Saturday, December 2, 2017

Unmerited


















Kindness
flowing out
in wine and chocolate chip cookies,
in smiles and eyes, in words and hidden acts

Grace
flowing down
in water and wine and blood
over dark soul nights, to unworthy us

Love
flowing over
from hearts and hands, eyes and lips
in forgiveness again, and again—every time

Gifts
ever flowing
that we cannot earn, cannot repay,
we humbly receive with open, empty hands

Full
over flowing
hands and hearts, eyes and lives—
Lord teach us to receive with gladness and joy!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Do Not be Afraid



"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."1
—Frederick Buechner


These were the words that marked a house fire and the death of a beloved dog for some folks that I met earlier this year. They are the words I wrote under a dark sky and a full moon, a picture I painted for my friend whose dear mom died on Easter morning. They are the words embodied in the juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and nature’s brutality when I was out hiking and found a freshly killed bird on my quiet trail. They are the words I am still clinging to, in hopes of making sense of a friend’s surreal situation. They are the words attempting to hold back my own fears of losing my family. They are the words seeking to reconcile a disappointed hope of healing—a wife and child, parents and a sister, all bereft of a man who was only thirty-four.

But they are only so many words. They don’t stop the darkness from coming. They don’t staunch the wound that death rips through so many whom I know—the wound that I feel, too. That I fear, too. At some point I have to face the reality of death and the loneliness—the isolation—it brings. And words do not fill the hollowed out people we become when death invades our lives. Those true words lie flat on the page, not shedding a bit of light or colour into our greyness. They lie flat, unable to lend us a hand, to pull us out of the mire of the Fall and its effects.

Words can kill and words can heal; but sometimes words are superfluous—flat-lined rather than life-lines. Brokenness doesn’t fit in neat packages or true-but-trite sayings. Brokenness doesn’t fit well anywhere with all its jagged edges lacerating those who get too close. When I can, I hug my friend who lost her mom this year. I try to just listen. I paint or sing to let the pain out. I cry with my friends—and for them, too. I pray the Kyrie often: Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

But how do I face my family’s mortality—or my own—when I am reminded of the brevity of life? I need to learn to take a page from Wendell Berry’s book:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my [parents’] lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.2

“Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I can grieve alongside. I can grieve during. I can grieve after. And being a human rather than an animal, I can have a forethought of grief. I can “pre-grieve,” as I’ve taken to calling it—but should I? Or can I really even pre-grieve? I don’t know what certain losses will be like until they arrive. I won’t know what I miss until I miss it. Why try to grieve now, when I am called to live now? Why let grieving spoil being with my family and my friends, or the beauty all around me? And let me remind you, you who are in the darkness and that infernal greyness of numbed emotions—there are still candles and stars and beacons of beauty. How do I know? I have seen them. Beauty does not stop the ache, nor does it flip a switch, turning on one’s ability to feel. Yet, beauty creeps in—like a flame along a paper-edge, like ever-rising waters, like the grey light of dawn about to to turn golden and crimson—and somehow it lights a beacon of hope. Hope that one day this topsy-turvy brokenness will be made right.

How do I know? Well, Buechner said it better than I could: “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” That part tends to get left off the quotation, but how are we not to be afraid—in reverent fear of the beauty and in fear of the terror of the world? We do not fear, because the One who made all things good, who made us, who loves us, walks with us. Why would we fear the darkness if the Light of the World is present with us? It isn’t that we aren’t walking in the darkness, its very fingers clawing at us—but, it cannot overpower us or leave us forever in grey-life. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it—cannot understand the Light, nor overcome it.

When words won’t stem the gushing wounds death opens in the heart, I go for a long hike. It doesn’t fix things or bring people back. It doesn’t change the realities that my family and friends experience due to loss. Yet, sometimes along the way, I am changed by the Maker of the wild things. He is the ever-present Healer. He is with us in the darkness, in the flat grey feeling, in the hollow emptiness, in the moments of meaninglessness. Though we may not feel His presence—and though we may forget, “we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”3

Sometimes the Word is wordlessly present. Always He walks alongside us—He is with us—even when we can’t feel His presence. “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”


________

1. Buechner, Frederick; Beyond Words (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2004) 139

2. Berry, Wendell; "The Peace of Wild Things" retrieved from Poem Hunter

3. Lewis, C. S., Letters to Malcolm (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd. 1964) 100-101







Saturday, September 9, 2017

Arrival




                                            I watched the darkness come down
                                            as the breeze rushed by
                                            and the sawyers started to sound
                                            their aching choir, sorrows wound
                                            in a cricket's cry

