Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

The Road goes ever on and on
   Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
   And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
   Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
   And whither then? I cannot say.

~ J. R. R. Tolkien
We stand on the cusp of a new year, a road winding like a silver ribbon before us. Though the road goes past our safe little Hobbit holes, it is the very same road that runs through Mirkwood forest and the Misty Mountains. It looks unassuming, even beguiling, from where we sit in our cosy armchairs –yet as we follow the path with eager feet, we know not what errands or strangers we may meet. That is how this past year opened before me. Then I wrote of fears and uncertainties, as my family and I passed through the dark waters of Mirkwood (also known as cancer). I did not know then all of the errands I would be privileged to share in –trips to Florida and New Mexico, to Utah and Alaska. I had little idea of the actual mountains I would climb, or of the Smaugs I would encounter in my personal life.

Now I see a bend in the road ahead of me. There are plane tickets and plans. There are the golden gifts of friendships to cherish, and the knowledge that some of my dearest companions's roads will take them far away from me. There are physical goals and challenges I desire to meet. Yet I am sure there will be deeper challenges to face inside of me, and in my relationships with my family, friends, and God. As always, we only see the bit of the path we are on. Sometimes I can see far ahead where the road winds up the mountains, or disappears into a dim forest. Other times I see the shadowy form of the road I have already traversed... But whither then? Like Bilbo and Frodo, I cannot say. And though that risk means I may not be ready for hardships, it also means I cannot foresee all the blessings to come, either.

At the opening of this year I was praying for my Dad's health, afraid that he would be taken from me... But in those same first few days of the year, I also received the sweet blessing of a new friend, who has been a solace to me throughout the year. God knows the larger way our paths will go. Often when the terrors seem the worst, He gives us a companion or two to traverse the road with us, or He walks by us Himself, like the Ranger-King, Aragorn. We may not always recognise Him, but He will not forsake us.

On the brink of a new year, I recall to mind that we have just celebrated the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. This gives me hope that God, Who has made His dwelling among us, has good things in store for me this year. I am thankful for so much from this last year - my Dad's health; a sweet, sound niece; dear friends; long hikes in the stillness of the mountains; the wind in the pines; stars in a crisp sky; long walks and talks around Manitou; coffee and tea with various friends; grey jays and chattering squirrels; poetry and prose that have pierced my heart; and even the sorrow that has led me to press more closely into step with Jesus. It is good. There is hope. And now the rolling road winds into a new year, and I must follow –with eager feet– if I can.

~ Johanna

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Trisagion

Holy God, 
Holy Mighty, 
Holy Immortal One, 
Have mercy on us.

A simple and profound Orthodox prayer rises to my heart and lips this Christmastide. These are the words of the Trisagion. In this prayer we are brought back to God as God. God as Holy and Mighty. God the immortal One. When we spend three lines of a four line prayer looking at who God is, we rightly spend the fourth line asking for mercy, because we suddenly see that we are profane, weak, ephemeral. 

The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the more we see that the Word made flesh dwelt among us, the more we know the righteousness of God, the more clearly we see ourselves. We cannot pretend that we are good or righteous when we see how far we fall short of God's goodness and righteousness. We can only ask for mercy and continue to set our eyes on the holiness of God. We must know holiness in order to become holy. No, to be made holy in His hands and by the breath of His mouth.

Take less than three minutes to listen to Fernando Ortega's lovely musical rendition of this ancient prayer. Take more than three minutes to reflect on God's holiness, might (throughout the ages and in your life), and immortality... And do not be afraid to spend a few minutes asking for God to have mercy on you. That leads perfectly into the Kyrie Eleison:

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy on us.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Myth Became Fact

As we ponder the true story of God coming to earth as a man, yet retaining His deity, I thought it was fitting to post the following excerpts of C. S. Lewis's thoughts on the matter. 

"Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. 
We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle."  
~ C. S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact

In a 1931 letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis hints at the message of the essay referenced above...

"Now what [Hugo] Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself . . . I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. 
The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose “what it meant.” Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call “real things.” 
Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a “description” of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The “doctrines” we get out of the true myth are of courseless true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection."

There is so much that I want to say about story, myth particularly, both showing truth and being true... But I would rather let Lewis's words soak into your mind and heart.

~ Johanna

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Holy Innocents

December twenty-eighth, the fourth day of Christmas, is known as the Day of the Holy Innocents –the day commemorating Herod's massacre of the young boys in Judea. 

For today I am sharing a sonnet written by Malcolm Guite regarding this sorrow-filled event. Reprinted below with the author's gracious permission. (If you have not read his blog or books, you should... here. If you click the poem's title, you can hear Malcolm read the sonnet himself –it is beautiful.)

by Malcolm Guite
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Seasons and Rhythms

Here we are again, tapping the feet of our souls to the rhythm and cycle of the church calendar. We just performed the steps of Advent and now sweep into the Great Dance of Christmastide. All while everyone else is going back to 'life as usual.' We have spent four weeks preparing for Christmas: not one day, but twelve, culminating in Epiphany. All those little candles we lit on Christmas Eve are lit again on Epiphany, to remind us that Christ Jesus came into the world as the light of men... And His light shines through each of us.

