Saturday, April 30, 2016

Made in China

The cabbage rose looked so vibrant on the page that I leaned in to sniff it. 
   It did not smell like a white rose, 
      but I caught the scent of good ink and paper, how it filled my nose!
         Ink all the way from across the world: China. 

           Have you ever considered how exotic it is to buy even a trifle stamped
              made in China—that land of mystery?
                We tend to see it as a symbol of poor quality and wretched history—
                   But hold on a moment... Think of it: China!

                     You often hold things in your own hands that come from this country afar. 
                        Land of the Great Wall and mighty armies. 
                          Realm that introduced our world to creamy silk and various leafy teas. 
                            Glamourous kingdom rediscovered by Polo: China.

                              Next time you crinkle up your little nose at the cheap words made in China,
                                 think of how rich you are to hold a thing
                                   from a far-off land many have never touched, never their own eyes seen,
                                      but whose ancient greatness is a marvel: China! 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Have You Noticed Beauty?

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. 
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I have notice that many folks claim that humans are animals. After all, we are mammals and are classified as Homo sapiens in the scientific realm. But that is a mere classification. God tells is from the very beginning that humans are different than animals. We are made in the image and likeness of God. While the animals may also have been formed from the dust of the earth, it was only into man that God Himself breathed the breath of life. 

I have noticed something else: all animals eat food, but only human beings arrange food on their plates and take photos of it. Only humans stop to watch the sunrise or the moonrise for the sheer beauty of it. Only human beings write poetry or draw and paint—even from the dawn of time. When Adam first speaks of Eve, it is recorded in a couplet. When Eve is tempted by the serpent, she sees that the tree is pleasant to the eye. Perhaps it is a few readings too many of Lewis and Tolkien for me to hope that God formed and filled the world by singing the words of creation. Even if He did not, two books of His word brim with poetry and songs. 

I have noticed that on my most exhausting days of travel or work what I long for is Beauty. To watch the sun set and the stars creep into the sky, one by one and then in clusters. To read a story or a poem. To listen to an album straight through while I eat my dinner. To dance in my kitchen. To make food, yes, but also to group it by colour on my plate. To sit down—feet free of shoes—listening to the evensong of birds give way to cricket choruses. To listen to an audio book because I'm too tired to read anything beyond five lines. 

I have noticed that when I'm not reading much or stopping to enter into the Beauty I see in creation, it is then that I have no words. I cannot write. I make a poor conversant. I feel too tired for friends. I run and run, but it is more like a crawling car on petrol fumes. In short, I get crabby and withdrawn when I am not able to be immersed in Beauty in some form. Goethe explains why: there is a sense of the Beautiful which God has twined into the human soul. We are different from the animals...and the angels, and from God Himself. Yet neither animals nor angels are made in God's image, only man is. We are distinct—imaging God in our very being, in our capacity to know and appreciate Beauty, in our cultivating and stewarding whatever things God gives to us, from children and gardens, to art and music. 

I have noticed that Beauty is a gift that we get to enjoy. That we are allowed to savour the words of a poem on our tongues. That our eyes burn with the glory of a sunset or a sky on fire with meteors. That our hearts nearly burst in the highest swell of a song, either poignant or joy-filled. It is a gift to know that Beauty itself is a gift. It is a gift to know God and to be known by Him. It is Beauty that leads us to praise. Beauty is our companion to draw us into worship. It is Beauty that beckons us to enter into itself and find that we are in the courts of God. Beauty it is that leads us further up and further in.

Have you noticed?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Missing Out

"Let's see, I can fit you into my schedule next month." Yes, my neighbour actually said that to me. I smiled a little, since it was still early in the current month. Then I sighed inside. I used to be that person. Some seasons I still am, because friends are only in town at certain times and you make crazy work.

Summer is my losing-sanity season. I sweat at work for long summer days. I sweat on the hiking trail drinking in freshest mountain air. I sweat when I show visiting friends around town—somehow it's always sunny here when people want to amble downtown. I sweat most when someone asks me to get together—Um, no thanks. I'm physically exhausted, I can't people—is what my brain thinks. My mouth sometimes follows suit, declining as graciously as I can, or sometimes saying yes. I resent the event if I say yes and haven't had an evening or three for margin, so I try to learn the dance steps of balance.

Perhaps it is because Millennials crave experience that they1 are novice dancers of this balance. There is an intense fear of missing out on all kinds of experiences. If you don't believe me, try this: think of a time you were invited to an event you weren't too excited about attending. You decided not to go—then spent the entirety of an hour, or the evening, vacillating on whether or not you should have gone. Classic symptoms of the fear of missing out. It rears up in other forms, too. For example, always looking to what is coming next, rather than enjoying the present moment, day, or season. It is snowing? I wish it were summer. It is summer? It’s it far too hot to do anything. Too bad it's not autumn! And on it goes. Millennials or not, I think many of us wrestle with wanting something in the future, neglecting to enjoy what we have now. We're so afraid of missing what we might have that we, in essence, throw away what we do have.

