path of light

"It felt like a resurrection."

That's the first thing I wrote in my journal when I got home from a ten-day trip to Ireland and Scotland.

And this feeling of resurrection?  It started in a 5,000 year old passage tomb, Bru na Boinne.  

Built by Neolithic people at least a thousand years before the great pyramids at Giza, Bru na Boinne stands in a bend of the Boyne River, overlooking a valley that contains many dozens more of these passage tombs, several aligned perfectly with this particular tomb.  

Bru na Boinne, photo: Andy Bruner

Bru na Boinne, photo: Andy Bruner

The stones that built these cairns come from sites 40 or 50 kilometers away.  Some 200,000 tons of stone compose this particular cairn, including 40+ huge slabs that compose the interior passageway, as well as a dozen or so standing stones on the exterior. 

Our guide told us that experts have estimated that it would take weeks and even MONTHS to move ONE of these huge standing stones up from the river, using log rollers.

Foreground: standing stone; background: wall detail

Foreground: standing stone; background: wall detail

Now think of this: the average life span of Neolithic people at this time was 25 to 30 years.  I would be the ancient old crone in this culture, had I survived to my current great age of 51.

People who were only going to live 25 to 30 years on average spent MONTHS of their lives rolling a stone up hill to stand in this spot.

That is an intense measure of devotion to whatever was happening here, to say nothing of the engineering and mathematical precision that designed the site, and the skilled craftsmanship of the stoneworkers, whose mortar-free domed ceiling is still standing inside a structure built 3,000 years before Jesus walked the earth.

"You are very welcome to Bru na Boinne," our tour guide said. 

A dozen or so of us had ducked our way under the lintel stone and squeezed ourselves down the narrow passageway, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a small round chamber.

"You are standing in a cruciform tomb," she said.

And sure enough, as I looked around, I realized: this structure is a miniature of every great cathedral in Europe.

The passageway we just squeezed down is the nave, and we are pressed together in the transept, with three niches around us, just like a chancel at the head of the cross, and a transept chapel on each arm.

In the chancel-niche is a very famous piece of Neolithic art: three spirals, woven together, dancing on the stone like breath and wind and Spirit and life.

The passageway we just squeezed along is perfectly aligned with the winter solstice, our guide tells us.  There is a window above the passageway, and the passageway is perfectly angled so that the window is level with the stone in the chancel-niche at the head of the passageway.  The stone with the three-spiral carving.

When the great stone door of the tomb is opened on the longest, darkest day of the year, the rising morning sun of the winter solstice will perfectly strike the window above the passageway, flooding this tomb with light.

That event has been occurring every single December 21 for 5,000 years.

Our tour guide turned out the lights and we stood in silence, a dozen strangers pressed together in a tomb, breathing, waiting for the light to return.

In this tomb, built for light.

In this tomb, built somehow for hope.

The mystic sweet communion with all of humanity overwhelmed me in that moment, that Neolithic people built a structure that is a poem for me today, giving language with stones and light and interwoven spirals to all that humanity holds dear.

We all carry with us the inevitability of death, the one last thing that not one of us will escape.

We all carry with us a capacity for hope, even on the darkest days and through the longest nights.

We all carry these things: all of our sorrow, all of our hope. 

All of our darkness, and all of our light.

There are no Others, only Us, the dearly beloved.

In my Evangelical tradition, we don't think much of what came before Jesus, about 2,000 years ago. 

We don't think much of those bearers of Imago Dei who lived outside the pages of our book.

But that day at Bru na Boinne, I felt an intense kinship with the hopes and fears of all the years, an immense respect for the skill and knowledge of the people who built Bru na Boinne, and a deep gratitude for these seekers of light who, 5,000 years ago, made this path of light for me to walk today.

"I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity."  Pope Francis

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wild Irish and Scottish roads: an itinerary for adventurers

Twenty-two years ago, I saw a picture of Milford Sound, New Zealand in a travel agent's window. 

"I don't know where this is," I said to Andy, "But I want to go there."  

A few weeks later, we were in a camper van, on the road in New Zealand, with Milford Sound as our destination, stopping along the way for anything that looked interesting and exciting.

Our trip to Ireland and Scotland was composed this same way: beautiful images of far-flung places, stitched together with many kilometers of scenic roadways and surprising stops along the way.

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This was not a trip for the city-lover.  Although we did visit and enjoy the wonderful cities of Dublin and Inverness and Edinburgh, the cities were, for us, gateways to the open road and the beautiful, wild places.  

The absolutely fantastic thing about Ireland and Scotland is that you've arrived in the land of the B&B and the pub.  So, you can drive as far as you want, hike to your heart's content, and at the end of the day, someone will serve you up a wonderful dinner and a pint.  There will be music, and a fluffy duvet to burrow into until the morning comes.

Bring your rain jacket and your waterproof hiking boots, and you're good to go.

So, without further adieu, here's our five days of driving through much of Ireland, then three days driving in the Scottish highlands, with a day in Edinburgh to wander around.

(This is going to be a long post, so I suggest a cup of tea, perhaps a biscuit to nibble, and a comfy seat as you take it all in.)

Day 1: Dublin to Belfast

We landed in Dublin early, rented our car, and headed north. 

Or, as the signs on the motorway say in all caps, The NORTH. 

Like a prophecy.  Like a portent.

Our very first stop was the World Heritage site, Bru na Boinne, a Neolitic passage tomb older than the pyramids at Giza.  I don't yet have words for how I felt at Bru na Boinne.  I'm working on better words, but for now let me just say that I wept like a child and then couldn't speak without crying for an hour or so after.  It was one of the most deeply moving spiritual experiences of my life, feeling a deep connection to humanity throughout history, and the oneness of our common experiences with death, sorrow, hope, and light.

Wearing sunglasses because I'm crying so much at Bru na Boinne.

Wearing sunglasses because I'm crying so much at Bru na Boinne.

Our next stop was Monasterboice, site of a monastery founded sometime around 500 AD.  The high crosses here, including the highest in Ireland, date from the 9th or 10th century. 