Last Christmas season I was captivated by Isaiah chapter nine verse two: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. This year I have been pondering John chapter one, particularly the opening verses:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
Darkness cannot overcome light, but the light pierces the darkness and drives it away. So Christ, our very life, is the Light of men. He did not merely reflect God the Father, like we ought, but He is the Light, illuminating God the Father. 'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.' (John 1:14)

So we have light and life, seasons and rhythms. We rise and fall in the steps of the Great Dance, much like an old-fashioned square dance – changing partners, changing directions, changing steps... And then doing it all over, one song leading into the next, the tempo rising, now falling. Holding hands all 'round, spinning free and then coming back to the circle, dancing a waltz, now a jitterbug. One great line, next showcasing individual steps, and now all together - over, under, weaving in and out. The Spirit of life is the music and rhythm, bringing the dancers together in step. No one person dances for himself, but with everyone, even when he is not touching their hands. 

We come back to community, communion, in this image of life being a Great Dance. A dance needs dancers. Life is made for something, someone, to live it. And so we live life, which is only full when it weaves in, out, over, under, and around others, directed by the Spirit Himself. So Christmas is the rhythm of the Dance for this season, and without a break in the music, the tune will spin into Epiphany, then the minor tones will slip in for Lent, and the golden full notes of Easter shine on the horizon... And though the dance rises and falls in the fervour, or solemnity, or the stillness of the season, the steps change each year, so that they never grow old.

Let us who have seen the glory of the only Son reflect His light. Let us who feel the wind of the Spirit move in rhythm to the steps of His Great Dance. 

Let us dance, dance, dance in God's honour. 

Let us yield all of our steps unto the King.

~ Johanna

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Second Day of Christmas...

...I remembered how many blessings I had been given this year.

Hikes, challenges met, travels from one end of the country to the other, renewed health for my Dad, good books read, tea, good conversations, new friends and old, and ever so much more - including one very special little niece.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

On the First Day of Christmas...

Sitting around your table
As we did, able
To laugh, argue, share
Bread and wine and companionship, care
About what someone else was saying, even
If we disagreed passionately: Heaven
We're told is not unlike this, the banquet celestial,
Eternal convivium. So this praegustum terrestrium*
Partakes – for me, at least – of sacrament.
(Whereas the devil, ever intent
on competition, created the cocktail party where
One becomes un-named, un-manned, de-personned.) Dare 
We come together, then, vulnerable, open, free?
Yes! Around your table we
Knew the Holy Spirit, come to bless
The food, the host, the hour, the willing guest. 

 *Foretatse of the land {The new earth, perhaps?)
~ The Irrational Season (pp 158-159)

Madeleine L'Engle wrote the above poem at a friend's home one evening... I wish she had written it at my home. Partly because I have learned so much from her over the years, but also because I want my home to be like that. 

I want meals over my table and tea with friends in the living room to be the soul-ish bread and wine that strengthen the inner man. I want my cottage to be a home, not merely a shelter from the rain or biting winds. I want my little 'Hobbit hole' to be cosy and cheery and uplifting as soon as someone steps inside... Because it is comfort, warmth (both literal and figurative), and personal attention that create a safe place to share one's soul, to be vulnerable, open, and free. It is a warm mug of tea and a listening heart that the Holy Spirit uses to bless both the speaker and listener. This is is feeding the hungry – both in body and in spirit. This is hospitality. This is friendship. 

This is the incarnation... Because when God came to us, He sat at table with sinners and tax collectors. He saw the multitudes and had compassion on them. He felt the touch of one desperate woman in a throng of persons. When God became man He spoke to women, had time for children, and built men up in their masculinity. The man who was God became rightly angry over apathy, avarice, and arrogance against God. He cared so much that He flipped over tables in defense of God's Holiness. And He still cares to the point of action. He cares enough to die for us. Enough to walk with us through our sorrows and longings. Enough to chasten those who are His children. Enough to keep reaching out His arms to a stiff-necked and disobedient people - again and again. Enough to let persons taste the consequences of their sins - because redemption's price is high.

We see what God in flesh is like when we turn the leaves of the New Testament, and we have the great gift of knowing the Messiah has come. We have the communion of saints round the table, walking through life together.  

We come together, then, vulnerable, open, free?
Yes! Around your table we
Knew the Holy Spirit, come to bless
The food, the host, the hour, the willing guest.  

May this be said of me, and you, and every other Christian... That we are marked by the Love of God, for the world to see. May the Holy Spirit walk with us and amongst us always, making us more and more like the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

~ Johanna

Saturday, December 21, 2013

If God is with us, why are we lonely?

"Our two little granddaughters have a sense of community which many adults have lost; people have developed less a sense of community than a loneliness which they attempt to assuage by being with other people constantly, and on a superficial level only... The loneliness, the namelessness of cocktail-party relationships surround us. We meet, but even when we kiss we do not touch. We avoid the responsibility of community."   
       ~ Madeleine L'Engle, The Irrational Season
(pg 182, emphasis mine)

There is a steady song of rain on the eaves, the dimpling of ever-widening puddles in the yard by so many hundreds of thousands of droplets. For me, the grey skies and the heavy rain are a comfort, a friend inviting me to listen to their story, a warm mug of tea in hand. For many, though, the slashing rain and slate-coloured sky are dull and dreary. The dark of night is not a quieting friend, a place to be still and ponder, but an unwelcome enemy: loneliness. 

