Beauty Eclipses the Tension

Eclipse fever cast its own eclipse over the United States this month.  It was cloudy and rainy locally, so the untimely darkness was our only indication of the phenomenon.   Listening to the recordings of people as they experienced the veiling of the sun was enough to bring tears to my eyes.  Their cries of astonishment and delight had me almost as captivated as they were on August 21.

The non-political, non-commercial (mostly), grace-filled moment offered us a brief respite from the tension that persists among us in the U.S. these days.  The tension seems to take on new forms daily, assaulting us from every direction, making us wary and suspicious.  It is relentless and self-energizing, searing us in its heat if we let it get too close for too long.  Is it any surprise, then, that our collective sense of wonder during the eclipse felt like a healing, refreshing breeze?

It reminds me of an incident from a few months ago.  Last winter a friend and I launched a discussion group called “Knock Knock.”  It was an attempt to address emotion-laden political issues with greater care than seems to be the norm in the public square.  We chose guidelines to help us speak and listen to one another with sensitivity and curiosity.  We practiced, we fumbled, we kept at it.  The participants who came timidly at first gained confidence, delighted at the chance to engage in meaningful dialogue that is safe, thoughtful, open.

Our final gathering before the summer hiatus had us listening to a local politician, offering him the opportunity to tell his story beyond issues and votes.  The habit must be hard to break, because the discussion got a little heated.  I realized that I was unprepared for this problem.  How to intervene within the spirit of our principles?

April 2017 rainbowSuddenly someone pointed across the table and blurted, “Look!  A rainbow!”  The wine bar where we gather is entirely made of windows, so there it was, vivid and delicate.  We watched it grow and recede, glow and fade until the colors disappeared.  We oohed and aahed, laughing together at this unexpected gift.

As we returned to our seats, our smiles morphed from awe to merriment, collectively realizing how the rainbow had broken the tension in the room.

We cannot control the skies, nor each other.  We are disappointed often, clouds darkening both our personal and collective horizons.  But once in a while, beauty breaks in to surprise us, unite us, and heal us, if only for a moment.

About “The Gate”

My thoughts on Marie Howe’s poem “The Gate”

“I had no idea that the gate I would step through

to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother’s body made.”

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September 2016

I feel sometimes as though the gate I step through to see the world is my mother’s smile.  I feel my lips forming her smile and feel my eyes turning into hers, twinkling with a secret knowing.  Other times I find myself crying her tears.  Feeling the pain of loneliness that seems as though she is weeping along with me, in me.  Looking long at someone’s suffering that no one around me notices, allowing the ache to permeate my protective shell and give space to tears.

But her smile.  Winsome, hard-won, given.  It healed me, gave me such hope.  Told me that everything will be all right, for her, for me, for the yet-unborn who will inherit the ghost of a smile that opens a space in the world for them to walk through.




This month I enjoyed hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park.  As hiking “veterans,” sometimes we devise ways to entertain ourselves on the long hikes back to the trail head.  For example, once we challenged each other to name movies or books beginning with every letter of the alphabet.

Dream Lake CO 2017
Enjoying the easy hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

During one hike this year, we overheard some young women talking about mathematics as they passed us on the trail.  At least I think it was mathematics.  The language was above my head!  It occurred to me that it would be fun to create fictitious snatches of conversation that would turn other hikers’ heads.  We laughed as we came up with some provocative statements:

“I was so relieved they didn’t look in the trunk!”

“Roadkill doesn’t taste that bad if you use enough seasonings.”

“We got the head buried, but then we didn’t know what to do with the body.”

“I told him, if you’re going to shoot me, shoot me!”

(You can see the direction our ideas were taking.)

It was fun to imagine the comments that hikers would make after passing us on the trail.  It was pretty entertaining.

This is what passes for “extreme” sports in my set.

We only managed to use one “snatch” on other hikers without laughing and giving away the game.  I saw some hikers approaching and said, “…so what do I do after you’ve won the lottery and bought the house, gone on all the trips you can think of?  I’m not sure what to do next.”

We form impressions of people based on brief interactions, careless remarks, or a comment on Facebook or Twitter.  Those impressions may or may not be accurate.  I can’t count the number of times I have had to alter my opinion of someone because I got to know them better.

I got to thinking about “snatches” in our lives, slices of our speech or behavior that people witness without knowing us otherwise.  Interactions with cashiers or waiters or strangers on a neighboring campsite.  What kind of impressions do we make?

I don’t think we have to pepper our conversation with the gospel message or Bible verses in every other sentence in order to offer the love of Jesus to the world.  We can be living lights of love and encouragement in myriad ways, participating in the reign of God by our generosity.  Of course we can always share the basis for our hope when the occasion arises.

We don’t have to be profound to have an impact.  Sometimes a well-timed question seems best to me:

“Huh.  I wonder how it felt to be on the receiving end…”

“How is that (attitude, story, perspective) workin’ for you?”

“So what do you think?”

I wonder whom I will meet along the “trail” today.  Happy hiking!


An even preachier version of this appeared in the Spencer Daily Reporter of August 4, 2017.