Monday, December 31, 2012

Solitude


“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 
~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Evidenced by the fact that I began to listen to music  directly after typing that quotation. How quickly I forget that Beauty most often finds one in stillness. How readily I push aside God's messages delivered by silence and solitude. 

The whole world clamours and clangs with noise. Even our eyes are assaulted by 'visual noise' - billboards, skyscrapers and 1960s apartment buildings, badly hung Christmas lights, vulgar lawn ornaments, and the like. There is the disarray of 'stuff' all 'round us. Rather than making our lives better, 'stuff' can simply clutter our homes and gardens, as well as our thoughts. Many persons attest to being unable to think or study well in a messy area, myself included. 

Visual chaos and the din of television, films, iPods, et cetera almost constantly fill our minds or blunt our senses. "What of it?" one might ask. Think for a moment of what you do when you go for a walk or run. Do you put in earbuds? Talk on the phone? When you sit down at your desk or kitchen table, do you pull out your smart phone, computer, or a book? Can you fall asleep without music? Do you ever simply look out the window and think in silence?

Outside my window tiny white faeries flutter and float, flurry and fall. Trying to watch individual flakes makes me nearly dizzy, they are coming so quickly. There is something calming about snow, or a blanket of fog. Both give a covering of quiet to ponder, to let the thoughts we push away with noise come forth from their banishment: Do I have what it takes to be a man? Will anyone ever love me for who I am? What am I here for? Do I even make a difference? Is living any better than dying? What if so-and-so dies? How will I support myself when I am older? What will happen if other people find out how little I really know? Am I just faking it through life? Who is God? Is God really real, is He really there? Does God care about me? Why would He? Who am I, behind this skin and those eyes in the mirror - who is this I inside? 


In solitude and stillness I realise I have more questions than answers. Sure, I have a vague idea of how to answer some of the above questions. However, if I spent an hour thinking about Who God is, I might find how little I actually know Him. I know about Him, and in small degrees I know Him, as a person knows another person early on in a friendship. But do I truly know Him? 

When faced with thoughts about family or friends dying, I try to push them aside - usually successfully. It is too hard, too painful to think of them actually being gone from this life. Likewise, I am accomplished at ignoring thoughts about the future state of our government,  how long my bank account will be worth something, or where I will be in ten, twenty, or thirty years. I do not like depressing thoughts, yet sometimes I really do have to face them. Sometimes the pain from 'out there' comes 'in here'. The brokenness of the fall is not just for other people. I, too, experience the fall in my own circle of friends, in my own family, in my own life, in my own body.

Solitude brings these thoughts to the surface, rather rapidly, in fact. No wonder Pascal said that a man is unable to sit in a room quietly and alone. We want to be distracted from the questions  we cannot answer, the thoughts we do not like. We do not want to think about how far we fall short. We hide from rejection and loss. We block it all out with constant music (degrading the worth of music to mere background noise), non-stop communication, and busy-ness.

Have you been running away from your thoughts? Are you ignoring God's arms wide open to you by running the course of the noisy world? When was the last time you sat down to listen to God? Do you often (or ever) turn your phone, music, and computer off completely? Have you taken a walk in silence recently? When was the last time you faced your thoughts rather than fleeing them? How about practising solitude today... Right now.



~ Johanna


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Every Stone Shall Cry: The Worlds Are Reconciled!


A Christmas Hymn
A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbour heaven,
A stall become a shrine.
This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave His kingdom come.
Yet He shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.
But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

~ Richard Wilbur

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Balm of Writing

Nothing went as planned today. Our visit with some dear friends was cancelled due to strep throat at their house. I went in for tea and a pumpkin muffin this morning, but never made it back out to my room for quiet time. I felt listless, cranky, and off kilter most of the day... And then, as the daylight began to wane, the snow continued falling, and I spent about two hours writing. I slipped into the world being created, my mind pictured all I was describing and dwelt there. 

There is something redemptive about writing. Our minds and hearts engage with our own story, even more deeply than when we are reading another's story. There is a peace and a sanity that comes with fashioning our words into a story, a poem, or a blog. All of the world's insanity and brokenness can either be seen and put right in our writing, or it can be kept at bay whilst we scrawl away.


So, in spite of my plans going awry, the gift of creating with words brought balm to my soul. When we create we are most like God, or so I've read. After this month --and this day-- I am inclined to agree.

~ Johanna


*Note that cute photo up there, that kiddo is left-handed, oh yeah! ;)

Friday, December 28, 2012

An Empty Page

Sometimes I walk through life giving thanks for the obvious blessings God has given. Other days, I stare at the empty page before me and think how it mirrors life... Empty. Dull. Meaningless. I am afraid to love, because if I love someone or something, it can be taken away from me, it can cause me pain.

Love often goes hand-in-hand with pain, sorrow, and loss. I feel the depths of sorrow and suffering in love because I have felt its heights of joy and goodness. Just like I hate death because I know what it means to live

However, that same empty page is full of possibility. It may begin as a blank sheet, which has no meaning, but it is ready to receive whatever story the Author sets upon it. An empty page is malleable, ready to be shaped by words of despair and lies, or by words of hope and truth. Sometimes there isn't a whole lot of hope in facts, but I do think there is hope in Truth.