Loneliness and Christmas go hand-in-hand in our confused culture. Stress, blow-ups, and annual arguments are many persons' only Christmas traditions. If you are honest, you probably find loneliness and stress normal rather than shocking. Our lives do not match up to "Christmas: Hollywood style." When 26 December rolls around, we still live in a draughty house, the scroll-work on the bannister still comes off in our hand, and we are still working at the Bailey Building and Loan Company rather than travelling to Tahiti or going to college. 

Perhaps It's A Wonderful Life, more than any other Christmas film, shows what does make 26 December different, in spite of life circumstances remaining the same: community. George Bailey is given a new perspective to see that the people in his life love him, are willing to give their money --and still more, their prayers-- for him because he is part of their community. George has given his time, his own money, his hopes, his dreams, his whole life to the people of Bedford Falls. At his hour of need his neighbours do not leave him high and dry, they give out of their meagre store. Not only is his community built of those neighbours, there is also a heavenly community that he is part of, too. 

Though 'community' is a buzzword, particularly in churches, our culture knows little of it. That is why loneliness is more familiar to us than community. That is why we can sit at a long table of friends and feel completely isolated. Community is not 'being with other people constantly' - it is being with other people. It is being silent with them or crying with them when loss comes. It is walking with them through the burned out rubble of their home, or the shattered pieces of their marriage. It is feeling awkward and useless when you do not know what to say about a friend's difficult situation, but hugging them anyway. It is making the most of the time you have with a friend who is moving away, seeking to sweeten the loss before it comes. It is giving the shirt off your back, the food out of your fridge, the money out of your bank account to serve another. It is opening your home for dinner, conversation, laughter, hugs, and tears. It is reading together. It is sitting on the floor, huddled by the heater in the arctic cold of winter, just talking. It is receiving help and encouragement whilst climbing a mountain, and turning around to give your hand to that same friend when the rocks at the top are too hard to climb alone. 

That is community, is it not? Not letting someone climb alone. It is instead walking alongside others, being encouraged by those ahead to come "Further up, and further in." It is repeating that cry to your companions, and to those on the path behind you. Community is being responsible for one another - even when it means paying someone else's debt, or bearing their sorrow, or sharing their sweaty, infected smell. And it means receiving love, healing, help, and grace, too. It goes back and forth, constantly.

At the time of year when we remember that Jesus Himself left the community of Heaven to wear our smudge and share our smell, how can we feel alone? Yet we often do. 'The-day-after-Christmas' of our whole life feels devoid of real community, we do not even know where to look for such a thing. All we see is a black gulf of loneliness that never seems to change, no matter how many parties we attend, or evenings a week that we are busy. I speak as one who cannot give easy answers to loneliness. I spent many years as a child and young adult without close friends. I found myself feeling alone at a crowded table recently. But those are moments I have also found that the LORD has not left me. He whispers, sometimes shouts, to me in those moments that I am loved with an everlasting love. And I feel spoiled... Because I often find myself laughing until I cry over games with my adopted 'roommates'. Or laughing with my work friends and neighbours at a gingerbread shack that will not stay together, in spite of much 'gluing' with icing. I find myself blinking back tears of humility at how much I am loved and included by so many others.

You are not alone.

God is with us, Himself...and as He is revealed in His saints. Blesséd, blesséd, blesséd be He!

~ Johanna

Friday, December 20, 2013

Reflection or Merely Recounting?

[Advent Week 1 - Posted a bit late]

The season of "Here is what I did this year" letters is upon us. Yes, most people call them 'Christmas letters' but they are more truly year-in-review letters. I am not guiltless of this practise when replying to long-overdue e-mails or letters, but I try to have the decency of not calling those communications 'Christmas letters' either. A Christmas letter ought to be about Christ, whom we remember became man at one specific point in history. Whether it was in December or April or some other month I really do not care. We pick the busiest time of year for reflection on this point of truth, so I plan to reflect on it. 

Perhaps this time of year is the busiest because the enemy of our souls despises stillness and reflection upon Jesus. If there are more and more Christmas parties and stresses and less and less meditating on Christ, that enemy is accomplishing his underhanded goal: distracting us from setting our eyes where they ought to be. We need to see Christ, not ourselves, our busy lives, or our accomplishments. Paradoxically, the more we set our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, the more clear and correct is our view of ourselves. 

Those year-in-review letters that so many of us write focus on our highlights, sometimes our low points, and rather useless information about our corporal man which is passing away. That is all merely recounting. Real reflection is not that at all. Reflection is 'looking back' on the blessing God has given, on the lessons He is teaching, and seeing His strength and hope bringing you through your darkest moments. In short, reflection is seeing the Glory of God shining back to Him through yourself in circumstances and quiet moments. How do we know that reflection if we are not focussed firstly on the real, the true image of God, Jesus Christ?

