Saturday, February 18, 2017

Unless I Die...




Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. 
But, if it dies, it will bear much fruit. 
—Jesus



A darkening sky greets the great eye
blinking open its shutter to morn—
o'erhead, coarse comes a rook's cry,
from here dreams appear bleak and forlorn

Here, in my cramped, close cell I hear
the neighbour dog howl a lament—
the dirt and the dark I fear,
they close in and my choice I repent

Buried, buried unseen and deep,
with the dog next door I mourn—
my eyes, dreamless now, can only weep,
trapped in the earth like a kernel of corn

How long must I suffocate,
freedom denied, in this dank tomb?
Life with death I conflate,
Later to find my prison mould a womb

The waiting feels empty and long,
but the Gardener waters the earth
about me, and o'er me raises His song,
stirring my spirit, breathing rebirth 

The confines feeling so like death
are the only means of shedding the husk
of flesh strangling my dreams, my breath,
clouding my eyes by dusk

White rhizome rises, unfurling green,
fresh air floods my chamber, tight,
in my heart awakens a dream
after my soul's dark night.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Love and War


"If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."
—Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale 

...And that sometimes love turns into war.
—Me

By which above comment I mean: Sometimes when we are loved and inspired to be better than we were, it shapes who we are, even when we are run raw by war.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Thirty-Two


Today I turn thirty-two. Thirty-two years hold a lot of memories, some good, some bad; some incredibly hard and sad. The years hold memories full of laugh-until-you-cry hilarity, of wonder that humbles and hushes one. Some memories are rich with tender sweetness, with glory unspeakable and beauty that can only be felt deep inside.

I marvel at the pressed-down, shaken-together, overflowing gifts I have been given in thirty-two years. They come in a variety of persons and a myriad of heart shapes. They come in funny little packages, wriggling and red all over, crying their first cry. They come in meals and conversations around tables of all sorts and sizes; on dorm-room floors and grassy bowls, under stars and up rocky paths. They come in sacred moments of stillness, in loud hullos and hugs in airports, and in all the vows I've heard spoken before God's altar. They come in overwhelming swells of music that raise one's heart to God, and in unexpected finances taking one across the Ocean. I have been given the gift of two ears and a lot of time to listen to story after story, sigh after sigh, laugh upon laugh, and so many words of truth and encouragement.

To enumerate the gifts, sheer gifts, I have been given would take many trees and all the books they would make. If I look at just one of my family members or friends, I could write pages about all that we have shared, experienced, or thought through together. Each person God has put in my life is a story of their own, and I love that our stories intertwine—even when some of our together-story has had rough parts. God has used even those sharp, painful, unkind things to shape me—and often a repaired relationship is even stronger because we had to work together (under God) to bring about that healing and repair.

Thirty-two has dawned bright with Colorado blue skies. It has dawned with hope—hope that whatever steps God has for me to take this year, they will bring me closer to Him. Whether I stay right where I am and seek to change, or whether the road takes me on a new adventure, change inside is necessary. Ever since my dad had cancer and other unexpected, devastating things have happened in our family, I have been different. But it hasn't been a good different. I have, in fact, been indifferent. Unconcerned. Uncaring. As if all of my joy got eaten up by a different kind of cancer and betrayal.

For a year or two I had friends tell me I was different, not myself, etc. I felt it—felt like I had turned into someone else, someone I didn't like. Someone who didn't have time or energy to be filled with joy, to simply revel in each day. I miss being that person. I miss being full of vivacity. In the process of recovery, I got sidetracked by a couple of relationships that inhibited my healing. I have prolonged my indifference. Because of that, I told a friend the other day how excited I was to turn thirty-two and put the past three or four years behind me. He didn't ask me why, he instead asked me what I loved about the last year. I began jotting down a short list of highlights, which burgeoned into a hefty paragraph or two. Thirty-one was filled with wonderful people, new experiences (cross-country skiing, for one), beautiful views, the weddings of my very best friends, a lot of prayer, growth inside and professionally, lessons learned at great expense, and some really honest moments.

