Saturday, November 22, 2014

Childlike. . .Wonder

Chill air makes me pull my covers closer just as my alarm buzzes. I roll over, swat my phone, and snuggle back under the blankets. Then I slit open one eye to see what the morning has brought. Suddenly I am all awake: the sky is grey, but the evergreens are shadowy jade, frosted with feather-flakes of snow. Snow! It is early this year, and cold, and...delightful. I can hear sleigh bells in my dreams, and though I am quick, I can never quite catch a glimpse of Jack Frost as he paints my windowpanes—which is a stunning feat, as I have a dozen panes before my desk.

My blood quickens at the thought of wandering out in those downy flakes, listening to the strange hush that snow always brings with it. My body is slower to answer the fairy calls—after all, covers are warm, the air in my house is decidedly not. After a good amount of standing by the heater, I am layered enough to sally forth into a world drenched in cold and quiet. There is wonder in the wintry wind. Magic laces the limbs of Old Man Cottonwood.

I stop on the bridge to watch the morning. Great puffs of snow shake off branches and glide into the stream. They are gone, liquid water once again, what moments before were airy snow-castles. The aching chill in my legs prods me to walk again. Still I watch the morning—the dancing snow, the plump little birds along my path—and I wonder about things. Do other people wonder about "things?" I wonder. I walk on, thinking of how the brown hedge next to me was teeming with living colour this Summer. How I clipped a lavender flower from it to wear in my hair. Do people my age wear flowers in their hair?

I question more and more whether I am an adult, or just a child inside an adult's body. Certainly I have learned some tact since childhood. Wait, is that tact, or have I learned to lie? Have I learned to gloss over something that I obviously see and am curious about? When does snow lose its magic and become merely an obstacle on the road? Do you become a grown-up when you step around a puddle rather than jumping in it? Does progress in years mean regress in seeing details like feathery finch bellies, pale peach against the snow? Does paying bills mean you stop chasing the rainbow's end? Does reality awaken us from our dreams?

The lenses of child-eyes have been mine for quite a long time. I think folks snicker at me sometimes after I walk by, wreathed in flowers or Autumn leaves. People often try to tell me that reality will burst my bubble; outlining various horrors, as if they are reality's servants, sent with sword in hand. One of my neighbours thinks I only appreciate happy endings, that I just pretend the Fall didn't happen, and that I need a dose of darkness to snap me out of fairy tales. Yet I realise that fairy stories have plenty of dark and morbid moments; many end unhappily-ever-after. I know the darkness of the Fall in my own heart and brain; in bitterness, betrayal, and broken bodies. I know Sorrow's shears, clipping off friendships that should have grown; snipping life out of loved ones, far too soon. It is always too soon, too young, too much...The Fall is too much with us.

The Fall is too much with us—should we shrink away in fear? Do we pretend it isn't real? No, that is a childish response, like hiding under the blankets from invisible night-fears. Thin quilts won't turn the blade of the Black Riders. What then is our defence? A heap of philosophy books to explain away the evil in the hearts of men? That is a cheap grown-up trick. Let us then be childlike—not childish—and revel in the fairy snows, walk so that we may see Beauty—rather than to burn calories. Let us know that the Fall happened, but not allow it to be the end of our stories. As Chesterton asserts, "Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey."1 Indeed, I need childlike faith that Smaug can be defeated—I already know that he exists. So for the Fall, I need to know it will one day finally and fully come untrue, because it daily threatens to undo me.

Yes, there is roadkill by the sidewalk, graffiti on the dumpster, and scraggly undergrowth along the river path where I walk. I do not deny these things. But there are majestic trees, glimpses of a snow-capped peak between branches, delightful bridges, and cheery little birds piercing the morning with sweet songs. It is Beauty that leads us to worship. Beauty, that restores sanity to our weathered souls. It is Beauty that turns our focus toward the One who made all things Beautiful in their time.2 That One is trustworthy and true, and He will make everything sad come undone one day...Interweaving myth into a Man and fairy stories into facts. 

  1. Chesterton, G. K., “The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920) 130

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Grey trees have barely given up their leaves before dark, swirling skies trace those limbs with white. The rising and falling of the seasons in their steps of the Great Dance have nearly made their circuit. Consequently, my mind is recalled to the beginning of this year, with all its fresh hopes and vague possibilities. Memories step out, one by one, only to be swept back into the dance of time. Grief and Beauty waltz together. Sorrow beats time with Joy. Suffering looks quietly into the eyes of Hope. Bitterness clasps hands with Forgiveness. The motif of the Dance this year seemed strange when originally given to me by the Instructor Himself back in those fresh, first days of January: Fearlessness.

