Archive for July, 2021

Saturday Musings

July 31, 2021
Morning in The Redlands Hotel

Then Roy Bean got so drunk, he couldn’t talk. Before his tongue grew too thick to manage, Roy Bean became irrritated with Famous Shoes for referring to the words in the Bible as tracks. It did seem to Famous Shoes that they resembled certain birds who skimmed the water’s edge for their prey.

“They’re words, not tracks, you damn Indian!” Roy Bean insisted. “They’re words, like I’m saying to you, now.”

“But words are made from breath. How can they live in such a thing as this book?” Famous Shoes asked.

Lary McMurtry, Streets of Laredo

Rising early in the Redlands Hotel this Saturday morning, I enjoyed a stroll about downtown Palestine before the businesses awakened. It’s been my habit for awhile now to pick up things from the sidewalk that attract my attention that I can stick in my pocket and eventually paste into my journal. This cigarette package I decided to insert and then do a quick sketch with the brush pen I purchased last week, hoping I can get over my uptightness when working with ink.

Trash picked up on the morning stroll, pasted into Journal

Streets of Laredo is turning out to be an adventurous read. I laughed when I read the quote posted above, because Larry McMurtry’s fascination with words always found ways to enter the texts of his stories. I had to bookmark my place so I could lay the volume aside and return to another book I packed for this weekend trip: N. Scott Momaday’s The Man Made of Words. This author, a Kiowa descendent, is fully versed in his own heritage, and also highly educated in the universities and possesses a powerful, artful grasp of language that continually leaves me breathless.

The complexity of language is the quality that gives words their great vitality. We cannot exhaust the power of words; that power is instrinsic. . . . We exist in the element of language. Someone has said that to think is to talk to oneself.

N. Scott Momaday, The Man Made of Words

Years ago, I learned from my readings in Heidegger that the Greek word logos that we often translate as “word” has a fundamental meaning of “drawing together, assembling.” That changed everything for me as I began to ponder the creative power of words. In years of teaching, I tried to urge my students to be mindful of how their spoken or written words contain that power, that force, to create as well as destroy.

All of us can think back over our past, especially our childhood, at the many times words have either empowered us or devastated us. I fear that once we become adults we take that for granted and go through our lives oblivious to the ways that wreckless words tossed about today in the public sector have ways of wreaking destruction. Soon I will be reunited with my friend and fellow blogger Wayne White (“Hank” in my fiction stories). We frequently discuss how we hope that words we put on the blogs will fill people with hope, confidence and strength. And my hope for you today is that you find good things, and say and write good things.

Thanks for reading.

Summer Daze with Larry McMurtry

July 27, 2021
Studio Eidolons

The sun was still high, sulled in the sky like a mule, but Augustus had a keen eye for sun, and to his eye the long light from the west has taken on an encouraging slant.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Forecast today calls for another 100 degrees in this part of Texas. I came in to Studio Eidolons early this morning to sit at the drafting table, read, sketch and occasionally look out the window across Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

Morning Scribbles

After finishing McMurtry’s Comanche Moon, I surprisingly find myself now 36 pages into a re-read of Lonesome Dove. Why? Because when Larry McMurtry relates a story, I see it, hear it, feel its very surroundings. And I find myself reaching for the sketch pad…

More later… Thanks for reading.

Stream of Consciousness from Studio Eidolons

July 26, 2021
In the Studio Eidolons with Slumbering Paddington

All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lies in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.

T. K. Whipple, Study Out the Land

The Texas forecast threatens a 102-degree day this Monday. Yesterday reached 100, and I enjoyed the entire day indoors, in my pajamas, finishing Larry McMurtry’s Commanche Moon. I had not read Lonesome Dove till a couple of years ago, and now I’ve decided to finish out his series by reading Dead Man Walking and Streets of Laredo. I’m saddened at McMurtry’s recent death and consider myself blessed that I met him on a number of occasions while visiting his Booked Up Inc. in Archer City, Texas. Reading his Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond led me to read Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” and convinced me to continue following my dream of writing and illustrating a book of short stories or maybe even a novel featuring life in America.

