Friday, December 30, 2016

Small is Enough




It is the sixth day of Christmas and I am sipping a frothy chai as I settle in to write. I returned home yesterday and took care of some chores, enjoyed a bit of reading and writing, and savoured a few Christmas films: Rick Steves' European Christmas special, The Snowman, and the original Frosty. An odd mix, perhaps, but it was fun to make dinner and soak in some Christmas at a slower pace. 

Last night I decided that I would like to spend Christmas in England sometime, or possibly in Scandinavia. I loved how so many European traditions included choral music, candles, and cathedrals (and amazing food!). It made me miss England, as I am wont to do about this time of year, anyway. Tomorrow marks six years ago that I boarded my first international flight, bound for Oxfordshire. It marks the day I met my best friend. It was the first day in a series of days where I was stretched outside of myself (intellectually and soulishly) in such a great degree. 

Travel does that to you. It opens your ears to accents and manifold languages spoken on street corners, in open air markets, airports, and more. It opens your eyes to the poor, the average man, and the elite more distinctly. Travel can make us dependent on others, it can make us feel united—even across language barriers. So, sometime I want to be abroad for Christmas and have new eyes for the season. To be willing to lay down my traditions and enjoy different ones.

This year has been a bit of a different Christmas—usually I come home as close to New Year's Day as possible in order to get in as many days with my family as I can. But this year, I came home a few days early to ring in the New Year a bit more quietly; to have some quiet space to reflect on the past year and pray over the coming one. What doors will God close and which ones will He open? Where will my feet go this year? Travel feels imminent, but perhaps that's wishful daydreaming or a few too many books and travel films. 

In my quiet return to the Rockies, I was overdue for a grocery run or two. In Sprouts I was selecting red onions (on a great sale!) and found myself near an older couple speaking a language foreign to me. I couldn't catch enough words to make out which language, even, but it sounded European. They made my heart happy—as did all the veggies and fruits I purchased for thirty dollars. I have a bit of New Year's food-making to do for some local folks. Work became too hectic before holiday for me to make anything for my neighbours. 

But I want to walk into the coming year timefully—unhurried. I want to be open-handed and open-hearted, ready to give and to humbly receive. I have been given much, blessed richly by family, friends, strangers...by God Himself. I want to give like that. To give out of whatever I have. Small is enough—whether it is my bank account or time or cupboard. In God's economy, small is enough. . .if it is given wholeheartedly. So, I want to be poured out for the glory of God.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Orchard and the Enchantress

Painting by Daniel Gerhartz


Long ago, in a far off land, there lived a noble king. The king and his wife had an extensive orchard full of every fruit one could imagine: pears, plums, apples, peaches, apricots, cherries, and the like. This fruit was picked by the king's servants and made into jellies, jams, and preserves. In accordance to the proportion of this orchard, nearly everyone in the kingdom would enjoy the jellies, jams, or preserves at some point. Everyone but the prince, that is. 

The prince had decided from an early age that he would not eat of the fruit of the orchard. He detested anything but meat and potatoes at meals. The prince also detested people, especially his tutor, who tried diligently to teach the lad his history, geography, affairs of state, geometry, and plain logic. But the prince would only scoff at his tutor as if the learned man knew nothing—when in fact, it was the prince who knew very little, yet believed in his heart that he was too intelligent to bother with studies and learning.

Now the prince had a sister, a rather ordinary girl with an extraordinarily kind heart. She felt so ashamed of her foolish brother that she often sat for the tutor, learning her brother's lessons, as if to make up for his rudeness. So it happened that the princess grew in knowledge and wisdom, as well as in diligence and kindness, while the prince grew petulant, indifferent, and unbearable. 

Many seasons came and went in this way, when one Autumn, a bedraggled old woman came to the castle gate. In her gnarled hands was a large, empty basket. She asked the servant who tended the gate if the king could spare a poor soul some of the tantalising fruit hanging over the orchard walls. The servant took pity on her and led her into the orchard. He said the woman might pick as much fruit as her basket would hold. She did pick as much as her basket could hold, but she did something more. For this woman was an enchantress who held the power to bless and the power to curse. When the gatekeeper had gone back to his post, the wrinkled woman held out her hands and set a blessing over the orchard, whoever ate of its fruit would be wise and kind. Then, she hobbled out of the orchard, her basket well-laden, and went along her way.

The years spun on and the kingdom was more calm and contented than ever. The king and queen, princess and tutor, servants and subjects grew wiser and kinder the more they ate of the fruit of the orchard. But the prince seemed to rot and grow rank. He was the same selfish, indifferent, greedy prince he had always been—in spite of his parents' best efforts to direct him otherwise. 

It happened that the old king died one night, at the prodigious age of one hundred and one. So there was great mourning throughout the land. Men came from far and wide to pay their respects to the wise and gentle king. But the crafty prince took advantage of this outpouring of grief, charging high prices to travellers staying at any lodging on royal land. The king was not even decently entombed before the prince's iron rule was felt. Taxes were raised outrageously. Farmers had to give the new king a half share of their crops, as most of them used royal fields to cultivate their produce. 

During this unhappy time, the princess eloped with the tutor, seeking refuge in another kingdom. In a few years the old queen also died, and the kingdom continued to be hard-pressed by the tyrant king. On the eve of the Great Harvest, a stooped woman, wizened by years, came to the castle gate. In her hands was a large, empty basket. She begged the gatekeeper for some of the aromatic fruit from the castle orchard, for she had given the king every last bit of her small garden's potatoes in tribute. The gatekeeper's expression was sorrowful as he said he could not allow anyone into the royal orchard. Though the king himself never ate the fruit of the trees, neither would he share it, even with his many servants and subjects. He would rather the beautiful fruit rot on the ground or be eaten by birds, than give his treasure to anyone besides himself. 