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We stopped for lunch at the Monasterboice Inn. Don't worry, I'm not going to show you all our meals, but this one includes our first pint of Guinness, and the meal itself featured potatoes three ways: topping the Cottage Pie, and side dishes of mashed potatoes and chips.  We shared, because there was Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert.  HEAVEN.

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After lunch, we wandered The Peace Maze at Castlewellan.  I wanted to find some labyrinths to walk on this trip, and when I Googled labyrinths, this came up.  It was gorgeous, and almost deserted, exactly the way we like our tourist attractions to be.  We were entering Northern Ireland at this point, and with its long history of troubles and painful division, a peace maze seemed like a spiritually appropriate beginning.

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By this time, it was late afternoon so we quickly nipped in to DownPatrick to pay our respects at the Grave of St. Patrick, quite remarkably humble and secluded.

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We spent the night at a Hilton in Belfast--the worst bed of the trip, but the best breakfast.  Fried soda bread.  Why don't we have this in America? 

Here we learned that our GPS can't pronouce the Irish any better than we can.  In fact, the GPS chick took words I can figure out, like "Templepatrick" and made them into unrecognizable things like "TempLEPatrick."  As a result, we couldn't always figure out what GPS-chick was trying to tell us.  Fortunately, roundabouts (rather than stoplight junctions) mean that you can just keep going around and around until you get back to the road you were supposed to follow.

Day 2: Belfast to Portrush

Our first stop of the day was The Dark Hedges in Balleymoney.  It's one of the most-photographed sites in Ireland, and was the film location for The Kings Road early on in Game of Thrones.  I love this picture Andy got with the tractor coming through.

Dark Hedges, photo: Andy Bruner

Dark Hedges, photo: Andy Bruner

After The Dark Hedges, we headed for the village of Cushendun on the coast, via the Glendun Scenic Route.  It was so beautiful, so lonely and wild.

Arriving in Cushendun, we went to climb around in this cool cave area we'd read about, and then found a sign saying that it was a Game of Thrones location, too.

Cushendun caves, photo: Andy Bruner

Cushendun caves, photo: Andy Bruner

The narrow roads in this area were bounded by huge hedges of fushcia in full bloom, and giant brambles of ripe blackberries. 

We'd seen so many enormous hedges by this point that I started hypothesizing that a biological imperative toward hedge-planting is likely an accurate test of whether you've got Irish roots.  Forget ancestry.com.  Do you feel a deep-seated need to plant hedges?  You're probably Irish.

We found our first red telephone box near Torr Head, where we stopped to climb the hill for a majestic view along the coastline.

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After spending the morning in this very remote and quiet area, we hit two tourist traps in the afternoon: Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and Giant's Causeway.  

The rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede connects a tiny island to the mainland, and was first built by local salmon fishermen, before America was even a country.  It's a tourist trap because it's cool!

Giant's Causeway is another World Heritage Site and simply spectacular.  There are tons of people around, but if you wait til just the right moment, you can get a shot without humans in it.  The guards told us we were too close to the edge and in danger of being washed away by crashing waves, so clearly a fine time was had by all.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, photo: Andy Bruner

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, photo: Andy Bruner

Giant's Causeway, photo: Andy Bruner

Giant's Causeway, photo: Andy Bruner

We stopped by Dunluce Castle (Castle Greyjoy in GoT), where we were too late to get inside for a tour, but were able to climb around the outside, and even found a sea-cave that comes in under the walls. 

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Day 3:  Londonderry to the Cliffs of Moher

We started our day walking the medieval walls of Derry.  I took this photo on the wall near Bishop's Gate, and if you look on either side of the cannon, you can see Protestant church spires on one side, Catholic on the other.  I was glad we had already walked the Peace Maze.

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Other than getting to the Cliffs of Moher for sunset, we didn't have set plans for the day.  Andy looked along our route and decided we'd drive through Glengesh Pass to another set of cliffs called Slieve League, taller than the Cliffs of Moher, but very remote and less visited. 

When we arrived at Slieve League, we hiked up from the car park, past a lot of sheep, through gale-force winds, to a good picnic spot. We were eating a sandwich on a bench near the cliffs, when we saw a bit of a rainbow. 

This, in fact, was Rainbow Number 12 for the day.  But we were still liking them, so Andy took this picture.

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Then we realized that the wind, blowing strongly toward us, was pushing the clouds rapidly inland.  As the clouds cleared, the rainbow kept growing and growing and growing, getting brighter and brighter and brighter.

For at least ten minutes, we sat spell-bound, watching this rainbow being born, until a complete arch formed all across the cliff face.

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At this point, we called the trip a raging success and everything that happened afterward, a bonus. 

On this particular day, the bonus included WB Yeats' resting place in Drumcliff, the ruins of Clare Galway Franciscan Priory (now inhabited mostly by birds, St. Francis would approve), and the Cliffs of Moher (aka The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride) at sunset.

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Clary Galway Fransciscan Priory, photo: Andy Bruner

Clary Galway Fransciscan Priory, photo: Andy Bruner

Cliffs of Moher, photo: Andy Bruner

Cliffs of Moher, photo: Andy Bruner

Day 4: Dingle & Rock of Cashel

We got up early on Day 4 for a long drive around Slea Head Drive, Dingle. Afterward, we turned back inland to Rock of Cashel, headed back toward Dublin.  This was a very long days' drive, and that informed our decision to drive the smaller peninsula of Dingle, rather than the larger and more well-known Ring of Kerry directly to the south.  We were perfectly happy with our Dingle-drive decision.  No regrets at all, when your lunch spot looks like this.  No filter.

Slea Head Drive, Dingle, photo: Andy Bruner

Slea Head Drive, Dingle, photo: Andy Bruner

We took the guided tour through the Rock of Cashel, then stopped just down the hill to end the day with sunset at the ruins of Hore Abbey.

