Pastpresentfuture travel

by Steve Brock on January 2, 2014

Getty PatioI typically try to avoid going back to places I’ve been to before. Doing so tends to be like eating the same meal for a week. After several rounds of leftovers, that once favorite dish is well…you know what it’s like.

In some ways, I wish I could be more like my dog. She eats the exact same dog food morning and evening and has done so for years. Years. And yet each time, she does her own happy dance, skipping and leaping around the kitchen as if she’s not eaten for weeks and I’m serving up filet mignon. Oh to be that excited by the same old thing.

One place that I do return to with my own happy dance, however, is the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. I get down there probably once a year when I’m visiting my in-laws as I was a week ago for Christmas.

Museums tend to be exceptions to the “don’t go back” rule because, like movie theaters, what is showing usually changes on a regular basis. The building may be old, but what’s inside is new.

On this trip, however, I had the curious experience of appreciating both the old and the new at the same time. Or more precisely, in my short visit there, past, present and future all combined to make for a remarkable trip.

The past: One of the main exhibits there “celebrates two rare masterpieces of English medieval art: stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral and pages from the St. Albans Psalter, an illuminated book of psalms.” Old windows and old books, all for 21st century visitors to see. It was beautiful.

The present: There’s something about seeing the same thing in a new way. The scene above is looking down on the Getty’s outdoor café. We arrived in the late afternoon, so the café itself was closed and only a single couple lingered. But this scene of tables and chairs, one I’ve witnessed a dozen times in the past, still fascinates me. Simple changes in timing, light and activity make this place I know well fresh each time I’m here. Same with the photos below of the fountain or, further down, the special holiday lighting.

Getty Fountain at Dusk

The future: Here’s where it gets hard to explain. We visited the exhibit of Abelardo Morell and his exquisite photography. I had not seen his work before, but now I want to find out as much as I can about it and him.

What happened is something that occurs on the best of trips. I was totally present to – engrossed in – his photographs. But even as I’m viewing them, I’m reminded of past images and at the same time, I’m inspired to think about my own photography and future ways of making better photos. Past, present, future all at once.

Getty holiday lightingHave you ever had that experience? I think it occurs when we encounter places, events, people, art or just something of beauty that deeply touches us. It moves us because it resonates with some past memory, often available only to our subconscious. It makes us pay such attention that we’re lost to anything but that present moment and place. And it leads us to dream of what might be even as we’re engrossed in what is.

It’s a wonderful place to be but a rare one to find. I doubt that the next time I return to the J. Paul Getty Museum I will have the same experience.

But it won’t keep me from trying…

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The lost art of noticing – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 13, 2013

I may not notice every female convict that comes my way. But I do pay attention when things jump out at me. Literally.

I was on a hike at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Oregon a month of so back and I saw, or rather sensed, rapid movement near my feet. The area has its fair share of those long slithery creatures with the rear end rattles so I paid a good deal of attention to what was causing the motion. Instead of a snake, however, I spotted this small tree frog frantically hopping to avoid becoming one with the bottom side of my shoe.

Tree Frog

I noticed it because it surprised me and stood out from the norm. Such occurrences usually garner our attention. But what about an ordinary day when nothing unordinary seems to happen? What do you notice then?

Usually not a lot. And that’s a shame because when we stop noticing, we stop participating. We go through life as numbed spectators or rather, life passes us by unobserved.

Not the best way to live.

So how do we change this? Recently I started reading a book called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram. The book looks at how to encounter God with all five of your senses or, as they put it, “to help more of you experience more of God.” We tend to engage God primarily through our minds. This book helps you expand on that.

Early in the book, they have an exercise I’ve found remarkably helpful for improving my ability to notice and be a player in the life all around me. Here’s an abbreviated version of their exercise

First, wherever you are, take a minute to observe what’s around you and write down two or three things that you see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. Simple, yes? Now comes the fun part.

Do the same thing, only instead of just noticing these things, pay attention to them with love. As the authors note, “When we look with love at something, we regard it. We notice the nature of it; we respect and appreciate it for what it is.” (p. 19)

This seems like a small distinction, but try it. Right where you are, look, smell, taste, feel and listen as you did before, but do it with love. When I tried the exercise, the first round I noticed our ukulele on the shelf. The second time, I saw the same musical instrument but became grateful for the gift of music, for joy it brings in playing and listening. Seeing the same object with love transformed how I perceived it.

This exercise works particularly well with the people you know best and often regard or notice the least. See them with love and you will find that life no longer passes you by but is right there before you. With you. Around you.

God packs more wonder into the narrow confines of the space you currently occupy than you can imagine. But you can begin right now to see it – to truly notice it – if you do so by paying attention…with love.

Try it.

And see.


You can read Part 1 here

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Another look at moss

by Steve Brock on March 6, 2012

Why moss? Why select a plant that doesn’t even have the decency to produce seeds or have roots that grip and extract nourishment? I have no good answer. Moss is but moss yet it seems sufficient and timely. Maybe even intended.

I grew up in an arid land, a place of borrowed water where green mattered. Here, in the Pacific Northwest, I live in a flurry of green, from the grey-green of conifers to the chartreuseness of the very moss that started all this. But that green, once so precious, has become an assumption, like a loved one you count on to always be there until one day they are not.

God has given us green, a concept that, like all colors, remains irreducible. You can’t unpack green or break it down into smaller components in the way you do a problem at work or a project at home. So what do you do with green?

You give thanks.

Or so I am trying. What started as an attempt to practice at home the same openness and attention to detail I experience on a trip has become something more. I could call it a meditation on green, but that’s too pretentious, like referring to a can of sardines as an elegant seafood dinner.

Instead, this particular focus on moss feels more akin to a spiritual discipline, an object lesson wrapped in the concentrated effort to be more grateful, to do what does not come naturally to me.

I need something in my life to remind me that my life is not mine. I need something that triggers me to remember that beauty invades me – or would if I let it – every day. I need a not-so-subtle cue to hold up to my eyes the grace that holds me.

Moss rarely grows more than an inch in height.

It will do.

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And just in case you haven’t had your fill of mossy images, check out my Pinterest board on the subject:

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You had to be there – Part 1

by Steve Brock December 26, 2011

A recent performance by The Civil Wars highlights the limitations of words to convey the fullness of experiences, like those on a trip, that blow us away and are almost impossible to describe.

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Sadness and Serendipity – Part 1

by Steve Brock October 18, 2011

Even on difficult journeys, God provides what we need but in ways we would never expect and often through the kindness of strangers.

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When our categories fail us

by Steve Brock December 14, 2010

We often form categories for what is meaningful travel and what isn’t. However, sometimes those categories don’t work because some of the most meaningful travel experiences on our trips don’t necessarily occur on the trips themselves.

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Return and Presence

by Steve Brock August 16, 2010

Being present to others on a trip often requires effort. But when we return home, we find a different kind of presence where we can find God’s comfort and peace – often unexpectedly.

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