And so at last, the evil king's doom came. The knobbly old woman went on her way, passing by the orchard as she left. She was indeed the enchantress who had blessed the fruit-trees long, long ago. Now she raised her swaying old arms and spoke a curse over the orchard—that the owner of the trees would die by their fruit. This punishment seemed unlikely to take ever place, given that the king never ate of the orchard. The kingdom began to dwindle over the ensuing years, as many of the tenants sought refuge in other lands. 

After a long while, not even the servants of the castle remained, deeming poverty and exile better than being governed by brutality and foolishness. So the king was left alone. Having never learnt any of his lessons, and rashly thinking he knew everything, the king knew not how to prepare even a simple meal. Though he loathed the fruit of the orchard, he became so hungry once his larder was empty, that he wandered the rows of trees in the garden, seeking the least wretched fruit he could find. He espied a withered plum hanging within easy reach. Perhaps its being dried out would make the flavour more bearable, he thought. He popped the plum into his mouth, chewed once and began to swallow the fruit. But having always refused the fruit and his lessons, he did not know that plums have a pit in their centre. The pit lodged in the king's throat, choking him so that he fell to the ground, gasping for air. He died alone in the middle of his orchard, in the heart of his empty kingdom.

And what became of the gnarled enchantress? They say that she went on to the neighbouring kingdom where the princess and tutor lived. There she blessed the couple's cottage garden, that they might live out their days in satisfying labour and generosity.

Monday, December 26, 2016

There was a Blessed Messiah Born


One of my favourite Christmas carols in the last couple of years is the Wexford Carol. It beautifully proclaims the reason we rejoice at Christmastide. The Loreena McKennitt version is tied for my favourite, but in the one linked below (my other favourite) it is a bit easier to hear the words. Enjoy!



Good people all, this Christmas time, 
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved son
With Mary holy we should pray,
To God with love this Christmas Day
In Bethlehem upon that morn,
There was a blessed Messiah born. . .



Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dawn of Redeeming Grace




The Dayspring hath dawned on Christmas morn. Yet...something about the darkness and the aching longing of Advent feels much more comfortable to me than the rejoicing of Christmastide. I am far more at home in the shadowy dusk and predawn, because that is where I have lived all of my life. I know my Guide, but I have yet to experience full redemption—that "dawn of redeeming grace" the Christmas carols tell us is coming.  I struggle to be truly excited about Christmas Day and Easter morning because I understand Advent and Lent, but I do not fully comprehend celebration, not yet. 

Sadness I know. Regret I am familiar with. Frustration and agony over the Fall I deal with often. I am faced with darkness around every corner, tinging life events, colouring my own heart...But I do not know, cannot bear, the illumination of full redemption, the face of the I AM Himself. 

The truth is, Christmas Day always feels like a letdown to me. It rushes by in a whirl, no matter how many times we start the day off with those beautiful, savoury passages from Isaiah, Luke, and Matthew. I want to be slow and quiet. To sit with the people imprisoned in darkness and watch dawn's light lick the edge of the sky. I want to magnify the Lord with Mary, to know with Simeon that a Light from on high hath visited those in darkness. I want to sit in a cosy chair with a cup of tea, all curled up, waiting for day to come—not sleeping late because I was wrapping gifts until the wee sma's. I want to watch snowcapped peaks turn violet and rosy in the morning light.

I want some elusive ideal Christmas. But what I want doesn't matter—what matters is what I've been given and how I steward that. To simply roll with soupy stuffing and lukewarm turkey. To not expect a stunning revelation when conversing with my extended family, or even my immediate kin, over the holidays. What I've been handed is prayer time with dear friends that replaces candlelight service this time. It is a crisp bill, unexpected, from a family member. It is a small arm squeezing my neck hard and a little voice saying, "You're my best!"—with a grin that wrinkles the little girl's nose and squinches her eyes. It is the genuine interest in the nine-year-old's voice as he shows me his lava lamp. It is singing songs and re-writing poems...and laughing hard when you slip up. 

Sometimes it feels like I've missed the baby in the manger in the late night wrapping and all those imperfect, cacophonous moments strung together. It feels rushed. . . But then, labour is not quiet, calm, and perfect. It is not slow and steady, like a sunrise. Still, Mary treasured up these things in her heart. The fact is, labour ebbs and flows, it pushes hard, it screams in the night. It is a bloody, messy cacophony. It feels like forever in the waiting, in the pain. Then it is a blur and a rush, white hot heat, a lot of breathing hard. Then comes the squawk of the baby. Then comes seeing his eyelashes and his perfect little fingernails. Oh, the pain is still there, but the endorphins rush in and fill the new mother with an awe and wonder that drives the pain to the periphery. She has thoughts and eyes only for her baby. 

I don't need whatever I've dreamed up as perfect and slow Christmas Days. Maybe I'll get to try that at some point...but I think I would miss the bustle of the wrapping, the cooking frenzy, singing Christmas music loudly while we all do our part to get ready for guests. I often want to savour Christmas Day—but what I want doesn't matter. What God gives is what matters. He gives Himself. He gives us family and friends. He gives us good gifts and we take them for granted—whether it is time with family or our health, time off or a travel fund to raid when the weather goes awry. Whether it is His Spirit whispering to us in the midst of the hubbub, "The Dayspring from on high has visited the sons of men" or an arm 'round our neck and a tiny voice saying, "You're my best!" Either way, He gives us what we need. It is our foretaste of redemption, preparing room in our hearts to know the Fullness of Joy.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Adventus




Time dawned and chaos was made order,
man came alive within a garden’s border,
within the garden’s border man died
when he disobeyed God and bowed to pride.