                     
                                            I watched the lights spring awake
                                            in a dark-eyed casement
                                            trimmed with paint, starting to flake,
                                            saw reflected the glassy green lake
                                            on the glazed encasement

                              
                                            I heard the whisper of leaves in the wind,
                                            breath of Fall creeping
                                            into the colour of grasses that bend
                                            their tawny heads low, in gusts that send
                                            geese to the sky, weeping


                                            I felt the sigh of Autumn's chill
                                            breathe down my spine,
                                            paint bushes aflame, gild the hill,
                                            tinge the air crisp, and spill
                                            out the scent of pine


                                            I saw the day fall into slumber
                                            and stars blink awake,
                                            a silent host too many to number
                                            over black bear with heavy lumber
                                            shown by aspen's quake



Monday, September 4, 2017

The Chase




                              You perch on the porch
                              edge, you precocious, brazen
                              bronze-brown nut-gatherer—
                              raising your inquisitive nose,
                              whiskers atremble with a smell

                             Whiskers quiver, the head turns
                             great green eyes of
                             interest upon you—fluffy nutkin—
                             padded feet and a twitching
                             tail tell of an energy reserve

                            Ready to spring as you back
                            away from the boards—
                            no longer bored, vigilant,
                            the queen of grey tigers
                            shifts stealthily, all attentive

                            At one swift tail-flick and 
                            a bound you are roof-bound,
                            her Grace rolls over in 
                            the golden afternoon sunlight
                            to dream of the chase

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Glory Be to God for Dappled Things (Photo Update)

Typed words have been slow in coming this summer. Conversations have been far more prevalent this summer. My typed thoughts sit in a nice pile of drafts, unfinished. My conversations seem to simply go on and grow as the summer progresses. Poems have given way to painting. I have been thinking about life and Godliness through the lens of Harry Potter and a couple of thought-provoking films; through lots of conversations and the reading of a few CS Lewis pieces.

As it has been a while since I've actually published something here, I thought I would post a few photos from the summer to mark its progress.

Gog and MaGog with Tosha, Michael, and Ben (early June) 6mi


Some painting inspired by hard conversations, sad things happening to friends, and by the moon


Ditto


4th of July with my family!


Some reflections whilst listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Shrine Ridge wildflower hike with Tosha (late July) 6mi


Butler Gulch hike with Tosha (early August) 4?mi

Hiking Mt Sherman (14,036ft) 5.25mi


With these fellows (Aaron and Ben)

The end of the Mt Sherman hike, back by the truck. . .


Somewhere along the way I spent time with a couple of Oxford friends (Kasey June and both Kevin J and Kevin B); hyperventilated with laughter with Lyndi and Katie; watched Harry Potter 1-4 (so far) with the neighbours; watched Cinderella Man with a few other neighbours; had long phone calls or chats on the stairs by my house with various folks; got to see sweet AnnaClaire and talk (over dinner and cheese); sat on my porch and read Lewis while my sweet Brooke-friend journalled; have had a few interesting conversations with our bookstore intern; sat and listened to a local bluegrass band downtown; went to a lecture on Harry Potter and the Way of Power by Kyle Strobel; have had the opportunity to listen to Kevin Bywater speak; and have enjoyed hearing a lot of rain on the roof and the crickets—because maintenance replaced the pool motor with one that is much quieter!

All in all, it has been a very good summer and a growing summer. I am learning to lay down expectations and receive life as God hands it to me. I am learning to put up wiser boundaries with people and work (very much a practise and a process). I am learning to be faithful where I am. I am striving to not violate my conscience in the small matters that add up. I am more alive to Beauty and Hope. The Holy Spirit is breathing His life-giving breath on and in me—turning me from cold stone into living flesh and rippling hair. There is light and high Beauty beyond the shadow—weakness that is power that the darkness cannot fathom. There is life in sacrificial death. Loyalty and friendship have been embodied in stories, in the people I get the priviledge of knowing. Life is full—full of the glory of God.

