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, 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


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.