This day finds me staring at the white page, wondering what the Author is about to pen. There are some less than pleasant facts rearing their faces before me. Yet there is hope in Truth. I am a little afraid of finding out how painful love is. Yet I would rather take the pain if it is the price for knowing the greatness of that love.

I find it no 'random coincidence' that in the 12 days of Christmas, today is the day set aside to remember the 'holy innocents' - the young male children killed by Herod when he tried to destroy Jesus. Death is a result of sin; sin is the result of the fall; and it is this very thing that Jesus came to set on its head and turn backwards. Death will be swallowed up in Life. And all manner of things shall be made well.

I am thankful for Life, and for love so deep that it hurts... And for a Love Who was 'hurt' for us by being separated from His Father... So that we might never have to be.


For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
~ II Corinthians 5:21


~ Johanna

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best [Satelite] Roomates -- Ever!

Near the close of the year I begin to recall all of the good and hard things from that year. All of the laughter, lessons, tears, prayers, group dinners, inside jokes, travels, and whatnot swirl 'round in my thoughts.

What a hard year 2012 has been for my friends and my community... Several of my close friends lost very dear loved ones this year (mothers, boyfriends, and children). One good friend moved out of the roommate house (and we have gained another dear roommate, but there is still a hole there). There were mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut. There were many natural disasters, from devastating hurricanes to wildfires that rolled dangerously close to my front door.

Yet what joy and growth have come this year, as well! This has come from many corners this year, but by far I have shared the most life-stuff with my roommates across town. My year began with a surprise visit from my best friend and a sensational birthday party with the roommates. A welcoming haven these roommates have been all year... I especially remember our conversation (and delicious crêpes!!) on Palm Sunday/Easter. I remain eternally grateful to these dear friends taking me in when I was evacuated during the wildfire, and crying and praying with me as our city was threatened with conflagration. I cherish our Christmas celebration, reading parts of Luke 1 and 2 and discussing what things must have been like for Joseph and Mary, and Zacharias and Elizabeth. So much thought went into the gifts given, and work into the delicious brunch, and the day was full of chilling and talking about the things on our hearts. 
 

Those events merely mark the flow of the year; in between were many other mixed happenings: Stacia losing her mom this summer, Lyndi's hip surgery, Lauren's new job celebration (ha, and driver's license debacle), Nicole's going away party, Karen's arrival, birthday parties, coffee house band listening,  tea parties and kleenex, dinners on the patio, family members visiting, and more.

Considering how much joy and pain, new friends and old friends coming and going, and deepening in life and in the LORD has taken place with these women, I would be utterly remiss if I did not say how deeply grateful I am for the LORD placing me with 'The Awesome Ladies' community.

And I am filled with joy.
~ Johanna


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Snowy Perspectives

Crack! A thunder clap and thick flakes of snow woke me this morning... A rare combination that can occur in Mid-Western winter storms. Even in my sleepy state I smiled, because I  simply love snowstorms. Swirling snow, heavy grey clouds, and bumps and clumps of white have a way of transforming the world.

Have you ever noticed how snowstorms make things still? They diffuse noise by deadening echoes and swallowing sounds. Familiar objects take on new outlines. I noticed this a few weeks ago at home when it snowed. As I went for a walk down by the creek in Manitou, a walk I have taken a couple hundred times, I noticed things I had not seen before. I looked up a good deal in wonder. I chattered with squirrels (not a new thing, admittedly), seeing at least one dart into his hole - a previously unnoticed hole, despite being directly over the walking path.


Snow gives one a new perspective on old, familiar things. Snowstorms bring that unusual quiet. Perhaps snow is God's tangible reminder for us to have quiet hearts to listen to Him, to see a different facet of Himself or our own lives. Snow makes us slow down, literally and figuratively. Thus, those frozen flakes give us time to re-create with silent contemplation, and in the boisterous joy of snowballs, coasting, and fort-building.

Others may grumble about snow or call it a mess, but my perspective is different... I am thankful for snow, which gives me new ways to see familiar things, and a quiet place to listen to the One who makes my crimson stains whiter than snow.

~ Johanna

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Kneading Rhythm

Sticky potato water and yeast. Mashed potatoes, flour, and butter. This past weekend found me combining these ingredients in a large earthenware bowl. My arms, jeans, and fingers were dusted in flour, or sticky with dough; the perfect picture of a bread-maker. If there is one thing I have learnt about bread-making these past four or five months, it is that you must knead the dough. Otherwise, you will have dense, flat, or crumbly bread. Kneading takes patience, knowing when to let the dough rest, and strength in one's wrists and forearms.


Kneading has a rhythm to it, pushing the dough away from you with the heels of your hands. Not too hard, or you will break the gluten strands. Not too softly, or you will not stretch the gluten strands enough, resulting in a flat or crumbly loaf.

Life has a rhythm as well. Over the past few years I have discovered the Church calendar, it keeps me stretched, but not broken. Though I grew up with Christian parents and siblings, we have been more evangelical than liturgical believers. Discovering the cadence of Advent, the twelve days of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, the Transfiguration, Eastertide, Ascension Day, and so on continues to teach me to walk in the pattern of God's ways, to the glory of His Name. One strand upon another, like the kneading and resting of bread dough, these Church seasons make me stronger. Lent and Advent are like the heels of the Father's hands upon my heart, preparing me to make room for His Son. Christmas and Eastertide are the moments of resting in a comfy, warm (but not hot) oven.