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be made well.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sorrow and Stars





Last light is leaping from hill to hill
spilling like liquid from an upset cup, 
A golden haze spreading o'er rock and rill
until, until, until the valley has its fill
and the glory thins and wavers and is taken up


The clouds' creamy bronze hues drain clear, 
drop by drop—suddenly they run ashen grey
in an eye-blink, in the drip of a tear
giving way to darkness, uncertainty, and fear
as the sunset darkens and turns fey


A stab of pain blooms to full grown ache
with the dimming of day and the coming night;
sorrow saps hope, makes dreams break
swooping in the moment that light forsakes
the rim of the earth, reminding us of our plight


Amidst our sadness, star eyes open with a wink,
sweeping our thoughts toward vaulted skies—
there is beauty beyond woe, we are led to think
as argent gems pressed on velvet cause us to blink
and shake silver sorrows from our eyes

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The World is Full of Weariness and Wonder

Light rain is singing on the shingles, dripping to the carpet of pine needles by my porch. Darkness has descended in earnest, as it has threatened to do during several waves of thunderheads today. Evening has come, but I am bathed in warm light—my porch transformed into a quaint cafĂ© with the help of several strands of twinkle lights wrapped 'round the rafters. I am pleased with my handiwork this day. 

It has been a long weekend of learning to rest well. . . I didn't accomplish any of the handwritten letters I planned to pen, but I organised various things in my home, put up lights, went hiking with a friend, read, walked slowly through a garden at sunset, and sat on my porch simply watching the rain fall. There is something to be said for the hours I spent accomplishing things around the house, but there is more to be said for the quiet moments of holding a mug of tea and listening to the raindrop chorus. There is something magical about sitting under twinkle lights as grey clouds melt into black skies. There is a grand sense of awe staring up at a waterfall a hundred feet high, pounding with spring snow melt. There is wonder in turning to stare up at a seagull-coloured house set against dark pines—a house etched with stars and trees at the cornices, its windows echoing the pink evening clouds. 

There is weariness in this world—but it is contrasted with all the glowing wonder sprinkled in the crevices. That huge glimmering star on the Western horizon reminds me that sadness is not all there is. That sorrow doesn't swallow up every ounce of joy. The hurts, the losses, and the fears that parade through the lives of my friends and family—that stab my own heart—are not all. Beauty also pierces us through. Wonder freezes us in our tracks. Glory bows our hearts. Desire makes us ache. But the piercing, pause, praise, and pain are not mortal wounds—they are healing hurts. They make us whole. Our yearning reminds us that there is more, so much more, than our narrow field of vision.

A thumbnail moon glimmers through the pine boughs tonight, and I breathe my thanks for its glory. A keen air, fresh and faintly perfumed with spring, whispers in my ears as it passes. Too many times I forget to praise, so the mountains cry out the Maker's goodness and grandeur. Too many times I tuck my head down and get stuck inside my thoughts, not seeing the stars and trees and painted sunsets. Too many times my own wallowing blinds me to the pain of others—others to whom I could show the stars and the piercing Beauty that reminds us that the shadow is but a small and passing thing. 

May I see beauty in unexpected places and in the features of men's faces. May my words point back to the Creator, who is forever blessed. May His words ring out from me in thanksgiving, in asking for forgiveness, in kindness, in giving grace as I have been granted grace. . . Amen.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Am I Wanted?


No one ever picked me first at game-time. As a kid, I didn't mind. But there was a particular time where the sting of getting picked last still lingers. I had played plenty of ultimate frisbee and volleyball skirmishes post-high school. We always split off by ones and twos rather than captains picking teams. But I distinctly remember a time when I wanted to go for a walk and everyone else wanted to play volleyball. We didn't have many students, so I was 'needed'—except that one or two persons made it clear that I wasn't any good. I played that day because I felt obligated, but I fought tears over not getting to do what I enjoyed, along with being made to feel incompetent and unwanted.

It is that horrible feeling of being inferior, of being on the outside, that causes so much damage in our world. "Look, God is withholding something from you. He's on the inside of this secret knowledge and you could be, too..." says the serpent to Eve. She takes the bait and bites. "You're all alone. You don't matter to anyone." The enemy whispers this lie, and too often it is answered with bullets and bloody wrists. "You aren't good enough to fit in," says the 'in' crowd. And many people make it their life's goal to become good enough to fit in—never sure if they've made it, even if they get on the inside.

Trying to fit in or accepting that you don't fit in are hard roads to walk. I know, I've tried them both. I like myself and my life better when I'm trying to be who I'm made to be (and more like Jesus)—not trying to be what someone else thinks I ought to be or wishes I were. I hate disappointing my family, friends, or my supervisor—but I don't mind not pleasing people. There's a difference. When I try to please people, to be what I think they need or want me to be, or to do what they want, I am suffocated, stressed, and annoyed with myself. When I love and respect someone, I naturally want to give to them, to build them up, to serve them well.

I am most free to grow and to love others (and to like myself) when I am not needed but I belong and am wanted.

