Trapper

IMG_0880

 

“[Grieving] requires a lot of love, and love is a harsh comforter, because only love makes genuine loss possible. You can’t lose what you never loved.”
Richard Lischer, Stations of the Heart

“There is a hole in the world now. A center like no other of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited this earth is gone. A perspective on this world unique in this world is gone. The world is emptier.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son


 

I felt like I was giving an elephant a prostate exam.

Other than a few crumbling, quarter-size chunks of drywall, the light fixture and the plastic junction box came out without incident. After that, it got a little hairy. Within moments, I was balanced on top of a ladder with my arm inserted almost up to my shoulder through a narrow opening in McConnell’s ceiling, burrowing hopelessly through mounds of 20-year-old pink insulation.  

It could’ve been such a simple project.

But, damn—leave it to McConnell to stick me on this end of the only home improvement project he boasted of completing from start to finish.

3zCraig_31

It was years ago that McConnell poked his head into my office to ask me if I wanted to hear how he had, once again, rescued the beauty. I knew by the gleam in his eye that he was baiting me as he had countless times before; for as much as Craig was a masterful husband and father and friend, he was most surely a masterful storyteller. And it was his narratives and keen eye for holy irony that unfailingly led me again and again back into the glad atmosphere of Heaven.

So I pushed my chair back from my desk and took the bait, inviting him to share another one of his tall tales with me.

He took a seat and began:

“So, Lori was sick of the access panel door to the attic crawl space. She’s been nagging me for years to make it disappear so the wall would look better. Of course, I came to the rescue. Cut some drywall, mudded, taped, and voilá: no more door, no more nagging. Who’s the stallion now?!”

“McConnell, well done!” I responded, “I never knew you were both a romantic and a skilled handyman.”

“Well, unfortunately, that’s not all. That was two weeks ago. Last week is when I heard them.”

“Heard what?” I asked.

He paused for dramatic effect, looking out my office window, as if remembering a far-off land filled with pirates and treasure.

“The squirrels.”

“The squirrels, Morgan. They’ve moved into the attic. And if all the running around is any indication, they must be storing a hell of a lot of nuts up there.”

I smiled, realizing exactly where this was going, and offered the punchline on his behalf:  

“And the one way to get after them is—or was—the attic door.”

“Precisely,” he replied, offering that subtle wink that always beckoned a person deeper into his tale.

McConnell’s “successful” seal-off-the-attic-access-home-improvement project soon gave way to four-plus years of turf war with the rogue squirrels who decided to lay siege to his attic and prepare for the end times right above his favorite reading chair. Truth be told, he might have been able to bring about a cease-fire simply by patching the rather small hole that the squirrels had torn in the stucco right at the eaves and were using to get inside the attic. But he elected for another tactic, because, in his own words,

“There are always two games to play. You’ve got to know which game you’re playing and which one you want to win the most.”  

And for Craig, it was always the prize of the story that he was after.

So war it was. Think Eisenhower at the helm of the D-Day invasion, or Roosevelt leading the charge of Rough Riders in Panama. The strategy and stories never ceased to flow into my office.

His first strategy involved a BB gun.

Week after week, he relayed his epic wilderness stalks through his quarter-acre yard, ducking behind bird feeders, judging the wind, analyzing the barometric pressure, and always consulting the solunar tables. He would purposefully allude to every methodology and nugget of vernacular he’d heard over the years from our own stories of chasing actual big game in Colorado wilderness with our bows.

Looking back, in all his reported escapades with his Red Ryder lever action, I know of only one confirmed round that he ever fired. I heard that story one day when he offered this sheepish confession with a very red face:

“It was just after shooting light on a Saturday morning. After having executed a daring spot-stalk-and-ambush around my house, I sent a round right at the squirrel’s vitals. As I went to reload, I noticed something else moving out of the corner of my eye. And that something was looking right at me. Turns out it was my  robe-clad neighbor out picking up his newspaper while sipping on a cappuccino. Suddenly I realized what he was seeing: me, armed, crawling in his bushes.”

After that incident, Craig retired his only firearm, packing it away next to his electric chainsaw, which was padded carefully with his collection of retired flip flops from decades of beach life in SoCal.

It was then that he chose to take his squirrel-hunting obsession to the next level.

He became McConnell, the Trapper.

2zCraig_2

At his peak, Craig was working several traps around his suburban yard, and he’d happily describe long sessions of chumming the traps. (Not only the specifics regarding the type of peanut butter, but also his procedure for maximum effective application at the end of meticulously arranged trails of bird seed, cunningly designed to lure unsuspecting bushy tailed vermin to imminent death.)

I began to notice a resonance between his trapping tactics and his preference for scrupulous liturgy in random things. For example, when making a Manhattan, he insisted that it is always to be poured over clear ice and never cloudy. It is never shaken, always stirred, while facing west (as a salute to the great sea). And when pouring the finest rye, one must pour for a count of one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. And then, with dramatic pause while still pouring, “and this is for the pope.”