Commanche Moon has reignited my appetite to read the history of the American West and re-visit some of the subjects I was painting a couple of years back while engaged in McMurtry reading as well as historical research on the West. I’m pulling out my sketches of bison, longhorns, horses, Plains Indians and cowboys. Perhaps in the coming days I’ll have new work to show.

Thanks for reading.

Two New Watercolors for The Gallery

July 24, 2021
Sacred Heart Night, 11 x 14″ framed watercolor. $150
Shelton Hall, 11 x 14 framed watercolor. $425

Our human tendency is to concentrate the world upon a stage. We construct proscenium arches and frames in order to contain the thing that is larger than our comprehension, the plane of boundless possibility, that which reaches almost beyond wonder.

N. Scott Momaday, The Man Made of Words

The weekend in The Gallery at Redlands proved satisfying, again. I’ll be here a couple of more hours tonight before heading back home to Arlington. I managed to complete and frame a pair of watercolors as I stayed here Thursday through Saturday. They are now on display in the gallery, and I’m closing out my stay by reading the wonderful words of Momaday, truly a man made of words. I love his statement above, about how we carve out stages and display niches to present the images that arrest our attention. Palestine is a town filled with “paintable” structures, each containing its own rich history.

Thanks for reading.

Renew Thyself . . .

July 24, 2021
Arriving Before 10 on a Saturday Morning

Renew thyself completely each day, do it again, and again, and forever again.

Confucius, The Great Learning

The morning began dreadfully. Before 7 a.m. I rose from a turbulent sleep, shellacked by a dream. Not a nightmare, but what I call one of those “loser” dreams, where everything goes wrong, and you cannot get out of the quagmire. You awaken, totally exhausted, languished, and feel that you got no sleep at all.

Reading and journaling seem the only ways I can peel away these damned cobwebs that seem to stick all over my body (you know how it is when you walk through one of those). When packing books for my gallery trip the other day, I fortunately picked up David Brooks, The Second Mountain. That man has become a real treasure for me, especially this morning when he successfully pulled me out of that funk.

While reading Brooks, my mind recalled a word from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden when he wrote of the dawn as the awakening hour and of our need to renew ourselves daily. He quoted Confucius (which I posted above). Now in response, I arrive at the gallery prior to my usual 10:00 opening time, and I’m ready to resume some art work. I’m anticipating a better day than I felt a couple of hours ago. Thank you, David Brooks. Life is a gift, and we owe it to ourselves to renew daily.

Attempted Rescue of a Discarded Painting

July 23, 2021
In Progress–8 x 10″ watercolor destined for an 11 x 14″ frame (if it works out!)

The heat outside is oppressive and I suppose people are staying cool inside their homes. The hotel and gallery have been pretty quiet all day, but it has provided me thoughtful space to sift through some unfinished art to decide if any of it deserves finishing. Case in point: the watercolor posted above. A few weeks ago, I finished a framed 20 x 24″ watercolor of Sacred Heart, a magnificent Catholic Church which peeks inside my upper gallery windows from across Queen Street. At this moment I can look up from my computer and see it bathed in the afternoon sun.

Snowy Sacred Heart Night, 24h x 20w” framed. $800

Several weeks ago, I taught a watercolor class, using Sacred Heart as a subject. My demo started out OK, but as the lesson wore on, and I began focusing more on the students’ work than my own demo. I got in a hurry and rendered some crude lines on the building. At that point I stopped and spent the rest of the class helping the students. Today, looking at the demo that went south, I’ve decided to see if it looked good enough inside a mat and frame. The picture at the top shows the assembly stacked together, and I think it looks OK, at least good enough to try and finish the painting out with some quality. We’ll see if I can pull it off.

Since this blog began over an hour ago, I’ve had a number of visitors in the gallery. Maybe I won’t get the painting finished and framed tonight after all. We’ll see. If not, then Saturday might provide me with enough time to see it through.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Playtime in The Gallery at Redlands

July 23, 2021
Loosening up with some Pen & Ink Sketches

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk.

