Ghosts and Memories of the Future


God paints and appreciates it when people notice. Light and land, water and wind in constant playful change. Georgia O’Keefe lived here on Ghost Ranch and noticed better than most. I’m pretty sure God gave humanity another hundred years just because of her respectful attentiveness alone.

Since 1955 this magical land has been under the stewardship of the Presbyterian Church, which offers it up as a venue for seeking and seeing for several thousand people year. I’m here this week with 18 Colorado people convened by Chris Adams(engagedpublic.com) and Mark Earnest (MD, PHD, University of Colorado) to explore how people of faith can extend and nurture the common good in the context of health reform. That work begins with noticing what God has been doing in creating the habits of the heart and potentials in human connection.


Meanwhile health reform crackles like a wildfire in DC, a metaphor that has come power here literally within view of the smoke over the ridge to the south. The picture is of O’Keefe’s beloved Perdenale, but I suspect she would have loved the rain falling on either side of it today, hoping it will be enough to break the drought and dampened the fires. I wish it would rain in Washington, too, and give our land a chance to heal.


While this is the land of the endless sky and humbling rock formations, there are smaller miracles everywhere to notice. It a photographers rule to never shoot pictures in the middle of the day. But here the light is never so bad justify not paying attention. Mary Oliver said that the most basic task of a human is to pay attention, which does imply that it costs something to notice. Attentiveness is not free. You have to stop whatever else you might do, offer up just a bit of time, stand still and watch.


As I came closer, I noticed more and more and more; almost bursting out laughing to find not one, but two bees doing whatever they do in the middle of the flower covered up with pollen. I suspect it will result in more bees and more flowers,too. Life abounds.

Of course, I am talking about the miracles among us, the strange and wonderful way that even while fires of stupidity rage in Washington, people care for each other. They notice. They care. They create patterns of caring, some of which turn into committees, some of which turn into projects, some of which turn into shelters, clinics, even the random hospital now and then. Sometimes we even organize volunteer fire departments who drop everything they are doing in their little lives and rush together when the common good is at risk.

A volunteer fire department doesn’t just show up like a swarm of well-intentioned people. Somebody organizes them and they buy equipment they think they might need. The show up for training, not just fires. And they build commitments among themselves so they know they can count on each other to be there and be competent. And then one day a neighbor’s home catches fire. Then the whole community can see what their volunteer fire department neighbors has been doing–they’ve been preparing for just this moment. Months of mundane labor and a few hours courageous drama. Most of what a congregation does about health is similarly mundane, made up mostly of committees and checking blood pressure, maybe a health message during worship now and then. No big deal. But every now and then….


The last picture is of a cliff formation O’Keefe painted many times. I like the eroding gully at its base which signals that God is still painting, still creating new possibilities. Pay attention……

– Posted on the journey

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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