One of those honest times birthed some some healing that is ongoing. It opened my eyes to a truth I didn't know was true about myself—I feel like everyone thinks I am inadequate because I think I'm inadequate. I spent a lot of thirty-one focussing on myself and my needs, because I've been in recovery mode. I still am, but recovery mode doesn't mean focussing on myself. Healing doesn't come from myself. It comes from God. I want to know God and pursue Him single-heartedly, single-mindedly. I have felt warped and drained by passive aggressive people and by work many times in the last year—my mind divided and scattered. I have felt crushed by the mound of paid and unpaid work I had on my plate. I even felt exhausted by my dear friends, when it seemed like every evening was full and I had nothing left to give. My thoughts have been flighty and undisciplined. I have been living without purposefully sought, well-invested margin for far too long. I have been unstructured in my down time because I think I deserve a break.

Freedom doesn't mean a lack of structure or boundaries, however. Freedom means utilising the boundaries I have been given to become more fully who I am. I am created in God's image. How can I be fully myself, or myself well, if I don't know God well? Not knowing more about Him by reading books, per se, but knowing HIM, like I know my family's inside jokes and habits and moods... I want to know God like that, and so much more than that. Socrates said, "Know thyself," and he was right, it is important that we know ourselves. But we cannot possibly know ourselves if we don't know the One whom we image. We image. To say that make the noun a verb. We image. By being, existing, we image God. And yet we image Him even more clearly in certain ways—caring unselfishly, loving what is good, true, and beautiful—and sharing it with others in a variety of ways; by being single-minded, by being truthful and kind.

Thirty-one wasn't horrible. In fact, it wrapped up more perfectly than I could have asked. The week began with dancing, I got to host a couple of dinners with friends, there was a helpful breakfast conversation with my supervisor and co-worker, I caught up all my looming projects, editing is full-but-doable, and I spent last evening in earnest thought and conversation with a friend whose zeal for the Lord and for life breathed fresh insight and life into me. And much tea was drunk yesterday. So. Much. Tea! And all manner of things are well...

And all manner of things shall be made well. Thirty-two is just a number. But I hope and pray it is a number that reminds me of the year in which I became single-minded. The year I began to know God more deeply than I could have dared to ask or dream...and that I get to live the dream.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resounding Joy



New Year's Day flames out in peach, pink, and periwinkle. The evening air is full of the scent of snow, woodsmoke, and savoury dinner as I step onto my porch to watch the repose of the day. Inside, candles and fresh tulips nod their cheer as the five o'clock greyness rolls over the foothills.

I love winter and fresh starts. I love being up in the frosty night to greet the new day and year with fireworks. I love bright sun spilling in my window and waking eyes, church bells tumbling me out of bed, and the brisk walk to worship. I love blank pages waiting to be filled and new years feeling hopeful in the face of the unknown. At any other time of year, the unknown has a way of frightening me a bit; but at the beginning of the year, the unknown is exhilarating. My expectations are much more malleable in January than they are in June. In the crisp air I feel awake and ready for what God is going to bring. By the wilting heat of summer, I feel drowsy and resigned. 

At the beginning of things there is life and energy and optimism, and those are needed to propel us into another year. The New Year opens in the midst of Christmastide, when the Candle keeping the dark at bay has come—He is the hope of Easter redemption. Winter is dear to me with its variegated grey clouds, heaps of snow around dried grasses, chipper little birds piping their carols, bare branches stark and striking against the stars; its sharp, pure air breathed out in little puffs, in warm fuzzy slippers, copious pots of tea, stew simmering on the stove, hot bread all flaky from the oven. . .Winter is joyous.

Winter is both the cosiest and the most invigorating season. No wonder our fresh start comes just days after the winter solstice and the "dawn of redeeming grace" of the Incarnation. There is something comforting about God slipping into flesh, becoming vulnerable and subject to want, need, and humanity. Yet there is something enlivening, exciting about it, too. Dawn has pushed back those grey skies with honey-coloured sunlight and sharp air in our lungs. There is hope that the Light—whether of day or of moon and stars—will illuminate our path. That the Light will guide us into His ways. 