IMG_0871 (1)

With little success, I offered him squirrel recipes and walked him through the basics of home taxidermy, encouraging him to put up some skins for homespun apparel that would appropriately complement his new name, for by then he was insisting that I refer to him only as Trapper.

But he would have none of it. He told me his ethos was purely catch-and-release.

It was months into his extensive catch-and-release ventures that I decided to set some bait of my own. I asked Craig how he was handling the commonly known and uncanny ability of squirrels to cover long distances and instinctively return to their home range once released. He looked at me incredulously, realizing he had been outsmarted by vermin, and asked me to say more. Evidently I had enough currency to convince him that I knew what I was talking about.

Before long, my years of being a padawan to this master storyteller finally paid off: he took my bait and became paranoid that the squirrels he released over five miles away were actually beating him back to his suburban home to fortify their collection of winter vittles in his attic. After that, every squirrel he saw unnerved him, and he endeavored to identify each one based on unique markings and behaviors to determine if they were really coming back or not.

Then came level three.

It was a chilly spring Friday morning when McConnell showed up in my office, looking a bit rattled. He explained rather sheepishly that “a big-ass black ball of fur with a white strip, fangs, and claws” was stuck in his squirrel trap. He needed help.

We dug into the internet and watched one video after another on how to remove live skunks from squirrel traps. Interestingly, most were filmed on location in Arkansas or West Virginia and nearly always included broad, sweeping soundtracks and minimally clothed assistants. It was the heavyset man in the beekeeper suit and motorcycle helmet who won our allegiance; we looked to him as our sensei to train us for level three.

We followed his every directive, pulling out our very best skunk trapping attire, asking our friends to accompany us, not only to play a fitting soundtrack, but also to provide moral support in the event that we heard, as the videos say, the two most feared words in skunk-trapping:

“Tail’s up.”

“Tail’s up.”

Who would’ve thought suburban life could be so fraught with daring and delight?

I’ll never forget stalking, synchronized with McConnell, gently and step by meticulous step, tarp in hand, toward the skunk. It was at that moment that I knew the best stories can only be written once they have been truly lived.

To the dismay of onlookers, we were remarkably successful on our first attempt, eluding all spray and acquiring my very most favorite skin for our collection.

The stories, oh, the stories.

It was yesterday, somewhere between shoving my hand up the orifice in his ceiling and the subsequent shower of spray-insulation that poured from overhead, that I began to weep.

Lori, Craig’s bride of 40 years, was downstairs. It was the day after he crossed over into the fullness of Life after 64 heroic years in this world and a seven-year battle against cancer. The Spirit led me to swing by Lori and Craig’s home in the early morning hours for the second day in a row, this time to honor my fallen comrade by checking on his bride. I had no idea what to say or what to do. The day before, I had carried one of my closest friends and a brother to my heart out of his home in a body bag. It was my second experience of carrying a man I love out the front door of his own home, leaving behind weeping and wailing hearts. It is two too many for this soul to comprehend.

After an unanswered knock, I found my way upstairs and beheld Lori, radiant as ever, in the early morning light. Could it be that just 36 hours before we had all huddled in their master bedroom, holding Craig’s weakened, broken, blessed body, speaking words, offering tears and stories and worship and silence?

As I gazed at Lori, her beauty moved me, and my first thought was,

This is a woman who has been well loved for 40 years.

My second thought:

Damn. What I would give to have Craig back. Right now. Right here.

Lori and I were granted a few hours of sacred conversation in that morning’s hush, a fresh round of stories of agony and hilarity, both of which, Norm Maclean reminds us, are necessary for salvation.

Only after that did I ask Lori if there was anything I could do for her.

“Morgs, you know, my friend is flying in and will be here in a few hours to stay in this bedroom. I’ve had this ceiling fan, still in the box, forever. Do you know anyone who could install it?”

How grateful I was in that moment for having installed several in my own home only a year before.

“You bet.” And as Lori and her family made their way downstairs, I began to assess the situation.

The room was wired for an overhead light but lacked the proper support to mount the metal junction box for the fan.

What I needed was access to the attic.

McConnell, you dirty dog…

The one project you boasted about.

I laughed to myself, and I cried.  

Yet again, the narrative of this man’s life flooded my soul. The irony that I would be here, yet again, taking the bait, on the butt end of one of his great stories.

The tears, while quiet, became heavier and heavier.

A home filled with grieving family was not the place to pull out a drywall saw and undo McConnell’s plastered masterpiece that brilliantly blocked the only access to the attic.

I headed to the hardware store and explored plans B, C, and D before deciding on a retro install bar that apparently was well-suited when your buddy drywalls over the only access panel to the Squirrel Shangri-la.

A few hours later the fan was installed, and I turned on the breaker, savoring that moment of amazement that touches the soul of any man who has done any sort of electrical work:

And then there was light.

