Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon: High School Years Part 1

The Valley of the Moon is a blessed place, and as children growing up there in the 1970’s & 1980’s, we too were blessed. This area is also known as the Redwood Empire, and the renowned horticulturalist Luther Burbank, one of its most eminent residents, once called it: “…the chosen spot in all the world, as far as nature is concerned.”

As students of Santa Rosa High School we certainly felt chosen; fortunate to attend such a beautiful campus, and proud to be Panthers. With its Collegiate Gothic architecture and its mature London Plane trees lining its courtyards and walkways, this wonderful school, our home away from home, infused us with a quiet nobility that often went unnoticed by us, but nonetheless permeated our lives.

We were just a bunch of wild kids after all, so how noble could we be? Yes, there were the inevitable ignoble beer parties, and the lewd jokes and behaviors of a typical teenage society; but the nobility which I mean, and that which guided us all, was an overall good-natured bonhomie. In general, we all liked each other, encouraged each other, and accepted each other.

We had punks, and we had preppies, there were stoners, cheerleaders, jocks, theater people, dead-heads, metal-heads, computer geeks, band kids, and an innumerable host of other –ists and –isms that I never knew the names of, and yet, as far as I can remember, everyone got along together; there was room enough for everyone to be themselves on our beautiful campus.

We weren’t perfect people, don’t get me wrong. We still fought, and bickered, we ridiculed, and made fun of one another, like normal human children do, but even in the midst of our human nature, we enjoyed a climate of friendship. And it is on this point, friendship, which I would like to begin my tale; it is upon our friendships that we staked our young lives, and it was our friendships which could either fill our sails and carry us to distant shores, or could cause us shipwreck and destruction.  

There might be a million stories I could tell about the friendships at Santa Rosa High; and if there is time I may someday tell them all. But every journey needs to start someplace, so I’ll begin by telling a story of my friendship with Randy Jaynes. For many years we were so close that it was rare and unusual to hear someone mention one name without the other; they would say, “Kirk and Randy this…or Randy and Kirk that….”

We first met years earlier, on the first day of seventh grade, when he saw me jumping over a trash can in the drama room, as I simultaneously attempted to ram my head up into the ceiling. Why was I attempting this? Because the ceiling in this room was unusually low, so it seemed possible to do, so it was worth trying; and because I was twelve-years old. I had a lot of excess energy, and was looking for a funny and unusual way to expel it. He felt the same, and approved of my method; and so we bonded together as dear friends, then and there, as we jumped forwards and then backwards over that trashcan, unable to quite reach the ceiling tiles with our craniums, but joyfully exhausting ourselves as we gave it our best attempts.

We both always enjoyed a good laugh, and needed the unusual and unexpected to keep us entertained and interested in life; so we were good for each other, since neither of us were afraid to try something new, or to do something slightly unusual. On occasion we provoked one another to feats of valor, but short of that, we encouraged one another, at the very least, to feats of the sublimely ridiculous; and we always had a lot of fun in the process!

By tenth grade we understood the power of a dramatic spectacle, and how entertainment might be leveraged for political power. So we decided to run for class president and vice-president. Class offices were elected independently, but we made ours a ticket, marketing everything as a package deal; a team of Randy and Kirk. Was there any substance to our ticket; did we have any positions or specific goals for running? Of course not! We were running on style over substance; the bigger the spectacle, the better our chances of winning. And we applied the same strategy two years later when we ran again, this time for student body commissioners of spirit and rallies.

We decided that our campaigns didn’t need to make sense, they just needed to be memorable. If they could excite, and entertain, we had a shot. We made hall signs, written in Indonesian announcing: “Pisang!” So vote for Kirk and Randy!” Which translated means, “Banana!” The signs were colorful, had an exotic word on them, and had the potential to tip the balance of the election by appealing to the small contingent of Southeast Asians at our school. They made little sense, had nothing to do with being a class president or vice-president, but they got people talking.

And we made numerous necklaces out of cardboard for students to wear, with lots of catchy phrases such as, “Let us fingerpaint your bazoongas with spirit!” These were made in the shape of a particular aspect of the female anatomy. Was it tasteless? Probably. Was it effective? Yes, particularly with an important demographic which comprised a large portion of the electorate: teenage boys.

But the real key to our successful campaigns were the day that the candidates made their speeches, and presented their cases for election. In tenth grade the speeches were held on the outdoor stage, where each student had about five minutes to stand up in front of the student body and state their case. There were good speeches, boring speeches, some spoken in monotone and others with great emotion; but we decided instead of giving a speech, we should give a show!

We attempted to get two limousines to drive us up to the stage, but were unable to procure any. Instead, our friend Pat Dengler, his father owned two very long, four-door Cadillacs. We attached flags onto the front fenders, to look presidential, and these vehicles worked nearly as well. We approached the stage seated in the back seat of the second Cadillac, with the first Cadillac acting as our escort; with both horns blaring. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get up to the stage from the parking area so we had to be let out, and then walk around to the stage.