As I scrambled out of bed this morning I felt inspired, awake. The bells beckoned me to tread the icy path to the little white church around the bend. There my eyes were greeted by life-sized shepherds, wise men, and the Holy Family. I smiled, glad to see them back, as they had been vandalised a couple of Christmases ago. I sneaked in on the opening hymn, my three-year-old niece's favourite song: Joy to the World! I was totally unprepared for the garlands of greenery, the woodland pine and branches, the red berries, and a huge live tree covered in poinsettias and lights. The clean plaster walls looked merry, as did the gentleman I joined in the pew. My winded voice sang out, "Repeat the sounding joy!" and we did. In the Eucharist, like the angels told the shepherds, and the shepherds told everyone about the baby in the feeding trough, we repeated the resounding, reverberating joy that God became flesh and tabernacled among us—that our redemption is nigh.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Small is Enough




It is the sixth day of Christmas and I am sipping a frothy chai as I settle in to write. I returned home yesterday and took care of some chores, enjoyed a bit of reading and writing, and savoured a few Christmas films: Rick Steves' European Christmas special, The Snowman, and the original Frosty. An odd mix, perhaps, but it was fun to make dinner and soak in some Christmas at a slower pace. 

Last night I decided that I would like to spend Christmas in England sometime, or possibly in Scandinavia. I loved how so many European traditions included choral music, candles, and cathedrals (and amazing food!). It made me miss England, as I am wont to do about this time of year, anyway. Tomorrow marks six years ago that I boarded my first international flight, bound for Oxfordshire. It marks the day I met my best friend. It was the first day in a series of days where I was stretched outside of myself (intellectually and soulishly) in such a great degree. 

Travel does that to you. It opens your ears to accents and manifold languages spoken on street corners, in open air markets, airports, and more. It opens your eyes to the poor, the average man, and the elite more distinctly. Travel can make us dependent on others, it can make us feel united—even across language barriers. So, sometime I want to be abroad for Christmas and have new eyes for the season. To be willing to lay down my traditions and enjoy different ones.

This year has been a bit of a different Christmas—usually I come home as close to New Year's Day as possible in order to get in as many days with my family as I can. But this year, I came home a few days early to ring in the New Year a bit more quietly; to have some quiet space to reflect on the past year and pray over the coming one. What doors will God close and which ones will He open? Where will my feet go this year? Travel feels imminent, but perhaps that's wishful daydreaming or a few too many books and travel films. 

In my quiet return to the Rockies, I was overdue for a grocery run or two. In Sprouts I was selecting red onions (on a great sale!) and found myself near an older couple speaking a language foreign to me. I couldn't catch enough words to make out which language, even, but it sounded European. They made my heart happy—as did all the veggies and fruits I purchased for thirty dollars. I have a bit of New Year's food-making to do for some local folks. Work became too hectic before holiday for me to make anything for my neighbours. 

But I want to walk into the coming year timefully—unhurried. I want to be open-handed and open-hearted, ready to give and to humbly receive. I have been given much, blessed richly by family, friends, strangers...by God Himself. I want to give like that. To give out of whatever I have. Small is enough—whether it is my bank account or time or cupboard. In God's economy, small is enough. . .if it is given wholeheartedly. So, I want to be poured out for the glory of God.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Orchard and the Enchantress

Painting by Daniel Gerhartz


Long ago, in a far off land, there lived a noble king. The king and his wife had an extensive orchard full of every fruit one could imagine: pears, plums, apples, peaches, apricots, cherries, and the like. This fruit was picked by the king's servants and made into jellies, jams, and preserves. In accordance to the proportion of this orchard, nearly everyone in the kingdom would enjoy the jellies, jams, or preserves at some point. Everyone but the prince, that is. 

The prince had decided from an early age that he would not eat of the fruit of the orchard. He detested anything but meat and potatoes at meals. The prince also detested people, especially his tutor, who tried diligently to teach the lad his history, geography, affairs of state, geometry, and plain logic. But the prince would only scoff at his tutor as if the learned man knew nothing—when in fact, it was the prince who knew very little, yet believed in his heart that he was too intelligent to bother with studies and learning.

Now the prince had a sister, a rather ordinary girl with an extraordinarily kind heart. She felt so ashamed of her foolish brother that she often sat for the tutor, learning her brother's lessons, as if to make up for his rudeness. So it happened that the princess grew in knowledge and wisdom, as well as in diligence and kindness, while the prince grew petulant, indifferent, and unbearable. 