Rock of Cashel, photo: Andy Bruner

Rock of Cashel, photo: Andy Bruner

Hore Abbey, photo: Andy Bruner

Hore Abbey, photo: Andy Bruner

Day 5: Back to Dublin

Day 5 begins with the sad tale of Irish breakfast tea gone amuck. 

We spent the night at the lovely country home of Helen, whom we discovered through Air BnB.  Helen's home had the distinction of being the only place we stayed where there was a hair dryer (note, I wore a hat most of the trip).  More importantly, it was the place of the tea disaster.

Helen was a very friendly person who gave us great advice for our Day 6 itinerary, plus the run of her kitchen for breakfast.  She told us how to make ourselves REAL Irish breakfast tea, with leaves, in a pot, and not with those desecrations to good tea known as tea bags.

So, the morning of Day 5 arrived, Helen was off to work and we were on our own with the detailed tea instructions we had received.  We boiled the water, made the tea, sugared it, took a sip, and both went, "Faugh!" 

(Really, there's no other word.  Faugh is the best I can come up with.) 

"Why is this so SALTY?  Is real Irish tea made with seawater?" 

We could not understand why anyone would drink salty tea. 

But in Scotland, they have haggis, so Irish tea might be salty. 

Who knows.

Human taste is a mystery.

"There's no right or wrong," we said, "To each his own," we said, but we could not drink this tea. 

So we poured it out (sorry, Helen, sorry!!!) and went with the substandard tea bags for round two.

Meanwhile, poking around on the table, I found a ramekin of brown sugar and decided to try that instead of the white sugar in my second cup of tea.  The open bowl of white sugar was fairly depleted from our previous use, and I wanted to leave that for Andy.  So I fixed up my second cup of tea with brown sugar, and he dumped the remaining white sugar into his second cup.

"Faugh!" he says again, "Faugh!"

And that's when we realized: the little open bowl of white sugar, with which we fixed our first cups tea, and with which Andy fixed his second cup of tea: SALT.

After slinking away from the tea-disaster at Helen's, we managed to find ourselves in the best ruin of the trip: the Rock of Dunamase.  It was very early, we were alone in the quintessential Irish countryside, surrounded by rolling fields full of new-mown hay and grazing sheep.  Nobody stopped Andy from climbing the walls, and I took a lot of pictures of old rocks and ivy.

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I waded through hay and brambles to take my favorite photo of the trip, looking back at Dunamase.  Traveling in September, the rose hips were gorgeous everywhere and made wonderful frames for so many beautiful scenes.

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From Dunamase, we drove through the majestic scenery of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, to the estate of Powerscourt with its beautiful waterfall and gardens.

Powerscourt Walled Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Powerscourt Walled Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Finally, we wound up back in Dublin where we visited the Book of Kells and the Long Reading Room at Trinity College, then said farewell to the Irish countryside on the hill at Tara of the Kings. 

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That night, we had dinner and a cider at Merchant's Arch, where the music was not traditional, but where Stevie and Lee made themselves heroes when they mixed Let It Be with No Woman, No Cry.  The Beatles and Bob Marley, together, and everybody singing at the top of their lungs: musical perfection.  Thank you, Dublin.  You did not disappoint.

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Day 6: Edinbugh to Inverness

Early on Day 6, we were up and at the airport, into the complete chaos that comprises boarding a Ryan Air flight.  Getting on board this super low fare airline is a blood sport.  Come early, and bring your yoga breathing, that's my best advice.

Once we'd gotten out of the chaos and into our next rental car, we headed north out of Edinburgh, across the Firth of Forth, for a trifecta of Outlander-inspired destinations: Cullross Village, Clava Cairns, and Culloden Moor.

Cullross Village

Cullross Village

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Culloden Moor

Culloden Moor

We also saw two wonderful bridges on this particular day: the 300-year-old arched bridge at Carrbridge, and Glennfinnan Viaduct, also known as the Harry Potter train bridge.

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Day 7: Isle of Skye to Glencoe

Day 7 found us hotfooting it out of Inverness at 5:45 a.m for a long day of driving.  Well, trying to hotfoot it, until our car set off its sensors, beeping and flashing a "puncture" warning.  Andy got out and looked around.  He didn't see anything obvious, there was no spare in our super fancy sensor-equipped rental, and we for sure were not going to call the emergency number and wait three hours for a rescue if there wasn't an obvious problem.  As a concession to the car's sensors, we decided to add air to the tire just in case.  The most challenging part of that operation was figuring out, in the early-morning dark, which coins made up the 50p charge.  Once air was added, the sensor stopped flashing and never bothered us again. 

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We drove down the western shore of Loch Ness, atmospheric with early-morning fog, stopping to look at Castle Urquhart and Eileen Donan, then over the bridge to Skye.

Castle Urquhart, photo: Andy Bruner

Castle Urquhart, photo: Andy Bruner

Eileen Donan, photo: Andy Bruner

Eileen Donan, photo: Andy Bruner

After greeting the local inhabitants (highland cows), we drove to the Fairy Pools.  True confession: we came to Skye because I saw a picture of the Fairy Pools on Pinterest.  I had been told by friends that Skye was a must, but the Fairy Pools photo is what convinced me that the extra long drive was worth it.

Turns out, the Fairy Pools are like someone you met on match.com: they may be perfectly nice, but they look absolutely nothing like their online photographs. 

Apparently, many visitors have trouble recognizing the Fairy Pools from what they've seen online, because a fair way up the track there's a sign that essentially says, "You've seen them.  Turn around and go back."

Me, about to get gently whacked by this cow's horns... photo, Andy Bruner

Me, about to get gently whacked by this cow's horns... photo, Andy Bruner

The Fairy Pools, as I saw them

The Fairy Pools, as I saw them

At the Fairy Pools, though, we met up with a family who gave us our hot tip of the day.  We absolutely HAD to go to the Fairy Glen, they said.  So off we went.  And it was magic: terraced hillocks, rocks to climb, stone circles, and a little waterfall with a red-berried rowan tree.  