I’ve heard it said that it’s a good idea to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. So Randy and I dressed in suits. And though it has been decades, perhaps centuries, since elected officials have worn top-hats; Randy and I both donned a fine black top-hat each, and carried matching black canes with pretty white tips. Very elegant! As we made our way up onto the stage we had an army of helpers throwing confetti, letting balloons loose into the air and running this way and that across the stage, carrying signs proclaiming us for President and Vice-President. Triumphant and presidential music played from the speakers throughout the spectacle; and we stood still and silent, with an air of quiet confidence, in the middle of the stage while the pandemonium took place all around us, like a wild party, and a tempest of excitement. And when our time was up, we bowed, smiled broadly, and walked off the stage. I don’t believe we said a single word ourselves during our allotted five minutes; we rather decided to test the old adage that actions speak louder than words.

It was very good to have a friend like Randy; we filled each other’s sails, and encouraged each other to reach farther than we might have otherwise, had we been journeying alone. We understood each other, which is a rare and blessed gift; and we both thoroughly understood the value and importance of having a good top-hat and cane, which is even rarer still in today’s world.


Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon: Part 5

Wendi and I raced numerous times over the years, and the results always ended the same; but I never gave up! Year after year of determined futility spurred me onward, and though I couldn’t ever catch her, my admiration for her grew, and in a sense she caught me. The image of her long straight hair dancing behind her as she ran, fluttering and flowing like a Jetstream as she left me in her wake, flustered me and mocked my efforts but also galvanized me to continue to try. I will admit, the thought occasionally occurred to me, the idea tantalized me, to just reach out and grab that hair of hers, just this once, and give it a little tug, to give myself a chance. But of course, I never did that; one cannot touch the hair of a goddess and live.

Wendi gained an almost mythical stature within my family as I described her to my parents and siblings. Someone of us christened her ‘Windy’ because she ran like the wind, and for years later, even into adulthood, I recall a sister, or my mother asking me “whatever happened to ‘Windy’?”

My friends and I played a lot of nerf football in those days; that squishy multi-colored football was the perfect size for third-and-fourth-grader-sized-hands to throw great distances. And the rush gave the playground quarterback ten whole alligators to find his target. Everyone wanted to either throw it or catch it, and fortunately since I could run, I often got the call to run deep and catch a long-bomb. Touchdown! It was always so satisfying to blaze past the defense and receive that football at the end of the asphalt and score! I was given the nickname, ‘Greased Lighting’ by my friends, deriving from the movie Grease which hit the theaters that year.

Feeling pretty great about myself, I challenged Wendy to another rematch. Who knows what number rematch this was; but did it really matter? We were older now, and we ran on the track now, which made some difference, but not to the outcome. I lost again. But she was gracious as always and made losing almost a pleasure. Her smile always warmed my heart, and I never really cared that I lost to her, which was surprising because I was very competitive and hated to lose.

In fourth grade we officially could play on the other side of the backstop; the dividing line between the little kids and the big kids playgrounds. It wasn’t that we had never gone to the west side, the other side, before, but it just wasn’t done all that often. At least not by me. And it wasn’t long before I learned of new dangers over there that I hadn’t considered before. I had never been in a fight before, never really had much of any confrontation so I was nonplused and confused when I learned from quite a few of my friends that there was a kid, a sixth-grader, who wanted to kill me. They assured me that I was definitely going to be beaten up by him, and I would probably die, because he was just that tough.

Who in the heck was John Caven?! I had never heard of him or seen him before. And why didn’t he like me? How did he even know who I was?! I couldn’t understand any of this but I knew my situation was dire, and I needed a plan. First, I should find out who he was. And when I first saw him, I agreed that he was as advertised; he looked pretty tough and scary. Who wears black leather jackets in sixth grade?! With metal studs and chains on the shoulders he looked very intimidating; and with his feathered hair he also looked very cool. I was impressed, and realized I was doomed.

But I could run. I couldn’t fight, but I had two legs and they could carry me along pretty well; and I intended to use them. One morning recess, not long after the initial threats to my life made circulation around the school, my assailant finally came after me. He just walked slowly towards me, and I believe the kids on the playground parted like the red sea, giving him free access to me. Everything was in slow motion then, he was in no hurry to murder me, he just came at me relentlessly and I stood there frozen, incredulously, until something clicked and I turned and ran. It was as simple as that, he didn’t chase me, he let me go and I ran out across the playfield until I turned to see that he had gone away and I was safe. He never bothered me again, but it occurred to me that while I was running terrified across the field, as I was saving my life, I wished I could also have been racing Wendy; that it would have been an excellent time to have been simultaneously racing her because I was pretty sure I could have beaten her that time.

It was the following year, in fifth grade, when I least expected it, during a standard rematch, as I fully expected to be creamed yet again, that the unimaginable happened. I was feeling pretty good that day, it was nearing the end of the year, and the annual inter-school track meet was coming up. I was at the top of my game. Earlier in the morning I had been running the track, pacing myself against some youngsters. We were running the curve, which is always my favorite part of the track to run. Something about leaning into the curve adds a little bit more exhilaration, and somehow gives one the impression they are going faster.

