, painful, surprising.  Yet I am convinced that there can be a certain sort of delight in stumbling, almost a magic in it.  As a departure from the ordinary, it reminds us of the grace that encompasses this world.  I do a fair amount of moving clumsily in my life (as anyone listening to me play the organ can attest).  I love the way words shift their meaning depending on the context in which you use it, blending with other words to create an idea.  With that in mind, I would like to share with you the various definitions of "stumble" as well as some ways I stumble and what they teach me.   

Stumble.

1.  trip or momentarily lose one's balance; almost fall.
"her foot caught a shoe and she stumbled"
synonyms: trip (over/up), lose one's balance, lose/miss one's footing, slip
"she stumbled and fell heavily"

2.  trip repeatedly as one walks.
"his legs still weak, he stumbled after them"
synonyms: stagger, totter, teeter, dodder, blunder, hobble, move clumsily
"he stumbled back home"

3.  make a mistake or repeated mistakes in speaking.
"she stumbled over the words"
synonyms: stammer, stutter, hesitate, falter, speak haltingly;

4.  find or encounter by chance.
"they stumbled across a farmer selling 25 acres"
synonyms: come across/upon, chance on, happen on, bump into, light on

Sometimes our stumbling leaves us scraped, as my recent impulse to climb up a down escalator generously confirmed to me.  Dear reader, I don't know exactly why, but the opportunity to go up the down escalator after exiting the subway at a Metro stop without the usual hordes of people pressing in from all sides was just too good to pass up.  Starting was a titch difficult and the ascent easy enough, but the dismount from that escalator was quite clumsy.  I lunged, lurched, stumbled, and biffed it, though thankfully off the the ever-moving track.  It was painful and I for the next week or so the band-aid on my knee seemed like such a childish accessory, bringing with it a wave of self-consciousness every time someone mentioned it.  But the experience also very much helped me laugh.  


Allow me to share with you another stumble, this one in the realm of speech.  As I was talking with a friend about her recent trip to the Big Apple, "Yew Nork" slipped out of my mouth.  That slick spoonerism caught me off guard and gave me such delight.  Dear reader, as though to compensate for the embarrassment they could cause, stumbles are often accompanied by laughter.  Or tears.  Or both.  Which I think is just right. 

Here is my favorite kind of stumbling, the kind I feel is magical, when we can be surprised by how circumstances align and present themselves for us.  Months ago, as I was driving late at night one weekend, I stumbled upon this song by Chris Thile and Edgar Myer after feeling like I ought to turn on the radio.  The beauty of this impressed me deeply.  It was such a gift, unexpectedly given and joyfully received, and that experience reminds me of the healing power of music.




This is one last stumbled upon.  Its a poem by one of my favorite poets, which I feel speaks eloquently about the art of stumbling while adjusting to a load.  Here's to practicing, and embracing the stumbles as we carry our weight.  

"Heavy" | Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hands in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent
and my laughter,
as the poet said, 

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it -
books, bricks, grief -
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled -
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply? 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Another One

This music.  Its astounding, expressing gentleness, sensitivity, and at the same time such resolute strength.  The whole trio is something to rejoice in, but this particular movement moves me every time.  I love it.


Friday, July 28, 2017

XXVI

I turned 26 years old today.  The skies poured out an abundance of gentle and constant rain, and watching it from the large windows of my office building brought a settled sense of acceptance.  I love how life giving rain is, the way it draws out the vibrancy of foliage, clears and cools the air, and refuses to be impeded by any sort of barrier, especially those that are manmade.  Today it fell softly, yet without any sort of hesitancy, falling from the sky with a marked sense of purpose to join into small rivers throughout the city.  Lightning burst a few times, brilliantly flashing, and reinforcing its boldness without reserve in resounding thunder.

And I feel this first day of a new age fits me right now.  Gray, dim, subdued, all over the place, wet, constant, with instances of astoundingly powerful intensity, potential, somewhat uncomfortable if you are ill prepared, unavoidable.  Its a good start.  This birthday has been extremely minimal--no candles, no confections, no wrapping paper, no balloons--and the starkness of it has given me a lot of clarity and helped me think.  My life is so different from what I envisioned.  Ever.  Who I am is so different than who I thought I would become.  It is beautiful, the depth of it all, and I'm not sure what will happen next, but rain is restorative.  And this stage of my life is too.  Somehow.



I'm with Gerard Manley Hopkins.  SEND MY ROOTS RAIN.  Let these roots, these delicate yet resilient united fibers thirsting for nourishment, receive rain.  Let them find what they need and send those sustaining elements up through the rest of me to reorganize themselves into branches, shoots, leaves, buds, blossoms.  But before all of that can happen, send my roots rain.


'Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend'

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen 
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c. 
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend 
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just. 
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must 
Disappointment all I endeavour end? 
    Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend, 
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost 
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust 
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend, 
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes 
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again 
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes 
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain, 
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes. 
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nailed It

Today I heard a colleague mention the following letter from John Steinbeck to his son, Thom, about love and hungrily searched for it on Google.  He nailed it.  I haven't read too much of this man, but the more I read him, the more I am apt to agree with him, so there very well may be more from Steinbeck coming up.  Until then, please, rejoice in this letter with me.  You can find a helpful background description with more context here.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First -- if you are in love -- that's a good thing -- that's about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don't let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second -- There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you -- of kindness and consideration and respect -- not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply -- of course it isn't puppy love.

But I don't think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it -- and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone -- there is no possible harm in saying so -- only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another -- but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I'm glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don't worry about losing. If it is right, it happens -- The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,
Fa

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Unexpected

My mind is a little all over the place these days, overwhelmed with decisions, doubts, and influences that I use to process those decisions and doubts including God's word; classical music, often of the melancholy variety; lyrics from Bruno Mars, Jack Johnson, the Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek, Guster, Ben Folds, Sondre Lerche, and others; poetry; Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison; this video; and some films.  You know the phrase "My head is swimming with thoughts"?  I feel kind of like that, except swimming implies that you are headed somewhere, that there is some direction and movement.  And I am NOT getting anywhere.  Maybe my head is treading water, that wonderfully exhausting exercise that leaves you spluttering and gasping...and in the exact same place the whole time.  Yeah, maybe that.    

Dear reader, I recently saw Wonder Woman and I'd like to tell you what I think about it, and share with you what reflections it spurred in me.  Its good, though it took me a while to come to that conclusion.  After hearing so many people that I respected sing its praises, my great uncle Craig and I decided on a whim to go and see the movie.  



To be honest, for about 3/4 of the film, I really disliked it.  Surprisingly and deeply disliked it.  It could be that I expected too much but when confronted with a somewhat slow moving beginning, characters who I didn't particularly connect with, and people treating one another poorly, I found myself upset, almost to the point of being livid.  Rage seems like a pretty strong description, but sitting in a cushy seat watching people make enemies of one another and act on that through war, I wrestled with some considerable indignation at the least.  Fist clenching, jaw tightening, brow furrowing, uncomfortable stomach knotting--you get the idea.  

That being said, the last few scenes unexpectedly reconciled it for me.  As Wonder Woman battles with her long-sought nemesis, Ares, she encounters some intense personal struggle, which he uses to try and dissuade her from her quest of ridding the world of him and delivering mankind from war.  His words could daunt anyone from believing in the goodness of humans, and he has specific examples of how they act in self-interest, with malicious intent, and cause pain as a result.  I loved Diana's response "They're everything you say, but so much more."  She does not discount the darkness and weakness in humanity; she acknowledges it, but also firmly holds to her belief that there is more to people than the bad in them.  

I appreciated that.  So often I feel that we look for people to be black and white, wholly depraved and beyond all hope of doing anything virtuous OR infallible and supremely good.  This expectation is unrealistic.  It limits our ability to connect with others because it denies the complexity of each individual.  We each are a blend of bad and good, weakness and strength, villain and hero.  I like how Lemony Snicket puts it "People aren't either wicked or noble.  They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict."  I think that vinaigrette has a lot more than confusion and conflict to it, and I don't believe that we are salads to be compared with one another or consumed by anyone, but I do think that we are all a little mixed up with good and bad.  Sorting through that is a challenge, and we all struggle with it in ourselves and in those with whom we interact.   

So what?  What do we do?  You know, I'm still working on that one.  I think that acknowledging the good and bad in us is a start, and then being patient with that matters.  I also feel that Wonder Woman and her spy friend Steve have a good idea in stating "Its not about what you deserve.  Its about what you believe."  What you believe dictates how you act, and believing that people are more than the bad inside them can help us to be patient, generous, kind, forgiving, and a host of other qualities that facilitate connection between people and true beauty in this mortal world.  

I recently saw another film where characters were not so black and white and accepted themselves and one another as they were.  I'm not going to launch into another movie review, but allow me to share with you one scene from Howl's Moving Castle where accepting another person for who they are and believing in them with all their flaws made all the difference.  Here, the heroine Sophie defends Howl--the namesake of the castle--to a character bent on seeing one side of him, the heartless, dangerous side.  In response, Sophie radiates with courage, strength, and love, saying "He may be selfish and cowardly and sometimes he's hard to understand, but his intentions are good! He just wants to be free!