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We had planned to do a couple of hikes on Skye that afternoon, but instead we hit an epic traffic jam.  Somebody ran off the one-lane road onto the boggy shoulder, which blocked traffic in both directions.

It was like one of those puzzle rooms where they lock you in and you have to work together to get out. 

Mostly a lady from Pennsylvania, wearing a red jacket, ran back and forth up the road telling which car to move next. 

After all that, we were not anxious to pull off the road into potentially boggy ground.  We made a couple of quick stops with well-graveled car parks, and kept moving along to the refuge of Glencoe.

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Lealt Falls, Skye

Lealt Falls, Skye

Day 8: Glencoe to Edinburgh

The drive from Glencoe to Edinburgh was everything I ever thought the Highlands would be: majestic mountains, windswept moors, placid lochs, crumbling castles. 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, swarms of midges that let you get just far enough away from your car, then attack with bloodthirsty intent.  If you wonder why nobody lives up here, the midges provide a clue.

Glencoe Moor

Glencoe Moor

Loch An-Achlaise

Loch An-Achlaise

Our favorite castle visit of the day: Castle Doune, which plays host to many film crews.  As you explore, you can sing along with Monte Python's knights of Spamalot, le sigh over Jamie and Claire's first meeting in Outlander, and roam the great hall of Winterfell from Game of Thrones.

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We made a wise decision at the end of Day 8: on our way back in to Edinburgh, we stopped at the airport and returned our rental car, then took the tram into the city.  Our hotel was just off the Royal Mile, in Advocate's Close.  A super cool and perfectly central location, but not someplace you want to try parking.

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Day 9: Edinburgh

In Edinburgh, we explored St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum, and even stepped into the Scottish Parliament to observe its session for a few minutes.

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Late in the day, feeling a bit worn out, we climbed Calton Hill where we could look over at Arthur's Seat without making the 45-minute climb to the top.  After snoozing in the sunshine for a while, we went down to The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter books, for afternoon tea before heading out to the airport for our long journey home.

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Andy and I celebrated our 30th anniversary this year.  We've been all over the world and back again.  We used to travel for work, and now we travel for fun.

I'm deeply, endlessly, grateful to be a witness to the beauty of this fragile and enduring planet, and to witness the wonder alongside my best friend. 

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My dearest hope and fondest wish that we'll always be singing along with David Francey:

Long road, dark night, nothing but headlights
But I'll see some bright lights, when I get home to you
Framed in your doorway with your arms open wide
I'll hold you in my arms, enfold you inside
And I want to tell you
Come rain or come shine
That I'll always be your love
If you'll always be mine

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come, children, i have other work to do

There's a scene in CS Lewis' The Last Battle, called "How The Dwarfs Refused to be Taken In."  Everyone is through the terrible door and into Aslan's country, reveling in the beauty and splendor of how the inside of the stable is bigger than the outside.  

As they're exploring, they come across a group of dwarfs who believe that they are still in the stable.  No matter what anyone tells them, they won't understand that they're free now.  

As Lucy says, "I've tried and tried to make friends with them, but it's no use."  

Finally, when Aslan arrives, Lucy begs him to help the dwarfs.

“Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.” He came close to the Dwarfs and gave a low growl: low, but it set all the air shaking. But the Dwarfs said to one another, “Hear that? That’s the gang at the other end of the stable. Trying to frighten us. They do it with a machine of some kind. Don’t take any notice. They won’t take us in again!”

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said “Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.” But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said:

“Well, at any rate there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.”

“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.”

CS Lewis, The Last Battle

Labyrinth, Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis, Santa Fe, NM (photo: me and my cell phone)

Labyrinth, Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis, Santa Fe, NM (photo: me and my cell phone)

One of the professors in my counseling program told this story on a number of occasions.  When he was a young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, he went downstairs one night to get a drink of water.  As he came down the stairs, he saw his father hit his mother.  He talked about how his understanding of his world shifted in that instant.

Jean Piaget "envisioned a child's knowledge as composed of schemas, basic units of knowledge used to organize past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones. Schemas are continually being modified by two complementary processes that Piaget termed assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation refers to the process of taking in new information by incorporating it into an existing schema. In other words, we assimilate new experiences by relating them to things we already know. On the other hand, accommodation is what happens when the schema itself changes to accommodate new knowledge."  source

In my professor's case, he was required to modify his earlier schema (perhaps, "My family is safe") when he witnessed his father's violence toward his mother.

All of us can imagine the kind of pain that a child suffers when he learns that his family is not what he thought it was.

We can imagine the pain, and we've all had that same experience, in one form or another.  We've all had to change our schema from time to time, and often that change comes at a heavy emotional price.

For me, these past few years have been a long series of schema-altering experiences.  There was no way to force the new information into the old schema.  

The old schema had to go, and new schema had to be created.  That is heart-breaking, mind-bending, life-changing work.  

Good work, glad I did it, but WORK, y'all.

For me, and for a lot of people I know, election night last November was a schema-buster.  The exact opposite of everything we'd been told about Christian values was elected president--by Christians.

Like Lucy, I've stuck around these last few months, trying to be friendly, saying, "Hey! Look! Light! Air! Freedom! Peace!"

I've spent this entire summer journaling out my sorrow, working out what to do with this new information, this new reality.

With Charlottesville, with the Nashville Statement, with the heartbreak of DACA, I hear Aslan saying to me, "Come, child, we have other work to do."

I think I've done my Lucy-work for now.  

I'm ready to move on.

There is a life of Love, a life that includes, a life that connects us all to the Love that never lets us go, and that is the work I want to invest in.

That means you'll continue to see me with a protest sign in my hands, on the streets of Dallas, standing with the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed.

That means you'll continue to find me on my yoga mat, breathing deep the breath of God.

That means you'll continue to find me worshiping with a congregation so full of hope and inclusion that you just have to experience it to believe it.  (Come by any Sunday, y'all.)

But for the next couple of weeks, that means you won't see me at all, because Andy and I are taking a trip to Ireland and Scotland: castles, coastlines, history, hiking, pubs, fish n chips.  All the good stuff.  Can't wait to tell you about it when I get back.