Wendy was out on the track too, running as she always did; like a human-gazelle, almost magically in flight as she went. But I was ready for her this time. I challenged her to a race and as I recall we started at the far western end of the track, just behind the backstop and we only ran fifty yards, to the little white post which marked the middle of the straightaway. The race was wonderful, as all our races were, she glided beside me, her hair lifting into the air and streaming behind her as we went. I turned and could see she was smiling, but also very determined as she always was, she was fierce but at ease simultaneously, focused as she ran but effortless at the same time. For me, she was a miracle as she ran. I on the other hand, hunched over and dug in, and grunted it out like a beast, pounding the earth and scraping along as hard as I could, trying to gain an advantage. And for the first time in three, almost four years, when we passed the finish line I was ahead! I finally won!

It was a strange feeling to win that race. Like most of our races, I don’t believe there were any witnesses; we raced incognito, with no fanfare, and little consequence. But like all of our races the world around us vanished for a short moment, while we shared the joy and freedom of running; we ran for the fun of it, and we ran joyfully! Though I felt it was a great accomplishment to win that race and I felt satisfaction having done so; strangely, it also didn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would. Wendy was gracious, and I believe she held out her hand to shake mine, and she congratulated me. Though I’m not sure if she realized that it was the first time I had ever beaten her; it didn’t appear to bother her in any way, she just took it in stride. I don’t recall ever racing her again after that. Perhaps we did, although I suspect I decided to stop while I was ahead—ever so briefly ahead.


The Beautiful (An Inner Thanksgiving Journey)

Each day I walk from here to there, and back again; and as I go, I walk through meadows overgrown with thistles, or nettles, or some-such prickly things, and pass by walls covered with masses of thorny vines, which also hang in abundance from the trees, and reach down as if grabbing for me, yearning to hold me in their arms, as I walk beneath them. Wild little creatures populate their foliage, dropping things, or throwing them at me, as they scurry about in the half-dark, amidst thickets of the scrubby, twiggy trees which are ubiquitous here, and hide the sun, I imagine, somewhere up above.

Occasionally I stumble on one of these cast-offs thrown into my path. Now and then, falling to the ground, I let out a curse, before I’m quite able to stop myself. I’ve even gotten myself stuck in the mud, stumbling over these things, as I make my journey here and there.

But the strangest thing began to happen a while back, and this is what I’d like to share with you. It began, I think, when I read somewhere in the Bible, probably Galatians, that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and I decided that I wanted these things. I considered for some time how I might get them, when it occurred to me that first I needed to make some room for them.

I already had fruits of a worse spirit within me, things such as anger and lust, self-righteousness and criticism; things which clogged me up so to speak, and backed me up, so that there was no space inside for the better fruits. What I really needed was a spiritual enema, if you will pardon the expression, and so I prayed for this, as I made my resolution to stop feeding myself these bitter fruits, which had given me so much internal strife and discomfort.

Thankfully, with God’s help, I began the long process of starving the bad fruits within me, in hopes they would shrivel and fall off the vine, and make room for the better ones.

One day, as I walked, it happened that I saw a beautiful woman. This in itself should not be a problem, but sometimes my thoughts wander at times like these, in ways that aren’t right, and sometimes I follow these thoughts. In fact, this is exactly how I’ve gotten myself stuck in the past, as I crane my neck to look at her, for a moment too long, and lose my way, and fall into a sticky, sickly-sweet slime. This particular day however, I didn’t follow these thoughts, but let them go on alone. I suppose they ended up, these thoughts, neck deep in the mud, but who cares. Instead, I directed my attention to God Himself, and I focused my thoughts, and my rising desire away from her, and towards Him. As I did this, the muddy, murky, slimy puddle I had begun to thrust myself into, transformed into a clear and sun-drenched pond, with waters still and sublime. What a refreshing change, let me tell you; and I felt no shame wading into these waters, believe me.

I’ve also had the habit of carrying around with me a bad attitude consisting of criticism of things, people, life, existence itself; and to this I’ve added a large measure of irritation and frustration which I have dispersed freely in all directions, without control. Almost gleefully, sometimes, I’ve spread these seeds, like a demented ‘Johnny Appleseed’ throwing criticism to the wind by the handful, and tossing complaints in every direction. What is surprising however, is the way that these seeds have taken root, and grown up into large thickets of ugliness, casting shadows over my world, and thrusting all that I see into a dim and ghastly pallor.  Yet, when first I stopped my tongue, and shut my mouth, behold, the world grew a little brighter.

Then, as I resisted these ticklish thoughts, and when I turned away from the giddiness that wraps these rancorous candies—replacing them with gratitude and humility instead, with words and thoughts of thankfulness—the ubiquitous, sorrowful forests came alive within me with a renewed vigor, and my world brightened tremendously. Light filtered down through the canopy of my previously twisted forest, and touched me with a softer warmth which filled me. And I must tell you, this helped me find my way.

