Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Wonder of Wednesdays

Chirp, chirp! My alarm roused me at 6.00 am. I wanted to roll over and pull the covers closer. I could not, however. On a whim, before bed last night, I asked my friend to call me when she rose this morning at 6.15. I sat up and attempted to rid myself of the gravel lodged in my throat. After a brief call with Lyndi, I pushed myself out of bed. I was at the office to clean and mail things by 7.00 am. I was done by 8.30 am... This meant I had a whole Wednesday to invest as I pleased.

So, I worked on a letter, walked around town in jeans and a tank top (yes, it was in the 60s here today), talked with my parents, did some reading, and then spent the evening endeavouring to be industrious. Which is code for, 'making jam.' I made strawberry jam, and orange marmalade -- whilst watching three episodes of Larkrise to Candleford.

Unless you have extreme amounts of patience (or something that slices orange peels very fine in less time), marmalade should not be undertaken glibly. However, in the event that you have copious amounts of oranges -- and as much patience and determination -- you can find a great recipe here: Orange Marmalade. I converted everything to 'Merican' measurements, then decreased the water a bit and the sugar by a decent bit (it still sets, it's a bit more like jam than a hard marmalade).

And now I have a sink half full of dishes to wash before I can bury myself under my cosy covers...  Again. Wednesdays are rather wonderful, I do declare. :)

* I made 2-1/2 jars of marmalade with about 5 or 6 oranges... I used two giant oranges the last time, which made one pint. It reduces a good bit and takes a lot of work, but it is delicious! *

~ J

Monday, January 21, 2013

Music: Heart and Soul

Do you ever wish you could sit down at a piano and have your ideas flow out of your fingers? Perhaps you can do that. I cannot. I have a hard enough time letting my thoughts flow through my fingers to the pen or keyboard. But music... Music has a way of reaching to our souls more deeply than so many words on a page.

A lively tune can set our feet and hearts to dancing. Some songs pierce our hearts with their Beauty, their depth. Other pieces rend our hearts with their pain and loss. Music can make us feel courageous, patriotic, melancholy, vulnerable,  pensive, inspired, or cheerful. Music can both break our hearts and mend them.

Music is something to which we respond. It moves us, makes us, breaks us. Yet we make music, we break music (rap?), we try to make it fit to ourselves. One of my former tutors wrote a short bit about this here: Symphony As Landscape. The comments he made intrigued me: 
"For me, the music is not a soundtrack to something else; it is its own reality and it makes a first claim on me. Put very roughly, as I listen, I surrender my attention to it; I am less important than the music and my attention is on it and not on anything else. I am aware of its contours and features; my feelings about them are secondary, not primary."
(Rikky Rooksby)

There is something remarkable about music... It is both a thing to tame and create, as well as a thing that creates various feelings, moods, or resolutions within us. It is obviously a gift from God -- only God's gifts are set in tension like that.

Music is not simply 'background noise' - it is its own 'self' as it were. It has a personality imbued from its creator, yet it has themes and lines of its own, apart from how the composer may have planned things. Visual arts, writing, crafting things, music -- they all have a way of taking on a direction and 'self' of their own. If the creator is willing to let his work live, that is. I think it is these moments in our work, our play, our sub-creating where we most 'image' God. When our work takes on its own 'personality', it is often then that God speaks to us (and others) through us. We just have to step aside and let Him breathe the life into the work.

~ Johanna

For more thoughts on this, please do yourself a favour, read The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers, or Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle.

Post Script:  I write this from an writer's perspective, not a musician's. A musician would more deeply understand the soul and the way of music. I can only try to grasp a little of how music influences me, and how (like other mediums), music is its own being with its own 'personality'.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Tyranny of Indulgence

"Having the power to indulge your whims can be very dangerous... It borders on tyranny."
~ Robert Timmons (Larkrise to Candleford)

On Monday we will swear in our current president for four more years. Perhaps the leadership of our country (democrats and republicans alike) would do well to learn the above. For their whim has become banning guns until only criminals and the government have them. Their fancy to make an indolent, apathetic culture by punishing hard workers and rewarding the lazy. And their notion has long been to withdraw our freedom of speech. Tyranny has been lurking 'round the corner for some time, what will we do to stop it?

Tyranny skulks about our own souls and selves before it affects a whole country. When we begin to think we deserve good things, merit salvation, have a right to an education  – or any particular good, we must beware. The disease of entitlement has infected us. When we complain rather than give thanks, we become slaves to discontentment. When we are undisciplined in body, habits, mind, and worship, yet still expect a reward, we have every reason to hear, 'Depart from me, I never knew you.'

