The Cabin in the Forest by Paul Blankenship

Inside of you there is a forest. Passed the sycamore trees, the creeks, the night owls, and the crickets, there is a cabin. Your cabin sits under the sun and the moon and the other stars. It was built—and is sustained by—the spiritual gravity of divine love. Inside of your cabin is a fire burning in a fireplace. It is the everlasting and intimate that of God in you. Your eternal home. You are alone in your cabin under the sun and the moon and the other stars. You can’t put the fire in the fireplace out—because it burns from a mysterious source—but you share responsibility for the quality and intensity of the burn. You also share responsibility for what to do with the knocks at your door.

In the book of Revelation, Christ speaks:

“I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” 3: 20

A Walk through the Forest

Will you take a walk through a kind of forest with me? I want to help you find your cabin and listen to Christ’s knock.

Two weeks ago, a man I call the Rock Whisperer asked if I’d like to go on an adventure. He said the adventure would take one hour and that it would end at a waterfall. Though I was in a foul mood—I woke up late, hadn’t had a cup of Indaba coffee yet, and had a lot of work to do—I decided to go. I reasoned that one should never turn down an adventure that ends at a waterfall—not even if the sun and the moon and the other stars seem to be falling down from the sky and headed straight for one’s cabin.

At 11:00AM, I came outside to meet the Rock Whisperer. He had his dog Bebé and I had my dog Wendell. Beneath grey clouds and a light rain, we began our adventure. I should say that I call the Rock Whisperer the Rock Whisperer because of how delicately and beautifully he arranges rocks along the Spokane River. I never knew someone who loved rocks—and understood their power to love—before I met the Rock Whisperer.

A Talkative Mood

The Rock Whisperer is in a talkative mood. He gives detailed perspectives on politics, religion, science, and the non-human world. Every few blocks, the Rock Whisperer stops and marvels at small flowers. He calls me to attend to their intricate and varied lines of purple. ‘Look here, brother,’ he says. ‘Evolution, sure, but with a divine kick.’ When he speaks like this, it is as though the divine fire in my cabin is warm upon my face.

I am sincerely delighted to hear what the Rock Whisperer thinks and watch him marvel at flowers. His passion for the world is infectious. After an hour of this, however, I am deeply annoyed. Deeply. For one thing, we are not at the waterfall yet. The Rock Whisperer, actually, says we are only halfway. For another thing, I don’t want to hear any more opinions or marvel at any more flowers. I just want to see the golly darn waterfall and get on with my golly dang day. I am also annoyed, I must confess, that I am annoyed. I wish I could be more present to the beauty in this moment. When I have the patience to see, his words grow out of his mouth like wildflowers. Finally, after an hour and a half, we reach the waterfall. The Rock Whisperer lights a cigarette. He asks me if I see how skillful Mother Nature is. I walk close to the waterfall and stand beneath it. This is no Niagara Falls, to be sure, but it is a small wonder and a beautiful power. A true feast for the human spirit.

When the water falls onto my face, I feel like the drops are hot embers from the divine fire inside my cabin; like I am being remade in the divine fire.

The Return

After fifteen minutes of standing beside the waterfall, we head back. On the return, I suggest to The Rock Whisperer that we should just listen to Mother Nature: the creeks, the birds, the wind through the trees, the crack of our feet onto Her dried grass. ‘Yes brother,’ he says, ‘let’s listen to our Mother.’

Ah. Tranquility. Finally, I could enter into a holy silence. I could let the nature of silence hold me like a mother. Before we could listen to Mother Nature finish a sentence, however, The Rock Whisperer said he wanted to take me to another place. No, he says. Two more places. And to get there, he said, we need to go up the hill and around the corner.

Reluctantly, I agree to go as the Rock Whisperer goes on and on again about all the thoughts running through his head. Farewell to tranquility, I think.

‘Here it is, brother. This is what I wanted to show you. The Rock Whisperer points to a sign. The sign says we are standing at the last resting place for Spokane Garry, a former chief of a Spokane Tribe. Spokane Garry—whose Salish name was Slough-Keetcha—pursued peace with whites but got betrayed by their demonic powers of heartless capitalism and colonial religion.