In the rising light I found it much easier to avoid the projectiles and traps thrust into my path by those myriad strange little creatures overhead. In fact, many of them must be night creatures I surmised, because there were far fewer now above me, in the gathering light.

There are times, far too many really, when the thorny vines that reach out to grab me, as I walk about, find me an easy prey. So as I lash out at others in anger, I find myself encircled and constricted by their seductive, deadly grasp. They hug me and hold me close, at times like these, with the love of an asp, and with the tenacity of a boa. I can feel the blood rise into my face and my chest tighten and my pulse increase; and as I strain in my aggression, I can feel these vines tightening, attempting to strangle the life out of me.

But recently I discovered a better use for my anger, perhaps the only really good use for it that exists. I decided to divert it away from the people in my life and instead, turn it exclusively upon myself, or rather entirely upon those bad fruits within me that I was mentioning earlier to you. I gave them no rest, but in my anger I harassed them, and attacked them, and drove them out. And the results were threefold: first, there was no lingering aftertaste of shame from my angry activities, whereas before, whenever I directed my anger outward towards others, I invariably, and inevitably felt remorse afterwards, but in this case I felt an empowerment, and a nobility, rise up within me after driving away these little monsters within; and second, my anger acted like a machete or a potent herbicide which made those thorny vines retreat, and in their absence I felt a wave of peace, and I could breathe again; and third, these vines began to bloom.

They bloomed tremendously and with a fragrance sweet and joyful. For long periods I would just stand beneath these flower-laden vines, where they twined amongst the trees, and I would lift my head and inhale deeply to smell their floral sweetness; and where they rambled across the little walls, beneath the sun-drenched sky, I would bend over and bury my face deep within their jasmine and honeysuckle beauty, and forget all trace of irritation.

By now, I was enjoying going here and there much more than I had before, because my world was becoming more beautiful than it had been before. But there was still the problem of the nettles everywhere I went. These prickly things hedged me in on every side and limited my freedom and mobility. How to get rid of them?

One day—as I gingerly picked my way around them, taking great care not to disturb them, so as not to get stung—I was startled by a sudden, loud sound of applause. Actually, it was only thunder, as the clouds were rolling in, but to my foolish heart I imagined it as applause. I turned to my left, and to my right, in search of my admirers, and in my delirium I imagined the sea of nettles around me were crowds of people, watching me in rapt attention, waiting breathlessly to experience what monumental thing I might say, or do next. Oh, how glorious I was, standing there above my people, the prince of the thistles, the star among the weeds. And as I felt the familiar rush of that deceptive fame rising within me, I felt dizzy with anticipation, hoping that I might be important, and in this ridiculous reverie I fainted, and fell upon my face.

When I awoke, a moment later, my body was stinging all over, and my eyes were watering, I assume from having landed in a patch of nettles. I rubbed my eyes to stop the flow of tears, but couldn’t. I tried to lift myself back onto my feet, but felt so weary. Instead, I lay there beneath the nettles and gave up. I needed a break, although whether I needed it or not, I had lost the will to continue picking my way around these obnoxious weeds.

I glanced around at the world beneath the nettles, as I continued lying on the ground. This world was dust, and emptiness, as a result of the weed cover above, which had choked out most other vegetation underneath. Even so, I saw a small flower here, and a patch of grass there, and these gave me hope. As I spent more time here, so close to the dirt, I grew more comfortable with my surroundings, and became grateful for the simplicity of this humble world. Upon closer inspection it wasn’t so empty after all; in fact, it was teeming with life—little mosses growing in the shadow of rocks, seeds of this and that beginning to push up through the soil, ants doing what ants do—so much life, all interconnected and beautiful, working together so naturally.

I considered how fortunate I was to have been brought down to this place, brought into intimacy with creation, and shown a different perspective. I looked up at the sky above me, at the sunlight filtering down through the nettles, and felt relief, because it was far less troublesome for me now, as I began looking up at the world around me, rather than looking down at it, as I had become accustomed to doing.  

Eventually, I returned to my feet, but resolved to remember the lesson of laying in the nettles. Since that time, when I am tempted to think of myself too highly, or of others too lowly, I remember the humility of the world I met beneath the weeds, and this motivates me to resist playing along with my delusions.

As I continued to resist pride, and vanity, and all of the other prickly things which alienate me from the world, the masses of nettles which had previously hedged me in, began to dry up and wilt away; and in time, the meadows opened up to me, released from the tyranny of the thistles. I ran freely across large open spaces, filled with grasses and wildflowers; and I began walking more intimately with others, without the fear of stinging them, or of being stung by them.

Today, as I walked here and there, I stopped for a while to rest beside a pond. Its clear waters revealed their depths to me, and in its glassy reflection, I saw the clouds passing overhead. Sunshine filled this place, and only the passing hours changed the intensity and color of the light. As the sun descended in the sky, the light around me turned from brilliant to golden, and warmed the trees across the pond—a muted incandescent.