I thought I was longing for freedom, but what I've been longing for is being wanted, not needed. To be needed means to try to fill a void for someone. To be needed means feeling obligated and duty-driven—it can be drudgery. I can try to fill the need, but after a while, I burn out. It is life-sucking to be needed. But to be wanted...that is a different story. I need to know that I didn't just waylay my neighbour on their way to do laundry; that they really wanted to talk with me for twenty minutes about books and what God is showing us both. I need to know that laundry was simply the means to a good conversation, not something more important that I kept them from. I need to hear the actions and hearts of others say:

Come inside from the cold and rest your weary soul
You belong, you are loved, you are wanted
You're not alone
I've missed you so
Welcome home1

Don't we all need to hear that somehow? We want to be our one-of-a-kind selves—not a cookie cutter person—but also to have someone, some ones, who get us, who welcome us in—to welcome us home. The enemy lies to us and tells us we're on the outside, that we don't matter to anyone (not even God), or that we're all alone...but he's wrong. He lies. 

Home is real. Acceptance is real. Jesus invites us to belong, to rest our souls in Him. He shows us scarred hands and tells us how utterly wanted we are. And He often brings those one or two—or more!—people into our lives who don't try to make us into what they expect or want, but who encourage us to grow, to be better than we are. They love us—even when they know just what we're really like. They remind us that we fit, we belong somewhere. And we do that for someone and some ones, too.

You belong.

You are loved. 

You are wanted.

You're not alone. . . Welcome home. 



_______

1. Joy Williams / Matt Morris: "Welcome Home" lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Saturday, April 15, 2017

There Must be More. . .


PC: Brian Masbaugh (slacklinemedia.com)


I want the world to be different. . .

I want to respond in kindness every time. To have enough of God's love in me to always be ready to give to others. I want fear to evaporate. For old-fashioned values to be held by everyone. And I want to not get hung on one side of a dichotomy or the other. I want to see this life and this world bigger. To see possibilities. To know how to walk the balance of hope in the face of despair, or that of love in the proper tension of the truth.

My sister told me recently that I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too—like keeping a beautifully arranged dinner and yet cleaning the plate in enjoying all of its flavours. I do. I want it to be true that Good wins in my lifetime. I want the shadow to be small and passing, and for it to pass away right now. For the high Beauty to swoop in and save the day—and the nighttime, too. I long to live in the not yet, because the now is so broken. I long for perfect relationships without underlying currents of tension, annoyance, hurt, or frustration. I long for the fully redeemed Heaven and Earth, and confess that I kick against the breakage in which we still live.

I have been given hope and permission to dream more richly, to see God as bigger than the false dichotomies we are so often handed. . . And then comes the thud—the fact that not everyone else has been handed that gift, or that they have not received it yet, anyway. When I ask for answers and have the problem reiterated, it doesn't help. When I say, "There has to be more than just this—God is bigger than these two bad choices," I get blank silence.

When I've been told that God is bigger than my small vision, but I'm not expected—or even allowed—to see more, I get frustrated. I feel like I'm constantly on the outside and the majority is convinced that there is only one key to get in. But I am not convinced. I don't believe that my life is on hold until I get married or move or have a different job. Yet so many others believe those very things that I begin to live like I believe it, too. But I don't. I don't believe that a circumstance change is what will let me in. 

When it comes to relationships with fellow humans, surely I don't have to be relegated to being friends with only women—and mainly single ones at that. God made us whole humans. He made us to need others—male and female, single and married—in whatever state we are. What I don't know is how to practise the truth that God's vision, His world, His Kingdom is here and now

How do I maintain healthy relationships with my long-distance married friends? How do I have rich and healthy friendships with the men in my life? How do I love my single friends well? What is the best way to connect with my local married friends? Confessedly, I'm tired of getting shut out of various friendships because I'm not married. What changed with that ring? Don't we still have some of the same loves in common? Can't we still encourage one another in our most holy faith? Does my friend having a husband suddenly make all of that disappear? If so, it's no wonder that I've looked on marriage with a dubious eye in years past.

If what I've been told is true—that I belong to the Body of Christ, throughout time and space—then why don't I feel like I belong once my friends get married? Why do I feel like I'm a second class human as a single person? My admission ticket to the Body of Christ is not a gold band. It is being sacramentally connected to Jesus, the Head. It is receiving the very same Body and Blood that every other Christ-follower receives. 