The bread analogy breaks down at some point, of course. Still, I wonder how many times God prepares, kneads, and rests our hearts, allowing us to be baked in the fire of trials. I know that I 'knead' rhythm in my life: seasons; circadian rhythm; sleep cycles; hours in the day; days in the week - some for work, some for rest; night and day; pain and joy; work and play. You need routine and new experiences, too. We all do, whether we realise it or not. 

This post is my first in the Twelve Days of Christmas. I plan to wrap up on January 5th, the eve of Epiphany. I still have a lot to learn about the metre of life, in the Church calendar and otherwise. Over these twelve days I want to share something I'm thankful for, because one strand of life is gratitude. Over and again Scripture speaks of those who had great calamity fall upon them, yet their response was to praise God. Such was Job, when he had everything taken from him he said, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, blesséd be the Name of the LORD." And the Apostle Paul reminds us to give thanks in all things, for thanksgiving is God's will for us in Christ Jesus (I Thes 5.18).

“The greatest honour we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of His love.” ~ Julian of Norwich

Today I am thankful for many, many things. However, I will choose to name the greatest gift ever given which makes even good health, family, freedom, food, unexpected calls from good friends, a job, a community of friends, and a home pale in comparison: I am thankful that God is not 'out there'.  I am humbled, blessed, and grateful beyond words that God is Emmanuel - God [here] with us.


~ Johanna

Monday, December 10, 2012

Way, way, way! Way for the King!


“This usually happened because a loud voice shouted out "Way, way, way, for the Tarkaan", or "for the Tarkheena", or "for the fifteenth Vizier", "or for the Ambassador", and everyone in the crowd would crush back against the walls; and above their heads Shasta would sometimes see the great lord or lady for whom all the fuss was being made, lolling upon a litter which four or even six gigantic slaves carried on their bare shoulders.”
 ~ C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

If you live in a country with a King or Queen as your ruler, this passage from The Horse and His Boy might make more sense than for those in democratic countries. There is a fierce loyalty, a deep pride, and a rightful fear when you are hustled from the street because the King is coming by. Both the fanfare of trumpets and the line "Way, way, way! Way for the Tarkheena!" make me think of the arrival of someone notable. There is a sense of awe, curiosity, and respect that makes one draw back, -- yet look up -- to see the one who is coming.

That is exactly what the season of Advent is like. It is a time to prepare for the arrival of the King. Not just the monarch of one country or a group of countries, but of the world, of the whole universe! No wonder the word adventure (which contains 'advent') in earlier times meant, "a wonder, a miracle; accounts of marvellous things". (etymonline.com) An adventure is a going forth, not knowing what you will find, but risking life and limb along the journey and seeing new and wonderful things. The arrival of someone important is exciting; it is an adventure of sorts to witness.

Almost the whole world missed the arrival of the King when He first came. They did not realise that the most exciting, life-giving event was imminent. Very few knew that God was about to cloak Himself in the frailty of flesh and bone, blood and tears. Yet those who knew burst into song when they realised what God was about. Mary speaks the words of the Magnificat; Zacharias utters divine prophecy; the angels sing their mighty chorus of good news; and the shepherds run around the foothills of Bethlehem declaring the marvellous mystery of Emmanuel. Some days later Simeon is also led to prophecy in poetry over the little baby. A baby, One who cannot care for Himself, yet who will soon provide  redemption for the whole world.

All of these songs and proclamations were calling out, "Way, way, way! Way for the King!"  May we hear those words and in a sense of awe, curiosity, and respect draw back, -- yet look up -- to see the One who is coming.

There is an Advent song that calls out the approach of the King. The lyrics speak of the Eternal Word, present at creation, yet being born of a virgin, and coming to be both God and man, that we might not be condemned to endless woe.


Ere the worlds began to be, 
He is Alpha and Omega, 
He the source, the ending He, 
Of the things that are, that have been, 
And that future years shall see, 
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, 
When the virgin, full of grace, 
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, 
Bore the Saviour of our race; 
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, 
Evermore and evermore! 

He is found in human fashion, 
Death and sorrow here to know, 
That the race of Adam’s children 
Doomed by law to endless woe, 
May not henceforth die and perish 
In the dreadful gulf below, 
Evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; 
Angel hosts, His praises sing; 
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, 
And extol our God and King! 
Let no tongue on earth be silent, 
Every voice in concert sing, 
Evermore and evermore!







~ Johanna

Sunday, December 9, 2012

With a Thankful Heart

Do you ever have one of those weeks that is so busy it feels like two weeks in one, but when you reach the end of it you can't figure out where your time went? This week was just that sort for me. 

Though I am only 'part-time,' I put in nearly 40 hours at work. This gave me the chance to talk with my supervisor and a co-worker for several hours during some projects, to listen to 'A Christmas Carol' twice (two different versions), and to sing a myriad of Christmas carols (as I work by myself most of the time). I read a book in a couple of evenings; had two or three long phone conversations; went to see some fantastic Christmas lights (timed to music) with my neighbours; got to ride in my friend's classic Mustang (amazing!); organised a discussion group on Roger Scruton's 'Why Beauty Matters*'; spent an enthralling evening in the Air Force Academy Chapel listening to Handel's Messiah; and spent a lovely Saturday with my 'roommates' celebrating Christmas.