I watched the fan blades turn and felt the warm air of summer begin to move through the McConnells’ second-story guest bedroom.

I listened to the sounds of his grandchildren running around the house below, playing as if it were any other summer day.

I wept for my friend.

And then I wept for much more.

I was flooded with grief. First for Craig, and then for my brother Lance, and then for every place I have fallen short in my relating to all the people I so dearly love. I wept for the poor, the broken, and the needy. I wept for all the not-yet in this world. I wept for all the unfinished in me.

I wept.

And I wept.

And I wept.

And watching the fan blades slide gracefully around and around, I prayed.

I asked God for those blades to turn and turn in the days and decades to come, and in their turning to call forth through their momentary perseverance the very breath of God.  

The breath of God into this home.

Into these hearts.

And as I walked out of the house moments later, I imagined that in some season to come, another family will one day turn this house into a home as the McConnells have. And some unknown man will also hear the pitter-patter of squirrels in his attic packing away a feast of winter’s provisions up in the eaves. And he will look all over the house and call out to his wife,

“Honey, I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find the damn access panel to the attic.”

At that moment, I laughed out loud, thinking of how hilarious that moment will be to Craig. Holy Spirit, quicken me with joy precisely when that future moment comes.

And on that day I’ll mix myself a Manhattan of which McConnell would be proud. And I’ll remember when I was covered in insulation and giving an elephant a prostate exam in his home.

And I’ll think of the thousand stories I wish I could live with him again.

I’ll remember the pints we shared at the Whitehorse in England and the Scarborough Hotel in Australia, and countless more.

I’ll call to mind the campfires around which we sat shoulder to shoulder at Bart’s Globe and Anchor ranch in the Colorado Rockies, at Konka in South Africa, and at Mount Snowdon in Wales. Too many to name.

And I’ll remember his raunchy baseball-cap with the attached gray ponytail that always seemed to show up just when I was taking life too seriously.

I’ll think of the countless missions we shared, partnering in battles for the hearts of men.

And I will likely weep again.

I pray on that day I will have the faith to believe more deeply that all is not lost, that the best is yet to come.

That I will become the kind of person who has made peace in my soul with the reality that we must die so that we might truly live.

That we are eternal souls who are on pilgrimage.

That we are being made ready for a world that whispers to us with the blowing air of every ceiling fan.

And a marvelous Reality that will envelope each of us who is willing to give it our consent.

As for this moment, the summer sun has tucked behind the rocky bluffs of Ute Valley Park behind my home. I watch evening’s last light slip away, and I look at pencil and paper and a empty glass that once held the best damn Manhattan I’ve ever made.

Trapper,

Thank you.

Thank you for teaching me that to give the gift of my time and my presence toward loving another soul is the greatest gift of all.

Thank you for teaching me much more about loving people than you did about squirrels.

And I will see you again.

But not yet.

Not yet.

10CTurtle


 

Endnotes

C.S. Lewis said of his own grief,

“If I knew any way of escape, I would crawl through the sewers to find it.”

Where and what is the Father inviting you to grieve?

I want to encourage you to risk grieving, in every way the Father would winsomely want to lead you. Below are some more suggestions that might help you in the process:

Blogs

Suffering

And We Will See You Again

Good Friday

What Do I Need To Grieve

Who Will Carry Your Casket?

 

Books

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

Stations of the Heart by Richar Lischer

A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff

#021 You Are His Favorite [Podcast]

BGS-iTunes-Podcast-1400px

View More: http://kjandrob.pass.us/abbey-shaun-wedding

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

 

It was a shimmering rehearsal dinner, the headwaters of which were most certainly in Eternity.

The choicest wine flowed, but even more, the choicest stories: stories of daring, risk, and deep redemption. Family and friends honored Abbey and Shaun with words of profound affection, honor for obstacles overcome, and the kind of faithful knowing and seeing that forms the texture of our deepest longings.

In the transcendence of that evening God spoke five words that would change our lives forever…

-This podcast is available in written form.

-Want more? Dive deep into this Kingdom reality with additional resources.

Click to Listen

Play

#020 Did Jesus Wear Flip Flops? [Podcast]

BGS-iTunes-Podcast-1400px

Flip Flops

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

 

It all started with a lawnmower, a skateboard, a women’s clothing magazine, and a set of flip flops.

What if play is God’s idea and is at the epicenter of Kingdom living?

(A version of this podcast is also available in written form.)

Click to Listen

Play

Chasing Wild – Part One

SoT-ChasingWild_graphic-500x500.jpeg

We pierced the veneer of outside things. We suffered…and had grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We had seen God in all his splendours, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man. – Sir Ernest Shackleton

 

The arrow flew intuitively, almost of its own volition. For that moment, my bow and I had become one. Upon impact, the bear whirled on his hind legs and thundered back into heavy cover. I was deep in the wilderness of Colorado’s high country, in dawn’s early light. Little did I know, the adventure was just beginning.