So, in the busiest season of the year let us strive to make time for stillness and solitude daily. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, who is before (both 'prior to' in history, and 'ahead of' as an example) us. Let us know Him as He IS, so that we might reflect His glory and His image.

~ johanna

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Words, Words, Words." (To Quote Shakespeare)

[Advent: Week 3]
"When Hugh and I went on a trip to Russia I almost didn't get a visa because our travel agent put down my occupation as writer. Writers think. Writers ask questions. Writers are dangerous. She finally persuaded 'them' that I write only for small children and was not a threat. In any dictatorship writers are among the first to be imprisoned, and vocabulary is quickly diminished and language deteriorates.  Writers, if their vocabulary is not leashed, are quick to see injustice, and rouse the people to do something about it. We need words with which to think; kill words and we won't be able to think and we'll be easier to manipulate."
~ Madeleine L'Engle, The Irrational Season (pg 164)

As I read this section of The Irrational Season today, a chill went through me. Madeleine L'Engle lived through WWII, Viet Nam, and the Cold War. She saw the devastating effects of tyranny, and what methods dictators used to cause them. We see that still, in China, North Korea, parts of the Middle East, and many other places where there is little or no free speech. In such places the oppressed do not know what is going on in the outside world, they are kept in the dark through force and propaganda.

Yet there is a different sort of tyranny running rampant in the 'free' West - the tyranny of disappearing words. We have heard the adage that talk is cheap, yet are still hurt and offended by various sleights, snubs, and insults. Sticks and stones might break our bones, but we all know that words spoken to us in vulnerable moments (childhood especially) may leave lasting scars. Our sneaking enemy bombards us with so many words each day that their meaning and weight is weakened. Advertisements and billboards, e-mails and printed leaflets and newspapers, words flashed on television screens, iPads, iPods, and other electronic devices. We can now communicate quickly with anyone in any part of the world, but our whole world aches with the loss of community. Our Western society is losing the ability to articulate as words like"selfie" are added to the dictionary, but even bright persons no longer know what 'widdershins' means; or they say words like 'impactful' in place of a real word like 'impacting' or 'meaningful.' 

Our insidious enemy, the State, is not removing words from dictionaries as much as they are removing them from circulation and common vernacular. Thus, the minds of the public are weakened. But words are strong. They can augment or crush. Words are the death of us in the throes of an argument. Or words can be life and hope breathed into us in a genuine compliment or observation. If we understand the power of words we can share ideas and ideals, vision and Truth. We can paint the canvas of the mind with vivid sunrises and sublime mountain ranges. Yet we can only do this well if we have the subtle colours provided us via a large vocabulary. Vocabulary is to the writer what the toolbox is the carpenter, or the palette is to the artist. Without the fine chisels or minute brushes, the artisan is unable to inlay the wood or paint delicate subtleties in his work. Without a vast wealth of words, the writer loses clarity and sharpness in his writing. Without a vast array of words, communication is fuzzy at best, muddled and hollow at worst. 

Even when the writer has the word bank needed to clearly communicate, his audience also needs a grasp of language. The reader must possess a desire to look up unfamiliar words in order to receive clarity and insight. He must, even before that, be willing to read. We live in a culture where we are too lazy to even read a blog post if it does not have photos with it; or where a magazine article, sermon, soundbite, or news clip has been made as brief as possible to retain the viewer's or listener's attention. We are sliding into the ground where we begin to lose context and perspective because we have shortened everything. The media overloading our eyes and ears and brains has shortened our attention spans. We can no longer listen to a speech three hours long, or spend the whole 4th of July listening to speeches, recitations, and singing. 

We want more action, more multi-tasking, and the rush of information, because we do not know what to do with silence. But the more information transmitted to us, the less meaningful it is. Sometimes an idea or a word is underlined best by minutes or hours of silence. Sometimes we have to stop reading so fast to look up an unfamiliar word in order to gain greater insight. The goal is not simply to finish a book, it is the be led out of ignorance and into Truth. 

We need words to be alive -- because at one tangible point in History, the Word Himself was made man and dwelt among us. He shrouded Himself in this fleshly body of death to bring us new Life. Words matter vastly in reality. It is by words that God spoke all that we see, smell, hear, sense, and know into existence. It is through the Word enfleshed that we are given the hope of stepping through the portal of death into the really real world of the High Countries. It is that Word that is making us less and less shadow-men, and more and more into solid creatures. Words are life - The Word is Life. The Word is the substance of Hope. That final Word of God is the Prince of Peace. Let us not rush past that Truth into vague and insipid thoughts and 'communication' (i.e. electronic exchanges in place of face-to-face meetings) this Advent. Let us listen to the Word when He says, "This is the way, walk in it." Let us ask questions. Let us live dangerously. Let us live.

~ Johanna

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Man's Smudge and Smell

[Advent: Week 2]

No, there was no Advent: Week 1 post. I think I was a walking dream the first week of Advent, due to lack of sleep. This week I have not caught up much on sleep, but I think I am winding my way back to the cadence of the season. I have been watching the dance from the sidelines and am trying to join in on the right step.

