Wednesday, 28 January 2015

All Clean Again


Don’t tell my husband, but I just took our car up the street and paid twelve whole dollars for the carwash staff to scrub off the filth. It’s an extravagance we rarely allow in our family’s money management, but our white Honda Fit was covered in dried mud and it’s a beautiful sunny day so I splurged. 

I was a novice at the local carwash so I shamelessly asked the driver waiting in front of me how it worked. She sweetly explained without sneering.

I smiled at every worker I encountered, all men, and without fail they glared stone-faced back at me, poor things.  I wouldn’t feel smiley myself if I were in their boots.

When I reached the cash counter a young woman took my receipt and we chatted. 
Since there was no one waiting behind me I thought it was a good chance to get rid of the heavy coins in my wallet. I took out a $5 bill and emptied my change onto the counter. After finding only five dollars in “loonies” I apologised and started to put my change away, digging for another bill. 
She stopped me.
”No, No, wait, maybe it’s here.” The two of us went through the change together, counting out quarters and dimes.
She was right. We found $7 in coins. Satisfaction, hers. Gratitude, mine. Happiness, shared.

 I moved outside and watched five men towel off my shiny car, with nary an answering smile to my own appreciative grin. Oh God, help them, these cherished sons of yours.

Driving the clean car along in the sunshine felt almost as good as having freshly washed hair. How exciting to be able to see clearly when you’re driving. 

It seems there are metaphors everywhere for spiritual profundities. 
Do I notice them due to my saintly eyes of Christian faith (not), or because a retired person has the time to pay attention, or is it just the effect of my long ago studies in English Lit.? Whatever, I'm grateful.

In Jesus, God offers us the free car wash of redemption (weird religious word). 
Although the process feels painfully slow, God patiently welcomes the worst messes, carefully cleans up what can be used, and sluices away the detritus to bring new clarity and joy.
We get to choose. 
We can grimly endure whatever splashes us, or take it to God, smiling at each other with hope that, one day, the change will all add up.


Monday, 19 January 2015

Playing with Desert Goats and Habakkuk

"God is my strength, giving me feet like the feet of a deer, 
enabling me to go on the heights."
 (Habakkuk 3:18)

It was a California desert trail between the brownest of mountains, no northern evergreen trees or snow-capped glory. The ground was dry, dry, dry, and the steep rocky slopes were covered in gravel. 
There, above us, wild goats, old bearded ones and newborn kids, tapped out a hollow percussion as they hop-skip-jumped from rock to rock. They could turn on a dime, running swiftly up daunting hillsides. It looked like they were having fun and occasional stumbles didn’t take them down.
(If you look hard at the centre-right of the photo you may see a white adult goat looking tiny compared to the huge boulder jutting out from the left.)

God of Jesus, please give my spirit the agility of a mountain goat, the kind of confidence that Habakkuk expressed above, after his lament at the mess in his world (Habakkuk 1:2-4). 
Let me believe, as he did, that with You I can hop, skip and jump over everyday bumps and unwelcome news from near or far. 
Let me hear Your wise direction for my next turn. 
Help me stand firm or take action with a peaceful heart and a playful optimism. 
Remind me, as you reminded Habakkuk, that with You, unimaginable things are possible.

"I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe, 
even if you were told." 
(Habakkuk 1:5)

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Here It Comes, Another Year.


When I open my eyes in the morning, I don't always feel excited about the day. After I get coffee in one of my artsy mugs, I head for the computer to boost my mood. I start by opening my email inbox and reading the inspiring thoughts generously sent, without charge, from sites like: 

www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/dailystrength/
www.ecswisdom.org/
www.cqod.com/
ccca.biola.edu/advent/2014/

This morning, New Year's Eve day, in one of the emails I saw the following bible verse, and thought, yes, this is what I will hang onto as the calendar turns to 2015.

For God, who said, 
“Let light shine out of darkness,” 
has shone in our hearts 
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, 
to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 
(2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

What can steady my hope for the coming year? I am 65 years old and hearing more often about  contemporaries dying. Others my age receive bad news about their bodies' ailments. I am all too aware that any day my own life could change dramatically and not for the better. Of course this could happen to any of us at any age.

The dazzling biblical assertion above hit me today as an epiphany.