Darkness and chaos twined the world ’round,
but with the curse a promise was found,
up would grow a tender young shoot;
A King would rise from Jesse’s root.


A King would rise like light in the dark,
One unbranded by sin’s cruel mark,
to free his people from the grave,
from sin’s tyranny, which made them slaves.


The Light of the world, mighty to save,
was born bloody and frail in a dark cave;
He grew up, a tender shoot as foretold,
the prophet cried: “The Lamb of God, behold!”


The Dayspring from on high came down
to open darkened eyes, to wear a thorn-crown;
He died bloody and broken on a cross,
Unbranded by sin, but smeared by its dross.


Day dawned anew when the Light rose,
sin’s consequence paid—Death in its throes
was undone within a garden’s border;
man, made alive, chaos, made order.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Swallowing Light


i am alive. i am awake. i am aware of what [life] tastes like.1

It tastes like meteors. Like sunshine spilling warmth over me as I lie on a mound of woodchips. Like black currant tea and dark chocolate. Like thought-full and heart-felt conversations. Like fear from a film—and fear of the unknown. Like crisp autumn air, scented by leaves crunched. Like solitude under the moon. Like sorrow piercing my heart. And it tastes like Hope springing from Truth. 

May I help you taste Hope for a little while? I want to point you toward Hope Himself; to give you Something real to reach for; to write a truer story than fear would project. I want to breathe colour and Beauty and life into you. 

When I first heard the song quoted above, I thought it said, i am aware of what life tastes like. Turns out it says, of what light tastes like. What does light taste like? Does light taste like sorrow, like life can? Maybe. The song goes on to say:

i want to be. 
i want to be at my best. 
it’s bittersweet, it’s poetry. 
a careful pruning of my dead leaves.

Light is bittersweet. Perhaps because light is necessary for seeing, and seeing is wonderful. Yet living in a broken, fallen world means that seeing is also horror-full. I live in the mountains; I think they are the most stunning in brilliant autumn and scintillating winter. But the beauty can be marred by beetle killed forests; by plumes of black smoke, charcoal trees, and ash falling like dead snow. In the same way, human beings can be so intensely interesting or lovely that we can hardly look away from them. But footage of skeletal men being sent to gas chambers, or babies being dismembered—we can hardly look at that inhumane reality. Life under the Curse is exposed by light to be both indescribably beautiful and unspeakably horrific. But the Curse has an expiry date. Light does not. Not the Light of the world Who will make the sun, moon, and stars obsolete. 

Notice, though, that light is also a careful pruning of my dead leaves.  If we are like a tree (planted by rivers of living water, as Psalm one says), we need to be pruned to stay healthy. The Morningstar clips sucker shoots, prunes even our healthy branches to keep us growing. He is careful, observant, wise. He does not prune unnecessarily, only what is best—even when it hurts so much it feels like He has cut off far too much for us to keep living.

so i propose a toast: to fists unraveling, to glass unshattering. to breaking all the rules, to breaking bread again. we’re swallowing light, we’re swallowing our pride. we’re raising our glass ’til we’re fixed from the inside. ’til we’re fixed from the inside.

Where does the light get in? Where we are cracked, even shattered. The Light gets in when we raise a toast to the King: through the broken bread on our tongues, the wine burning our throats. We swallow the Light again and again, until we are fixed from the inside. It is a process, like eating daily, it is not a one-time meal that satiates our hunger for only a day. Swallowing the Light is our daily bread (Scripture); it is our weekly feast (the Eucharist); it is our continual sustenance (meditation and contemplative prayer); it is the bitter gall we sometimes taste (weeping over sin); it is the banquet to come tasted a little now (worship and adoration). It is the swallowed Light Who heals us from within, not from shining on us – exposing us – from without. We must be revealed and healed from within. We must be unshattered from the inside.

May I help you taste the Hope that is now, as well as to come? We are a people who are united by our King. We live in His Kingdom now. We build His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. We get to participate in the Kingdom's colours and tastes and smells, to build and steward and welcome others into His Kingdom. We do this when we create a meal. When we weep with those who are grieved. When we build homes and roads and grocery stores. When we play music to inspire—breathe life into—the souls around us. When we love on others by loving their children. When we give sacrificially of our possessions or bank account; or harder still, of our time and our emotions. We co-labour to construct the Kingdom of Christ in many ways—seen and unseen, big and small. In this, we are the Body of Christ, joined and knit together with Jesus as our Head. God builds His Kingdom through us upon the Chief Cornerstone: Jesus. This is what Light tastes like.


________

1. "Taste" by Ryan O'Neal {Sleeping at Last}, Atlas: Year Two (Copyright 2016, Asteroid B-612)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Row the Wind

You scallywag scavenger,
                  throaty chatterer,
           who rows through the sky
                          with graceful pride,
                                 your wings black
                                                 and white
                                        dipping the wind,
                                        tipping like a canoe
                                but never capsized—
                           that is you,
                     O magnificent
                 Magpie!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Yesterday was Summer's Sister



Yesterday was Summer's sister,
today the leaves come floating down;
Autumn haunts the gilded air,
while Orion trails the Summer Crown.