Many seasons came and went in this way, when one Autumn, a bedraggled old woman came to the castle gate. In her gnarled hands was a large, empty basket. She asked the servant who tended the gate if the king could spare a poor soul some of the tantalising fruit hanging over the orchard walls. The servant took pity on her and led her into the orchard. He said the woman might pick as much fruit as her basket would hold. She did pick as much as her basket could hold, but she did something more. For this woman was an enchantress who held the power to bless and the power to curse. When the gatekeeper had gone back to his post, the wrinkled woman held out her hands and set a blessing over the orchard, whoever ate of its fruit would be wise and kind. Then, she hobbled out of the orchard, her basket well-laden, and went along her way.

The years spun on and the kingdom was more calm and contented than ever. The king and queen, princess and tutor, servants and subjects grew wiser and kinder the more they ate of the fruit of the orchard. But the prince seemed to rot and grow rank. He was the same selfish, indifferent, greedy prince he had always been—in spite of his parents' best efforts to direct him otherwise. 

It happened that the old king died one night, at the prodigious age of one hundred and one. So there was great mourning throughout the land. Men came from far and wide to pay their respects to the wise and gentle king. But the crafty prince took advantage of this outpouring of grief, charging high prices to travellers staying at any lodging on royal land. The king was not even decently entombed before the prince's iron rule was felt. Taxes were raised outrageously. Farmers had to give the new king a half share of their crops, as most of them used royal fields to cultivate their produce. 

During this unhappy time, the princess eloped with the tutor, seeking refuge in another kingdom. In a few years the old queen also died, and the kingdom continued to be hard-pressed by the tyrant king. On the eve of the Great Harvest, a stooped woman, wizened by years, came to the castle gate. In her hands was a large, empty basket. She begged the gatekeeper for some of the aromatic fruit from the castle orchard, for she had given the king every last bit of her small garden's potatoes in tribute. The gatekeeper's expression was sorrowful as he said he could not allow anyone into the royal orchard. Though the king himself never ate the fruit of the trees, neither would he share it, even with his many servants and subjects. He would rather the beautiful fruit rot on the ground or be eaten by birds, than give his treasure to anyone besides himself. 

And so at last, the evil king's doom came. The knobbly old woman went on her way, passing by the orchard as she left. She was indeed the enchantress who had blessed the fruit-trees long, long ago. Now she raised her swaying old arms and spoke a curse over the orchard—that the owner of the trees would die by their fruit. This punishment seemed unlikely to take ever place, given that the king never ate of the orchard. The kingdom began to dwindle over the ensuing years, as many of the tenants sought refuge in other lands. 

After a long while, not even the servants of the castle remained, deeming poverty and exile better than being governed by brutality and foolishness. So the king was left alone. Having never learnt any of his lessons, and rashly thinking he knew everything, the king knew not how to prepare even a simple meal. Though he loathed the fruit of the orchard, he became so hungry once his larder was empty, that he wandered the rows of trees in the garden, seeking the least wretched fruit he could find. He espied a withered plum hanging within easy reach. Perhaps its being dried out would make the flavour more bearable, he thought. He popped the plum into his mouth, chewed once and began to swallow the fruit. But having always refused the fruit and his lessons, he did not know that plums have a pit in their centre. The pit lodged in the king's throat, choking him so that he fell to the ground, gasping for air. He died alone in the middle of his orchard, in the heart of his empty kingdom.

And what became of the gnarled enchantress? They say that she went on to the neighbouring kingdom where the princess and tutor lived. There she blessed the couple's cottage garden, that they might live out their days in satisfying labour and generosity.

Monday, December 26, 2016

There was a Blessed Messiah Born


One of my favourite Christmas carols in the last couple of years is the Wexford Carol. It beautifully proclaims the reason we rejoice at Christmastide. The Loreena McKennitt version is tied for my favourite, but in the one linked below (my other favourite) it is a bit easier to hear the words. Enjoy!



Good people all, this Christmas time, 
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born. . .



Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dawn of Redeeming Grace




The Dayspring hath dawned on Christmas morn. Yet...something about the darkness and the aching longing of Advent feels much more comfortable to me than the rejoicing of Christmastide. I am far more at home in the shadowy dusk and predawn, because that is where I have lived all of my life. I know my Guide, but I have yet to experience full redemption—that "dawn of redeeming grace" the Christmas carols tell us is coming.  I struggle to be truly excited about Christmas Day and Easter morning because I understand Advent and Lent, but I do not fully comprehend celebration, not yet. 

Sadness I know. Regret I am familiar with. Frustration and agony over the Fall I deal with often. I am faced with darkness around every corner, tinging life events, colouring my own heart...But I do not know, cannot bear, the illumination of full redemption, the face of the I AM Himself. 

The truth is, Christmas Day always feels like a letdown to me. It rushes by in a whirl, no matter how many times we start the day off with those beautiful, savoury passages from Isaiah, Luke, and Matthew. I want to be slow and quiet. To sit with the people imprisoned in darkness and watch dawn's light lick the edge of the sky. I want to magnify the Lord with Mary, to know with Simeon that a Light from on high hath visited those in darkness. I want to sit in a cosy chair with a cup of tea, all curled up, waiting for day to come—not sleeping late because I was wrapping gifts until the wee sma's. I want to watch snowcapped peaks turn violet and rosy in the morning light.

I want some elusive ideal Christmas. But what I want doesn't matter—what matters is what I've been given and how I steward that. To simply roll with soupy stuffing and lukewarm turkey. To not expect a stunning revelation when conversing with my extended family, or even my immediate kin, over the holidays. What I've been handed is prayer time with dear friends that replaces candlelight service this time. It is a crisp bill, unexpected, from a family member. It is a small arm squeezing my neck hard and a little voice saying, "You're my best!"—with a grin that wrinkles the little girl's nose and squinches her eyes. It is the genuine interest in the nine-year-old's voice as he shows me his lava lamp. It is singing songs and re-writing poems...and laughing hard when you slip up. 

Sometimes it feels like I've missed the baby in the manger in the late night wrapping and all those imperfect, cacophonous moments strung together. It feels rushed. . . But then, labour is not quiet, calm, and perfect. It is not slow and steady, like a sunrise. Still, Mary treasured up these things in her heart. The fact is, labour ebbs and flows, it pushes hard, it screams in the night. It is a bloody, messy cacophony. It feels like forever in the waiting, in the pain. Then it is a blur and a rush, white hot heat, a lot of breathing hard. Then comes the squawk of the baby. Then comes seeing his eyelashes and his perfect little fingernails. Oh, the pain is still there, but the endorphins rush in and fill the new mother with an awe and wonder that drives the pain to the periphery. She has thoughts and eyes only for her baby. 

I don't need whatever I've dreamed up as perfect and slow Christmas Days. Maybe I'll get to try that at some point...but I think I would miss the bustle of the wrapping, the cooking frenzy, singing Christmas music loudly while we all do our part to get ready for guests. I often want to savour Christmas Day—but what I want doesn't matter. What God gives is what matters. He gives Himself. He gives us family and friends. He gives us good gifts and we take them for granted—whether it is time with family or our health, time off or a travel fund to raid when the weather goes awry. Whether it is His Spirit whispering to us in the midst of the hubbub, "The Dayspring from on high has visited the sons of men" or an arm 'round our neck and a tiny voice saying, "You're my best!" Either way, He gives us what we need. It is our foretaste of redemption, preparing room in our hearts to know the Fullness of Joy.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Adventus




Time dawned and chaos was made order,
man came alive within a garden’s border,
within the garden’s border man died
when he disobeyed God and bowed to pride.


Darkness and chaos twined the world ’round,
but with the curse a promise was found,
up would grow a tender young shoot;
A King would rise from Jesse’s root.


A King would rise like light in the dark,
One unbranded by sin’s cruel mark,
to free his people from the grave,
from sin’s tyranny, which made them slaves.


The Light of the world, mighty to save,
was born bloody and frail in a dark cave;
He grew up, a tender shoot as foretold,
the prophet cried: “The Lamb of God, behold!”