I don't have to only have friends like me—that would keep my vision and theirs too narrow. I need people of various ages in different stages of life: single, married, with children, with grandchildren, in various vocations and with a variety of interests and talents. I need people who have different perspectives to help me enlarge my view of God and His world—of His universe. And I need to help enlarge the vision of others. . . Like those who see that there is a problem and think there are only two ways to deal with it. But God doesn't call us to impale ourselves on one stake or the other of these dichotomies. He calls us to the much harder task of another way, of balance and counterbalance—of a slackline walk. And that over a canyon. The stakes are high if we fall, but the stakes are sharp and deathly wounding if we jump to one side or the other, too. We must constantly keep our eyes fixed on Jesus to keep our balance on the slackline. To look to the right or to the left is to lose the view of our Anchoring Point—the Fixed Point in a world of turning. To look to one side or the other is to fall.

I don't want to pendulum swing, I want to walk the straight and narrow. I don't need people to paint the problem, I need help to find the answers. I don't want to see the world as small—it is not. I want eyes, heart, and mind to see how long and how wide and how high is the love and the glory of God. I want the now to step into the not yet. For time and eternity to meet. For chronos to cross into kairos. For all manner of things to be made well. For the shadow to pass and for the stars to shine through to us, to draw us near to them and yet to leave us alive. . . so much more alive than we've ever been before. The glory of God is writ large, but we need His perspective to be able to see it whole, not in pieces. We need to set our eyes on Jesus—the Author and Finisher of our faith—to keep us balanced on the slackline, rather than teetering over the brink, swaying left or right. 

The world is bigger than we've been led to believe. There are more than two options for how life can work. We know about what is past. We live in the now. . . and we long for the not yet to arrive and make all things new. We long for redemption to be fulfilled. We've been told the world is different than we've believed for so long. . . Now we get to learn to live that difference, to dream bigger, to see more than we could before—to not get stuck on the outside, but to finally get in.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Shadow of Beauty




I woke in darkness to the jingle of my alarm and the chatter of birds. Perhaps the birds knew it was the first day of Spring and were thus employed with extra jubilation, but my suspicion is that they greet every morning with such exuberance. I listened to their Lauds—their morning prayer-chant—with a slow smile on my sleepy face. Finally pulling myself out of bed as the sky became a deep rose-gold. I never can decide if I like sunrise or sunset better, I'm glad I don't have to—I can simply like them both for their own sakes. 

Being the first day of Spring meant it was my friend-and-co-worker's birthday, and I had offered to make breakfast for the office. As I toasted English muffins and poached eggs in my cast iron skillet, I turned around to rinse my hands and saw a lovely moment: a reflected shadow. The sun coming through my antique windowpanes lit up the tawny dried grasses in the bottle on the sill, but the shadow it cast made them look like fresh wildflowers. I paused my poaching liturgy to snap a photo of the spiritual reality bowing before my eyes. 

There are times in life when all we can see are the dried grasses of our dreams or best laid plans. No matter which way we look at them, they are brittle, dried up, monotone kindling tucked in the corner of the sill. But maybe the problem is that we keep looking at the broken dream or the mislaid plan, whilst God is nudging us to turn around and look at the reflected shadow. When we turn, we see flowers outlined on the wall. We see the contour of each stem and leaf; each pod becomes a glory of its own. The dried grass looks different from this perspective, looks fresh and lovely and renewed. 

Sometimes the shadow is full of beauty, not mere darkness. Sometimes the shadows that fall on our lives are not snuffing out the sun, they are the evidence that there is sunlight. Without light there couldn't be shadows cast, after all. All would be utter darkness, impenetrable, blinding. For darkness, as well as overpowering light, blinds the eyes after time. But shadows are a mix of light and solid things; they are the delicate darkness dappling the wall.

One of the darkest things I have witnessed is my faithful sister being turned out of her home and her marriage. We could only stare at the pieces all around, the shattered lives of those affected, with shock and disbelief and horror. How did this happen? Those pieces looked sharp and irreparable and bleak. In many ways, they are. But when we stop looking at the shards and begin to see the light shine on them, through them, around them, we see the shadow reflected on the wall. We see Beauty and hope springing out of dead things. It isn't the restoration or reconciliation we hoped for, but other good things are germinating. There is Beauty in the shadow, as well as beyond it. There is light high beyond the reach of darkness, as Samwise discovered in Return of the King:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

The Fall and all its evil is but a small and passing thing from God's perspective. There is Light and there is Beauty that evil cannot touch. There is unseen Reality that cannot be destroyed, even when all the seen is turned into so much ash and concrete dust. The truth is that God is Real—He is high and beyond the reach of evil. God is the Light of the world, and it is His light spilling on and through and around us that casts a shadow of Beauty on the wall of life. Many times we get too busy looking at ourselves to see the whole Beauty-filled outline; to see the Light by which we see—but He is there, prodding us to turn around and see what the Light has made new.