Today is golden in its passing glow,
Yesterday's shadow soon to be;
the stars dance on and on, while
our lives by the moments flee.


Yesterdays race by more swiftly
than Today knows how to catch,
the months and years, they disappear, 
like flame upon a match.


Today is the joy, the gift, the song
that Yesterday poured her music into;
it is the symphony in which we play,
which tunes our lives anew.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Squirrel Life





A pair of squirrels is playing tag in the autumn sun: around the fir, across my porch, over my roof. They flirt their tails and chirrup, they thunder boldly through the day, through life. Perhaps I envy them their simple lives—unworried about elections or the future. Yet, the squirrel can’t think about the fact that it is a squirrel. It can’t wonder what the purpose of its life is or if it matters in the world and the universe. A squirrel simply is. It fears predators and looks for food; it mates and bears young. The squirrel sails into the pumpkin on the porch with his tiny, fur-fringed hands; he turns brusque and reprimands when someone gets too close to him.

I, however, am not a squirrel. I get frustrated over elections. I am anxious about the future of our country and world, about the future for my niece and nephew, for the child being born today. I grew up with old-fashioned ideals and aspirations, with courtesy and a deep appreciation for human life. I grew up with a sense of wonder, with an awe of the numinous, with a firm belief that there is hope outside of my small self.

I grew up much like a squirrel. Like squirrels, people worked to make a home and provide meals. Fears were few and obvious, or so it seemed at first. I didn’t know cancer or divorce from personal places. War was in the Gulf, policemen were valiant and safe. Right and wrong were easy to discern. The people where I lived were the comfortable, trustworthy sort. Terrifying things were “out there”, not inside my safe world. But the borders of safety were breached. Evil and Sorrow and Death crossed the threshold. Not far behind were Uncertainty and Fear. I discovered that hard things, scary things were outside of my parents’ control, and certainly outside of mine. Squirrel-life shattered.

Sometimes I don’t like the realities and responsibilities that come with sentient, incarnational human-life. I don’t always appreciate the boon (or burden?) of being able to question if there is reality or if truth exists and is knowable. At times I let fear paint the picture that life is dark and crumbling and frightening. I let in the lies that marriage will fail, that motherhood steals one’s identity and is stifling, that tyranny and the ungodly will win.

Truth did not shatter with squirrel-life, however. Truth, in fact, illuminates life and gives me a clearer view. When the enemy of our souls portrays shadowy, suspenseful, formidable scenes of what life is for or is going to be, God stirs up the embers of truth. When the fire of truth is blazing it casts the shadows away, it gives me light to see that there is hope, there is redemption. All manner of things shall be made well. Sadness will come untrue.

When shadow-lies are shot-through with truth’s light, beauty and goodness gleam: as Christians we are the bride to a Bridegroom who will never desert or abandon us—He remains faithful, even when we are faithless. Marriage will not fail ultimately. I am reminded that children are a joy, that they deepen us and our ability to love and to sacrifice. Being a mother is part of one’s identity if they are called to that, but it does not mean they have to give up all the rest of their giftings. Mothers, in fact, change the world through their ideas, the truth they speak, and through their children, too. In the bright light of the truth I am reminded that Christians throughout history have faced wicked governments, evil oppression, violence, death, and injustice. Many in other countries face these things today. But evil cannot exist without the good thing it mocks and twists. And one day, if not now, it will be done away an the good, the true, and the beautiful will stand solid and bright and real.

Our salvation does not come through politics and laws. If those things we’ve looked to save us begin to crush us, they reveal themselves as the false gods they are. Some trust in chariots, some in horses—some trust in presidents and some in their own way of life—to save them, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). If, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we must face the furnace, we still need not bow down to false gods. We will rise and stand upright (Psalm 20:8).

Like those men before us, we know that God can save us; even if He chooses not to deliver us from the fire, we are not lost. Our destination is sure and steady—even when we have wracked our limited minds over the questions of truth and certainty and reality. We question, we seek certainty, we have that uncomfortable gift of knowing that we don’t know it all. We walk in the questions, and we walk by faith. In that balance we thunder boldly through the days and we thunder through life, not like squirrels, but like the sons of God we are.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Come, Let us Judge

Can we get something straight? It is okay to judge. I know it is the unpardonable sin of our society, but it is not unpardonable before God. In fact, he calls Christians to judge.1

Before someone runs off decrying me as a heretic, let’s talk about what judging isTo judge means to esteem, to select or choose, to determine or resolve, to sift or weigh evidence, or to pronounce an opinion between right and wrong.2 In short, it means to assess. Not to be confused with asses: what people make of themselves when they draw no distinction between judging and condemning, trying to shut down reasoned assessment by crying, “Don’t judge me!”

Though the word “judge” may at times be translated to condemn, it is not the first or top use for the word—in either the lexicon or the dictionary. A person can be praised for having good judgment (discernment), but shouted down the next moment for judging (having an opinion). I have witnessed Christians bandy about the first four verses of Matthew 7, only to have them completely miss verse five:

Don’t [judge], and then you won’t be [judged]. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. “Don’t give holy things to depraved men. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls and turn and attack you. (Matt 7:1-6 TLB emphasis mine)

Let’s see what Matthew’s words look like, fleshed out in our mirrors, in our daily interactions with people. . . How we make assessments or criticise others is the same measure that will be applied to us. We don’t live up to our own critiques, let alone God’s, so it is important to first know and love God, and next to ask the Lord to help us to be holy as he is holy. Whereby, we are able to not only use God’s word to assess our fellow men, but to first use it to judge our own motives and actions. Though we also sin, it does not mean that if we see a fellow believer outside the boundaries of God’s word that we can ignore his sin. It is our calling to examine our own hearts before God and then to help set our brother straight again (James 5:19-20).