 

Many years ago, a hunting mentor spoke these formative words: “Luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity.” Never before had the relationship between opportunity and preparation been more apparent to me than on that crisp September morning.

Needless to say, the idea of “getting lucky” has taken on a whole new meaning. In the field, I consider it over and over again: “Luck IS a combination of preparation and opportunity.” Mostly, the preparation is our portion, as students of the land, the animals, and ourselves. Opportunity is largely up to God. We train and we trust. We train that we might be ready, and we trust that we are sons of the Living One who has our best interests at the center of His soul, all the way, all the time, whatever the outcomes may be.

My hunting pursuits began over 15 years ago. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family or in a hunting culture. Far from it. Argyle socks filled my drawer, and my wild adventures were confined to small pockets of untamed land gridlocked in a maze of suburban sprawl. God’s wooing drew me into wilderness and hunting, the prize of which is much more primary than meat in the freezer (though that is a high value in our family culture).

Wilderness,  and chasing wild in its infinite forms, has become the central context for my validation as a son and my initiation as a man.

As this hunting season drew near, my good friend Brian and I drew a pair of rare and coveted archery tags and the dream of harvesting an elk and a bear on the western slope of Colorado. I was going in for three days prior to Brian’s arrival, both for final reconnaissance and, more importantly, for the time of annual solitude with God that my heart craves. Heading out in my truck, I began praying and consecrating the trip, connecting my heart with the Father and sloughing off the shroud of stress that the previous days and months had cinched around me, then settling in for several hours of open road.

Driving into the Arkansas River canyon and happily leaving cell coverage, I eagerly fired up the Scriptures on an audio app I’d downloaded, anticipating  my soul being rinsed clean and fresh during these precious hours of transition. I started with Psalm 1 and then moved into Psalm 2, and then…silence. The app just went out—so much for the grid independence the app promised.

But the verse that it stopped on was Psalm 2:8, which, in The Message, reads:

You’re my son, and today’s your birthday. What do you want? Name it. Nations as a present? Continents as a prize? You’re my son, and today’s your birthday. What do you want? Name it.

For a good 30 minutes, I brawled with the app, trying to coerce it into working, until finally it dawned on me what Father was saying: for this hunt—and not only for me, but also for Brian—this was OUR verse from Him.

“You’re my sons and this is your birthday. What do you want?” When I hit cell reception again, I texted Brian and shared the verse. “Happy birthday, buddy,” I texted. “Make sure you ask Father for what you want for this hunt. I’m starting to ask Him now.”

Hours later, I neared the spot we intended for base camp and felt my apprehension rise. I’d prepared for months for this bear hunt. I’d read several books on bears and trained my body for the backcountry through countless workouts on stairs and off-trail ascents with a 50-pound pack. With the exception of an eight-day backcountry filming trip, I’d shot my bow 55 days in a row, and I’d brought all my working knowledge and experience from past years—mostly failures and a few successes—to this hunt.

But this was a new level of apprehension. I knew I was pursuing—with only a bow and arrow—an animal that, if provoked, was far more capable of harvesting me than I was of harvesting it. Furthermore, this vast country was uniquely rugged and bear-enticing. Graced with undulating hillsides of ancient oak brush, this region attracts bears from up to 200 miles away. A hunting buddy who’d been there a previous year described that when the wind blew, ripe-acorns falling from heavily laden branches pitter-pattered like raindrops on the ground cover. Such prolific food offered ripe hope for an archery hunter heaven-bent on a close encounter.

Physiologically, this season in the high country for bears is called hyperphagia. Bears feed up to 22 hours a day, putting on as much fat as possible to sustain their hibernation during brutal Western Slope winters. With these optimal conditions, the collision between opportunity and preparation could come at any moment of any day.

The first morning, I hiked into a drainage to a secluded watering hole we had identified on the maps that we hoped would attract bears in the heat of the midday. Grazing leases for domestic cattle dominate this section of National Forest, and groups of cattle regularly shuffle through the drainages, feeding on grasses and also depositing endless cow pies. In the heat of the day, the stench of smoldering cow pies was noxious. I harnessed my senses and stayed as still as I could, settling in for hours of vigilance over the water hole. Between the heat and the stench and the still-lingering racket from the world inside of me, it was an appropriately challenging baptism back into the wild.

After five hours, I sensed movement and, out of the corner of my eye, glimpsed first sight of a bear. I was caught off guard as I’d seen so few bears in hunting situations before. This was a small bear, and I immediately registered it could be a cub. Colorado hunting laws prohibit harvesting a sow with cubs, and though I was tempted to draw my bow, I thought, If this is a cub, the mother is surely coming behind it, and I am not going to arrow a cub and end up with an angry sow hunting me. But if it’s not a cub, I don’t want to pass on what could be my only chance.