One of my favourite lines from poetry reminds me very much of what Jesus came to do through the Incarnation - to share man's smudge and wear man's smell. God, in Jesus, wore the flesh and bone, the smell of a man. He who knew no sin became the smudge of sin for us. It is these things that the Incarnation reminds my heart. He knows my temptations, trials, hopes, fears, sorrows, and joys, because He, too, is a man.

I have probably posted this poem ad nauseam, but it is worth reading and re-reading. It is worth hearing the soul and spirit of the poem; the soul and spirit of the Holy Ghost breathing life at our brink, into our lungs and into our lives.  

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Later...

C. S. Lewis has been given the great honour of having a memorial stone placed in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner. You can read more about it here. The ceremony took place earlier today, the 50th anniversary of Lewis' death.

Makes me want to pull out my copy of The Weight of Glory and read it in his honour... And to the honour of God, who gave the world such a great thinker and writer in the man Jack Lewis.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 18, 2013

Something Yummy for Cranberry Season

I promise that my blog is not simply becoming a recipe site. I have been thinking about a lot of complex things recently, but I have been rounding out those thoughts in various dialogues with friends. Once a few of them get a little more polished I may try to write about them.

Until then, I have been making all sorts of food lately, and I think it is fun to keep a sort of recipe journal for various seasons. No pumpkin this time, on to cranberries! There are plenty of ways to use cranberries, but I made up a recipe today so that I could both make sandwich bread, and eat something tangy.


1/2 C rather warm water (110-115º)
2-1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar

Combine and set in a warm place (about 10 minutes) while you complete the next step

1-1/4 C cooked steel cut oats, heated (110-115º)
1/2 Tbs oil (your choice)
2 Tbs sugar or honey

Combine, add proofed yeast

1/2 tsp sea salt
2 [ish] C bread flour (unbleached white/whole wheat), sifted
(If you do not have bread flour, add about 3 tsp of vital wheat gluten to all purpose flour - that is what I do -- it works just fine)
1 Tbs flax seeds (chia, sunflower, or millet seeds work, too)

After you work the flour into the dough, knead by hand for 6 or 7 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes and oil a glass bowl. Knead for another 6 minutes. Tuck the seam of the dough on the underside and place in the oiled bowl (roll the top of the ball in the oil so it doesn't dry out).

Cover with a cloth and let stand in a warm place for about 1 hour (I put mine in my gas oven -- it always has a bit of heat inside due to the pilot light).

After the dough ball has approximately doubled in size, spread it on a very lightly floured workspace. Knead for 30 seconds to 1 minute to work the gluten strands - do not pull the dough, you will break the gluten strands. Flatten into a round about 8 inches in diameter and spread about 1/3 C of cranberries down the middle. Tuck the sides and end of the dough around the berries (you can add walnuts or pecans, too), place the loaf seam-side down in an oiled bread pan. Dust with old fashioned oats. If you wish, put 3 or 4 diagonal slash marks in the dough at this time with a very sharp knife or razor blade.

Let loaf stand in a warm place 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 400º, place bread in hot oven. After 5 minutes, turn the heat to 350º and bake for 45-55 minutes (or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped). Allow to cool (if you have patience) for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Makes delicious sandwich bread, or a great side for soup when all slathered with butter. I ate four pieces today alone... I also hiked. ;)

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Taste of Autumn

In case you had not observed this fact, I delight in eating pumpkin. I would say I adore pumpkin, if adoration were not specifically set aside for God alone. I really do enjoy the versatility of the marvellous squash He made. Perhaps my taste buds adore Him when I eat pumpkin things and drink pumpkin spice lattés.

I recently acquired four or five cups of pumpkin when I roasted and puréed a small 'pie pumpkin'. Let me tell you, I have been revelling in pumpkin recipes since that time. I have made a pumpkin roll (with my mum), pumpkin sandwich bread, the afore posted pumpkin pancakes (twice!), a failed attempt at curry pumpkin soup, pumpkin spice cake, pumpkin pastry cream, and the two items I am about to highlight.

(No, I didn't make all those things out of my roasted pumpkin. I also used three cans of the stuff... A very respectable amount of goods to be made from ten or eleven cups of pumpkin, indeed.)

Pumpkin and canned chicken broth are on sale this week, so I 'stocked' up on these delectable (and useful) supplies. Wanting to redeem my miserable failure of 'pumpkin soup', I tried again to make something delicious - with much more success on my second attempt. Taste the result yourself:


2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs butter
(sauté these first over low heat - don't burn the garlic! Slowly add liquids next, then pumpkin)

1 can chicken broth (reduced sodium)
1-1/2 to 2 C. whole milk
1 can pumpkin
1/3-1/2 C flour (beat with hot soup mixture in a small cup/can - add this paste to the whole soup, more or less flour depending on how thick you want the soup to be)

3/4-1 tsp applewood smoked sea salt (or 1/4 tsp seasoning salt, optional)
1/2-3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
dash of onion powder
small dash of nutmeg

Toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish and crunchy texture.