We are to be both bold and humble if we see our brother in sin. Bold in speaking the truth, humble in our motives—do we desire our friend’s good and growth, or do we just want to be right? Before we approach a fellow believer who is in sin, we need to first turn away from any sin in our own hearts and lives. Not long ago, when a friend of mine was angry, he said some very untrue and unkind things to and about me. Though I was praying before our conversation to clear things up, I began snipping at him and accusing him once we began talking. Right in the middle of our conversation, I heard my tone and I knew that whatever else the case may be, I was in the wrong. I prayed silently for the Lord to forgive my attitude, and that I would be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. 

When I next had the opportunity to speak, I took a deep breath and asked if we could start again, asking for forgiveness for my cutting words and haughty heart. The tenor of our conversation changed immediately from heated battle to comrades-in-arms, fighting together against the enemy who sows discord among brethren. Once I had removed the “board” in my own “eye” by confessing my sin to God and my friend, I was free to approach my brother to help him remove the speck in his eye. We are not free to call out sin in a haughty spirit, but instead, to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15)—and love is not arrogant. We are not free to simply say nothing—He who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, to him it is sin, says James (James 4:17).

Note that I say these things about making a judgment in regards to our fellow believers. Even though God holds us all to his standard, Christians are to judge differently between believers and non-Christians (I Cor 5: 9-10, 12-13). We are specifically called to judge (discern the words and actions of) our fellow Christians; not to throw away the holy gift of speaking wise judgments to evil men, as Matt 7:6 says above. We must speak the truth, of course, but we must let God hold unbelievers to his standard—that is his role, not ours. It is okay to call sin what it is: sin. It is okay to stand up for God’s character. And in the painful times when a brother continues persistently and unrepentantly in sin—even after exhortation and Godly confrontation—Paul tells us we must break fellowship with him (as in the case of unrepentant, gross sexual immorality in I Cor 5:11).

It is okay to judge—to sift a matter, to observe behaviour patterns, to see if actions and words align, to see if there is good fruit and assess the roots thereby. We can do this for all men. We cannot judge (in the condemnation or passing a sentence manner) the hearts of men, because only God knows the heart of a man. We are called to be discerning of what we observe. Let us, “Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days. Don’t be vague but firmly grasp what you know to be the will of God” (Eph 5:15-17 PHILLIPS).

We must not be vague—we must make wise judgments based on what we know of the will and the character of God. We do not have to back away from speaking the truth simply because someone demands that we “do not judge” them. We must ask for the boldness, courage, love, and humility that we need to continue to judge rightly, to turn away from our own sin, and to help our brother to turn away from his, too. So, come, let us judge.

__________


1. See Matt 7:5, I Cor 5:3, 12
2. krino or judge as defined in the Strong's Concordance

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Changing Seasons and Cello Strings



I wish I could write words and have them flow out in music. Tonight's words would be cello and classical guitar—calm, reflective, soothing. There would be the deep voice of the cello, humming that there is no hurry, no place to be. The intricate finger-picking of the guitar would be the drops of thoughts all strung together, drip-dropping slow and steady. Tonight's music would be dark cello softly illuminated by stars of silvery guitar. . .the clear calm of night after a whirlwind. 

Because, life has felt rather like a cacophonous, rushing wind in the last weeks. Work and weddings and writing. New seasons and more responsibilities. These punctuated by loss—coming home to me in a score of ways, in unexpected moments or places. Marriage is so very good, but it changes friendships, and the loss sweeps over me in final slumber parties, in having to share my dearest friends in sacred moments. I don't mind being on my own, but I do mind my fellow adventurer's getting swept further up the mountain at new and different paces. 

And yet. . .if I love my friends—and I do—then I want what is best for them. If it is walking with someone else more often than with me, if it is for their deeper good, if it draws them closer to the Lord, then I will not slow their steps. . .I will not seek to hold them back. Now I am encouraged to change my pace, or to call more frequently upon the Shepherd, the Prince of the High Countries. I can still walk with my friends, even if we are not exactly in sync anymore, and I am grateful for that. They still spur me on, encouraging me to go further up and further in.

As the dust of the whirlwind settles, I find myself too much the same. Rhythms are well and good, but they should not become ruts, deep wells to confine my vision and my stride. It isn't that I should stop taking joy in Autumn colours and crisp air and the scent of crunchy leaves. . .Nor should I cease to find pleasure and renewal in making a meal or crafting thoughts with paints or words. I should not find that Beauty is hollow and empty because the season of life has changed. 

Every season of the year has its special Beauty. Each season comes and fades by degrees to make it bearable. Seasons will not be rushed. They ought not be hurried to or through. Each has glories to enjoy. Perhaps each season also teaches us, a little more, how to be thankful even for the things we don't like. Summer's heat and beating sun are what make the mountain meadows blossom. Though I love Winter, many do not enjoy its frigid cold and barrenness. But the sting of Winter's chill brings a rosy glow to our cheeks; the barren trees sway in their unique Beauty—perhaps if they were never bare, we might not realise how rich it is to have their scores of leaves in the other seasons. Even Winter's grey skies make us appreciate blue ones and they give us the chance to stay indoors before a cosy fire with friends or belovéd stories.