Feeling the pull of opportunity, I began to draw, knowing I had a fraction of a second to make a decision.

Here was the moment: I had this bear in my sights…and then discretion edged its way into my soul.

I lowered my bow, choosing to pass.

In my past as a bowhunter, I have at times been quick to fling an arrow. Quicker than I’d like to admit. And in recent years, I have specifically asked Father to grow discretion in me, that I might be quick to assess a shot but slower to release an arrow. I have learned the hard way: with both a bullet and an arrow, once it is released, it can never be called back.

As quickly as I decided, the bear moved on. Sure enough, no mother ever came, suggesting in fact it wasn’t a cub. (I have learned since it was most likely a two-and-a-half-year-old bear, which is the first year of independence for a young bear. Typically, two-and-a-half-year-olds are small and easily mistaken for cubs.)

Several days stacked up void of any more bear encounters as I covered mile after mile, boots on the ground, glassing and looking for both bear and elk sign. In drainage after drainage and hillside after hillside, I noticed that most of the scrub oak were completely barren: no acorns. Even the chokecherry and serviceberry bushes, though lush with leaves, were virtually naked of berries. The reality began to sink in: though this section is typically a berry and acorn bonanza, something was wrong. There was almost no feed. And without feed, there were far fewer bears in the area than seasonal population data suggested. (We later learned there’d been a Mother’s Day freeze that had decimated the acorn and berry population. Bears that typically traveled from hundreds of miles to feast in this particular section had headed to different country in search of food.)

As I prepared for Brian’s arrival, I realized the likelihood of harvesting a bear this year was plummeting. Discouragement crept in like a slow-moving winter storm. I’d spent six years accumulating preference points and six months training for what perhaps was the hunt of a lifetime, and I would very likely go home empty-handed.

In the darkness of the third morning, I headed to explore another remote drainage. Praying and worshipping under the flume of the Milky Way and the unwavering stance of Orion, my perception of God’s presence heightened. I felt our Father’s nearness, His overwhelming kindness, and His unfaltering leadership over my life. Quickly, my soul ignited with presence and I knew I was receiving the greatest treasure of any hunt: an overwhelming awareness of God Himself that often prevails after several days in the context of wilderness and solitude. This kind of encounter with God is the ultimate prize of backcountry hunting.

Then I heard these words from a Father to his son, from my Father to me, as his son: “Son, I invite you to let the primary mission of this trip be to help Brian harvest a bull.”

The clarity of Father’s voice in that moment provided joy-filled reorientation: the discouragement vanished as the path of Life was illumined. Everything in my soul shifted from the pressure of strategizing about arrowing a bear to ease and joy in the abundant goodness of my Father. I knew the Father was interacting with me and inviting me to chose love for my friend Brian, and to love Brian’s dad and his brother, who also had highly prized hunting tags. He was assuring me that while my day would come in the fullness of time and in His abundance, I could relish coming through for Brian. (Brian and his dad had both patiently invested 16 years of preference points and cashed them in for this particular opportunity.)

By then, the first light of day was brilliantly coloring the horizon, and in this intimate space, I sincerely felt like it was being painted just for me. A deep sense of peace now pervaded my hunt: I had my orders for this mission. I consecrated my motives afresh to God, and as Isaiah said thousands of years ago, set my face like a flint (Isaiah 50:7).

Brian would arrive shortly, and the second chapter would unfold. Little did I know that giving my yes to the Father on that September morning would bring far more than I was prepared to handle.

Oswald Chamber says this,

The call of God can never be understood absolutely or explained externally; it is a call that can only be perceived and understood internally by our true inner-nature. The call of God is like the call of the sea—no one hears it except the person who has the nature of the sea in him. What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes. Our real test is in truly believing that God knows what He desires.

The call of God is ever being whispered into the place in us that truly wants to receive it. The writer of Hebrews suggests that God is enticing and disrupting us so that, in His goodness, He can become even more the Author and Finisher of our story (Hebrews 12:2). Where is it that God is inviting your willingness to let Him author you into a story far better than you could ever ask for or imagine? Where is it your Father is asking, “Would you give me your heart and follow me?”

What is your wild and how is He inviting you to chase it?

To be continued…

It’s Only Weird If It Doesn’t Work

Feb 28: Morgan's 33rd birthday =)

I am a yoga junkie.

There.  

I said it.

Picture me at my first class—in a sea of women in black, stretchy pants.

I had never been more uncomfortable in my life.

It took years of Cherie gently prodding for me to see a counselor.

And it had taken her far longer to bring me to this moment.

Over the years, when she suggested I consider coming to a class with her, I maintained a gracious and benevolent veneer.

But internally, my response went something like this:

Yoga!? Are you kidding me?!? What a waste of time. Especially when I could get a REAL workout. Besides, at best, all those women will think I’m a pervert. At worst, they might think I’m a predator. No, thanks!