I don't want to have feet of stone
I don't want to have feet of stone
I want to follow this river of life where
It will have me go
I don't want to have feet of stone

I don't want to have a dagger tongue
I don't want to have a dagger tongue
I don't want my words to be a weapon
But a healing bond
I don't want to have a dagger tongue

I don't want to have a heavy mind
I don't want to have a heavy mind
I don't want to hold these thoughts
That are chains of iron
I don't want to have a heavy mind

I want to have eyes of love
I want to have eyes of love
Count the beggar mans life precious as my own
Offer my back for my brothers load
I want to have eyes of love
I want to have eyes of love

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Houston, Nashville, and my latent superpowers

So everybody knows that there's been a terrible hurricane on the Texas coast, and an area the size of a whole state like Delaware is affected.

You might also have heard that 150 evangelical leaders like James Dobson, Albert Mohler, and Francis Chan signed this "Nashville Statement" denouncing LGBTQ people and their allies.

In the middle of a hurricane, when hurricanes are regularly blamed on LGBTQ people, they sign this statement.  

Classy.

Church door, Mission Trail, San Antonio, TX (photo: me and my cell phone)

Church door, Mission Trail, San Antonio, TX (photo: me and my cell phone)

Their sentiments about LGBTQ people are no surprise, but this time they added an extra tasty topping: condemnation to anybody who affirms and accepts the LGBTQ community.

That's right, folks, Article 10 of the Nashville Statement states that as the proud mom of a queer kid, I am no longer a "faithful Christian."  

Because, as we all know, THE BIBLE CLEARLY SAYS that we are saved by faith--and rejecting gay people.  (insert sarcasm emoji)

In order to be a Christian according to this bunch of doodads, I'd have to reject my queer kid, and we all know that has a snowball's chance on a hot Texas day.

It will never, ever happen, no matter how many threats come my way or who makes them. 

Just last week, a stranger on Facebook told me that I am "worse than a gay person" because I'm affirming.  

I wasn't 100% sure what that accusation could possibly mean--until this Nashville thing hit right in the middle of the Houston hurricane.

Then it all became clear:  of course!  I must have latent superpowers!

If gay people can cause all this Houston havoc by their simple existence, and they're just minor riff-raff compared to me, imagine what I can do!

Cuz I'm WORSE, y'all!  WORSE!!!

I feel like Peter Parker when spider webs just start randomly shooting out of his fingers.  He had no idea about that spider bite, but now he can climb walls and everything.

So, even though I've been officially ejected from the evangelical fold, I'm pretty pumped.  

Like Peter Parker's spider bite: voila!  I've got superpowers!

So far, my superpower seems to be expressing a lot of sarcasm and a real gift for playing loud music like Tom Petty I Won't Back Down and the Dixie Chicks Not Ready to Make Nice.  

But I'm hoping this will all settle into something along the lines of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about:

"So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've been told in the past that I love too much, and I'm hoping that's where my superpowers will lie: as an extremist for Love.

(And maybe just a little tropical disturbance every now and again, if my LGBTQ loves will give me the downlow on how they conjure that stuff up.)

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confederate statues and the efficiency of the abuser

TRIGGER WARNING:  DOMESTIC ABUSE, WHITE SUPREMACY

The Eye, by Tony Tassett, at the Joule Hotel, Dallas  (photo: Andy Bruner)

The Eye, by Tony Tassett, at the Joule Hotel, Dallas  (photo: Andy Bruner)

As a therapist, I listen to a lot of women talk about their experiences of abuse.

One of the things that has struck me lately is how efficient abusers can become.  

Quite often, abusers simply wish to control and feel superior to others.  As long as their stress levels are manageable, and as long as their victim remains a victim, helping them to feel superior and in control, they're happy enough and don't need to break into fits of rage. 

For Christian abusers, fits of rage are problematic since they commonly make the naughty list along with things like witchcraft and debauchery (Galatians 6:20).  Keeping fits of rage to a minimum is necessary to maintain the Christian image, both for himself and others.

Of course, the Christian abuser has the option of the occasional rage-fit when necessary, easily rationalized away by "she wasn't obedient" or "I was under a lot of stress."  

Once he's over it, and everyone has apologized for upsetting him so, he can go back to fuming in his La-Z-Boy, while everyone else walks on eggshells under his silent stares.

I often have wives tell me, in guilty half-whispers, how relieved they are when their husbands are out of town.  

How much fun they have with the kids.  

How they sleep peacefully all through the night.  

How their bodies stop hurting and their hearts stop pounding.

Then he comes back.

"He wasn't even doing anything," she'll tell me.  "He was just sitting in his chair.  Why was I so upset?"

"He's a very efficient abuser," I'll reply.  "He's trained you to be terrified of him, so now all he has to do is sit there, and you're under his control.  In his mind, it works this way: he's just sitting there, and you can't leave him, because there's no Bible verse that says you can leave a man who just sits there.  As long as you believe his narrative, you're his victim forever."

You know what this common domestic abuse pattern reminds me of this week?

Confederate statues.

Those mass produced WalMart hunks of junk that popped up like chicken pox pustules all over the South during the Jim Crow era.  

"They're not doing anything," their defenders tell us. "They're just standing there."

But just like domestic abusers, all they have to do is stand there to maintain the system.  

White supremacists have already done the hard work of creating the abusive system.  

They already stole millions of people from their homes, enslaved them, raped them, sold them, treated them as animals. Were willing to die for their "right" to keep human beings enslaved. Continued, 100 years after the Civil War, to rape and lynch and murder and segregate. Used Bible verses to do it, and created entire denominations that supported their white supremacist ideals. Then shoved those statues in place, efficient abusers that they are, to keep people of color silent and scared and under control.

And when I listen to people of color talk about the confederate statues, I hear the echoes of what my domestic abuse victims tell me.  The feelings they relate are the same.

The sullen sitter in the La-Z-Boy,

the pigeon-poop-stained occupant of the plinth:

they are both the efficient, sociopathic abuser,

purposefully present

to menace and manipulate their victims.