Seasons are good in life, too. Or so I tell myself. Reminded that they come creeping in often—though not always—like a green leaf with gilded edges slowly becomes wholly golden. It is a process for change to happen. Thus, I will not lose my friends in a day—or perhaps at all—though the relationships will change. I will not become good in a day, either. I will not form new and better character all at once, but by daily asking for the Spirit of the Living God to have His way in and through me. I must also submit my will, must expect that the Spirit truly will come, in order for new habits to be formed. 

Tonight carries on, like a throaty cello, reflective. The day melds into evening, the stars are o'erhead. A good dinner and a London Fog cannot fix the loss I feel inside; yet I have savoured these special things, being glad for them and for tastebuds, thankful that the change of seasons is gradual this time. 



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Otherwhere




At eventide, when the pink light fades,
come the faerie-folk from the deeper shades
to dance upon a flower face,
and ride the fireflies shimmering fair
in the silvery realm of Otherwhere

The red-tailed fox might stop and stare
whilst he is running errands there
then on his way he goes again
whilst the faerie-folk rise into the air
in the silvery realm of Otherwhere

As night glides on tóward the day
the frolicsome faeries work and play
harvesting in a merry dance
nectar for their golden mead, a kingly fare
in the silvery realm of Otherwhere

When misty streaks of dawn's first song
whisper through the glimmering throng
the faerie-folk scamper on their way
longing to tread again the air,
in the silvery realm of Otherwhere.

___________

Photo Credit: http://www.ceraunavoltaunapiada.it/sites/default/files/fireflies_in_the_forest.jpg

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What If...




What if freedom's price is higher than I want to pay down the road?

What if the investments of the years, of the now, come up hollow?

What if I am not ready for love until all my chances have passed me by?


What if fear doesn't own me?

What if I am strong in Someone else's strength?

What if that Someone is more faithful than any man I know?


What if all of my friends forget me?

What if there is One who sticks closer than a brother?

What if friendship's price is a high stakes sacrifice?

What if the wounds of a friend are the faithful sort?

What loss, if my heart were not shared with those I have been gifted...


What if all the unknowns crash in on me?

What if the future is darker than I know?

Then I'm glad I can't see it.


I'm glad I know the Faithful One.

I'm grateful that Someone knows what I need and when.

I'm glad my timing is not what matters.

I'm glad this life of mine isn't about me.


I'm thankful for Love Eternal.

Thankful for deep calling out to deep.

Grateful that I am not alone.


I am grateful that the price of my freedom has been paid.

That I know the Light of the world.

That He was wounded for my transgressions.

That I need no longer bear the marks of sin in my body.


I am free.

Free to give.

Free to live.

Free to love.

Free to be fearless.

Free to face the unknown.

Free to be known—and still loved.

Free to drink deep of the waters of Life.


What if...

                                                    ...I am free?


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Echoes



Sorrow, sorrow everywhere
splattering world headlines with its stare,
making worry-lines on the faces of
those I love, and some I've yet to know;
yet sorrow is the strand that binds us,
find us, weaving us into God's ancient tale

Broken, broken everywhere
within our hearts, or bodies hale;
cancer cells and expectations stale
growing unchecked can usher death—
brokenness devours both body and soul
with all its demands it is never full

Heart ache, heart break everywhere
and many are the ways to cope—
mothers cry, their faces aging,
men grow sober and waste away,
heart-hungry, not for food, but for hope,
dying for want of the Water of Life

Echoes, echoes everywhere
of Eden and of the Fall—being God
is our desire, to have and to control;
to cry out, "I don't love you anymore!"
and have it reverberate in all divorce,
in every act of our damned selfish wills

Bleeding, bleeding everywhere
from hands and brow, feet and side,
from the broken hearts of those betrayed;
death presses on mortal men, they are afraid...
But glory! Blood atones from the Sorrow-Man,
Redemption shouting into God's story


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rivulets


It is said that grief makes our hearts break;
this is both figurative and literal truth—
because when I cry, I quiver and shake,
my heart splintering with a violent ache

Not merely beating, there is actual pain—
my broken heart spills out of my eyes,
a white-hot, cleansing sort of soul-rain,
wracking my worn body again and again

Breaking comes quickly, mending is slow,
impetuous thoughts voiced in an instant
take years to root out, for truth to re-grow,
and in their stead, for healing waters to flow

Healing water dripping at the tip of my nose,
all freckled and snuffly—as my soul mends,
my physical heart shudders, its beat slows
into rhythm, works its way into lyrical prose

Weeping may endure for the soul's dark night,
but the tears do not write our story for us,
our deep Joy dawns with the morning's light—
we yearn for all manner of things to be made right


Friday, August 19, 2016

Resuscitated by the Arts



Does music ever make you see? Does it break your heart, spilling it hot over your lashes? Does music become your voice when you cannot find the words to express your grief, sorrow, or hope? Music paints vistas on the mind—sunsets over mountains, starlight over tawny grasses bent by the breeze, snow on trees, russet leaves kicking up in the dirt lane. Certain songs carry a mood with them—autumn fog and rain, driving under sunny skies, poignant sadness, golden morning light. Music breathes life into weary souls, stands us on our feet, bows our heads—it even gives us earthbound creatures wings. Music heals. Music speaks what we cannot, when we cannot. Music opens the storeroom of our memories. Music flies us beyond ourselves into the great, wide world and the space beyond.

When I see a musician who is intent at his craft, playing for pure pleasure, joy wells up in me—and a bit of envy, too. I wish I could make a heart soar. . . or sing. . .or see. Though I cannot express myself in music, I know the intense concentration, the pleasure in my craft. It happens when I write sometimes. At other times, writing is an exercise and discipline, like musical scales.