I speak these things to myself as much as anyone else. If we allow ourselves to be undisciplined, or apathetic, or to believe we are entitled to things, we will be not only under the thumb of our flesh, we will be ensnared more easily by the tyranny of corrupt authorities. What will we do to halt tyrants? Will we pledge our fourtunes, our sacred honour, and our lives to what is right - even if it is not easy?

“They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger?
Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?
Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.”
~ Patrick Henry, 1775 (emphasis mine)

Cheery Mornings

I woke up this morning quite excited to sample the loaf of wheat bread I made last evening...

Oooooh, bread!

Hm, I didn't even brush my hair yet...

Oh well!


Yay for bread and tea!

Want the recipe so you can make this lovely loaf? It's easy! You can pick it up at Smitten Kitchen. I used oil rather than butter. I also proofed my yeast (with the sugar and warm water) before adding the oil and dry ingredients. Happy baking and a cheery Saturday to you!

P. S. Goodness, I am white... We really do have sun in Colorado, I promise!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Our Work is Our Play

Drudgery is not what our work is meant to be.
Our work should be our play.
~ Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water (pg 199, Waterbrook Press)

Monday mornings seem to have a connotation of displeasure. The weekend is over and it is 'back to the grind'. Or is it? The etymology of the word grind is to 'destroy by crushing,' the very opposite of create which means to 'beget or bring forth, to grow.' What do you do at work each day? Do you destroy things, or birth new ideas and items? 

Now think, what do you do in your 'play' or down time? Often our time spent in recreation (literally re-creation) is very focused. Perhaps you like to trail run or rock climb, both take training, eating well, and dedication. Or maybe you, like me, enjoy cooking. I find it a delightful challenge taking various elements and combining them into something entirely different. There is ingenuity and creativity in bringing forth new recipes. And so it goes -- reading orders one's mind. Writing requires discipline and effort. Sports demand physical stamina, sweat, and work. Playing an instrument requires continual practice.

Not all play is re-creative, however. There are plenty of things one can do in their down time that is really a grind. Things like oversleeping, getting drunk, and 'vegging out' in front of the television or computer can wear down a person's mental acuity and physical initiative. If you feel drained and mentally numb after your day off has it really been profitable?

"Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace." 
~ Marmee in Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (page 184)
Indeed, work is a blesséd solace, it is our play, even. For our work and our play should both be a creative, birthing process. We may receive financial compensation for our daily work, perhaps even for our re-creation (writing, crafts, concerts, and so forth done outside of our daily work). Both work and play should leave us feeling tired -- not with an empty, dull ache -- but because something has been accomplished. 

God created (a work in itself!) work for Adam and Eve. He gave them responsibilities and work the very day they were brought into being. Work was not a retribution for the fall, it is not a curse. Vain toil, resistance to the order we are trying to bring are a part of the curse, but work itself is not.

Have you ever noticed that the weeks you have the most work are also your most productive at home? Work helps us to order our time, to make the most of our freedom. I find that the weeks I have the most hours in the mailroom are also the weeks I write the most blogs, letters, and e-mails; the weeks I spend time with my friends; the weeks I am more dedicated to cleaning my home, or cooking more exotic meals. Our free time becomes more valuable when we have less of it, so we are more apt to choose to employ it, rather than squander it in lacklustre choices. 

Tomorrow is Monday, a chance to see our work as our play. Tomorrow is a chance to revel in bringing forth new things, or helping others to birth ideas and products. Today we can choose to waste our time in vain pursuits. Or we can learn to re-create, that we might approach tomorrow with a refreshed body, mind, and heart. 

~ Johanna

Saturday, January 12, 2013

What Saturdays Were Made For...

Sleeping in.

Writing and reading.

Long walks in order to work through life's questions.

Imbibing in steaming mugs of tea and scones.

Cooking a delicious dinner: caramelised onions and mushrooms over pork, broiled sweet potatoes, stuffed mushrooms, and cider.

Watching an episode of Larkrise to Candleford.

Blogging and listening to Ben Kyle's charming new album.

P. S. My bed does not look that fancy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Giving Thanks...

I want to say profound things about gratitude for all that God is and has done. My poet's soul cannot find words to capture the picture of thankfulness I desire to paint.

I want to compose my thoughts about being thankful even in the face of sorrow and loss... But I do not know enough about that in my own life. And I do not want to. Yet one day I will know gratitude in the midst of painfully hard things.

Until I can share my own words in regards to giving thanks, I will share the ones that have wrapped my mind and heart in their Beauty and Truth.

Thank you for the way you make the showers fall
Like a blanket on the valley when the flowers call
Thank you for creating and sustaining it all
Thank you from my heart and my soul

Thank you for the way you make the music play
In between the quiet on a beautiful day
Thank you for the meaning in the things we say
Thank you from my heart, thank you from my heart

Thank you for the way you make the flowers grow
Up through the cracks in my fractured soul
Thank you for the way the healing waters flow
Thank you from my heart and my soul

Thank you for the way you make the moonlight shine
Between me and the horizon there's a perfect line
Like a love upon the ocean anybody can find
Thank you from my heart and my mind 

~ Ben Kyle

Sunday, January 6, 2013


As with Gladness Men of Old

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led by Thee!