Paired with this creamy soup, try these pumpkin, honey-butter dinner rolls. Mine did not look as soft and fluffy as these, but they were very tasty.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Do you ever find that the answer to "Why all of this, God?" is, "I am Good." It is not "I am God" - though in another way it is that, too. But His answer is "I am Good." 

And He is.

He is good, whether or not the situation changes. He is good, when the heart of a man is slow to change, and all we feel is the tension. He is good when cancer is not cured, or the car crash happens. He is good when He holds us in the midst of searing pain, though He may not remove us, or it. 

God's goodness is not trite. And often pain, sorrow, suffering, and loss are felt more intensely in the midst of knowing just how good God is. Yet it is His goodness that brings Him to walk with us now through the valley of the shadow, through anger, through disappointment, through realising we do not have what it takes to be this or that. We do not have a God Who suffered with us, but a God Who suffers with us, present tense. That is Good. That is God. And that is why.

~ Johanna

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Abigail Rose

My new little niece arrived on Thursday! She is absolutely adorable, and I cannot wait to go home and see her next week. :) Her name is Abigail Rose, and she came very quickly - hooray! Mom and baby are quite well and return home today.

Here she is with my dear JJ boy (a pretty proud big brother):

Thank You, Lord, for bringing my niece safely!

~ Johanna

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pumpkin Pancakes

For Columbus Day, here is a yummy [sort-of-healthy] Autumn recipe for orange-pumpkin pancakes.

  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1 C pumpkin 
  • 1 orange (both zest and juice)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ C yoghurt
  • 1 C whole milk
  • ----- 
  • 3/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbs wheat germ
  • 1/2 C oats (I used old fashioned, but I think steel cut may work, too)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg (to taste)
  • dash of cloves
Mix wet ingredients well and let sit. Sift dry in ingredients (except wheat germ and oats, just add those in by themselves), fold into wet. Stir until just moist, you may need to add more milk for the correct consistency. Do not overmix. For a fun zing, add 1/2 C coarsely chopped cranberries.

Put a little butter or oil in your skillet and cook over low/medium heat. I make them by 1/4 cup-fulls  (each one is about 100 calories) and then toast a pancake or two (or three) as desired all week. They are quite tasty with yoghurt and a sprinkle of brown sugar, or syrup and butter, of course. 

In spite of the length of the ingredient list, these were very easy to make. It took less than 30 minutes for slow-poke me to put them together. It does take about an hour to cook the whole batch, but you can just make as many as you need and refrigerate the rest for the next day. If you do not have wheat germ on hand, just add more oats and call it good.

Final step: Go hiking in the Autumn sun to burn off some of the good carbs and hearty pumpkin you consumed. Perfect combination.  :) 

*Sorry for the photo qualities - since my camera took a kamikaze dive on the floor, I have to exclusively use my webcam for photos around the house.

~ Johanna

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Welcome, October!

OCTOBER was a beautiful month at Green Gables, when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green, while the fields sunned themselves in aftermaths.

Anne revelled in the world of colour about her. "Oh, Marilla," she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn't it? Look at these maple branches. Don't they give you a thrill...?"

~ Anne Shirley, in Anne of Green Gables (Chapter 16)

 October gives me a thrill, dressed in bright yellows,fresh greens, burnt orange, and flashes of scarlet and purple. I have driven across Colorado a good bit since October began on Tuesday -- up to Vail, and over to Maroon Bells with my parents, and I finished up the week with a hike up Raspberry Mountain, near Cripple Creek. 

The colours, the crisp air, the scent of leaves all washed me in the glory of Autumn. Truly, I think every season is bursting with God's glory, and that glory is reflected in us when we take the time to just be, to drink in the Beauty all 'round us. Perhaps it is easier for me to see the Beauty of each season because I live in the mountains and it is always beautiful here... Perhaps. But I think that one simply has to have the right eyes to see Beauty. Then one can see the glory behind every fiery bush and flaming stand of aspens, or in the dripping fog and the bent cornstalks of the Midwest. There is 'scope for the imagination' anywhere you are, and there is always Beauty to be found if you will look.

So, welcome, October. I can never have this September back, but I can have this October in its wake... And that is glory!

Trail leading up Raspberry Mountain

~ Johanna

Monday, September 30, 2013

Well Donne

Once, I was in a sea of persons at the airport and I heard chime over the loudspeaker, "Paging John Donne. Please come to ___ airlines service desk." I laughed. Probably it was John Dunn, a common enough name. But sometimes I have wondered if that announcer was more interested in literature than in paging people. Perhaps he was playing a hilarious joke that only he, and a very few other literary travellers, could smile about to themselves.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September Days...

"What a splendid day!" said Anne, drawing a long breath. "Isn't it good just to be alive on a day like this? I pity the people who aren't born yet for missing it. They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one."

~ Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery -- Chapter 15

And that is precisely how I feel about this day. Oh, how thankful I am for September days!

(photo credit: mountainphotography.com)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Telltale Heart

Do You Listen to Your Heart, or Does it Listen to You?

