Sunlight in the Pines
“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” ~~ Numbers 33:53
I overslept this morning, a behavior that seems more common lately. I did make to church yesterday. It was a grand day at Bristol-Baby! Even watching on TV, it had the makings of being there. Wrecks that took out the leaders, who would have expected that? Kyle winning, again. Joey Logano getting into a fight: the older he gets, the more his testosterone kicks in. Everyone will be glad to go to next week!
I am reading an ancient book THE ODD WOMAN, set in the early days of the women’s movement. In early industrial England, women of certain classes had limited choices: marriage, teaching, clerking, governess, or unwholesome occupations. The primary characters either ply these trades or have the economic means to live off the income of their estates. Two are out to change the world by teaching the shop girls how to type so they may move up a class and gain better working conditions.
Then last night I woke up several times with a very dry mouth. In between, I had several dreams, only one of which I even recall a fragment. As I slept, dogs and I spoke together as if we understood each other perfectly. Perhaps I need to write a book, DREAMING WITH DOGS!
As I made my morning ablutions, this verse popped into my mind, “You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” I had been thinking of exploring beyond my memoirs of Turkey and Greece, and what it means to be an explorer who never leaves home. How can one be both a settler and an explorer at the same time?
Settlers and explorers don’t share the same skill sets. Nor do they share the same callings. If they were sailors, settlers would hug the known shores, while explorers would follow a star until they discovered an unknown land. Explorers want to try the new restaurant in town, while settlers feel secure ordering from a known menu and eating a familiar repast. I suppose this is why when church people move, they look for a place that feels like home and a church that feels their home church. These are settlers. Explorers, however, lead them, for the clergy are always moving into a land “God has given us” by virtue of our appointments. I grew up in a big church, thought I was getting a small church experience in seminary, and learned that there are still even smaller churches out in the world! Culture shock is the sure sign of being out of your comfort zone, and a pointer that you travel not in the shallow waters anymore. John Wesley identified the explorer DNA of the Methodist clergy when he told them to be ready at a moment’s notice to “pray, preach, move or die.”
Agoraphobia–the fear of open spaces–affects nearly 1.8 million American adults (.8% of the population). Xenophobia–the fear of strangers– affects more of us, sometimes in subtle and unrecognized ways. The “other” is the one we fear because they aren’t like us. The tension this sets up between their settlement and our settlement constructs a “no man’s land” across which neither of us can transit. So we both lob bombs of hate, suspicion and denigration across into each other’s territory. US vs. THEM is our tribal rivalry, our devotions to our pack, and our adherences to our specific creeds.
The other race, immigrants, the poor, the rich, the educated, the ignorant, the churched, the unbelievers, and all other contrasts of our world, such as those that shop at Wal-Mart and those that wouldn’t be caught dead in the parking lot. All of these are “strangers who live in strange lands.”
Sometimes we artists, creative people, and persons of faith think we must leave home to find the new experience that will open the eye of our imagination and set our creative juices flowing. We believe that only by traveling can we find the novelty that will awaken our senses that have been jaded by the constant bombardment of repetition. What we fail to do is to be explorers at all times, even when we return to the same address and the same bed each night. I have a set of coffee mugs for DST and for CST. I get bored drinking from the same set all year round and begin to miss the spring colored ones. These then are too bright in the fall and winter, so I bring out the deep colors and snow scenes. Monet painted his backyard many times: think Water Lilies!
Sometimes I feel the need to rearrange my 768 square foot condominium: then again, I decide to rehang the artwork to give myself a fresh look on the walls. Buying a new rug in Turkey was my big redecorating project for a while. I will change the cover on my bed according to the season, just to keep the room fresh. I am thinking of redoing the valence in the bedroom. I could still add crown molding and baseboards to the rooms, but I won’t do that until I change the floor covering. These projects are all worthy, but they take away from true creative pursuits. They are just signs that I want to strike out in a new direction, but I am afraid to leave the shore.
“You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.” This word is for the explorers who yearn to be settlers also, for the Hebrews had been wandering for a long time in the wilderness when they heard this promise from God. For them, the land would be new, wonderful, exciting, full of surprises, and an explorer’s delight. Only later would they be a settled people, forgetting how God fed them daily in the wilderness, and instead trusting their own labor to wrest a crop from that land. They would forget as they sat at their looms patiently weaving that for 40 years in the wilderness, their clothes never wore out and their saddle leather never failed. As they became settled, they trusted themselves more and depended on God less.
The explorer, however, is always going into the unknown, so trusting God in all things is a highly developed characteristic. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). This is what the Hebrews were told crossing into the Promised Land, but within a generation they began to trust themselves and other gods. The explorers still trusted the same God who had been with them in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
“Where is my next meal coming from” is the same question as “from what source is my next creative idea or expression?” How can I make ends meet is a question both settlers and explorers ask. Settlers will tie themselves to a plot, whereas explorers will find a way to live off the land. The same God provides for them all. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6.26:). I think we would all be improved by trusting God a little more, by risking entry into the unknown land where God resides, and opening our hearts and minds to the other.
Perhaps that is why we travel, to discover amidst the uniqueness in others an essential humanity. I would be sad to think that some folks traveled hoping to discover the unusual, but yearned for only the familiarity of home, but then they would be settlers. People who travel looking for home, who spend time comparing their experience to home, and talk about how glad they will be when they get home have missed the joy of traveling! Why did they spend $4000 on a grand tour of the holy places when they could have stayed home and complained!? They may have just needed a change of scenery or the weather was poor at that time of year. I too can find a growl bear mood, but when this happens, I like to take my iPhone out and wander about to photograph the common scenes of my everyday life.
Taking photos that are interesting and might be useful for a painting requires me to pre-compose or imagine the image through the lens. Then I brighten and/or use one of the Instagram filters before I share it on Facebook or twitter. I will put the camera inside the flowering bush, lie down on the sidewalk to shoot upwards (just because I’m a granny doesn’t mean I can’t get up again!), or bend down to get eye to eye with a low subject. People’s photos often fail because they aren’t close enough, the light is from the wrong direction, the viewpoint is ordinary, and the subject or photo itself lacks contrast. In other words, they are safe, shore hugging pictures. Explore what your camera can do. Take it for a ride out on a big wave out beyond the breakers. Feel the exhilarating breeze upon your face as your bark rushes over the tops of waves that have yet to break! You are flying! This is art! This is fun! You can bring your ship home anytime you want, but you’ll never be the same again. You are now an EXPLORER.
This quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but it hasn’t been found in any of his writings. It still speaks the truth to all of us:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”(—attributed in error to Mark Twain, first found in H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s P. S. I Love You (Rutledge Hill Press, 1990). Brown’s book is a collection of quotes and maxims attributed to his mother.)