As with joyful steps they sped,
Saviour, to Thy lowly bed,
There to bend the knee before
Thee whom heaven and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy-seat!

As they offered gifts most rare
At Thy cradle, rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King!

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And when earthly things are past.
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down.
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!
~ William C. Dix

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Admonishing Our Souls

Do you ever have to remind yourself to calm down in a stressful situation? Have you spoken out loud to help your heart listen to the truth? Do you ever call a close friend to process something you are going through?

I will admit that I have done all of these things. I have to speak out loud to myself sometimes to  remember that I am not the only person stressed or angry about a problem. I have to tell myself not to believe the lies that I am defined by my intellect or looks. In fact, I must tell myself large doses of truth: that I am defined by being made in God's image, I am defined by God Himself.

In the Psalms, the sons of Korah admonished their souls as well. They exhorted themselves with the truth that God was still their salvation, even when they were depressed.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God? 
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?” 

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival. 

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my Salvation and my God.
(Psalm 42.1-5)

Many persons look at verse one and think that the sons of Korah are so in love with God that they cannot get enough of Him. Yet the next two verses clearly show they are longing for God because they are sorrowful, depressed, and no longer have the gladness that caused them to lead others to worship God. They state the problem explicitly. 

Yet the sons of Korah do not wallow in their depression. Nor do they act happy-go-lucky, as if they have no grief or turmoil.  They do something far better than either of these common pitfalls: they reminds their souls of truth. These descendants of Korah admonish their minds, wills, and emotions, asking themselves why they are downcast. Then they speak hope to themselves: do not worry, we will yet again praise God. It might not be today, but a time is coming when we will praise God, Who is our salvation. 

There are days when we must admonish our own souls to praise God. There are times when we have to remind ourselves to bless God. To bless God means "to consecrate, make holy, give thanks, to speak well of, to praise, to bend the knee, to worship, to invoke blessings". Some days we must tell ourselves "Bless the LORD O my soul!", as David did later in the Psalms:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless His holy name! 

 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all His benefits,
Who forgives all your iniquity,
Who heals all your diseases, 

Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 
Who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(Psalm 103.1-3)

Recently, three dear friends of mine all had a grandparent die (two had funerals Christmas week). When I was home for Christmas, I saw how much my own grandma's memory is beginning to fail. She is my last living grandparent, and realising that she may not be able to live on her own much longer (she is 93, and quite active) has been hard. Knowing that life is fragile has been weighing on my heart. Seeing the state of our economy, presidential administration, and the lack of logic or understanding in the general public has depressed my soul. I am tempted to fret, to despair, to  see only loss. 

At these precise moments I must remember the kindness of the LORD, His benefits, that He has filled my soul with good things, how He has redeemed me, that He gives me Love and mercy, how He is my strength in weakness. I must speak truth to my soul, and I must admonish myself to bless God. He alone is worthy of all praise and glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Irrational Season

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.

~ Madeleine L'Engle

I live in a community of persons who have spent at least two weeks of their lives immersed in ideas, reason, knowledge, and facts. This is wonderful for helping others understand Christianity from a historical and reasoned perspective.  It can also put up barriers for persons who need to know that God is not just 'out there' ruling the universe, but that He cares about us right here.

Reason is a lot like the marriage covenant, even when you do not feel like loving the other person, you have promised to do so. In the same way, even when your emotions tell you conflicting ideas about who God is, your understanding of historical events,  textual criticism, logic, et cetera help to anchor your soul.

We all know people who try to reach God by reason, or by following a set of rules. They want to get at God from the outside in, rather than letting Him work from the inside out. God works from faith toward reason. Being a Christian is not following myriads of regulations. Being a Christian is not about feeling happy, nor about feeling good because we are doing good things. Christianity is not based on blind faith, there is an astounding amount of evidence for God's existence. Christianity is not naked reason, either, because we are not mere minds. We are persons with bodies, souls, and spirits.

Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.

The Child. Christianity is not simply faith, nor not solely reason, because it is not a religious system. The person Jesus Christ is the heart of Christianity. The God of the universe, Jesus Christ, is at the heart of Christianity. This Child is both God and man. Both infant and infinite. Christianity is both rational and personal.

This is the irrational season
When Love blooms bright and wild.

~ Johanna

Thursday, January 3, 2013

To Love is to Name

To love anyone is to hope in him always. From the moment at which we begin to judge anyone, to limit our confidence in him, from the moment we identify [pigeon-hole] him, and so reduce him to that, we cease to love him, and he ceases to be able to become better. We must dare to love in a world that does not know how to love.