My thoughts had wandered to things from my past as I sat here, and as I pondered these things, I suddenly awoke to the realization that these thoughts were clouding my vision of the present. Quite literally, these musings about the past were acting like a thin veil over my eyes, or putting it another way, they gave the air around me an unnatural heaviness, as if it were a little too thick. When I put away these thoughts of the past, and simply experienced the current moment—witnessing the golden light as it reflected upon the tree trunk in front of me—it was as if suddenly a layer were removed within the air, so that it became clearer, and the world around me appeared closer, and more intimate to my senses. This startled me, but I enjoyed it—the vibrant clarity of the present moment.

Soon after this, my mind began wandering again, this time to plans I was making for the future. The excitement and anticipation of coming events gave me a little thrill, which I reveled in for a moment, until I suddenly awoke again to the realization that these thoughts as well, were obscuring my vision of the present, and diminishing my perception of the beauty of the world around me.  My thought life had a real and ontological effect on my physical vision, and diminished my experience of the world. I experimented with this phenomena several times, purposefully thinking about the past; and observed, as the nearly imperceptible veil returned to cloud my sight. Then, as I put these thoughts of the past out of my mind, I could see the veil lift again.

Now that the twin veils of past and future thoughts had been removed, I experienced the world around me with greater clarity, and as I watched the sunlight moving gently through the trees, I understood that God is present. But soon thereafter, as the mind is prone to do, thoughts of other times, and places, crept back in unnoticed, and clouded my vision of the beautiful. I felt these thoughts carry me out of the moment, out of my true life once again, and I followed them, seduced and enthralled by their promises.

Such is the back and forth journey of the spiritual life, but may God’s grace guide and awaken us—filling us with gratitude for every step along the way. The Beautiful is available to us all. May we discover it, as we journey from here to there; and may we dwell therein, eternally.


Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon: Part 4

Recess! That most important time in every school day; fifteen hallowed minutes arriving mid-morning, and another half-hour or so after lunch, depending on how quickly you could scarf down your food and run out to the playground. How was it possible that we could pack so much living into such a short period of time?! It’s a mystery to me now, looking back upon it from an adult’s perspective, but it was magic when we were children, and somehow time stood still during recess—or it elongated remarkably—allowing us to do amazing feats between the bell’s resounding calls; the first, ringing out a declaration of freedom, as we all fled wildly, half-crazed from our classrooms, and the second, sounding out mournfully, calling us regrettably back to our desks once again.

But, oh! How much we could accomplish between the freedom of the bells. Yes! We painted our masterpieces each day upon the fresh canvas that was our playground. Each moment painted in broad brushstrokes; joy and freedom lived out in our many unique ways, sometimes harmoniously together, and sometimes infringing upon one another. In the classroom we learned how to read, and how to count; but on the playground we learned how to live.

I found joy and freedom in running; and I could run fast. To run is a thrill, from the first jolt of adrenaline when one kicks it into gear and takes off, to the feeling of the wind hitting one’s face, the sound and bounce of your feet as they hit the ground, repeatedly, carrying you quickly across the earth, as one’s surroundings turn to a blurr, and one’s vision focuses acutely, every sight and sound funneling around, then coiling into an intense cone of perception just before you; and you run constantly forward, and into that cone, pushing, pounding, with your lungs exploding, filling with oxygen, until you feel like you might explode for joy, and you can’t help but smile as the world rushes past you, and you leave the world behind. This is running, and I loved to run.

None of my friends at Sequoia Elementary could run as fast as I could run. In fact, I don’t think anyone in the entire school could run faster; with the exception of Wendi. I was fast but, she was faster. I believe it was in second grade, more or less, when we first raced. It was an impromptu competition; and if I remember correctly, she challenged me. The challenge came one day, through her committee; two girls in my class trash talking about how their friend, Wendi, could beat me in a race. I had seen her run, and I knew she was quick, but I was pretty sure I could win, so I accepted the challenge. The next day, during morning recess we met near the northeast corner of the school, just east of Mrs. Dunkleberger’s classroom, in the dodge-ball circle. We’d run to the southeast, in a straight-line, across the asphalt playground, past the portables, and into the weeds, finishing at the old railroad ties which encircled a small play-set just east of the kindergarten classroom; it was a distance of about fifty yards or so.

There was little fanfare about this foot-race, all around us other kids were playing. Girls hung upside-down from the monkey bars, oblivious to our intentions. Kids played ball, chased one another, and made the most of their recess time in a variety of different ways; and only the two trash-talkers, Wendi and I stood preparing for our event. Wendi was an elegant runner, she was smooth and flowed gracefully when she ran. I didn’t underestimate her abilities, but still I was confident in my own. It was a simple start to the race, one of the girls yelled ‘Go’ and we took off towards the old railroad ties. It was close for a while, we ran side-by side, but by about half-way she began to pull away from me. I was surprised to see her gain a step, then two and then three, and then finally, all I could really see was her long hair trailing behind her, as she left me in the dust.

When I reached the railroad ties she had already been there for a brief time, and she turned smiling at me as I arrived. But it wasn’t the smile of victory or of gloating; it was the smile of joy and freedom. I could see in her face right then that she also knew and understood the powerful joy of running. I’m sure she was also happy to beat me, but it appeared to me that she was even happier just to have ran, and to have competed with me.