After one particularly draining year and a very unbalanced summer, I began to purpose to miss out. Because Sundays were largely taken up with church and co-leading youth group, I began to make Saturdays my sabbath or solitude-day. Was it difficult to say no to events with friends on Saturdays? You bet. But, I needed a day not to have anything forcing me to be on schedule in some way. Even if I have a hike all planned out for a Saturday, alarm set for some golden hour of the morning, I am going because I want to and I know the drive and the hike will both recharge me. And if I don’t get up when the alarm sounds, it’s my own choice to sleep longer and hit the trail late. No one is going to call and ask where I am—you can’t “oversleep” if there is no timetable. I turn off my phone many Saturdays—one doesn’t always have to be available. I may write or reply to emails, not because I feel the pressure or demand to, but because I want to write. I will probably putter around my kitchen or do some housework, but I will also sit on my porch and watch the clouds sail along, turning all pink in the evening. I rest. I breathe. I perspire. I am inspired. All because I miss out.

By saying yes to a sabbath, I end up saying no to other things. However, I have learnt that missing out means having more depth and sanity in my life. Missing out often means I don't make room for shallow relationships. Staying to help a friend clean up after the party often leads to heart-to-heart conversations. Conversations that could not have happened during the ever-in-motion gathering. Missing out means hiking alone and praying—meditating on the things I haven't had enough thinking time in one stretch to ponder during the week. Missing out means some things get written that never would have, had I not purposed to be home a couple of evenings a week.

Missing out means I rarely get invited to social events anymore, so I stress less over how to say no. This is a relief, as I don't enjoy disappointing people. I no longer waver with guilt when I stay home from an event—especially if I never even knew the event was happening! I get invited to the important gatherings by the friends I know well—celebrations I want to say yes to anyway. I don't maintain too many surface friendships [acquaintanceships] when I get left off certain social lists. I have a lot of tea dates and let's-go-for-a-walk-and-talk dates with my friends. There are many small dinners in my even smaller cabin. I don't miss out on the conversations where we're laughing until we cry, and crying until someone offers a gentle look and the kleenex box.

I don't miss out too much, because I am learning to be present. Being present in the quiet evenings on my porch with a mug of tea. Present—just watching snow and silence swish down. Present in praying and looking and thinking and thanking on hiking trails, meeting friendly people and dogs as I go. Present in washing dishes with friends and in offering kleenex. Present in the laughter and the tears and the sane moments in between. Present to hear the ups and downs of the relationship all along, so that I can cry and squeal with delight when my friend calls to tell me she just got engaged. Present to the still, small voice, whispering through the pines, singing from the stars, holding out hope while I sit in the ashes, holding me up when I can't stand.

Miss out. Try it. Miss out on the surface stuff. Choose to have a solitude evening or day. Guard it—let me tell you, it is hard to guard my sabbath. Miss out sometimes on listening to music or podcasts or anything but the wind in the trees, just for an evening. Miss out on leaving one party for the next, so you can stay late to wash the dishes and talk. Miss out, so that you, too, can learn to be present.


  1. Though I technically fit in the Millennial bracket, the way I was raised—being born barely in the Millennial window, having much older siblings—places me in a different lifestyle than many of my peers.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

O Stellar Beau

I looked into the sky last night
   with upturned, amorous eye,
              to catch a glimpse of the Hunter
           who treads the Winter sky.

There he was in all his might,
            I gazed quite long upon the sight
                     of his stately form and arcing bow,
                          his star-studded belt shone bright.

I tromped on, past bend and tree,
     to find the Hunter, peering at me!
O, it made my heart quiver
                  with a hope that anyone could see.

Alas, alas! We are lovers, star-crossed
in the truest sense—he is all star
                 and I am all alight with love from afar,
                  love that even distance cannot mar.

How marvellous that he has trod
          the great dance steps—none forgot,
             no falter of his magnificent form
                      on the waltz floor breathed by God.

Across the sky the Hunter sings,
      a silver star-song to the Pleiades,
       to the fairest sister of them all;
                        thus, the Winter sky with music rings.

Ever valiant his bow keeps at bay
Taurus, the bully of the fray,
               and so they dance, one Winter sky
                    to the next—half the world away.

He's sinking Westward more each night,
my longing heart can only sigh,
                        aching with dreams of the starry Hunter,
                             until once again his crescent bow I spy
                  rising up in the Winter sky
                                     to proclaim that my Love is nigh...

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Alpine Beach House

What is a red house with a
green roof, all shore-like and
windswept, doing atop a red cliff
o'er a small town in the foothills?

It abides, abides, abides with
no surging tides to greet its clapboard
sides or to fill its window-ears with cries 
of gulls, wild cries in grey skies and shoals.

Its white trim traces its outline
and though its backdrop is all alpine,
the red house seems on shoreline
on the cliff-high it rests ever benign.

And the wildness of the ocean sweeps
tawny grasses into motion 'round the 
red house, far from rumpled surf and 
water's turbid emotion, clawing at the turf...

But the red house with the green roof
is solid and sturdy proof that although
the ocean winds may blow, blow, blow,
the water's flow cannot reach its gnawing tooth
from far off coast so aloof from Colorado.