N. Scott Momaday, The Man Made of Words

Friday morning in The Gallery at Redlands finds me at play. I finally sat down to gaze upon the cover of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. Charlie Mackesy, to me, is the gold standard for pen & ink as witnessed by his exquisite sketches of the characters in this lovely children’s book. I purchased a Pentel Arts Pocket Brush medium brush pen and sat down at the drafting table to see if I could possibly discard a lifetime’s practice of uptight, anal drawing. Yesterday, I sat down for my first attempt, copying Mackesy’s horse as quickly as I could with a rigger brush and bottle of India Ink. It didn’t go down very well.

First Attempt, using Rigger Brush & India Ink

Today’s attempt with the Pentel Brush Pen showed some improvement with the calligraphic style lines of varying width, but I still found myself very sloppy with the attempted hairline whips of arc-shaped lines. I think what I need to do is use the pen brush for heavier, calligraphic variety sweeps, then refine my fine lines using a tech pen. I’ll try that next.

The Momaday reading inspired me this morning, reminding me of my recent attempt to break the restraints of my former color palette. Having done more plein air work recently in canyon and mountain settings, I’ve decided to loosen up and try some of the quinacridone gold and red hues I’ve been purchasing from the Daniel Smith brand. The result has been some bison sketches of which I’ve sold several already at $100 apiece for 5 x 7″ watercolors mounted in 8 x 10″ frames.

Lone Bison, 8 x 10″ frame, $100
Friday Morning in The Gallery at Redlands

Downtown Palestine has been relatively quiet this morning, aside from drop-in visits from friends in the community whom I dearly love. Conversations with them are always warm, positive and enlightening. It looks like it could be a lovely day for experimental art work and creative eros.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

New Work in The Gallery at Redlands

July 22, 2021
Shelton Hall, 11 x 14″ framed watercolor. $425
The essays, stories, and passages in this volume are in some ways the reflections of one who has wandered far and wide in the world, has seen many things, and has recorded the experiences which most excited the days and nights of his journey. They may seem random observations, recollections, and evocations of place and procession. Such an impression does not offend me. My aesthetic sensibiliites are such that they can accommodate pronounced variation and spontaneity. Besides, I do not think that these works are random at all. Rather I perceive the writings herein as the pieces of a whole, each one the element of an intricate but unified design. They are the facets of a verbal prism,if you will, patterns like the constellations.

N. Scott Momaday, The Man Made of Words

N. Scott Momaday has articulated in words what I have tried to do in images for several decades now. The watercolor posted above was completed last night and now hangs in The Gallery at Redlands. The subject is a piece of the "image prism" I have worked on throughout my life, and the stories I write to give deep background to my paintings are, I hope, a "verbal prism" much as the kind Momaday assembles in his engaging essays and stories.

Palestine, Texas feels good this Thursday afternoon following a private watercolor lesson I just gave in the Gallery, a very engaging and successful lesson that thrilled me to the core. I guess I should go ahead and mention this for anyone interested--I charge $40 for the first hour and $20 for an additional hour, and I supply all materials. My students nearly always complete a successful 8 x 10" watercolor in two hours time, and I can teach a student virtually every trick I know in that space of time. 

By the time this weekend has run its course, I hope to have some surprising images to post on the blog. I have some new ideas to try out and am feeling giddy now to have some space and time to pursue them. We'll see how they turn out.

Thanks for reading.


I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remnd myself I am not alone.

Aging and Loving

July 21, 2021
Shelton Hall, Old Town Palestine, Texas (still in progress)

I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for . . .

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

We have not yet been home a week from our Colorado excursion, but already I find myself firmly set in the daily schedule of my usual life divided between Arlington and Palestine, Texas–a life we had escaped last week for a few days. Daily, I re-open journal pages and sketchbooks from the Colorado hiatus and review the many photos taken, not wanting those memories to fade . . .

Always when traveling, I pack several books, never sure exactly what is going to hold my attention while vacationing. This time I took Martin Heidegger’s Poetry, Language, Thought, Larry McMurtry’s Comanche Moon, my Greek texts of Homer’s Odyssey and my New Testament, and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Every day on the deck of our Brookie Cabin, I found time for journaling, watercoloring in my sketchbooks and reading from Heidegger and Dillard. PIlgrim at Tinker Creek I have read twice, but the text is so rich I continually find myself re-reading passages that though highlighted had been pushed down the corridors of fading memories, needing refreshment.