I could probably write several posts about Scruton's documentary, at least one about the Messiah (which could even overlap with Scruton's work), and probably a handful of posts about Christmas with the girls yesterday.

However, I want to write about thankfulness. I have been hounded in conversations, letters, Scripture, books read, et cetera to consider the rôle of gratitude in my daily life and character. And that is just this week! 

Thankfulness ought to mark a Christian's life thoroughly. Yet I find myself too often like the Israelites, much to my chagrin, complaining and grumbling. Who am I kidding though, about what can I complain? 

-- I am on the upswing from a cold and have realised how wonderful the 350+ days of the year are when my head isn't foggy, my nose doesn't run incessantly, and I can taste my food and enjoy it thoroughly.

-- After reading a book this week where one of the characters lost his legs in the war, I began to appreciate my legs and feet much more (especially since I'm on my feet for hours every day at work).
 
-- Upon taking a brisk walk in 12º weather this morning, I was extremely grateful for my heater, electric blanket, working stove, and mug after mug of hot tea.

-- Earlier this week our maintenance man, Anil, fixed my leaking tub faucet, and I was reminded of how grateful I am for 1) running water in my house, 2) hot water, 3) water pressure in my shower and sinks, and 4) clean water. Some countries don't have any of these things.

-- I'm also thankful that Summit employs a full-time maintenance crew. Some of whom shovelled the walks this morning, even though it is their day off.

-- I found Irish Swiss cheese (an oxymoron?), raspberries, and hummus on great sales this week, along with the things I needed for some Christmas gifts. 'Small' things like that really make my day!

-- Also, I have a job that pays my bills, yet gives me time to pursue reading, spending time with others, travelling, and my book-buying and tea-drinking habits.
 
-- Extravagant pleasures: my own computer and wi-fi in my home.

Yet all of these things are not even the greatest gifts I am thankful for this week. I enjoyed a couple of hours talking with my dear Oxford flatmate, Kasey; conversations with my parents and both of my sisters; and enjoyed our discussion -and the insight offered- during the reading of the Christmas story with the roommates yesterday. I also enjoyed a long letter from my friend Danielle (thank you!), and several e-mails from various friends.

I just finished reading the book of Acts this week. Often Paul had his life threatened, was beaten, stoned, nearly drowned, etc., yet in all those things (even being in prison for two years before being brought to trial!) he was full of rejoicing. He found all those things worthwhile to endure in order that the news about Jesus could be spread. I want to be like that, and I know I'm not. Yet I am thankful for the desire to change and grow. Now to walk in that way...

There is much more that I am thankful for, but I will save it for my next blog post. Until then, I leave you with a Muppet-y thankfulness!






*As a note, if you choose to watch Scruton's documentary, please be forewarned that there are many graphic and disturbing images throughout the film.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To the Full!

Stiff fingers peck the keys. My face is rosy from a brisk walk in the nippy Autumn air. A tea kettle is rolling to a boil over blue flame, and the smell of freshly baked bread permeates my home.

Home... How glad I am to have my little cabin to trot back to after a walk in the chill, stiff wind. How gratefully my frigid fingers wrap 'round a mug full of tea.

Tea, the perfect thing to warm the body and the soul -- especially when a pot is shared with a good friend.

Friends! I am thankful for not just one or two close and dear friends, but whole hands full of fingers --and feet full of toes-- on which to count the blessings of kindred souls.

Souls and spirits and bodies, too. I am cheered to know that God made us with depth. He gives us a mind, a will, emotions, a body, and something inside that cannot be seen, but communicates with His Spirit as well.

Well -- all things shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Like airline tickets changing and helpful persons getting things put right, long walks and talks, words of wisdom from books, and everything else from today.

Today is all we have, let us enjoy God's blessings great and small, living well and sucking the marrow out of life.

Life! Let us live it to the full...


Dear old world,” she murmured, “You are very lovely. And I am glad to be alive in you.”
-Anne of Green Gables


~ Johanna

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Queer Ache

"It's so beautiful that it hurts me," said Anne softly. "Perfect things like that always did hurt me—I remember I called it 'the queer ache' when I was a child. What is the reason that pain like this seems inseparable from perfection? Is it the pain of finality—when we realise that there can be nothing beyond but retrogression?"

"Perhaps," said Owen dreamily, "it is the prisoned infinite in us calling out to its kindred infinite as expressed in that visible perfection."
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams 


Autumn. Merely the word itself evokes waking to a crisp dawn, catching the scent of leaves and the tang of woodsmoke in the air. It is the time for apple cider and pumpkin bread, sweaters and long walks on clear sunny afternoons to see ochre and copper hues painting the landscape. Autumn holds some of my most cherished memories in her crinkly hands. Her cool, sunny days inspire me to study, to write, to read poetry, to dream and hope more deeply, to do new things, to bake, to dare to become fully alive. I practically skip on my walks, and prance to work. My soul cannot help feeling awake. When our souls are thus awake and aware, we are more attuned to the 'queer ache' of Beauty.

This morning I decided to take a jaunt to one of my favourite overlooks in Manitou. While collecting many shapes and shades of leaves, I wound my way up the back streets, stopping to smell the last of Summer's blooms. I stood as close to the edge of the overlook as I could. Grey clouds poured over the closest ridge of foothills, veiling the sun for a time. In the filtered light I beheld russet scrub oak, burnished aspens, deep green firs, and the majestic crest of Pikes Peak with a hoary mantle of snow.  