Every craft has its learning season, disciplines, and the ability to sweep the craftsman or artist into its heart and flow so deeply that time passes without notice. But what I have noticed is that various crafts and arts influence one another. Music and stories often inspire me to paint, draw, or write. The visual arts encourage poetry or music to flow out of me. Poetry makes me want to be alive, to attend.

I have a deep respect for my friends who are writers, musicians, woodworkers, leather artisans, weavers, gardeners, and embroiderers. Their words and music and crafts all breathe life into my heart, into my veins. They remind me that Beauty comes in many forms and fills life with pleasure. The time poured into a craft is a form of tangible love given to others. 

I treasure my pincushion made from cloth designed and woven by one sweet friend, a wooden box carefully fitted and joined by another, words crafted into letters, stories, and poems by many dear folks, and pen-and-ink drawings of dragons and pictograms by yet another friend. I carry in my heart the deep strains of the cello, the lilting violin, the steady piano, the magical guitar picking I have been privy to over the years. And I delight in my friend’s whimsical illustrations and story of an island of creatures that must be saved again and again by one very patient saviour, who constantly goes unthanked.

My friends are a talented set, whether through the arts mentioned above, or the art of homemaking, hospitality, and keeping beauty in their homes and hearts. The creativity of God overflows in so many directions from people, it is rather amazing. And it breathes, breathes life into others in some way or another. Creativity is constantly begetting, expanding in life and Beauty. Creativity brings wholeness and healing into a world shattered by the Fall. Artisans and craftsmen are healers, then. Agents of God to breathe Beauty and life into others. Creativity gives room for expressing what we feel but cannot name, for expressing love and inclusion. Creativity builds what we all long for so deeply: home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

One...One Flesh...One Body



Somehow, upon turning thirty-one, I became more interested in blog posts about relationships, health, and inspiring fictional characters. I started thinking more about my retirement plan and drinking Jasmine green tea. I’m still sane, I promise. My proof? I have not stooped to getting into yoga (probably because I’m not flexible—among other reasons). Nor have I taken to drinking copious amounts of pour-over coffee…or any other kind of coffee, for that matter. I save so much money this way—we’ll say nothing of the amount of tea and chocolate I buy instead.

My friends and family might question my sanity, though, if they knew how many relationship articles I read regularly. Some are essays on the needs of introverts or how to maintain healthy work relationships. Others are about the benefits of solitude or how to nurture friendships as our lives shift with work, raising families, etc.

However, the relationship articles I read most often are about healthy dating and marriage practises. While I can sometimes spot things that I know are unhealthy in marriages, I now know the four things that strangle and kill those relationships. I am often reminded to be both kind and honest in my relationships. This usually comes out in other people’s stories about how they learned to get along with in-laws, how to treat someone on a first date, and how they continue to learn to love and forgive.

I have gained insight about dating and marriage from these blogs, as well as from many dear friends. It has been reaffirming to hear why marriage is good from various friends. Amidst all of my learning, growing, and deepened understanding, however, I find that I am content in my singleness.

Ergo, I want to write a bit about being single-hearted. By that I don’t mean hating-singleness-but-pretending-to-like-it. Nor do I mean giving up dating in hopes of having your spouse finally ‘granted’ to you. Nor do I mean resigning yourself to being single if no one has asked you out in a while (or ever).

What I mean by single-hearted or single-at-heart, is that some people thrive in singleness—to the point that they tend to become less themselves when they date.* There are, in fact, sane people who enjoy doing things by themselves or coming home to an ’empty’ house (which I would call a quiet house). Being single-at-heart means—in part—that you feel fulfilled and delighted in your singleness. Being single does not mean being lonely. In fact, people who flourish in their singleness have many deep relationships, investing their heart and soul into others.

Allow me to add a caveat here: I enjoy a good wedding. I’ve been to dozens, and have been in several. I am beyond excited to be in my best friend’s wedding this autumn. I already have my outfit selected and I can’t wait to toast, to dance, and to cry at how glorious it is that God made us male and female, to complement one another and show a multi-façeted picture of Jesus and the Church. But even more than a good wedding, I love a good marriage. I love watching my married friends work through differences, walk through difficulties together, raise their children, love other people well, labour together, laugh together, and host together. It is so good and right to get to share in that as their friend.

Marriage is a wonder-filled union which I take seriously; I enjoy it in all of its depth and beauty from my outside perspective. But, the idea of me being married rather frazzles than dazzles me. My left shoulder tightens at the very thought. Not because marriage is hard—all relationships take work, aren’t always pretty, fall short of our expectations at points, and inflict wounds. I’ve heard these things again and again about marriage as well. I understand that marriage takes effort and sacrifice. But so does being a daughter. And a sister. A close friend. A co-worker…an employee. I set aside time every week to talk with my best friend, my sister, and at least one of my parents. I pray for them, think of them often, and talk about them to anyone who will listen. I seek their wisdom, counsel, and cheer. We cry together. Get angry together—and sometimes we get angry at one another. We share memories, inside jokes, many laughs, and hugs upon hugs.