I wonder what this country would be like for people of color, if they did not have these constant reminders of white supremacy?

Would they, like my victims of domestic abuse with their husbands out of town, feel that sense of freedom and relief?  

Would they have more fun with their kids?  

Would they sleep more peacefully at night?  

Would their bodies stop aching and their hearts stop pounding? 

I personally think that is an experiment well worth undertaking. 

As people of faith, who try not to be complete idiots about what's happening around us, it's time to pull our collective heads out of the sand (or wherever else said heads might happen to be).  

Stop letting abusers manipulate the Bible to maintain their systems of oppression.  

Face up to reality, no matter how painful it may be.

Let us be willing to understand, at long last:

Any interpretation of the Bible that results in harm to another human being is a wrong interpretation that props up systems of oppression.

We have to stop enabling abuse, whether it's the specific abuse of one individual or the collective abuse of an entire race.

Instead of acquiesing to the narrative of the abuser,

let us attend to the voice of the victim,

and work for justice and mercy.

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fear+shame=hatred

I'm feeling like a bit of a prophet after my last post, where I wrote that Something Must Be Done about all the injustice of the world over which we have no control.

After the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, I really feel like Something Must Be Done about racists and white supremacists, and I'm kind of regretting that last line of that last post, where I said that Something Must Be Done WITHIN ME.  

Rio Grande Gorge, outside Taos NM.  Photo: Amy Bruner

Rio Grande Gorge, outside Taos NM.  Photo: Amy Bruner

As I think about what needs to be done, I've been considering the roots of hatred.

Where does that kind of hatred come from?

To do work within me, I have to dig beneath the constructs of what makes "them" do what "they" did in Charlottesville.  

I have to think about what could potentially drive that kind of hatred inside me.  

Cultural influences aside (and please, I beg you, educate yourself about those), what are the personal components of hatred? 

Hatred, I believe, is a toxic mixture of fear and shame, irrationally projected onto someone "other."

In the case of events in Charlottesville:

I'm full of fear (manufactured by my culture or real in my personal experience) + I have terrible shame (real men, especially supreme white ones, don't feel fear) = I hate black people and Jews; in fact, I want them dead.

This makes no logical sense, it's true, but there's a real reason that fear and shame lead to irrational conclusions and harmful behaviors.

I've said this here about a thousand times already (some of you are chanting, "amygdala, amygdala, amygdala" and getting gold stars on your super-blog-reader charts) but here it is again:  

When our downstairs brain gets overwhelmed by fear or stress, our lids get flipped in our upstairs brain, and the cognitive game is over.

When we're scared and our lids are flipped, we'll do anything to make ourselves feel better, no matter how irrational, no matter how harmful to ourselves and others.

Here's Dr. Dan Siegel with a quick review:

Fear will make us irrational.  

All of us.  

Not just white supremacists.  

All of us.

When we keep living in fear, we become less and less rational and more and more susceptible to soothing ourselves in harmful ways.

Therefore: if I want to be a sane, rational, loving human being, I've got to learn to deal with my fear in healthy ways.

I've got to recognize fear and deal with it, before it has me buying packs of tiki torches in Wal-Mart.

Recognizing fear means that:

  • I cease denying that I have painful emotions because I am a Christian/white/male/whatever
  • I accept that emotions are helpful when I listen and work with them in healthy ways
  • I listen to Dr. Siegel and educate myself about how my brain and body work
  • I pay close attention to my physical body
  • I understand and recognize tension in my physical body
  • I experience how thoughts, images, conversations impact my physical body

Dealing with fear in healthy ways means that:

  • I calm my body, preemtively and often, with techniques like breathing, yoga, exercise
  • I pay attention to what I put into my cognitive brain that may promote fear rather than rational thought
  • I do more yoga, breathing, and exercise
  • I might delete Facebook from my phone if I get really radical with my self-care
  • I stick with sane, rational people as much as possible
  • Yoga.  Breathing.  Exercise.

I have been thinking recently about how breathing and yoga are so incredibly effective in coping with life, and bringing us to a place of sanity.

And I have been thinking about how the Holy Spirit is called wind and breath.  

And it just makes me think, maybe there's something to this whole breathing thing, spiritually speaking?  

Maybe it has something to do with the wind and breath that created us and sustains us, in whom we live and move and have our being?  

Breathe in Love, breathe in community, breathe in Oneness.

Breathe out the fear, breathe out the shame, breathe away the hatred.

"Return to the breath"--this is a thing your yoga instructor will say.

And to me, that's just another way of saying, "Turn back to Love."

When we're scared, when we're lost, when it's all too much, there is ALWAYS a safe place for us to go:  Love.  We just turn back to Love, over and over and over.

And those of us who have tried it have found it to be true: our breath carries us there.

The breath that brought us into existence, the breath of the Spirit that carries us every day, that is the breath that brings us away from fear, away from shame, away from hate and back to Love.

So this is what I know to do within me today: BREATHE.

Of course we will listen and think and seek to understand and change our minds if need be.  

We will post and march and light candles and pray.

We will keep speaking truth to power, we will keep bearing light into the darkness.  

But first, we breathe.

Lots of love in, lots of love out.

We breathe, we breathe, we breathe.

We breathe ourselves back to Love.

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Something Must Be Done

I don't know if it seems this way to y'all, but it seems to me like this is just a time in history when Something Must Be Done.

Aside from all the fire and fury that apparently is all God's will, we've all got our situations where we're trapped, stuck, at the mercy of someone or something.  

Right now, I'm in a Facebook group that's trying to work for justice and mercy in a particular situation.  No matter how nicely we say it, no matter how much evidence there is for reality, no matter how many victims speak, the situation just doesn't seem open to change.

This is not the first time in my life I've encountered this in a Christian institution, and I doubt it will be my last.  

I've had to ask myself, why bother?  I don't think things are going to turn out the way I want, so why am I in this?