The pang of Beauty brought tears to my eyes, not because of what they saw, but because I felt hungry for something I cannot yet sink my teeth into. C. S. Lewis called it 'joy', Sheldon Vanauken labelled it 'Beauty', and Solomon called it 'eternity': "[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." (Eccl. 3.11) 

Today, as I felt "the imprisoned infinite" in me calling out to the divine Infinite, I wondered if God ever feels the pang of Beauty. If we are made in His image, if Jesus came and suffered as we suffer, and we feel this ache, is it possible that He does too? Is this what the Palmist really meant when he said that "deep calls out to deep at the noise of Your waterfalls" in Psalm 42? Was he saying, "Your infinite Spirit in me calls out to the Infinite Godhead when I hear the rush of mighty waters"? Does your heart leap when you hear the chorus of many waters, or at the sweet warble of a bird in an otherwise still wood? Is it eternity (the infinite) in us resonating with the Eternal One, who is Beauty Himself?

I am inclined to believe the pain of Beauty is the infinite part of us (our spirit), longing for the Infinite Himself and a fully redeemed world. The pain comes because we are still under the curse, even if we have received the Cure.  I return to what I pondered today: does God ever feel the ache of Beauty? I am tempted to say, "Surely not, He is the Infinite our spirit longs for, after all".  Yet when I began to ponder this earlier, I wondered if the pain we feel in yearning for God (the Beautiful) Himself is akin to what He feels when He holds out His arms to us and we walk away (Isaiah 62.2-3). It is as if the Infinite calls out to the eternity, or infinite, in our hearts and we turn away. Surely that is as wounding as longing for the Infinite, but being unable to enter fully into that Infinity. 

This is speculation on my part, as God is not a fallen human and does not come at things in a broken manner. I am still learning to think His thoughts after Him, rather than assuming He thinks like I do. I am still being healed of my brokenness, He has never been 'broken' in the sense of being fallen. What I do know is that the more attuned I am to let Beauty lead me to God, the more often I hear Him speak. Though there is an intense longing for the Infinite that cannot currently be fulfilled, I would rather have the stabs of Beauty to remind me that I am awake and that God exists.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
 — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer



~ Johanna (13 October 2012)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Golden Jubilee


Fifty years is a long time for many things, including having a solid marriage and running a successful business where the president himself is not above fixing sewer lines.




Tonight, Summit folks spent the evening talking about how much Doc and Mrs. Noebel mean to us, and the un-imagined impact their service, wisdom, grace, knowledge, and kindness have had on thousands and thousands of persons. Just today I heard at least two people say that they came to know Jesus because of Summit, and dozens more met their spouses somehow through Summit. I think several thousand persons can easily say that Summit has helped them learn how to be a thinking Christian, one who can reason through why they believe and behave the way they do. 

God could have used anyone to accomplish this purpose, if that 'anyone' were willing, humble, and self-sacrificing.  The truth is, the LORD knew that Doc needed a dedicated, disciplined, servant-hearted, kind, gracious wife to support him. God knew that the right man to begin Summit was one who was witty, intelligent, humble, soft-hearted and tough-minded, and who was willing to do every job at a 100 year old hotel in quirky Manitou Springs. 

When I think how many hundreds of people would gladly come clean toilets here just to be in and around the Summit community, my perspective about my job shifts. I am incredibly blessed to work for Summit. I would not be who I am today if I had not attended the two-week course, Summit Semester, and Summit Oxford. Nor would I have daily lessons in humility if I did not  labour alongside persons who really care about one another -- both at work and personally. 

Due to my time at Summit I am a better thinker, a more well-rounded reader, and I have known the love and discipline of Christ in ways I had no capacity to experience before. I have been stretched out of my comfort zone, been challenged to do hard things,  and been given opportunities to study, travel, and know more that I thought possible. I have met my best friends and kindred spirits through Summit. In fact, I have had more than just three or four very close friends in my very brief lifetime, all because of Summit.

Doc and Mrs. Noebel, Rich and Sherry Honken, Jeff and Danielle Myers, and the whole group of staff (past and present) continually show me what servant-hearted leadership is.  Because of Summit I know Jesus more - and I love Jesus more. I am who I am because God led me to Summit Ministries. I am one of so many who can say that... Because Summit is not about whoever is at the helm; it is, at its core, about knowing Jesus (with both our head and our heart), and sharing His love with others.

Tonight's jubilee was golden not only because Summit is fifty years old, but because there is a golden richness to all that God has done through Summit. When most of our culture is not thinking beyond tomorrow, those whom God has called to lead the Summit are thinking about the next fifty years and  impacting multiple generations after that.
 
May the LORD be glorified and His name be lifted high because of what is done here. "The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with JOY."

~ Johanna






  



(Special thanks to Lauren and Nicole for doing my hair, to Lyndi for the mascara loan, and to Stacia for lending me lip gloss for the evening gala. It was a full roommate collaboration - success!)



Thursday, October 18, 2012

O, October!


"This year is growing old gracefully, just like a stately old lady who knows she can be charming even with grey hair and wrinkles... How quiet the woods are today, not a murmur except that soft wind purring in the treetops! It sounds like surf on a faraway shore.  How dear the woods are! You beautiful trees! I love every one of you as a friend." 
~ Anne of Avonlea, chapter 10




Monday, September 3, 2012

Imago Dei

Do you ever wonder what it means that we are created in the image of God (imago Dei)? Do we look like God somehow? Perhaps the things we do image Him. After all, He made us sub-creators in His creation, cultivators in His garden of earth.