A few moments later her two friends arrived, taunting me for having lost. But I didn’t really care about that; I was far too captivated by this amazing runner, her speed and the manner in which she ran. I reflected then, as I still do today, upon her running and it made me smile. It was almost as if she had been gliding or floating across the ground as she ran. Even though I has lost, I really enjoyed racing against her. And even though she had beaten me this time, I was sure that I could beat her the next. So I challenged her to a rematch; which she happily accepted, with her broad grin, perhaps knowing that she could beat me the next time too, but possibly just smiling at another opportunity to run free again.


Healing Our Divisions

So, for a long while I was thinking that I was alone in feeling sad about the divisions in our world, and in our church. I didn’t realize that it was also preoccupying other people’s minds and hearts as well, until I overheard a number of people make various comments about the protocols related to the virus, and about masks, and this sort of thing and that was when I realized that these things must be on everyone’s mind, or at least many people’s, more than I had thought, and this must be a major issue and something that we all could address together, to hopefully help solve together, and heal any divisions we have, to help heal our world.


So we all know we live in an age of divisiveness, in a world that is divided. And I think it is helpful to remember who is behind this division; it is the work of devils and demons, those in opposition to God. On the other hand God is one and undivided, and He calls us to be one in Him. Keeping this in mind, we can ask ourselves constantly, ‘who am I serving now?’ When we are about to send that angry text or email, or say that nasty thing about someone, we need to question ourselves constantly. “Which is more important now, to vent my anger, or to be an instrument for God’s will? Do I want my words and actions to add to the divisions here, or can I try to make them healing words, and actions that help bind up the wounds of others?”

There is so much that goes into being able to do this though, isn’t there? It means cultivating peace inside ourselves, praying for others, developing the discernment to know what may be helpful. In an age of division, such as the one we are currently living in, mistrust can rule the day. We hurt each other and then we lose trust in each other, and this leads to further divisiveness. And then our arguments give us no satisfaction; nobody changes their point of view, they just dig in deeper and fight for their position more vehemently. Can we set aside the argumentation, and focus instead on rebuilding trust? Can we lay ourselves down in the heat of the moment, and give ourselves to the other in some small way, so that they can begin to trust us again, and we can begin to trust them? It all can be very difficult. But I think some of the things I can share now from our Orthodox tradition, will be helpful in cultivating this ability in us.


First though, there are two psychological terms that are used to describe the manner in which we interact with one another, or the levels that are occurring as we communicate with each other. The terms to describe this are ‘content’ and ‘process’. The terms themselves don’t really matter, but what they expose about the way we communicate with one another is important. The content level is the level we mostly pay attention to; it is the level which includes the topic of conversation, the details, the facts, our assumptions and conclusions, and the data we use to reason etc. This is the level where we focus our disagreements, and where we fight it out with each other. But there are other levels occurring simultaneously, and these are just as important, or really more important, when it comes to learning how to achieve harmony, or unity between us. The ‘process’ level of communication is how we are feeling, and how we are experiencing life, and experiencing each other; this includes ours and other people’s emotional reactions to the content, our motives, our desires; and these things can be very powerful, especially around topics that are very important to us, that we are passionate about.

I believe that it is the ‘process’ level where we can make the most impact towards unity of mind, and I think this is where Christ intends us to focus in order to achieve oneness of mind and spirit. This level points to what is essential about who we are as human-beings, I believe, and that we aren’t simply what we think, or the opinions that we hold, but we are much more than that, and those we disagree with also are much more than their opinions or their thoughts about ‘content’. As Christ and the Church teach us, we are all made in the image and likeness of God, this is the reality that can help bind us together as one. We need to remember this truth at all times; though we are all uniquely different people, with different ideas and views about things, more importantly we are unified by Christ and through Him, and because of the fact that we are made in His image and likeness; we share that common bond.


So there are quite a few verses in the Bible about being of one mind and unified, but I’d like to just share this one from 1 Peter 3:8-9.

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

I’d like to keep coming back to this verse again and again because there is so much in it that points to how we can work towards Unity within the Church. First of all, we are told to be of one mind here. The Greek word of interest is Homothumadon, or homo; unison, oneness + thumadon; temperament, emotion of mind. So we are told to have oneness of temperament, or unison of emotion towards one another.

There is a lot that could be said about this, but I would like to focus in on a couple points that Dr Jean-Claude Larchet discusses in his books, The Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses. He is a patristic scholar who has studied extensively the teachings of the ascetic tradition of the Orthodox Church and in these books his describes the healing of man’s fallen nature. In this fallen world of division, we have all learned to turn our emotions and temperaments against each other. But the Church teaches that one of the primary powers of the human soul is this aggressive power, or themos in Greek, the root of thumadon. So we use our aggression, our emotion, our anger against each other, but God calls on us to use it in a different way. He made themos for us, for our good and the good of others, and it was placed in us to fight against anything that would cause us to sin, and to fight against temptations. Rather than fighting against one another, we need to learn to use our aggressive power to fight together, against division and against divisiveness. In other words, we need to fight for the manifestation of love between us, and against the very things within us that make us angry at one another. Dr Larchet explains that the faculties which God gave us, such as themos, are all good, but we need to learn to use them for good again; we need to turn away from using these powers in a sinful way, and turn towards using them properly again, in a loving way. I think we need to take that more seriously as we interact with one another. The Church recommends acts of charity, and practicing humility, gentleness and compassion as ways to help us achieve this.