~ Madeleine L’Engle quoting a French priest in Walking on Water (pg 112)

This quotation is staggering. It has gnawed at my heart since I first read it several weeks ago. When we reduce someone to a label, we effectively terminate their ability to change or become better; both in our own minds, and often in actuality.  We assume someone cannot grow, cannot improve, cannot be anything other than that little title with which we have branded them. In this suspicion we begin to treat that person as if they really are that one thing, as if they can never aspire to be a multifaceted human being.

Goth. Punk. Prude. Gossip. Ringleader. Hyperactive. Emotional. Holier-than-thou. Type-A. Shy. Geek. Blue collar. Hoity toity. Snob. Redneck. Intellectual. You have a mental image for each one of these words, I daresay. Once you classify someone (as if they are a science experiment!), you reduce their humanity to one facet, rather than seeing them holistically.

“It seems that more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label. To identify is to control, to limit. To love is to call by name and so open the wide gates of creativity. But we forget names and turn to labels... If we are pigeon-holed and labelled we are un-named.”
 ~ Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water (pg 113)

I say 'you' above, but I am  not exempt from the classification game. There is a particular person whom I have, by my actions toward her, never allowed to be fully human (in my mind). I put her into a box with a label or two scrawled on it, and filed that box on the shelf. The problem is, by my actions, that person has been stunted. She behaves as if she believes she is what I (and others) have labelled her. In so doing, she imprisons herself to be only so many little labels. This is her choice,  of course, but she may chose better things if more persons believe her capable of them. She might be named if she were loved well and lived in light of that love.

Yet another difficulty arises when we attempt to (or succeed at) pigeon-holing someone: persons do not fit neatly into a box, even if pigeons do. Persons are messy, unpredictable at various junctures,  and unique from every other human being in certain points (from DNA to fingerprints and beyond).

What kind of Love names someone? What Love is this, that allows persons to become fully alive?

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. 

For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place."
 (Isaiah 41:1-3)

God speaks thus to Israel in ancient times, yet He offers redemption to more than just this select group of persons. More than 600 years later He offers not nations for a ransom, but His only Son to be the Saviour of the world (I John 4.14). God Himself is Named --  not labelled, but Named. What is the difference? A label is something someone puts upon another, not allowing them to be more than that. To be Named is vastly different. Naming is an action, a calling one up and in to greater things. 

God is the only One with the authority to Name Himself, calling Himself "I AM that I AM" to Moses. Throughout Scripture He reveals His character through various names and actions: Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, God with us, Saviour, Holy One of Israel, Redeemer, Healer, Judge, Creator, Keeper, Warrior, Strong Tower, Refuge, and myriads of other names. God also Names us, He calls us to be who He made us. He calls us image bearers, children, friends, servants, belovéd, holy, priests, and many more names. 

Through God's love we are able to Name others, to call out in them those things that mirror God. Through indifference, rejection, and labelling we un-name persons. Will you join me in seeking to Name others this year? It will require a lot of humility in asking others to forgive you for un-naming them. It will require vulnerability to love others, even when they do not love you. It will take copious amounts of patience and perseverance to show God's kindness to some people. And none of those things come naturally to us in our fallen state. Loving others, Naming others, will require asking God for the above qualities, and seeking His strength to be made perfect in our weakness.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.
(Isaiah 41.1b)

~ Johanna

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


“Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh and trotted across to the Lion.

"Please," she said, "you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
~ C. S. Lewis,  The Horse and His Boy
Though God may lead me through the valley of the shadow, I would rather be with Him there than lounge in luxury without Him.
~ Johanna

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

On the Way

Near the end of the year I like to flip back through my journal to see what I have thought and prayed about over the year. Sometimes I wonder at the profound things I have jotted down and promptly forgotten. Other times I cringe at my juvenile attitude or way of handling relationships, et cetera. Last week I found an entry that ended with these words, "You never know what is already on its way from God."

What is already on its way from God? I cannot determine the events of the upcoming days of the year. I cannot see whether great gladness or great sorrow await me. Yet coming to the end of something often makes room for new beginnings. It is good look back to see what God has done, how He has provided and walked alongside us. 

We stand upon the cusp of a new year, realising that we do not know what is already on its way from God. It might be blessings from His hand, His hand holding ours through hard times, or His hand lifting us upon His shoulders during the hardest seasons of all.

I am glad that I cannot see what is ahead. I do not wish to live in dread of hard things to come, or in impatience for the good things. How kind of God to give us the strange and wonder-full place of living in the present. I do not know what God has already set in motion for this year, but I am thankful that He is good, come what may.

~ Johanna

*This post is a little late in being posted due to our internet connection being wonky last night, so I back-dated it. The 2 January post will be up soon.