Many Christian writers and thinkers of our present time point to being sub-creators as one of the chief ways we reflect God's image. However, there are some puzzling conclusions when drawn out to that end. What about persons who are sleeping, or in a coma, or whose brain function is very low, or the unborn? Does one's lack of 'sub-creating' make them sub-human, or un-human, or less able to 'image' God?

God did not make us human doings, He made us human beings. We are not part of the animal kingdom, we are not under the dominion of anyone but God Himself. He made us intentionally both to be and to do. The King of the universe made us in His image, possessing authority over all of this earth. Whether we are creating business, tools, art, homes, relationships, music, food, et cetera, or whether we are sleeping, in a coma, or are still in the womb, we are human beings, distinct from every other created thing.

Human beings appreciate Beauty, something no other creature has the capacity to grasp. Further, only we experience the pang inside at the Beauty of deep oranges, pinks, and orchids that infuse sunset-spangled clouds. Plants and animals eat to grow and live, but human beings eat a variety of foods for their diverse flavours, even artistically arranging the foodstuff on their plates.

Look at the blue sky, the tufted clouds filtered through shiny green oak leaves. Listen to the birds trill, the crickets chant their clarion call. Listen to the wind crashing through leaf-clad branches, smell the lashing rain on the soil, and see the fierce flashes of heaven-flung fire. Feel the fresh breath of the wind, taste the first flakes of snow, drive with the windows down (and the radio off) just because.

Have you yet learnt to be alone with your thoughts? Can you go a day without background music? Do you know how to sit still without even a book or a pen in hand? Chances are that you have not learnt these things either at all, or as well as you would like. 

Even on those rare occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending some such society he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the previous generations. He lives in a crowd; caucus has replaced friendship.

We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
~ C. S. Lewis in his essay, Membership  

As a human being, I grow weary of the pull others place upon me. "What are you doing with your life?", "Are you planning to go to college?" (really, I am 27-years-old, can you please stop asking this one?), "What is next for you?", et cetera. Perhaps I ought to reply, "I am being where I am." Part of being involves work, friendships, reading, hiking, cooking, studying, and the like. But it is more, it is deeper, it is knowing that those things don't make me who or what I am. I am imago Dei, not of my own choice, power, or ability, but by His kindness, good will, and authority.

"I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about –born in God's thought– and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking."
~ George MacDonald



 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pain Is No Measure of His Faithfulness


I believe in a blessing I don't understand
I've seen rain fall on wicked and the just
Rain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us
I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain
The broken find healing in love
Pain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic 'yes'
To all that You have for me
I believe in a fountain that will never dry
Though I've thirsted and didn't have enough
Thirst is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic 'yes'
To all that You have for me

Open My Hands ~ By Sara Groves and Alli Rogers

How quick are we to open our hands to the blessings of God when they involve pain and loss, sorrow and suffering? What if God blesses us by allowing our house to burn down in a wildfire?

There are many realities to ponder when we say 'He withholds no good thing from us.' Are pain and loss somehow indicative that God is not good or in control? What if those are things He uses to shape us more into His image? 

"For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly," says the Psalmist. 
It is not an automatic thing that God withholds nothing good from anyone, Scripture states that the one who walks uprightly will have this blessing.

Are you walking uprightly? Are you 'examining yourself to see if you are in the faith'? In other words, does your heart desire the things God desires and are you living in light of that? If so, then we ought not be afraid to nod our head in emphatic 'yes' to all of God's plans for us. Singleness. Marriage. Barrenness. Children. Trips to other countries. Mounds of work. Belovéd friends. Annoying neighbours. We must give the nod to discipline if we desire to accept freedom. And so the story goes. The things that we have now are the the things God has given us (or allowed us to go through) to make us more like Himself.

Are we ready to pray, like Lilias Trotter (missionary to Algeria in the early 1900s):
I am now ready to be offered.
Measure thy life by loss and not by gain,

Not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth,

For Love's strength standeth in Love's sacrifice,

And he who suffers most has most to give.

Measure your life by the losses, the being 'poured out like a drink offering', and the suffering. Let us walk together, O fellow Christians, knowing that He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly. And let us see that neither pain, nor rain is the full measure of God's faithfulness. 

~ Johanna


Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Flavour of Life


"No man has tasted the flavour of life until he has known poverty, love, and war."
~ O. Henry

Something about this quotation both resonated with me, and rankled me. The chord it struck is a dissonant one in that there are such things as poverty and war. There is in love the possibility for unrequited love. God did not make us for those things; He made us to create, to be loved and to love, to experience His riches and fullness. 

Then we grasped for something that appealed to our eyes, to our desire to become wise. In that very act, we severed every relationship we had with God, with our fellow man, with the earth and its creatures, and even with ourselves. We became fragmented beings rather than whole persons. We became less human, not more. We are not "only human" when we fail, we are less than human. After all, God sent His Son to be the Redeemer of the world, and He came as a man; fully human, fully alive, whole.

 O. Henry's quotation rankles in that it is true of us in a fallen world. Now life includes things that we were never intended to experience; not work or hard things, we were always intended to have those. However, now we experience violence, war, poverty, starvation, cruelty, and death. We weren't made for that.