The Rock Whisperer takes me a few more feet to a patch of land under three trees. No sign, but just as sacred. “This place right here, brother,’ he says, ‘is where I used to sleep. I slept here for two years when I didn’t have a house.’ The Rock Whisperer lights another cigarette. He picks up some trash on the ground and puts it in his pocket. He touches a tree that shaded him; he seems to touch his memories.

Holy, holy, holy. Holy is the ground we are standing on. Holy, holy, holy. Holy is the land my ancestors stole. Holy, holy, holy. Holy are the houseless who need houses. Holy, holy, holy. Holy are the trees that remember. Holy, holy, holy. Holy is the Spirit that call us to heal the wounds of the world and labor for the life of all creatures. Holy, holy, holy. Holy are we in our anger and denial and righteousness and love.

I thank The Rock Whisperer for bringing me here, and for sharing his story with me. He said he is grateful to be able to share. He said it is important for elders to pass on their stories. By listening to history, he said, we gain a greater appreciation for the present. I realize now that he has been—in his own beautiful, meandering, and longwinded way—inviting me to be a memory bearer and to labor for the good of life all around us.

I must confess: I often don’t want to listen to the sounds that trouble my serenity. I may block out and vilify what disturbs me. I like my cabin quiet. I don’t often think that a loud knock at the door could be the Universal Christ, bringing good wood for my fire.

Black and Brown Lives Matter

We are in a watershed moment in our country. We are becoming more aware of the degree to which our country violently protects and masks white supremacy and the degree to which we wittingly and unwittingly participate in racial injustice. Slavery and lawful segregation may have ended, but anti-blackness and brownness has not. The murders and lynchings of black and brown people by police are not the result of a few bad apples. It is the result of a rotting tree that was planted in another people’s soil. So, people are rising up. They are taking to the streets and city councils. They are demanding new soil and new trees. They want structural change: that, for example, less money be allocated to bloated, militarized police budgets and more money be given to mental health treatment, equitable education, public housing, and clean water.  

Like me, you may sometimes see the protests and think they are too loud. You may wish people would put down their megaphones and take a silent walk through nature. Like me, you may also realize that is precisely your white privilege that allows you to experience the call for justice and an end to systemic violence as an unnecessary disturbance. Though we cannot condone violence, toxic anger, and hatred, we must see that of God in every protestor and justice builder—violent or not—pleading for what every human spirit needs to breathe and live fully into the call of Christ: justice, equity, peace.

Amos

In Amos 5, the prophet issues a lament and a call for repentance.

(10-12)

People hate this kind of talk.
    Raw truth is never popular.
But here it is, bluntly spoken:
    Because you run roughshod over the poor
    and take the bread right out of their mouths,
You’re never going to move into
    the luxury homes you have built.
You’re never going to drink wine
    from the expensive vineyards you’ve planted.
I know precisely the extent of your violations,
    the enormity of your sins. Appalling!
You bully right-living people,
    taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.

(16-17)

“Go out into the streets and lament loudly!
    Fill the malls and shops with cries of doom!
Weep loudly, ‘Not me! Not us, Not now!’
    Empty offices, stores, factories, workplaces.
Enlist everyone in the general lament.
    I want to hear it loud and clear.

(21-24)

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals and book studies.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

Knocks at the Door

George Floyd. Knock. Breonna Taylor. Knock. Ahmaud Arbery. Knock. No justice, no peace. Knock. The poor people’s campaign. Knock. A green new deal. Knock. A moral revolution in our meetinghouse, in our domestic houses, in our streets, in our schools, in our malls, in our government. Knock, knock, knock.

The Cabin in the Forest Inside of you there is a forest. Past the sycamore trees, the creeks, the night owls, and the crickets, there is a cabin. Your cabin sits under the sun and the moon and the other stars. It was built—and is sustained by—the spiritual gravity of divine love. Inside of your cabin is a fire in a fireplace. It is the everlasting and intimate that of God in you. Your eternal home. You are alone in your cabin under the sun and the moon and the other stars. You can’t put the fire in the fireplace out—because it burns from a mysterious source—but you share responsibility for the quality and intensity of the burn. You also share responsibility for what to do with the knocks at your door. “I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.”

This message was given to Spokane Friends Church by Paul Blankenship during Sunday Worship service on June 28,2020.

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