So, returning to the verse from 1 Peter 3:8-9:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another…”

It is important for us, in the midst of disagreements to maintain a compassionate attitude for each other. This is difficult, but it’s the most important thing, more important than winning the debate, or being right, or being persuasive and convincing. All of these may have their place, but all should be done in the spirit of compassion, if we want to do it God’s way.

Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together’, com- meaning together, and –passion, to suffer. So we are asked to suffer together, to join in one another’s sufferings as we practice oneness of mind. What better place to suffer together, than at the time of an argument?! Because don’t we all suffer when we are arguing and fighting each other? Yes, of course, it can be very painful. Even if we win the argument, so to speak, it can still be painful and uncomfortable.

But too often we only feel our own pain at these times, and we don’t consider the pain of others, especially when we are focused on the content of our arguments. But this is the perfect time to step back and to reflect on the suffering of the other person. And I don’t mean that they are suffering physically, or in any conscious way necessarily, but they are suffering in what they care deeply about, they have passion in their opinions and their views. We need to consider this, so that we can come alongside them, even in our differences, especially in our differences, so that we can express compassion for them, and heal our divisions. We can do this by listening, and by being silent when the time calls for it, and putting ourselves ‘in their shoes’ for a time. This is a way we can practice humility and fight against our own nature, and not against the person with whom we have disagreement.


Returning to 1 Peter 3:8-9 once again:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous…”

Both St. Silouan and St. Sophrony write extensively about discovering the unity of mankind. They don’t discuss this as an abstraction but as a genuine reality; that we all are created as one, in reality. I can’t explain this truth, but I believe it. They teach that by the process of emptying ourselves we discover this unity. The emptying that they mean is setting aside our own pride, our own self-focus, setting aside love for ourselves and of only looking out for ourselves, and as we do this, a new love fills the vacuum, love for others, in the manner of Christ.

As this occurs we begin to see our brothers and sisters in this world as we see ourselves, and we begin to love them as ourselves. And we begin to want to treat them as we would want to be treated; with respect and tenderness, courteously and with understanding. This is done towards those we agree with, as well as towards those we disagree with, based upon our common life in Christ, and the fact that we are all made in His image and likeness, This attitude of oneness, compassion and tenderness towards each other is not dependent upon the content of our interactions with each other; but simply upon the fact that we are one in Christ, that each of us is made as a wonderful part of this creation, and is worthy of respect simply as a human being.  

St. Silouan writes about discovering love for ‘the whole Adam’, meaning all of mankind past, present and future. We all know the golden rule, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Well, sometimes in the midst of an argument or disagreement it is difficult to remember to apply this love for others, love for the whole Adam. This is where focusing less on the content of the disagreement and more on the process can be very helpful. For instance, let’s say you are in a heated disagreement and the other person says something that sounds crazy to you, and makes no sense. Instead of focusing on the content of their argument and trying to tell them why they are wrong, it can be more useful to imagine at that moment that you are this other person, with those views. Then you can ask yourself, “If I were this person, why would I think the way they are thinking, why would I do what they are doing and say what they are saying?” Spending our energy on this inquiry can lead us to greater understanding of the other point of view, and lead us away from judgement of the person.


Returning to 1 Peter 3:8-9 once again:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling…”

Both Sts. Silouan and Sophrony consider love for our enemies as the defining factor for Christian living. But who is our enemy? In one sense we may not consider anyone a real enemy, but in another sense everyone might be considered a potential enemy; anyone who gets in our way, or opposes us in some way, or thinks differently than we do, or has opposing goals, etc.  Or anyone who hurts our feelings, they could be an enemy, and when someone offends us, it is very human to return evil for evil, reviling for reviling.

But both of these saints, I believe, would encourage us to hold our tongue at the very least and practice self-control. And as a great tool to further help us with this, they might encourage us to include in our daily prayers anyone who has hurt us or offended us; to make it a daily practice to pray for those who are on the other side of any issue, or anyone who presents content that we disagree with or dislike.


Finally, this verse from 1 Peter 3:8-9 describes blessings:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

Oneness of mind and unity within the Church, is a blessing that all of us can enjoy. But it also is a responsibility that each of us needs to take on, out of love and respect for each other. We have the freedom to choose to seek unity and to enjoy the blessings that come from this.

The theologian John Zizioulas in his book, Being As Communion describes the freedom that all of us have, as the very thing which makes us like God, and he says that we can exercise our freedom in love or in negation. But only in freely choosing love do we discover the truth and meaning of our being. Furthermore, love is expressed only in relationship with one another, so essentially we need one another in order to express and share love.