But... There is a Redeemer Who will stand death on its head and give life the victory. There is a just Judge Who will not only condemn the guilty, but pay the penalty they owe if they will receive Him as both Lord and Saviour. There is hope. There is hope that one day the flavour of life will not be tainted by sin, pride, and death. We wait expectantly in that Hope.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3.1-3)

~ Johanna


Saturday, July 21, 2012

When God Speaks to Us Through Us...

They tell me, Lord, that when I seem
To be in speech with You,
Since but one voice is heard, it's all a dream,
One talker aping two.

Sometimes it is, yet not as they
Conceive it. Rather, I
Seek in myself the things I hoped to say,
But lo! my wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, You forsake
The listener's rôle and through
My dumb lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus You neither need reply
Nor can; thus while we seem
Two talkers, Thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

~ C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer

Sunday, July 8, 2012

All in All

Creation seems to be delegation through and through. [God] will do nothing simply of Himself which can be done by His creatures. I suppose this is because He is a giver. And He has nothing to give but Himself. And to give Himself is to do His deeds - in a sense, and on varying levels to be Himself - through the things He has made.

In Pantheism God is all. But the whole point of creation surely is that He was not content to be all. He intends to be 'all in all.'
~ C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Lord is My Strength and My Shield

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
~ Psalm 28:7

Gilded sunlight is filtering through the gauzy clouds of morning. Birds pipe their morning carols, joined by a choir of crickets. Across town, Pike's Peak is mostly visible through what appears to be the last remnants of fog. However, if I think about it, when I take a deep breath I can smell smoke. I have smelled it for so many days that I don't think about the scent any more. That probably will not change soon. Nor will I soon cease dreaming of glowing orange balls of flame. Ashes still cover my car in a thin layer, or drop onto my computer screen whilst I type. When I hear sirens I will praise God for our firefighters and emergency workers. It is going to take some time before I stop bursting into tears of grief for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. 

 The last several days have felt like a month. I have slept in my own bed once since the fire began on Saturday. This is mostly due to the hospitality of friends all around town who are offering their homes to shelter evacuees or former evacuees (like myself). Persons all over my community have given food, clothes, money, time, their homes, dinners, and most importantly, their prayers, non-stop over the last five days. Churches have opened their doors to evacuees, set up prayer services, and have visibly been Christ to the watching world.
Tuesday afternoon and into the night, I watched the most horrific sight I have ever personally witnessed. Clouds of smoke, and ash that fell like snow, swelled over all of Colorado Springs. The front range was covered in hundreds of orange bursts that looked like lava swelling down the close side of the foothills. It was as if Mordor had sprung to life before my very eyes. I could see circles of fires, whole housing communities  lighting up the night's darkness. Two of my friends lost their homes in what looks like a war zone.  

(The photo above, courtesy of someone on facebook, is my friends' neighbourhood. I do not show this to be sensational, but to explain the heartbreaking loss incurred, and how persons are praising God through it all.)

Yesterday I was back at work, listening to worship music as I packaged books and curriculum for Summit customers. One song, Our God is Greater by Chris Tomlin, came on and these lyrics caught in a lump in my throat: "Into the darkness You shine, Out of the ashes we rise. There's no one like You, None like You." Indeed, though nearly 29 square miles of my city and national forest have burnt, there is no one like God. Job's response to God after great calamity now makes more sense to me: "Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshipped.  And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

 There is great grief and sorrow at the loss of so many homes - I even feared losing my home for a brief time. However, the LORD reminded me it is only 'stuff'. No persons have been seriously injured or killed in this fire. Our firefighters have tirelessly protected us from extreme danger at their own risk. God is still worthy of our praise, no matter our circumstances. I am seeing this over and again in my own life, and I have seen it displayed in the lives and attitudes of my friends who have lost their home.

Last night the fire was more contained. I didn't feel like I was in the midst of Armageddon or Chernobyl. During conversation with my friends, we looked up and saw a rainbow over Colorado Springs. God is still faithful to keep His promises. God is still good. He gives us hope, strength, and wisdom.  In our very weakness He is our Strength and Shield, no less. He is still worthy of worship and praise.

I am reminded of this truth: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (II Cor 4.16-18)



*Please keep praying for our firefighters and city personnel who are tirelessly fighting on the front lines or behind the scenes. I praise God for them daily.*


Under His Mercy,
~ Johanna

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blessed Be the Name of the LORD

To those of you who make your way to my blog, I wanted to give a personal update... 

Yesterday a wildfire broke out not far from where I live and work. Early this morning my whole town was evacuated. I am staying with some wonderful friends across town. All of our Summit students and staff are staying at a local church who have graciously opened their building for us.

You can find the story and updates here: Waldo Canyon Fire. Please pray for cloud cover/cooler temps, rain, and for the firefighters out battling this blaze. One of our Summit staff is on the department, please pray for her to have energy and to get rest. 



I am reminded of all of the awful things that Job went through in his life, and how he responded, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, blessed be the Name of the LORD." Indeed, in spite of how close the fire is to my home, I know that God is good. He deserves praise whether I have a house to go back to or not. He is good whether I have a job after next week or not.  He is especially kind to provide me with a household of ladies who have opened their home to me and any others who need a place to take refuge. Indeed, blessed be His Name!