The One who created, from nothing, a blazing star that sustains life on this planet, who added earthly lights like fireflies, blinking jellyfish and spontaneous combustion, the One who designed light to multiply by reflection and to refract into exquisite sunsets and rainbows across our sky, this same One "has shone into our hearts". 
The verse refers to the light of knowing God's "glory" through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Jesus gave humankind a glimpse of life's most glorious truth. Here it is: 
Ware actively loved by the One who birthed us and urges us toward wholeness and justice for all. It is our choice to "let the sun shine", as the Aquarius song goes, or to turn away, averting our eyes from God's enkindling presence.

Really? The First Cause Creator God who said, "Let there be light" has shone into my heart? My scarred, cranky, lazy heart?
Oh yes, I am like a lantern made of breakable clay - no doubt about it. My willpower and self-confidence can crack at the slightest insult or bump in the road. My faith and peace shatter easily.
But God's unsnuffable light keeps shining. There's a way to stay hopeful through whatever 2015 holds. As our quote says, "...the surpassing power belongs to God and not to ... ME!"
WHEW... and...
YIPPEE! 
If I had a New Year's Eve noisemaker I'd blow it hard! 
HAPPY NEW YEAR!



Friday, 19 December 2014

So...Christmas

How to make sense of thousands of people who don’t care about the Christmas story fussing over gifts, decorations and multiple parties because…why? 

Who legislated this annual festival of connecting with relatives and acquaintances that we ignore the rest of the year? 
If it’s not about God’s gift to humanity in Christ, why is this the one time people think about being generous?

What’s with the fairy tale of Santa Claus – how did it become the focus of school concerts and our most massive cultural celebration?
Don’t you think it’s weird? Hollow? Kind of pathetic?
I don’t agree with doing things automatically, just because we’ve always done them. I thought we ditched that idea in the 1960’s.

 On the other hand, is it possible to seriously believe that, one night, angels scared sheepherders by announcing a virginal birth happening just down the road? to believe that Jesus was unique in all of human history and somehow made it possible for us and our planet to be healed into peaceful love?  that beyond the killing bombs, the vicious rapes, the mean gossip at Christmas parties, that underneath and behind and above, the healing is in process? that the promise of Revelation 21:4 will ever come true?

As I stagger between bizarre nativity pageants and reports of weeping Pakistani parents, my sore heart is touched by Advent art: exquisite music, thoughtful writings, drama and paintings. These welcome gifts take me to places of hope beyond the ugliness, of grateful joy in spite of disappointments. They renew my faith in what I cannot see, the Love that finally wins.


( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8V0OG9XE5g There’s nothing that attracts me about kings or pretty ladies with wings, but still this lullaby prayer…)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Snow!

Against the grey sky, drifting through leafless branches, white flakes fill the air. My heart still leaps at the surprise. What a pretty idea: design water molecules to freeze and cohere at certain temperatures and slip gently toward the ground. The beauty of a snow-covered evergreen forest stops us in our tracks. Winter’s crystalline cold sparks in sunshine and quiets a starry night. Ahh, visible glory puffs out of my mouth.

Creator, You cooked up science and stirred in art for our Earth-home. There seems to be no end to the complexity and wonders uncovered by physicists, oceanologists and astronomers. Artists of all kinds keep taking our breath away with their inspired innovations.

Born in Your image we are explorers, experimenters and finger painters smearing beauty all over the place. When it snowed we invented snowshoes, skis, snowboards, snowmobiles and parkas. We carved ice sculptures and danced on figure skates. We built toboggans, igloos and snowforts. 

Your creation is exquisite and at the same time, ruthless.

Awesome snow-capped mountains don’t care who suffocates in an avalanche. Lacy flakes turn highways into scary obstacle courses and break trees across essential electric wires. Death and destruction arrived in Buffalo, NY last week, thanks to excessive snow. 
We react to such reality like naive kindergarteners suddenly annoyed when things don’t go our way. We groan at the first snowflake and grumble about messy commutes, irritated by that bad driver in front of us on the way to work. Will the power go out again? Will the basement flood?