Years later, I finally yielded my pride, cynicism, paranoia, and unbelief long enough to slip into the back of a yoga class in the gym of our local YMCA, wading awkwardly past foam rollers and spongy blocks and overly strong perfume, under what I suspected to be offended and incriminating gazes. The only other man in the class was an old guy in the front row with a head band and very short shorts, quite possibly from his high school track team in ‘74.

And it was in that space that Heaven came to earth for me, and something profoundly Good happened in my soul.

That was over a decade ago, and I still can’t find adequate words to describe the conversion.

After an hour of holding my breath and feebly attempting to stretch muscles that had long since fossilized, I found myself in what these yogis apparently call “final relaxation.” Pretty standard in nearly any yoga class, but unknown to me, the hour of mindful movement builds up to a closing time of rest and surrender—lying supine in total stillness on the floor, breathing and receiving.

And it was the first moment in my adult life that I gave myself full permission to simply receive.

The best way I can describe it is that I was utterly disoriented… by Love.

With each inhale, I could feel the Ruach—the very breath of God (Genesis 1:2)—breathing both dormant and dead places back to life. I was among the desiccated bones of the defeated army in the book of Ezekiel, and God’s breath was uniting bone to bone and then enlivening muscle and sinew and skin. Dry bones, enfleshed, then raised to newness of life.

Somehow, the hour of integrating my body with my mind and spirit, the hard physical work, the awkward but consistent attempts to breathe deeply, and then the final surrendering ushered in the deep waters of the Kingdom that unlocked in my masculine soul a door long obscured into a room long abandoned.

The driven and intense man I was opened the door for the needy, isolated boy within to receive nurture in a way I can describe in no other terms.

Here, in the back of a gym at the YMCA, breath was entering me, immersing me in the reality of the triune God, and making me whole through nurturing, engulfing love.

It undid me, and I’ve never been the same since.

It would be weeks of regular practice before I glimpsed the layers of benefit yoga could offer me, especially that stretching and strengthening my core would potently increase my capacity in other pursuits I love, like chasing wild with my bow or climbing single track high along Colorado’s Front Range.

It would be months before I painstakingly learned to breathe more deeply, slowing down and inhaling fully with holy awareness of the very life of God.

It would be years before I began to understand how to be kind to myself, how to “try easy” and embrace the wisdom of Kingdom rhythms, accepting that there is a time to go full throttle and there is a time to back off.

It would be a decade before I understood how much God was desiring to harness this spiritual practice in my life to mother me, to heal my self-hatred, and to apprentice me in the Kingdom-art of receiving love and so much more.

It would be beyond a decade before I would slowly become the kind of person who regularly tastes the depth and breadth of the Kingdom of God and the deep integration of my soul through the consistent practice of Kingdom-centered yoga.

If we shall know it by its fruit, I’m compelled to name the significance of the fruit I have experienced through Kingdom-centered yoga.  

Not as a prescription, but rather as an example laden with possibility.

Of all the spiritual disciplines I pursue, Kingdom-centered yoga is one of the top in regard to bearing the most prolific deepest fruit in my masculine journey. Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure. Looking back, I had put such limits on who God could be and what He could do even through an hour of intentional movement and deep breathing.

Now, if you are hesitant about or uninterested in this practice, that is fine.  

But I would like to simply ask you these questions.  

  • Where is it you are practicing regularly to receive? To receive love, mercy, kindness; to receive nurturing from the heart of the Trinity? For most of us, to say that receiving love doesn’t come easily is like saying the Pope doesn’t date much. It is actually deeply challenging to become the kind of person who can receive with an open and true heart, liberated from either habitual protest or the compulsion to try to merit the gift after it is bestowed.
  • Where are you learning to be still, to habitually dwell in the present moment in awareness of the enveloping life and presence of God? Where are you practicing taking in the breath of Heaven as your most sustaining source?
  • Where are you learning to accept God’s acceptance of who you are, just as you are, not because of your gifting or productivity, but simply because He believes you are worthy of love and belonging in your essence?
  • Where are you maturing to understand wellness in its depth and breadth rather than simply chasing fitness as another place of achievement and outcomes-based living?
  • Where is it that you are growing in your soul’s experience of “bursting with joy and feeling ten feet tall” from regularly receiving God’s intimate and feminine nourishment that God suggests is available to all of His people? (See Isaiah 66 in The Message.)
  • Where is your soul regularly in a safe space to further the integration of all the younger parts of you?
  • Where are you deepening in your union with God and your ability to listen in contemplative connection, receiving His words of affection as the fuel for obedience and casting off performance-based living?
  • Where are you learning to play for the sake of play?  
  • Where are you tending to your body and soul in a regular practice that is bringing ever-deepening sexual intimacy to your marriage bed?
  • Where are you regularly facing your addictions with grace, kindness, and a growing capacity and desire to address them with courage and cunning?
  • Where are you growing in the belief that self-care is not selfish, but rather it is heroic stewardship? How do you practice prioritizing union with God in order that the overflow of His life can be what you bring to this world?
  • Where are you engaging pockets of shame and fear and, in love, resolving to receive healing and see their influence ever diminish in your life?
  • Where do you participate in contemplative liturgy that is not dependent upon you but flows to you from generations of elders who have traveled the ancient path, reaching back to the Christian mystical Fathers and Mothers of our faith in the first few centuries and beyond?
  • Where are you regularly having exposed and dismantled the deep agreements you have made with the limits you have placed on who God can be, what He can do, and how He can do it in your body, soul and spirit, heart, mind, and will?