~ Johanna


UPDATE: 8pm Sunday, residents of Manitou are being allowed to return home! Praise the LORD! Please keep praying for our firefighters, the fire is 0% contained so far, but it has shifted direction.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trajectory...

Happy those early days! when I
Shined in my angel infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space,
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness. 
       O, how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train,
From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees. 
But, ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love;
But I by backward steps would move,
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.
'The Retreat' ~ By Henry Vaughan 1621–1695


  Have you ever "felt through all this fleshly dress, bright shoots of everlastingness"? For a moment we see through a veil of rain into Heaven. We trace the golden light of a sunbeam back to its source: not the sun, but the One Who said that the greater Light should rule the day.

Moments flash upon us where we see through the curtain of temporal things into the world of the eternal. We see 'bright shoots of everlastingness' and have hope that this universe is not all there is. We have hope that our drunken souls will be sobered, and that we will make progress along the way.

Vaughan writes of travelling back to the time before his tongue could drip with sin, or before He walked far from his First Love. However, his last stanzas reveal that all he ever does is stagger backward like a drunkard. He hints that regression is not truly the right direction.

We cannot go back to some golden age, in our own life or in the world. We will not be 'returning to the garden of Eden' as I have heard even pastors declaim from the pulpit. No, we will be brought forward. God began man in a garden, but when we look at the trajectory of the Story, we see that he ends in a city. Not a city like we have ever known, however. This will be a city with a  River of Life, with trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22.1-2). We will be made better than we ever were. There is no retreat, only forward motion for us.


~ Johanna



Monday, June 11, 2012

Call to Discipleship

 "If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us?  What decisions and partings will it demand?  To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer.  Only Jesus Christ, Who bids us follow Him, knows the journey's end.  But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Introduction, The Cost of Discipleship

Discipleship means joy. Not happiness, or feeling good. It means that we see how wretched we were. We rejoice that God picks us up, cleanses us, and sets our feet on the path we should walk. We are no longer without direction. We may stray from the road, but He is faithful to redirect our steps.  This is His 'boundless mercy' indeed.


Discipleship means partings. We must separate from things that distract us, like 'sucker shoots' on a vine sap nutrients from the branches that need them. We must seek to have those thing pruned, even good things.

Relationships of various sorts, books or films, working out,  music, work, the Internet, and many other good things can at times be sucker shoots. Even things like 'small group' or church events can be a distraction from the LORD. We must part ways from such things, without sequestering ourselves from the world.


If we answer the call to Discipleship, where will it lead us?
Only where our Guide knows we need to go.

 

~ Johanna


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fun on a Summer's Day

 I was playing with styles this afternoon...


These are a few photos of the result. :)

 

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Made for Some Reason


 
Surely a man of genius composing a poem or symphony must be less unlike God than  a ruler? But the man of genius has no mere by-products in his work. Every note or word will be more than a means, more than a consequence. Nothing will be present solely for the sake of other things. 
If each note or word were conscious it would say, "The Maker had me myself in view and chose for me, with the whole force of His genius, exactly the context I required." And it would be right – provided it remembered that every other note or word could say no less.

~ C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer (pp. 54-55)

Words, words, words: God made the world and its contents with them. By the word of His mouth the heavens stand firm. The Son of God is called the Word (logos). Moreover, God reveals Himself most expressly in the words of a story contained in a book. That story is the great Story, complete with a plot, interwoven themes, protagonist, antagonist, and damsel in distress. The Story has a beginning, a plight, a climax, a liberator, an ultimate sacrifice, and is still in the throes of climax resolution. God tells His Story in a variety of lives and through numerous means: poetry, philosophy, narrative, historical accounts, and letters.

Did you know that you are a part of God's grand Story? Not only that, but in "the whole force of His genius" you are in the exact context that you require. You should not have been born two hundred years ago, nor two thousand years hence. You should not have been born into a different culture, on a different continent, or to a different family (even though your family life may have extreme brokenness, God can redeems and use even that). You should not try to be someone or something you are not. You do not have to fit into the box the world offers you. You were made to be the exact person you are to carry the Story further. Your line is not just your own, but it fits into the context of the Story right now.

This idea from Lewis surfaced in another book I read recently:  

"Did you ever notice that all machines are made for some reason?" [Hugo] asked Isabelle. "They are built to make you laugh, like the mouse here, or to tell the time, like clocks, or to fill you with wonder, like the automaton. Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do... Maybe it's the same with people," Hugo continued. "If you lose your purpose... It's like you're broken."
 ~ Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (pp 374-375)

 
If we lose our purpose, if we seek a different context than the one chosen for us, it is like we are broken. We are like a line read out of time, dropping the rhythm and rhyme. Have you ever felt out of time? As if your line had no context at all, let alone the 'exact right' sort? Perhaps you don't know what to do after school, or what job to look for, or whom you should marry, or whether you ought to remain single, or where you should live.  Maybe you feel trapped where you are. Are you really trapped, or do you no longer fit inside a constantly shrinking space?  Like a piece in a complicated machine, you will not simply 'do' in one of a number of places. You must fit exactly where the Maker has intended for you to go from the beginning.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

 ~ Walt Whitman, O Me! O Life! (from Leaves of Grass)

And as Mr Keating (from my favourite film, Dead Poets' Society) asks his class, I ask you: what will your verse be?



~ Johanna