Friday, 13 July 2012

Free Refreshments

A drink of cold water during a long hike; a soapy shower after sweaty work; a comfy mattress at the end of a tiring day – ahhh, what a feeling. 
The word, “refresh”, implies the renewal of an original freshness, like fresh clean sheets for a sick-bed, the fresh start we need after failure, a breath of fresh air during intermission, a fresh sheet of paper. Refreshment means a return to the way things should be.
We talk about the delicious aroma of fresh bread, describe the feeling of “fresh as a daisy” and depend for our lives on (what should not be the luxury of) fresh drinking water. We perk up even when it’s announced that there will be free refreshments. These are such beckoning, attractive words: fresh, refreshing, refreshments.

The sad truth is that instead of feeling repeatedly refreshed, we’re often overwhelmed by the reality of human suffering, the countless reports of evil, and our own life’s daily dose of frustration and disappointment. The miasma of cultural negativity clouds our view of new beauty, refreshing honesty, inspiring acts of compassion. Instead of embracing each fresh day, we sometimes see life as “shop-worn, stale, sour, decayed, spoiled, contaminated, polluted, soiled, worn-out, impaired, faded”, the dictionary’s antonyms for “fresh”:

Beneath our culture’s grumpy moans, I’m hearing Jesus via Van Morrison, “Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder?”
I remember the famous testimony, “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God, like a good shepherd, refreshes my soul as if I were a sheep browsing in green fields beside quiet waters”.

Refreshment: three year old, blonde Amelia, following the painted labyrinth path at High Park for the very first time, dancing and marching out her own meditation, stopping at will to pick up a pebble or a feather. She carefully stayed between the orange lines until she made it to the labyrinth’s centre. Then, with nary a qualm, she decided she was done and crossed every single line to walk back to her mother. 
Refreshment : the breath of a breeze on a day of record-breaking heat as new friends shared a backyard barbecue. 

Refreshment - quinoa salad made for the first time, combining all the fresh vegetables from that morning’s farmer’s market with chopped fresh basil and a dressing of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice – yum! 

Refreshment: relief from an electric fan in a hot church lounge where three friends took turns reading some bible verses, and then chose a favourite word from the short passage in Philemon, words like, “confident”, “benefit” and “refresh”. They sat in silence to mull over what they’d read, listened for the Spirit’s still small voice, and left the room with fresh hope in their hearts. 

Refreshment: a small rectangle of shade cast by a downtown Toronto building on a baking July afternoon, refuge during the two-minute wait for the red traffic light to turn green.

Refreshment: A “Fringe Festival” show without swearing, vulgarity, violence or perversion. The performers, a young married couple, danced, told stories and played piano as they related their families’ history. One dance was a wrenching solo about a younger brother, drug-addicted and homeless. Another was a powerful yet gentle, gymnastic pas de deux in which the two spouses supported each other’s bodies, suspended in perfect balance as they slowly changed positions. The pair performed another charming ballet of love in which he played the piano as she danced flirtatiously behind his back, across his lap, eventually striking some discordant keys to make him stop his music and kiss her instead. At the end of the show, the husband left the stage and the wife promised us a little surprise. Back out he came with their sweet baby boy, making the whole audience sigh with fresh joy.

Refreshment – standing near a river’s edge, lined by weeping willow trees, watching athletic young counsellors sing a song to help the “Coyote Camp” kids begin their wilderness day with music and a group howl. 

Is this part of what Jesus meant when he said:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest.
Whoever drinks the water I give them 
will never thirst. 
Indeed, the water I give them 
will become in them a spring of water 
welling up to eternal life.”

Whether we need a fresh start, fresh strength or fresh hope, there is a standing invitation.