There are many ways these important questions and needs can be met and answered.

And for me, a regular practice of Kingdom-centered yoga over a decade has been one of the most powerful.

Let me just pause and borrow some credibility from Bud Light and Jesus.

I can’t help but recall the brilliant Bud Light commercial from a recent Super Bowl. You might remember: scene after scene of sold-out fans doing the most odd sort of things, living out their bizarre superstitions in the hopes of vaulting their team to victory. Wearing their random but oh-so-lucky shirts, rubbing the rabbit’s foot dyed in their team’s colors, chanting with their Bud Lights raised in homage, stacking their beer cans in the shape of their team’s emblem to frame the spread of nacho supremes and chicken wings.  

Sure enough, their team wins. Then comes this brilliant line:

It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

If-It-Doesnt-Work

While depicting colossal superstition, there is a ironic resonance in this commercial with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Jesus has a remarkably simple test to discern, particularly over time, the active presence of God and His Kingdom.

“You will recognize them from their fruit.” Matthew 7:20

God is too wild to be tamed and hemmed in by our painful limits and feeble constraints. And as Jesus Himself points out, religious bullies through the ages have been brilliant at straining gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24). Therefore, we often can’t know if something is beneficial or harmful by habitual assumption. But we can know with confidence the nature of something if we test its fruit.

Test the fruit. If the fruit is the fruit that Jesus points to in the Gospels, then we must have come into proximity of some portion of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

This is not intended to be a carte blanche endorsement of yoga.

It is an invitation to find your deeper way with God and to become, even more, a student and a son.  

It’s about actively experimenting with and cultivating regular spiritual practices that nourish, strengthen, and integrate our souls, increase our experience of God, and restore us as men.

There are great sages who have gone before us and offer a rich introduction to regular spiritual practices as a primary means to access the resources of the Kingdom.

I’d suggest you start with Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

And then go into Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines.

These texts provide clear explanations on the life of the disciplines.

Ultimately, as Foster suggests, in exploring the spiritual practices, these guidelines will prove to be immensely helpful.

  • It always begins with consent to being a student of Jesus.
  • Heroism as a posture simply does not fit with disciplines.
  • There is no complete list.
  • It is experimental.
  • The posture of “practical not picky” is immensely helpful.
  • We must not be overly concerned about how others do them.  
  • If you practice enough, in time Jesus will show you what’s best for you

The key is a heart-centered decision to become like Jesus from the inside out. Systematically and progressively rearranging our affairs to that end, under the guidance of God and His Word.

The core question is this: How much of your current life is defined by the daily practice of activities which help you to mature in Kingdom living?  

What are you doing that is connecting your soul to the primary means by which God is bringing the wholehearted integration of you as a man?

In The Great Omission, Dallas poses this very honest and exposing question:

If we take as fact that we have been given the keys to the Kingdom in all of its abundance, why is it that we are not thriving?  

He goes on to conclude that we have not yet adequately learned how to use the keys of the Kingdom. He suggests that the key to the keys is to practice regular ways of seeking to “live and act in union with the flow of God’s Kingdom.” He reminds us that Grace is God acting in our life, enabling us to do what we cannot do on our own. By direct effort, I cannot heal my own soul. But I can intentionally participate in activities that connect me with the life of God and provide healing for my soul. Even if we had never fallen into sin, we would still need Grace, God’s action on our behalf. Grace is opposed to earning, not effort, and we are invited to actively become the kind of people “who burn grace like a 747 burns jet fuel.”

It takes humility.

It takes risk.

It takes sincere curiosity of the inner life.

It takes being led as an apprentice into unchartered territory.

Now for the record, I have yet to wear black stretchy pants to a yoga class. Last time I wore my wife’s black stretchy pants, I was also wearing a Britney Spears wig and doing a not-so-impressive keg stand.

But remember, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

Hopefully I’ll see you in class.

 


 

Father, yet again parts of me are exposed for all the limits I have placed on who You can be, what You can do, and how You can do it in my life. I open my heart afresh to You. I ask that You would break every agreement I have made that limits who You want to be in my life, what You want to do, and how You want to do it. I open my heart to You and to no other to be the lamp unto my feet and the light unto my path. Show me what You have for us together. I choose to risk. I choose the narrow road. I choose to be honest with my limitation, my need, my brokenness, and my propensity to avoid the places where I need Your rescue and Your restoration the most.

