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)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Row the Wind

You scallywag scavenger,
                  throaty chatterer,
           who rows through the sky
                          with graceful pride,
                                 your wings black
                                                 and white
                                        dipping the wind,
                                        tipping like a canoe
                                but never capcised—
                           that is you,
                     O magnificent
                 Magpie!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Yesterday was Summer's Sister



Yesterday was Summer's sister,
today the leaves come floating down;
Autumn haunts the gilded air,
while Orion trails the Summer Crown.


Today is golden in its passing glow,
Yesterday's shadow soon to be;
the stars dance on and on, while
our lives by the moments flee.


Yesterdays race by more swiftly
than Today knows how to catch,
the months and years, they disappear, 
like flame upon a match.


Today is the joy, the gift, the song
that Yesterday poured her music into;
it is the symphony in which we play,
which tunes our lives anew.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Squirrel Life





A pair of squirrels is playing tag in the autumn sun: around the fir, across my porch, over my roof. They flirt their tails and chirrup, they thunder boldly through the day, through life. Perhaps I envy them their simple lives—unworried about elections or the future. Yet, the squirrel can’t think about the fact that it is a squirrel. It can’t wonder what the purpose of its life is or if it matters in the world and the universe. A squirrel simply is. It fears predators and looks for food; it mates and bears young. The squirrel sails into the pumpkin on the porch with his tiny, fur-fringed hands; he turns brusque and reprimands when someone gets too close to him.

I, however, am not a squirrel. I get frustrated over elections. I am anxious about the future of our country and world, about the future for my niece and nephew, for the child being born today. I grew up with old-fashioned ideals and aspirations, with courtesy and a deep appreciation for human life. I grew up with a sense of wonder, with an awe of the numinous, with a firm belief that there is hope outside of my small self.

I grew up much like a squirrel. Like squirrels, people worked to make a home and provide meals. Fears were few and obvious, or so it seemed at first. I didn’t know cancer or divorce from personal places. War was in the Gulf, policemen were valiant and safe. Right and wrong were easy to discern. The people where I lived were the comfortable, trustworthy sort. Terrifying things were “out there”, not inside my safe world. But the borders of safety were breached. Evil and Sorrow and Death crossed the threshold. Not far behind were Uncertainty and Fear. I discovered that hard things, scary things were outside of my parents’ control, and certainly outside of mine. Squirrel-life shattered.

Sometimes I don’t like the realities and responsibilities that come with sentient, incarnational human-life. I don’t always appreciate the boon (or burden?) of being able to question if there is reality or if truth exists and is knowable. At times I let fear paint the picture that life is dark and crumbling and frightening. I let in the lies that marriage will fail, that motherhood steals one’s identity and is stifling, that tyranny and the ungodly will win.

Truth did not shatter with squirrel-life, however. Truth, in fact, illuminates life and gives me a clearer view. When the enemy of our souls portrays shadowy, suspenseful, formidable scenes of what life is for or is going to be, God stirs up the embers of truth. When the fire of truth is blazing it casts the shadows away, it gives me light to see that there is hope, there is redemption. All manner of things shall be made well. Sadness will come untrue.

When shadow-lies are shot-through with truth’s light, beauty and goodness gleam: as Christians we are the bride to a Bridegroom who will never desert or abandon us—He remains faithful, even when we are faithless. Marriage will not fail ultimately. I am reminded that children are a joy, that they deepen us and our ability to love and to sacrifice. Being a mother is part of one’s identity if they are called to that, but it does not mean they have to give up all the rest of their giftings. Mothers, in fact, change the world through their ideas, the truth they speak, and through their children, too. In the bright light of the truth I am reminded that Christians throughout history have faced wicked governments, evil oppression, violence, death, and injustice. Many in other countries face these things today. But evil cannot exist without the good thing it mocks and twists. And one day, if not now, it will be done away an the good, the true, and the beautiful will stand solid and bright and real.

Our salvation does not come through politics and laws. If those things we’ve looked to save us begin to crush us, they reveal themselves as the false gods they are. Some trust in chariots, some in horses—some trust in presidents and some in their own way of life—to save them, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). If, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we must face the furnace, we still need not bow down to false gods. We will rise and stand upright (Psalm 20:8).

Like those men before us, we know that God can save us; even if He chooses not to deliver us from the fire, we are not lost. Our destination is sure and steady—even when we have wracked our limited minds over the questions of truth and certainty and reality. We question, we seek certainty, we have that uncomfortable gift of knowing that we don’t know it all. We walk in the questions, and we walk by faith. In that balance we thunder boldly through the days and we thunder through life, not like squirrels, but like the sons of God we are.