I think one reason this stuck out to me so beautifully is that I believe that we all want to be free.  There is good and bad inside each one of us, light and darkness, strength and weakness, all woven together in our being.  We wrestle with our lowest and worst parts, feeling that they need to be gone in order rise to the highest and best that is in us.  However, I am learning that it is not strictly the removal of bad that makes the difference, because that which we lack is made sufficient through Jesus Christ.  We can trust that.  I feel that God sees us, with all of our mixed pieces, and accepts it.  He knows what is in us and what is in our hearts; He even gives us or has us remain with weakness!  Paul and Moroni give us excellent descriptions of their struggles with weakness in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and Ether 12:23-28, respectively.  God accepts that we are without qualification, inviting us to come as we are, rather than depart from him (see 2 Nephi 26:23-33).   

Acceptance, both from ourselves and from others, facilitates freedom and is a huge part of love.  It is uncomfortable, in part because we assume that people will draw back, recoil, and leave us when they see us as we are.  We wonder whether or not we will really be enough as we truly are and not as we wish we were.  It is a HUGE risk to be seen this way, a risk that we hesitate to take because we expect it will lead to abandonment.  We often think that is what we deserve, and grimace whenever we let that part of us be known.  'Words Fail' from the the recent musical Dear Evan Hansen movingly demonstrates this fairly universal fear of rejection if we let ourselves be seen.  "I'd rather pretend I'm something better than these broken parts, Pretend I'm something other than this mess I am, 'Cause then I don't have to look at it, And no one gets to look at it, No, no on can really see...'cause what if everyone saw?  What if everyone knew?  Would they like what they saw?  Or would they hate it too?"  We so often hate the worst part of ourselves, wanting to run away from it, reject it, and have it be gone from us.  We feel such is the best course, denying the badness that is there by ignoring it or running away from it will allow us to escape the rejection that will surely come is we were to allow others to see and to know.  Surely, the rejection is what we deserve.  

Yet love enables us to move beyond what is deserved.  Wendell Berry shares that "love changes, and in change is true...the Christian gospel is a summons to peace, calling for justice beyond anger, mercy beyond justice, forgiveness beyond mercy, love beyond forgiveness."  I'm inclined to agree with him.  Christ calls us to go beyond what is expected or deserved or even beyond what is good to what is better and eventually best.  I often do not get this process; my brain balks at it, seizing up with an error message because the logic doesn't match up.  Robert Frost writes "Christ came to introduce a break with logic...'twas lovely and its origin was love."  With this logic-defying love Christ offers in mind, President Nelson's observations on the word for atonement in Hebrew and related words in Aramaic and Arabic that point us to the idea of an embrace make so much sense.  He is ready to embrace us, at every and any point, no matter how awkward or hesitant we may be.  Through who He is and the atonement He accomplished, He embraces us, unites with us, to always be with us, to give us peace that can be ours in every circumstance--because He loves us.  He just does.    



Such love changes us.  Accepting such love changes us and then seeking to reflect it deepens that change.  It goes beyond what we know and what makes sense.  I think that is one reason why the prophets emphasize love so much, stating that without it we are nothing (see 1 Corinthians 13, Moroni 7, or Thomas S. Monson's words).  I love what Marilynne Robinson has to say about love in her novel, Gilead.  She writes that "Love is holy because it is like grace--the worthiness of its object is never really what matters...there is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse of a parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality.  It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal.  So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?"  Love, this "embracing, incomprehensible reality" often does not make sense to us, at least it doesn't to me.  It is generously given, even if it goes unreceived.  It is constant.  It is unwavering.  It is not deserved, earned, added to or taken away from us.  As President Monson says of God's love (which I believe is the truest love) "It is simply always there."  

I think such honest and true love is the love Sophie expressed in the aforementioned scene, the love that Diana chooses in her moment of testing, the love that Jesus Christ offers each of us, the love that we yearn for, and the love that I am trying to develop in myself.  Love, my friend.  It is powerful.  It is perfect.  As an imperfect being, I stumble and clumsily trip and fall as I practice this divine characteristic, but miraculously, even my being a klutz does not take away from the wholeness or completeness of love. 



Mkay, I think that is more than enough time spent treading water in my brain.  You have been patient, dear reader, and I thank you.  Maybe the exertion will produce something good, even if it is not movement in the water.  I hope it will, somehow.