In the nativity of the year I thought being fearless meant meeting obstacles and adventures head on. I had inklings of what some of the hurdles might be, hopes of what the adventures would contain. I little knew how difficult the hardships would be. I did not reckon that adventures were risks that could fail and wound miserably.

Much of the year held such sore trials that it seems to replay in black and white rather than colour. Deaths. Friends and family worn out with the things required of them. Betrayal. Being cast out by loved ones. Uncertainty. Deeply wounded hearts. Bitterness. Prodigal children. Loneliness. Certainly not all of these things visited me, but they have been visited upon such close friends and family that they have affected me very personally. I look back upon this year and see marriages crumbled; dreams burnt up; loved ones buried; relationship turned to cold, dead embers—I see ash.

Woven throughout, like intricate dance steps, are flashes of colour: lime and ochre aspens, glowing in warm sunlight. Dazzling white smiles of friends visiting and visted. Lavender and white cosmos along my walking path. Pink, brown, green, and black ink, flowing with words of hope, cheer, and life. Orange-red sunlight, pouring over the foothills at dawn. Bright blue eyes filled with whimsy. A rain of golden leaves falling like a shower over me and a friend. Sly red foxes on night walks and gift-mugs. Green in every crevice of long-dry mountains and sidewalk cracks. Mottled grey, brown, and red stones, illuminated by liquid sunlight in a chuckling, clear stream. Hazy blue mountains and burnished clouds at sunset on my solitude hikes. The navy velvet of the night sky, pierced by silver stars... All the colour of this year radiates from Beauty, love, and personality.

The Psalmist reminds us to worship the LORD in the Beauty of holiness... It is the Beauty that leads us to worship, that breathes life into dead places. When we see a wildflower in the wilderness, hear a single burst of birdsong on a chilly morning walk, know the love of another, it is then that the breath of life rushes into our souls.

I am tempted to look at the snow out my window and see flying ash. So many dreams and hopes have become but fine dust in my hands this year. Instead, I do the only thing I can: I pour every last handful of ash on God's altar, asking Him to raise a flame of Hope. Not a fragile "thing with feathers" as Emily Dickinson calls hope, but a solid, weighty anchor for my drifting soul. I ask for new, richer dreams; for restoration to rise like a phoenix from these pale ashes.

I am learning that to be fearless does not mean to be foolhardy, but to hope in the midst of burning dreams. To be fearless means to love, because perfect love casts out all fear.

Many months ago I read something about pain and fear... It broke my heart then as it does now—and every time I re-read it. It is the real Hope and Beauty in the midst of sorrow that stares at me from these words:

I wrote in my journal: So here is what I want to remember and never forget: Anxiety is the devil. Fear is a taste of hell because it cuts us off from the ever-offered rest of God’s love. And fear cannot do one damn thing to avert the thing feared. 
Sorrow, on the other hand, is a kind friend, and when it comes, grace comes, too, and all the tender mercies of God. All fear is the fear of loss and death; all love comes with a price tag of pain; all true sorrow has its counterpoint of joy. And it’s real. We’re living it in the most vivid way. 
 And if we’re running along the beach laughing at one moment and weeping over the grief that is coming the next, well then, this is life abundant, the full package. And the joy is more real than the grief because the joy is forever and the pain is for but the passing shadow of this life.
Lanier Ivester, Love Begets 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wild November Choir

Silent morning—and fog like the ghost
Of autumn trees and brush and leaves
Rises up to the skies, a wavering host
Of spirits climbing to clouds, their winter post. Farmers have nearly done gathering sheaves
And stalks stand like sentinels—grave stones—
Encumbered by rooks whose coarse song weaves
Harvest into winter, as Earth her life heaves Into barns and bins. She creaks and groans
From the heavy toil of summer, spent,
To lie buried ‘neath snow as the wind moans,
Settled, silent; to Death her own life loans. Shrugging into the grave, all life lent
To fields and trees, creatures and men,
Surrendering to ice cracked, like garments rent,
Sighing to hear the wind’s bitter lament— Earth sleeps. And though she will again
Awaken, resurrect, quiver then suspire,
For now she goes down with blissful “Amen!”
And spirits ascend from forests and fen In eerie glints of argent fire,
Winging their way toward heaven
Like birdsong, bell-song from distant spire
In harvest chorus—a wild November choir.

Photo by Ruthanne