Being single is a glory that many seem to overlook. I suppose it is lifelong-companion people who don’t comprehend the joy in singleness. A married friend was recently teasing me, saying I was obviously single by choice, chasing men away with a stick (she was being kind in her way). Her lifelong-companion mindset popped up at once in her next comment: “One day you will find the right man whom you won’t want to beat off with a stick.” I just smiled and said my stick was was pretty stout, choosing to laugh and not be disheartened that she had glossed over the truth: I am single by choice. Not because I think I’m something awesome that no one deserves—that would be insane beyond yoga and me drinking pour-over coffee, not to mention arrogant beyond comparison—but because I thrive in being single. I am content in my calling. Yes, I strive with not allowing contentment to become complacency, but every person wrestles with that balance in some area.

Single-at-heart does not mean that I fear or hate the opposite sex. I like men, I like them a lot! I am good friends with several fellows, I have dated some excellent men, and I am often around men of high-caliber at work. I am satisfied to enjoy friendship with these men. Yet, I have discovered something—when I am in a quandary (does he like me? do I like him? what is going on here?) or when I am unsure about whether I should be dating, I become me-focussed a hundred times more than normal. I wear stress like it’s part of my body, and I ask my neighbour to crack my back at least once a week. I become critical and over-assess everything about the person who shows interest in me. I feel stuck and my contentment jumps ship, leaving me at sea without a rudder. I often feel like I’m sans anchor in those seasons—but I am not. I have a soul Anchor who keeps me from drifting away or crashing on the rocks. He is the One I must fix my eyes on, not a man—or any other person.

Singleness is not a magic solution nor the secret to happiness. It is not all smooth sailing and sunny days (thankfully, because I love fog and snow…and being on land). Singleness takes effort. I have to go to work, pay my bills, take care of my car, do the grocery shopping, make my own meals, clean the house, take out the rubbish, arrange my travel plans, scout out hiking ventures, and strategise for my future—all without a spouse. There are days where I want someone to hold my hand and walk with me. I want someone right here to be vulnerable with, to laugh with, to be with. You know, someone I don’t have to call and hope they pick up. Someone who isn’t busy with their own life when I need a companion. But, just like being married does not mean that your spouse fills your every longing or meets your every need, being single does not mean that a person is always—or even mostly—lonely or helpless or unhappy.

In some ways, being single makes me over-confident, perhaps even intimidating. I don’t need a man to grill for me, my dad taught me how. I don’t need a mechanic to change my oil, Dad also taught me that skill. I don’t need a man to take out the trash, my mother raised me to do that for myself. Am I appreciative when a man does grill, work on my car, pick up my rubbish, open a door, or offer to carry a heavy box for me? You bet I am! My mum also taught me to have manners and a grateful heart.

Still, I have to take care of myself, so I do.

But really, I don’t. I think I’m autonomous, but I am not. I have a wonderful dad who gives me car advice and life advice, who shares wisdom from Scripture and wisdom from his life experience. I have a mother who taught me how to cook and read and keep things in order; how to love Scripture and make time to be in the word each day. I have friends who don’t mind telling me more about their insurance options or financial planning or how to get a license plate in this state. I have neighbours who discuss politics with me from a more thoughtful, studied, and insightful perspective than I possess.

My co-workers encourage me and pray for me when I’m having a rough day; and they are friends enough to tease me on the good days. They leave sweet notes, coffee mugs, and chocolate in my mailbox; and they dole out a lot of hugs. My roommate girls are continually having me over for dinner or joining me for tea and walks; they share their fears and joys, their sorrows and struggles; and they let me join them in celebrating new jobs, school acceptances, birthdays, surviving strokes, and all things British. There isn’t enough room here to express my gratitude and love for my sister and best friend, both of whom have walked through many joys and sorrows with me.

Singleness makes me realise more fully that I am part of the body of Christ. I am cared for, accepted, corrected, and encouraged to use my talents and skills for others. When I get snappish with my co-workers, friends, or family, I am often humbled by their response of kindness or gentle rebuke. The humility of their response leads to forgiveness and restored relationships. Being an integral member of the body means being part of something bigger than just myself and my desires. It is working together to bring glory to God.

I am in various types of relationships—like everyone else on the planet—and must learn to communicate with grace and truth, with kindness and firmness, with a willingness to seek a solution or middle ground. I don’t do this perfectly, or even well, at times, but I am learning, again and again. Part of being in the body means being invited, included—it means inviting and including. It means celebrating life stuff—big and small. It means opening your home, your tea cabinet, and your kleenex box to those in need of a cosy Hobbit hole and a listening ear.

Single-heartedness is a calling for fewer people. Not for those who thrive in companionship, who long to be married. I don’t begrudge them their longing, and I often wish I could help them find someone to thrive with (though, I think one must learn to be content with who God made them before they will be content in any kind of relationship). Single-heartedness is for those who take joy in their role as a single person within the body of Christ. It truly is a gift. Those who are single-at-heart do not try to dissuade their friends from getting married, nor do they think their married friends are somehow lesser than themselves (or somehow greater, either). Both singleness and marriage are gifts—very good ones to be used in different ways. Both gifts are for a season (hopefully a lifelong season, for my married friends). However, for single-hearted people, singleness is likely their lifelong calling. For lifelong-companion people, that idea is repugnant, but those who are single-at-heart are delighted by the possibility.

Whether you are single-at-heart, single-for-a-season, or married, your identity lies in being a member of the body, with Jesus as the Head. Your identity is reflected in your relationship status: a bondservant, a child of the King, the friend of Jesus, and the bride of Christ—the Church. And with our every act of love, the Kingdom of God is more fully realised.

_________
*Others, of course, thrive in a coupled state, rather like oxen pulling together—though that imagery might not be romantic. Some folks tend to think there are only two states: married or miserable; the pair of oxen or the lonely mushroom. But that is a false dichotomy, as you will see above.