Caught in the tug of war between Jekyll and Hyde we choose mercy’s beauty one minute, ugly criticism the next, lunging between sweet communion and bitter division. We poison loving community with spouts of envy, resentment and greed. Sometimes we talk as if, like trees and chipmunks, we are at the mercy of Nature’s impersonal laws. 

Good news! There stands a daily, hourly offer of a Divine Life-partner who leaves us free to choose. Resent the day's cold winter darkness or celebrate its snowy sparkles.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

And What Do You Do?

This is a post written for today's synchroblog on "othering" at SheLoves emagazine

Friendly strangers at parties or conferences frequently stump me with this icebreaker question, “And what do you do?” 
I panic every time. I feel instantly “othered”. If I could reply with a clear, familiar answer like “doctor, teacher or lawyer”, the conversation would be a cinch. As it is, I stutter and mumble until the poor stranger sidles away. 
The question has a narrower focus, of course, than its wording describes. I’m actually being asked what the world pays me to do. I confess that on occasion I’ve grunted, “Nothing”. You can imagine the reaction that provokes. As a blogger I could now reply that I’m a writer, but the next question would be about publication, another hurdle to clear.

Who am I in our culture if I’m not employed in some recognizable and respected work?

 I’ve never had a job that could be called a career. I’ve been unemployed by choice for most of my life, maintaining the home front while my husband’s executive position in finance provided our income. I spent my younger years raising children, fighting depression and migraines, volunteering at schools and churches, and doing graduate studies (okay, mostly self-taught) in theology, marriage, parenting, and gender issues. How could any stranger respond to an answer like that? 

I’ve heard about cultures where such a question would be considered intrusive and rude, too personal for strangers to discuss, but that’s not the case in middle-class North America. 

Even now, as an elder, the casual question bothers me.  My peers might reply by saying, “I’m retired” but the follow-up would be, “What did you used to do?” Ugh. And even so, “retired” often equates to “old”. In our society that word is a slur implying dim, feeble, and boring. Who wants to identify as a “Little old lady” or a “Stupid old man”? But ageism is  another whole version of othering.

If I were to describe what I “do” now, my best bragging would be: I join political protests, attend lectio divina prayer groups, write encouraging emails, gaze in awe at ancient oak trees, and blog in the most basic of ways. In fact, lots of my time is spent reading books and watching screens, with a sideline of adoring my grandchildren.

Compared to the fraught “otherings” of gender bias and racial prejudice, being identified primarily by our employment is a minor way of distancing, but we can do better at building two-way bridges.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Hospital Hospitality

The “Tranquillity Garden” at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Toronto, is one of the noisiest places in the city. With the nearby sounds of regular road traffic, a streetcar depot, an expressway, a commuter rail line and the occasional siren, the roar is deafening. And yet the small garden offers an oasis in the asphalt desert for many tired and worried hearts who pass through the hospital doors. It's some relief to sit under vine-covered trellises that dapple the sunlight on paving stones. 

Despite the traffic's cacophany, you can hear dozens of sparrows chirping as they flit in and out of the leaves and hunt for any dropped crumbs. What a gift their birdsong is! So common that they’re usually ignored, sparrows are bits of lively art, with their intricate, feathery patterns of ecru, sand and black. One full-sized bird revealed itself as a baby in masquerade. I smiled to see it hold its beak wide open as it looked around, clearly still hoping for Mama’s feeding. Somebody? Anybody?

Inside the building, minimal d├ęcor and crowded waiting rooms are debilitating to everyone, but the shared discomfort seems to create instant community:
“We’ve been here for three hours!”, “Yeah, I had to take the day off work!”, “Here, take my seat”, “Would you like my newspaper?”, “Your husband went in that door”, “Where are the washrooms?”
The staff have endless patience, some of them even downright cheerful as they draw blood from the hundredth patient's arm or answer the same questions ad nauseam. What a difference a shared smile makes!
Volunteers generously donate their time to guide wanderers to the cafeteria or point them to the nearest elevator. Kindness abounds.

I remember how my own heart lived in this same hospital ten years ago, when my first grandchild spent weeks in its neonatal nursery. 
If there's any place where deep hospitality is needed it's at hospitals. Sitting in St. Jo’s little garden helped me echo the familiar African church chant”: 
“God is good?
All the time!
All the time?
God is good!”