Have you ever realised that Disney princess films and pop love songs have the same mantra? Think about it, they all whisper the same line: listen to your heart. There is even a classic 80's song by that name. Some of the lines are as follows:
Sometimes you wonder if this fight is worthwhile
The precious moments are all lost in the tide, yeah
They're swept away and nothing is what it seems,
the feeling of belonging to your dreams

Listen to your heart
when he's calling for you 
Listen to your heart
there's nothing else you can do...

 There is nothing else you can do... Really? Are we simply trapped in the dichotomy of listening to our hearts or listening to outside opinions? As with most dichotomies presented to us, this one is false. We do not have to listen to our hearts to be happy (happiness is temporary, anyway), nor do we have to live under someone else's idea of success. When life does not go as planned, when we feel the pressure of needing to achieve the American dream, or we feel miserable because we have not achieved some idea of love, success, and affluence, we absolutely should not listen to our hearts. We should not listen to the world, or even well-meaning Christians breathing out 'feel better' pop psychology.

What other option do we have, if we ought not listen to the world or to our hearts? We need to tell our hearts. We need to speak Truth to our hearts and minds, even when we feel miserable.  The most oft quoted reason for unhappiness I hear from my friends is, "I don't have a boyfriend!" Is a spouse your idea of success? Have you made a good thing an idol? Do not wallow in the misery of what you have not. Speak Truth to your heart, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing," says the writer of Proverbs. Marriage is good. But if you are not married, then singleness is your garment of glory. 

I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.
 ~ St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7

Perhaps you are in true lament, a valid thing for Christians to do. You are not wallowing, you are deeply lamenting the loss of a person, a dream, a good thing, or the way your relationship with God used to be. Speak Truth to your heart in this, too. Lamentation is not a sin, but in the midst of grieving, remind your heart to hope.

The valid lament: 

For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?

 The equally valid Truth spoken to the heart/soul:

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
(Psalm 42:4-5, NKJV)

We may not be yet in the place where we have hope in God, and certainly not in a place of rejoicing. However, we must speak Truth to ourselves: hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, as the English Standard Version words it. The Psalmist is reminding his own heart of how he used to joyfully praise God. Yet it is no longer he who is so full of praise that he is at the head of the people going to God's house. Does he sit down an kick and scream? No, he tells his heart to hope in God, for at some point in the future he will again be able to Praise Him.

Perhaps you are in the midst of many crises all at once. I know many persons who are in that place - health troubles, family frustrations, financial crunches, and cars breaking down are just part of their stress. In that place I am tempted to say, "God, a little kindness, some ray of hope would be great right about now. Look at all I am going through, I deserve a little help." Yet I do not dare to believe that I deserve anything from God. All is gift, as a friend of mine told me recently. It is true, all is gift. I cannot win God's goodness or kindness. I cannot earn my redemption and salvation. I do not deserve any good thing from the hand of God. All He gives is a gift, and all I can do is to receive that gift with an open (not grasping) hand. This I must remind my heart, when it would rather think it was entitled to good things.

Finally, after you tell your heart what is True, do not become myopic. Do not dwell on how right you were and how wrong your friend was in an argument. Do not sit on the couch feeling overwhelmed when there is laundry to do, or dishes to wash. Speak Truth to your heart and then do something. Sometimes that means taking a long walk -- without a friend, phone, or iPod. Sometimes it means cleaning your house. And sometimes it means looking at the trees and the sky, simply listening to the silence.

~ Johanna


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Republics, Recalls, Rights, and Responsibilities

Way to go Colorado! For the first time since I moved here, voters got something right: we do not want senators who refuse to listen to their constituents and the constitution.

I was mortified a couple of weeks ago to have a car full of Christian friends tell me they were not planning to vote in the recall. Not only that, they did not even know about it, in spite of it being national news. 

As much as I do not want to be involved in the rat-race of politics, I do want to use my voice while I still have one. Men and women have sacrificed their families, comforts, health, and very lives to keep America a representative Republic... By gum, I will not stand by and spit in their eyes by not voting. It took about 30 minutes to research the recall, and about 0.3 seconds for me to know what I needed to do as a voter and citizen of Colorado. So, this morning my neighbour and I walked down to City Hall to vote.

When I was reading this afternoon, I came across this comment that coincided with my thoughts about Christians needing to become informed and vote for the best candidate available:
"Evasion of responsibility is the mark of immaturity."
(Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Woman - pg 45)
Let us not evade our responsibility to God, our neighbours our country, and ourselves - whether it is at work, in our conversations, the way we drive, or in our civic duty. We have civic duty because we have the right to change our government by due process. Rights are preceded by duties, by discipline, by action. Let us not take them for granted.

~ Johanna

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ring Out!

O God, You know my foolishness;
And my sins are not hidden from You.

Let not those who wait for You, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed because of me;
Let not those who seek You be confounded because of me, O God of Israel.

~ Psalm 69:5-6

 Let not those who wait for You...be ashamed because of me. These words lodged in my mind and heart when I read them several weeks past. Several phrases from Scripture are giving me pause to consider my actions this summer, but this was the first. As I read this section of Psalms, I questioned whether my actions made other Christians ashamed. I know for a fact that the ignorance, ingratitude, and thoughtless words of many other Christians makes me cringe to be numbered among them. Little wonder that those who do not know Jesus think Christians are wacky and ignorant! Yet... Am I numbered among those who confound non-believers, or shame fellow believers?