I have posted above the passage that knocked the wind out of me (as if breathing at 8,000 feet wasn’t difficult enough already). Annie wasn’t very old at the time she wrote that, but the depth of feeling seized me then, and of course seizes me much more at my current age.

I’m never sure how to address this issue of aging, but these are the things on my mind this morning: First, I have been aware of a sedentary lifestyle for decades, but lacked the inititative to do anything about it. Reading books and making art and driving long distances are not acts that improve physical conditioning. Weight gains and aging finally drove me to hire a personal trainer, and for several months in the gym, I’ve experienced the Greek αγωνία as muscles have been stretched and torn. I gratefully realized the improvement last week when in the stream fly-fishing, that my footing had much improved over the slick rocks underneath and my stamina was better wading upstream against torrential currents. Scaling the hills back to the cabin also came easier. So yes, I am much grateful to Inner Strength Fitness for pointing me in the right direction, healthwise.

But of course, there is no reversal for aging. The longer I live, the more I realize how much I love life and want to suck out its marrow, as Thoreau expressed in Walden. I am not living a life of regret over past decisions, but I do regret the feeling of doors slowly closing on the road ahead. My watercolor posted above, nearly complete, depicts a subject that has pulled at my sentiments since the 1980’s–an America I knew as a child in the 1950’s that is slowly vanishing from our landscape, but not my memories. I call my company Recollections 54 because it points to my birth year along with the decade that shaped my earliest impressions. The city of Palestine is replete with these relics from the past, and I’m grateful now to possess a gallery in what I know to be the best part of that town–the historic Redlands Hotel, built in 1914 and still maintained with pride and dignity. But as I continually survey the aging buildings and properties about me, I feel the corollary of my own life that continually resists entropy.

Tomorrow I will return to Palestine and The Gallery at Redlands, hopefully complete this watercolor, then begin a new composition, picking out yet another of hundreds of its monuments from the past. We have exciting events on the horizon in Palestine as we continue to pump new life into its art scene. Next month will witness the return of Wayne White, my “Hank” hero from the short stories I’ve been writing for a book to come out sometime in the future. On Friday night August 20 at 7:00, Wayne will team up with fellow Gallery at Redlands artist Stacy Campbell to host our “Gallery Talk.” Few people can “slap it around” better than Wayne and Stacy when it comes to discussing art and humor. You won’t want to miss that event. And then the next day, Saturday August 21 will be our third “Art Walk” that will take in over a dozen businesses in downtown Palestine from 10:00-3:00. At 7:00, our concluding summer concert event will feature Carson Jeffrey. A number of Palestine creatives have pooled their enthusiasm to pump up the fine arts in town and I’m proud to play a part in the events.

The morning has stretched into the afternoon already. I plan to spend the day in Studio Eidolons to see what I can cook up next. I hope to write you from The Gallery first thing tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Finding the Seam

July 18, 2021
Sunday Morning, Home in Studio Eidolons

One week ago, we started out on our journey to South Fork, Colorado to enjoy a few days of cabin rest, walking in the mountain air and whatever else we fancied. I was enriched to enter the stream on three occasions to fly-fish and still feel the sensations of those moments now on Sunday morning a week later.

View from the Deck of Brookie Cabin
My First Catch was a Handsome Brown Trout
Second Catch was a Rainbow

The same day we returned from our road trip from the Rockies, we started out for Palestine, Texas to participate in the city’s Art Walk and maintain business in The Gallery at Redlands. Driving home late last night, I found on Facebook an inspiring note from one of my former students who had just experienced her first fly-fishing lesson in Colorado. She responded to my congratualtory note by reminding me of a sermon I had delivered in 2016 titled “Finding the Seam.” She also said she spoke to her guide about the seam.

This morning I took out the sermon and re-read it, and have now decided to go ahead and post it. Thank you for reading.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back. 

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast. 

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

          Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.  Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots, as it cuts through the banks is a virtual symphony,  Maclean’s words come back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

          Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all. 

          What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

           Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

          What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness. 

          Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

          Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

          I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

          Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

          And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow. 

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.


[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson,ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.