If we choose to allow divisions and disagreements in the Church to negate our love for one another, then we are all diminished together. Using our freedom for negation tears at the fabric of our communion, and we lose ourselves because of that; and we lose the blessings that come of living with one mind, and in unity with each other.


The Resplendent Lightness of Turning

Before, when I lived in a darkness of my own conceit, I was as one dead to life, but sadly too numb to know it. I spent my days, content and at peace with myself—happily engaged in trivialities, self-assured by my inner virtues, which I measured, conveniently, against anyone clearly worse than myself. This satisfied my conscience, superficially, and was approved and encouraged by the lazy elements slumbering within me. I was wrapped inside a blanket of darkness, though which appeared as light, to my night-accustomed vision; for there was a hazy twilight, as from a far-off sun over the horizon, by which I could see. I called murkiness, daylight, and convinced myself that it was enough. What need had I of pure light, when dim light suited my darkened soul much better? And though I lived for the future sunrise, I could wait until a future time to see it.

Then, a revelatory light punctuated my darkness—unsought, only partially welcomed—inexorable, omnipresent, and casting my comfortable malaise in high-contrast, starkly before my eyes. There was nowhere to turn, to close my eyes, to pretend not to see, for it was clear to me that living in the semi-darkness, as I had, was actually a fatal luxury, afforded only to those with little hope…and little faith. I understood then, that we were made for brighter things—to be called out from the stupor that our negligence and complacency has wrought for us, made to turn from this numbing darkness which bathes us in self-satisfaction, or remorse—and created for the freedom which can be found only in perfect love.

Now, instead of a life of constant propping, of human effort, of dwelling in the shadows while seeking the limelight, or of hiding from shame; I see before me a life of repentance—the life that is resplendent and shining, and ever open to love’s pure light. Clothed in humility—repentance, is a life which transcends the sickly morass of remorse or shame, and will not bind us like these human chains will do, but rather, repentance allows our soul to take flight and to soar upward, even as we bow ourselves downward. This is the life of genuine courage and unfeigned joy. Not a one-time turning, but rather a life-turning, a never-ending turning, from the past towards the future, from our darkness towards His light. It is a shower of silver waters cleansing us perpetually, from out of a clear and golden sky; a snowfall that covers our soul in purest-white, forgiveness for all that has come between ourselves and God. Repentance is the parting of the clouds forevermore, and the shining forth of God’s love and grace, out, from within our hearts. This is the true life for which we were made.


To Everyone I’ve Ever Known:

How magnificent you are; and the memory of you fills my heart with joy! Did you know that you were so very special?! You are a gift, to me, and to the world. There has never been anyone like you before, and there will never be another like you again! You fill my mind now with incredulity; I do reflect upon you and am amazed—so grateful that I have known you! It is true, and I hope you believe me; and though it isn’t often expressed in such general terms, I do love you all, most particularly and specifically. As my mind drifts to the memory of you—specifically you—I can only smile, for the place you hold in my heart. You are the tapestry of my life—each of you, a person most glorious and beautiful, a colorful thread woven into the fabric of my being, inseparable from my innermost soul. Would I be me, had I not known you? Who am I, apart from all of you? Close your eyes now and remember all whom you’ve ever known. They are a magnificent humanity, all of them! How glorious is our human family, each of us spun intricately together—intertwined!

I apologize now for disappointing you—when I have—and for ignoring you; and for hurting you. It is uncomfortable, but it’s true. Why did I do it; why have we done it one to another? We are frail and failed, a tragic race destined to tragedy, and frailty, and failure. And desperately in need of forgiveness. Let’s forgive each other now, forgiving even the unforgiveable—words, deeds, and people; for even they have loved, and been loved. Perhaps they are loveable too; I believe they are. Is there a creature undeserving? I search my mind and my memory, and as you do to, I suspect someone comes to mind, for each of us—one too horrible for love, one too far depraved to forgive—but, what if? What if we did…forgive?! Is it impossible, or could we do it just a little?

I tried, and it made me smile, and I laughed out loud, so freely! Forgiveness is such a liberating feeling—for the one who gives it. For the one who gives it—forgiveness! I hope we all will enjoy that feeling!

Which brings me back to you! You have brought me great joy, as I have said already, but it is worth repeating. Perhaps you haven’t heard that enough lately, so I am saying it again, because you are worth it, and you made a great impression upon me in this lifetime. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for this. Thank you! Because your existence, yours specifically, has given me great joy!!!



I like to devour life in big gulps!

drinking in the colors of the turning leaves,

and gobbling up the vibrant air,

as my heart races.

So joyfully alive!

I dream about tomorrows!

with a fevered passion,

and strivings for the prizes,

gifts I want to own.

So hopefully arranged!

Are you bored, like I am?

if the day drifts by without excitement,

and stirring up desires,

doesn’t seem to satisfy.

So-so hum-drummingly malaised!

I’m waiting for an answer!

it may fill my heart with wonder,

and settling me within me,

if it pleases.

So peacefully arrived!