Secret police building, still in use, Yangon, Myanmar.  Photo: me and my cell phone.  Don't turn me in.

Secret police building, still in use, Yangon, Myanmar.  Photo: me and my cell phone.  Don't turn me in.

What I've realized is this: many times, speaking truth to power does not result in justice or mercy.

Any minority group in America can tell you this.  

However, many of us white cisgender straight people, raised in wealth and privilege in church, we've been taught that if you just do the right thing, if you just do God's will as defined by us, you'll get the outcome you're hoping for, and it will happen today or at least this week.

Proof of this is that everything goes mostly fine for us most of the time; we must have the formula down and be doing it right, so we pat ourselves on the back and keep preaching.

The life of Jesus should give us real pause when it comes to thinking like this, but instead that whole story has been turned into a victory march for prosperity gospels that sneak in everywhere.

The truth is: we have no control, and that's okay, because LOVE DOES NOT CONTROL.

Love just makes an offer. 

Love offers the truth, and companionship to deal with pain that the truth so often brings.

Once someone has seized and leveraged power, it's often true that nothing works to remove that person from power.  

But we keep speaking the truth anyway.  

Even if power won't listen, we keep speaking the truth.

We keep working for justice and mercy wherever we find ourselves. 

We keep resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. 

We keep providing a safe place for victims. 

We keep creating appropriate boundaries in our own personal lives so that we can offer help and empathy to the victims.

When we experience seasons like this--unjust, painful, difficult seasons even within the realm of our privilege and plenty--our experience should open us to the reality of suffering in the world, and make us

more compassionate,

more open,

more inclusive

of the suffering that others have endured all along without our noticing.

(Today is the third anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  Did you notice?)

In the end, whatever wrongs other people commit, whatever outcomes we cannot control, whatever happens in the world, we can still be the people who go into the world with our arms and hearts open wide.

In seasons like this, when we feel so strongly that Something Must Be Done, ultimately Something Must Be Done WITHIN US.

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the summer of art

One of the things you're supposed to do in The Artist's Way is take yourself on an Artist's Date every week.  Just you, yourself, and art.  I've absolutely loved doing this, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you.  

The Dallas Arboretum

Early in the summer, the Dallas Arboretum hosted Zimsculpt, an exhibit of sculptures, all by artists from Zimbabwe.  It was beautiful and fascinating.  I hope they bring it back again in years to come.

The Dallas Museum of Art

One of my favorite things about the DMA is the amazing way they curate the individual galleries within the museum.   Epigraph, Damascus by Julie Mehretu, hanging next to Untitled by Christopher Wool: "No more home."  Stunning. 

IMAG1290.jpg

The Crow Collection of Asian Art

I loved this exhibit, Landscape Relativities: The Collaborative Works of Arnold Chang and Michael Cherney.  Cherney is a photographer who lives in China; Chang is a classically-trained painter who lives in New York.  Cherney takes photos, and sends them to Chang who creates a fantasy landscape the includes and expands on the photos.  Collaboration is the all the awesome, in my book.

The Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth)

You may remember how I flipped out over Gabriel Dawe's Plexus no. 34 when I saw it in June.  It's leaving the museum September 2, and I'm pretty much in mourning.   I feel like this should be part of the permanent collection at the Amon Carter.  

The Japanese Garden, Fort Worth Botanic Garden

The Japanese Garden in Forth Worth is an entire living art-landscape that you get to walk into and enjoy from endlessly beautiful aspects.  There's not a single flower in the whole place.  Just green green green of all shapes, sizes, and textures.  (And a lot of slightly scary carp.)  

So, folks, I was having a wonderful, artful summer, full of normal, usual artful experiences: sculpture, photography, painting, gardens.  All the good stuff.

And then we went to Santa Fe, where there's a new art-sheriff in town, and its name is MeowWolf.

MeowWolf is a group of artists who collaborated on some art installation projects, then took over an old bowling alley and turned it into The House of Eternal Return.  

They call it "an immersive art installation experience."  

I call it The Cathdral of Creativity on Crack.  

After standing in a pretty serious line (because word has gotten out, y'all), you enter the exhibit, which looks like the front porch of an old farmhouse.  There's some kind of mystery attached to the house, and practically everything in the house is a portal to different parts of the "multiverse" where you can continue to follow the story line.  

Walk through the closets, climb through the fireplace, shimmy through the dryer, crouch through the refrigerator, and find yourself in a fantasy world.

True confession:  I didn't even try to follow the storyline, because I was too busy being visually overwhelmed in the best possible way.

Here we are, playing the musical dinosaur bones:

Here's a selfie we took after we climbed inside an ice machine:

Here we are, exploring a flourescent forest:

Playing a laser-light "harp" by passing my fingers through the light beams:

While we were in Santa Fe, my assignment from The Artist's Way was to write some creative mantras for myself.  

One of the mantras I wrote that week was, "Nothing confines my creative spirit."

And then we went to The House of Eternal Return, where a whole bunch of people with completely unconfined creative spirits went and lost their collective minds, all in one spot.  

It was glorious.

And it just made me wonder:

How am I holding myself back, creatively?

When I hold myself back, creatively, what glorious wonder remains unleashed?

What are we all missing out on, because I hold myself back?

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four dogs, a fence, and a baby

I have no idea if there's anything profound in this story I'm about to tell you, but if you've been following the fence project over the past few weeks, you have to hear this, profound or not.

Remember when I said, "this fence is only marginally doing what it was built to do?"  Yeah.  I have to tell you about that.

This past Friday night, our daughter and granddaughter came and slept over at our house while their guy was out of town.  Saturday before they trekked back north, I said, "We need to take some pictures with the baby and the fence!"  

Everybody agreed that this would be fun, so out we went, along with the four dogs.  We have two, daughter has two.  Four altogether:  three fairly doofy poodle mixes, and one extremely intense mini dachsund with a Napoleon complex.  

Just a bunch of people and dogs, trying to take a picture.

Our granddaughter, Michelle, at age 9 months, is an expert at selfies.  We call them Michellefies.