I trust that You are pursuing me today, inviting me into more, if I am willing to be Your apprentice. I confess I need to invite You into the areas I could simply label “not working” in the life of my soul. I ask for Your forgiveness for how I have given myself over to defeat and hopelessness in these places. I receive the words from C.S. Lewis who reminds me that all of us who seek to grow with God and His Kingdom are “always and forever beginners.” I choose to believe You have more for me in these places.

I want to live a fully consecrated life. I want to wade into the depth and breadth of both the time-tested spiritual practices and the ones You are shaping uniquely for me and our story. I want to cultivate the keys to access the abundance of Your Kingdom and mature in oneness as You have invited it to be so.

Guard and guide me.

Be my strength.

My light.

And my motive.  

I choose You.  

I choose to be led by the Spirit of God as a son of God. Amen.

 


Footnotes

Looking to try out Kingdom yoga class for the first time?

My wife and two of her amazing allies have done the hard work of investing in a decade of 10,000 hours and becoming good soil as instructors of Kingdom Yoga and as apprentices in Kingdom Living. They now offer wonderfully intimate and soul-caring Kingdom classes in a hidden upper room of an old Victorian home in downtown Colorado Springs. Ascending the wooden stairs and stepping into this space, you just might think you’ve walked through the wardrobe and, if only for an hour, have visited Narnia. Let the Haven teachers know you were introduced to the studio through Become Good Soil, and your first class will be a gift from Haven.

IMG_9805

 

For someone with far more credibility and miles than I, you might enjoy Dan Allender’s journey into the spiritual practice of yoga.

Final Note: There are all kinds of funky and potentially spiritually oppressive things out there under the banner of yoga. (Just like there are oppressive things in the world that sometimes masquerade under the banners of Jesus, Christianity, and church.) I’m trusting you don’t receive this blog as some benediction of all things “yoga” as a category. Our faith ultimately comes down to a walk with God and a response to His movement in our lives, through both wisdom and revelation. “You shall know them by their fruits,” Jesus said. Walk with God, stay close to His heart, ask Him to protect you from evil and lead you into everlasting life. You will hear His voice. You will be led by the Spirit of God as sons of God. We are offered a wise and discerning heart for a reason.

Over my years of practicing the spiritual discipline of yoga, I have participated in classes at more than 20 yoga studios. The Kingdom of God, like in churches, is woven into all sorts of tapestries, people, contexts, and expressions. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the son is ready, the Father appears (2 Cor 6:18). The Gospel in our culture has been deeply westernized and significantly stripped of the integration of the body from the spiritual life of our faith. Unwelcomed by many churches and evangelical communities, it is not surprising that many Kingdom-hearted teachers find secular studios as the best context available for them to offer the Gospel through Kingdom-centered yoga. You shall know them by their fruits. If you look for the best fruit, you’ll find the great trees. If you find bad fruit, bless them and keep on walking down the narrow road.


Want to go deeper?

The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk

Prayer of Heart and Body, Thomas Ryan

Celebration of the Discipline, Richard Foster

The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard

The Great Omission, Dallas Willard

An Introduction by Amy Day

 

If-It-Doesnt-Work

 

#019: A Beautiful God [Podcast]

BGS-iTunes-Podcast-1400px

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. -Matthew 13:44

In the sunset of his days, D. L. Moody realized that the catalyst for the deepest portion of his conversion was this sentence spoken to his soul by a trusted sage:

The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to him. – Henry Varley (quoted in A Deeper Experience of Famous Christians)

This quote equally entices and disrupts me.

How much more is available in communion with God than I’ve glimpsed or even remotely dreamed possible? How much have I taken for granted as “normal” in the life of a Christ-follower that is painfully less than what is available? How much am I willing to set out again in search of a treasure whose worth would prompt ecstasy, and in the wake of the encounter, the desire to sell everything in order to possess it would be my unforced response?

Surely this treasure is the invitation to share in the Life of the Trinity, and if I could only see both the invitation and the sensual grandeur of the Life of God for what it is, unforced and total consecration would be my ever-increasing response.

There is a woman I know whose heart has long been set on pilgrimage to search for this kind of vision of God. She is the woman with whom I share my children, my body, my dreams, and my life.

And in her search, she has glimpsed a God who is first searching for her. Of the many impacts of her life upon mine, she embodies the words of Simon Tugwell, as John quotes in The Sacred Romance:

“So long as we imagine it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about—He is looking for us.”

In response to a glimpse of the Treasure, I am witnessing her process of selling more and more to possess it.

After fifteen years of life together, we met up in the studio, pressed “record,” and dove into our first-ever shared podcast.

13_Nov_Snyder-376

Click to Listen

Play