The on-line etymology dictionary defines confounded thus: an intensive execration, "odious, detestable, damned..." Our actions, flowing from our ideas, have consequences. Our actions can be either life or death to others. My attitude about many things this summer has proved odious and detestable - is it possible that my attitude, my words, my actions have turned someone away from seeing Jesus? Have my actions made anyone 'an enemy of the cross'?

Attitudes and actions do not simply 'fall upon' a person. They are conscious choices. Sometimes factors beyond our control do push certain buttons inside of us. However, our re-actions to those circumstances, hormones, people, and so forth determine where our minds and hearts really are. Are we marinating our minds in the word of God? Are we daily asking the Holy Spirit to lead us out of sin and into right-wise (the Old English meaning of righteousness) living? 

I, for one, know that I am often undisciplined. At various times I lack discipline in going to bed before midnight, or getting up when my alarum sounds, or in eating healthfully, or making time before work to meditate on God's word, or a number of other things. Yet I always have time to check my e-mail (though I do not always reply to it very quickly), eat food, or do something I want to do. However, without discipline, we lack freedom. Put positively, when we live disciplined lives we are made free.

As I sit here in the window of this cottage I can see a sailboat skimming silently along the horizon. It is a beautiful, image of freedom. But the freedom of the sailboat to move so swiftly and beautifully is the result of obedience to laws. 

The builder of the boat had to know the proper ratio of beam to keel and mast. The one who sails the boat obeys the rules of sailing. A ship tacking against the wind moves deviously, but when she runs with a strong tide or a following wind she takes, to herself the power of tide and wind and they become her own. She is doing the thing she was made for. She is free not by disobeying the rules but by obeying them.
~ Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Woman

 If you read nothing else of this post, read, re-read, that bit by Elisabeth Elliot. We are made free by obedience to our design, to our Designer. A sailboat is no more free to sail down the street than I am free to be fit if I do not eat well and exercise often. 

I am free to have a right heart to direct my thoughts and attitude only if I make wise choices to be disciplined. I am free to respond graciously if I have spent time meditating on the forgiveness and kindness Jesus has shown me. I am free to think of others as persons, not objects, when I have spent time in prayer for them as individuals. I am free to love others only by being willing to give up some of my own time or other resources to listen to them. Doing one thing means the exclusion of doing all other things. Are the things I am doing worth giving up time to listen to others, time alone in thought or prayer, time spent reading or writing?

Are my actions, are your actions, as stumbling block, a damnation to others? Or are our actions, in public and in private, an aroma of life to others, a sweet smelling offering to our good and kind Father? Is our love for God and for others (in the form or kindness, graciousness, right-wise living, etc.) a beacon for others to see by? Is it a clarion call to them to come further up and further in?
"And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere...for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it..."

~ St. Paul (I Thes. 1.8, NLT)

~ Johanna

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Yesterday I hiked my second fourteener this year... And ever.

Made it!! And I sounded my 'barbaric yawp'. ;)


Thanks to Lyndi and Lauren for being my hiking buddies, I wouldn't have made it without you ladies. ;)

~ Johanna

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I found cheerfulness to be like life itself—not to be created by any argument. Afterwards I learned, that the best way to manage some kinds of painful thoughts, is to dare them to do their worst; to let them lie and gnaw at your heart till they are tired; and you find you still have a residue of life they cannot kill.

~ George MacDonald, Phantastes (Chapter VIII)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


How about Thanksgiving in July? Don't mind if I do...

I am thankful for friends, a beautiful symphony, picnicking in the park, and enough rain to permit fireworks in the Springs this 4th of July. 

Loved having the weekend to clean my house a little, to write letters, and drink copious pots of tea.


Reading The Little Prince aloud with Tyler whilst drinking tea and eating lemon bars. 

“Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

 Finding a new Summertime song that I want to listen to over and over again... for FREE!  Listen to the first one called Ordinary Day.

Making mango salsa... And eating nearly an entire bag of chips with it in less than two days. :)

Ephesians 1-3 this morning:  "And this is the plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God,  for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan." (Ephesians 1:10-11)

God is the master Director - letting the actors on the stage ad lib and still having the story go the direction He has for it.

Thought-provoking discussion about evil from Peter Kreeft (digested whilst making zucchini pancakes this morning): Ten Uncommon Insights Into Evil From LOTR. He could have used Harry Potter for his insights as well. 

"Here is evil's weakness: it is limited to power, it cannot use weakness. It is limited to pride, it cannot use humility. It is limited to inflicting suffering and death, it cannot use suffering and death. It is limited to selfishness, it cannot use selflessness... Evil can only destroy and give death, it cannot create and give birth." ~ Peter Kreeft

Talking to Jacob before bed... Just because.

And life's 'daily-ness' is thanks-giving. Eucharistia. To breathe and talk, to walk and smell damp pine, to see colours and to hear our immortal neighbour children squeal with delight (or whine at naptime), to just be for the hour at dawn over a mug of tea... Yes, this life is good.