Normally she looks at the screen and has a thousand fascinating expressions.  (I'll have mercy and spare you the evidence for this seeming exaggeration.)  This time, though, she just kept looking at the ground, because the dogs were racing around being crazy, and our Napoleon/dachsund friend, Peanut, was vociferously yapping at the fence.

Just as we took this photo, there was a creaking, cracking noise.  The yapping increased, and when we looked down, there was the neighbor's dog, with his nose through a broken board in the fence, clearly intending to come over and have Peanut for dinner.  

Of course, Peanut just regards this as another potential conquest, so he's all, "Come and take it, buddy," and Libby's saying, "Don't let that dog in here!  Peanut will kill him!"

This is now Andy and I ended up holding a broken fence board in place in the middle of a dog drama.  Like UN peacekeepers or something.  

And how we ended up with this truly attractive and clearly professional repair job.

Like I said, I'm not sure there's anything profound about this.  

Just, I'm glad I went ahead and had fun with this fence before the dogs totally destroy its paper-flimsy self.

Paint all the fences!

Have all the fun!

Take all the pictures with the cutest, sweetest baby in the world!

IMG_20170729_080911981_HDR.jpg
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what the hell, Julia

Every Saturday, I read the next chapter of The Artist's Way and do the week's exercises.  Last Saturday, as I was reading merrily along, these words struck my brain like blunt force trauma:  "Reading deprivation."

As in, don't read for a whole week.

Seriously, that was the assignment:  don't read for a whole week.

What the hell, Julia?

She said things like, "For most blocked creatives, reading is an addiction.  We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own."

And she said  this:  "Sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play."

Well.

I will freely admit to a reading addiction.

But what happened for me when I stopped reading for a week was not play.  

What happened for me when I stopped reading for a week was anxiety.

This whole reading deprivation thing happened to happen on a week when apparently all my clients were on vacation or something, leaving my calendar with big chunks of white space.  

And no reading allowed.

Normally I'd be excited about more free time, and I wouldn't even want to read in every minute of my white space, but because I wasn't allowed to read, it just made me upset to have white space in my schedule on exactly the wrong week for white space.

As "Sally and I" said in The Cat In The Hat, "We did not like it, not one little bit."

I had to have a plan for those big chunks of white space, it's gotten just too hot for fence painting, and I just didn't know what else to do, so I went to the Dollar Store and bought two bags of rocks, and painted rainbows on rocks.

But I did not like painting rocks.  

So what, painted rocks.  

I was happily painting my fence until you said I couldn't read.  Now I'm mad.  

What the hell, Julia.

I cleaned out the laundry room, and repainted the shelving which was seriously nasty.  It needed doing, but it wasn't fun.  My arm hurt from holding the paint brush funny inside the shelves.  There were no dots.  It was just plain yellow.  What the hell, Julia.

In the process of cleaning out the laundry room, I found some old throw rugs and I used those to soften up the little covered patio outside the guest room.  I found some old fabric and tacked it up on the patio fence.  I went to IKEA and bought 3 purple lanterns to hang on the patio.  I wasn't happy about any of it, though, because I couldn't read, and what the hell, Julia.

I wrote some extra angry pages in my morning pages that basically said, "What the hell, Julia."

I knew that my upset was all about fear.  I knew it, and I couldn't stop it.  It's so deep and visceral, it has nothing to do with rational thought, my fear of doing things wrong, my fear of making mistakes, my belief that reading is necessary to stop the fear.  

Here's what reading is to me:  reading is SAFETY.

Reading is a safe activity: you're very unlikely to be punished for sitting silently and reading.  If you make mistakes, no one knows, and you can't be punished if nobody knows.  

"It's not safe to take too many risks, Julia," I wrote.  "Do you get it now?"

I kept not reading, because it is safe now, even if my brain still doesn't get it, deep down.  I just kept waiting it out, breathing.  Accepting the fear, riding it out.  Painting dots on rocks.  Cleaning out closets.  I found some old needlepoint Christmas ornaments that I should probably finish.  I went to the store to buy yarn, and while I was there, I found canvas panels on sale.  I bought a pack of them, just because you never know.

On Friday, I wrote: "It's Friday and I still haven't had this huge burst of play like I think I was supposed to.  It's been more like a hard slog uphill.  Even when I've done artsy things, there's been a sense of duty underlying it, not play.  But.  I've been forced to occupy and furnish physical spaces in my home that are otherwise ignored. Maybe that's the lesson of this week: living into all the neglected spaces of my life."

I wrote out my mantras at the end of my pages on Saturday:

Creation is holy.

I am enough.

Nothing confines my creative spirit.

I looked at the stack of canvases next to my desk.  The Sharpies corralled in their tin cans. My question of the week: "What the hell, Julia?"

And finally, I felt able to play.

Enter sadness, with his rainboots in blue
Since I can remember I've been runnin' from you
But this time you sat your ass down with no intent to move
You ain't no Blue Healer

VERSE II
Well the longer that you sit here lookin' into my eyes
The shock of your arrival, it begins to subside
And as I drop my defenses you start to crack a smile
Are you a Blue Healer?

CHORUS I
Well I've been proud and
Lookin' in a mirror that's clouded
With smoke keeping me shrouded
Believing I'm fine
But you wipe clean
All of these illusions that ain't me
Now you've got me lookin' and I hate me
Where is my spine?

VERSE III
Peace, you told me, I'm only here to reveal
Where you've been stuck and where you're going if you're lookin' to heal
But you've gotta drop these vain addictions and hang on to what's real
You Healer

BRIDGE
I want to welcome every shadow
Instead of taking every one to battle
I'm climbing back up into the saddle
(2x)

CHORUS II
And now I stand tall
Used to think my sorrow was a brick wall
Made me want to curl up in a tight ball
Self-pity dealer
But there's a gate here
You can only find it if you wait here
Now I'm walkin' through it with my gaze clear
Me and the Blue Healer



Read more: Birdtalker - Blue Healer Lyrics | MetroLyrics 
 

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