The Dayspring from on high came down
to open darkened eyes, to wear a thorn-crown;
He died bloody and broken on a cross,
Unbranded by sin, but smeared by its dross.


Day dawned anew when the Light rose,
sin’s consequence paid—Death in its throes
was undone within a garden’s border;
man, made alive, chaos, made order.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Swallowing Light


i am alive. i am awake. i am aware of what [life] tastes like.1

It tastes like meteors. Like sunshine spilling warmth over me as I lie on a mound of woodchips. Like black currant tea and dark chocolate. Like thought-full and heart-felt conversations. Like fear from a film—and fear of the unknown. Like crisp autumn air, scented by leaves crunched. Like solitude under the moon. Like sorrow piercing my heart. And it tastes like Hope springing from Truth. 

May I help you taste Hope for a little while? I want to point you toward Hope Himself; to give you Something real to reach for; to write a truer story than fear would project. I want to breathe colour and Beauty and life into you. 

When I first heard the song quoted above, I thought it said, i am aware of what life tastes like. Turns out it says, of what light tastes like. What does light taste like? Does light taste like sorrow, like life can? Maybe. The song goes on to say:

i want to be. 
i want to be at my best. 
it’s bittersweet, it’s poetry. 
a careful pruning of my dead leaves.

Light is bittersweet. Perhaps because light is necessary for seeing, and seeing is wonderful. Yet living in a broken, fallen world means that seeing is also horror-full. I live in the mountains; I think they are the most stunning in brilliant autumn and scintillating winter. But the beauty can be marred by beetle killed forests; by plumes of black smoke, charcoal trees, and ash falling like dead snow. In the same way, human beings can be so intensely interesting or lovely that we can hardly look away from them. But footage of skeletal men being sent to gas chambers, or babies being dismembered—we can hardly look at that inhumane reality. Life under the Curse is exposed by light to be both indescribably beautiful and unspeakably horrific. But the Curse has an expiry date. Light does not. Not the Light of the world Who will make the sun, moon, and stars obsolete. 

Notice, though, that light is also a careful pruning of my dead leaves.  If we are like a tree (planted by rivers of living water, as Psalm one says), we need to be pruned to stay healthy. The Morningstar clips sucker shoots, prunes even our healthy branches to keep us growing. He is careful, observant, wise. He does not prune unnecessarily, only what is best—even when it hurts so much it feels like He has cut off far too much for us to keep living.

so i propose a toast: to fists unraveling, to glass unshattering. to breaking all the rules, to breaking bread again. we’re swallowing light, we’re swallowing our pride. we’re raising our glass ’til we’re fixed from the inside. ’til we’re fixed from the inside.

Where does the light get in? Where we are cracked, even shattered. The Light gets in when we raise a toast to the King: through the broken bread on our tongues, the wine burning our throats. We swallow the Light again and again, until we are fixed from the inside. It is a process, like eating daily, it is not a one-time meal that satiates our hunger for only a day. Swallowing the Light is our daily bread (Scripture); it is our weekly feast (the Eucharist); it is our continual sustenance (meditation and contemplative prayer); it is the bitter gall we sometimes taste (weeping over sin); it is the banquet to come tasted a little now (worship and adoration). It is the swallowed Light Who heals us from within, not from shining on us – exposing us – from without. We must be revealed and healed from within. We must be unshattered from the inside.

May I help you taste the Hope that is now, as well as to come? We are a people who are united by our King. We live in His Kingdom now. We build His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. We get to participate in the Kingdom's colours and tastes and smells, to build and steward and welcome others into His Kingdom. We do this when we create a meal. When we weep with those who are grieved. When we build homes and roads and grocery stores. When we play music to inspire—breathe life into—the souls around us. When we love on others by loving their children. When we give sacrificially of our possessions or bank account; or harder still, of our time and our emotions. We co-labour to construct the Kingdom of Christ in many ways—seen and unseen, big and small. In this, we are the Body of Christ, joined and knit together with Jesus as our Head. God builds His Kingdom through us upon the Chief Cornerstone: Jesus. This is what Light tastes like.


________

1. "Taste" by Ryan O'Neal {Sleeping at Last}, Atlas: Year Two (Copyright 2016, Asteroid B-612)