Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Interrupted Tranquility

I scurried, realizing I didn’t have time to complete my blog and post it before needing to leave for work. The morning winds made my decision not to run an easy one, even though there’s the lingering frustration of flaccidity and the sobering reality of too-soft-ish places in my anatomy. But since I didn’t run, the door remains locked and bolted.

So I packed my lunch bag, thinking life was basic indeed today, checked that the door knob was still locked, and exited the nest. I walked in the usual way to the gate, fishing for my car keys in my bag . . . and that’s when it hit me. My keys were still hanging merrily from the coat hook in the house . . . on the other side of that locked door.

Not only am I prevented from driving to work; I cannot get back into my house tonight, either! So getting a ride will only help half my problem. I hang up on the friend I was dialling.

What about the windows? I’ve got in before in the summer . . . I pull and reef on the pane, scratching my knuckles (not good for my profession), and getting nothing but a pathetic wiggle in response. The window won’t budge.

And I’d just been composing about peace: the presence of God with us in our messes, that makes all the difference. I did not feel placid. I whined, “God! What am I supposed to do?” The nearest family member with a key sat 80 miles away . . . and the Proverb reverberated in my muddled mind: “Better is a neighbour nearby than a brother far away.”

Okay, so God knew this was going to happen, He knew how stupid I’d feel, He knew that my client would be waiting for me . . . so He has a plan and purpose for GOOD in this madness. I would call my landlord. Thank God I remembered my phone today! I feel so dumb . . . and it’s justified . . . it was dumb of me. The landlord’s wife answers! And she can come right away!

I phone the office, and my story sends the secretary into a mild laughing fit. Thank God she can laugh at me.

So now I have to wait, and linger in this stupidity . . . this gratitude . . . this me-needing-major-help-and-some-kind-person-is-on-her-way-to-rescue-me essence: this mercy. I’m helpless, and my God is taking care of me. I’m humiliated. I’m humbled. I’m so grateful.

She comes, and lets me in. Hmm . . . after all this turmoil, it seems a shame to linger only a few seconds in the house: the ability to enter these walls suddenly becomes very precious to me. Keys in hand, I lock the door behind me, unlock my vehicle, engage it to drive, and go to work.

Wouldn’t you know . . . this chinooking wind makes it warm enough for me to drive without running my vehicle for 10 minutes first. And the road conditions are good. And there’s a place for me to park. And my client did not mind having to wait. And the Secretary is still laughing. And the sun is shining. And this day is wrapped in mercies.

So I will take His mercy, and taste that He is good, because I need His mercy, and I crave His goodness. And isn’t that just like Him: sheer goodness coming into our mess, and changing our world forever?

And I’m going for a run this morning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Angel's Candle (The Shepherd's Candle, Pt. 2)

20 December 2011

Drawn away, the outskirts of civilization, lonely fields where children face sheer elements and grim, bleak reality . . . in these far off, unimportant places heaven touches earth, drawing its inhabitants close in embrace.

The hushed solitude of an inner temple chamber, the claustrophobic quarters of a peasant home, the desolate quiet of windswept heights . . . these mark the place of miracles. Here, earth life altered forever—there’s no shrine of remembrance, no tourist destination, no glorious memorial . . .

just rubble and dust . . . because that’s where God chooses to play out His story.

And He sends His angels, His messengers, like winds and flames of fire, these ones who see His face and do His bidding; these ones He commands to carry His news.

So they announce: to a shriveled priest, to an unimportant girl, to a poor carpenter, to forgotten children and leathery men out in the boonies—to these the angels come, and bring peace.

Why is the angel’s candle “peace”? They disrupted and disturbed everywhere they flew, upset every corner they crammed into, terrorized the landscape they used for a choir loft. They didn’t bark out commands that brought peace to those who obeyed them. The angels didn’t tell anyone what to do. So why did their coming bring peace?

Angels did not bring orders. They brought news—God’s reality, making order in our world.

They didn’t come with swords and threats, but their message impaled the human soul, and turned existence on its head.

They came singing, and set the world to dancing.

So this peace . . . it’s the coming of God’s reality: the Director comes onto the stage, and the angels choreograph Him in with music from heaven. We don’t hear these melodies much . . . we’re not listening for them. The prophets heard them before they sounded. Now, their echo pulsates ever-stronger, penetrating every battlement formed against it, melting every resistance with the miracle of imperceptible vibration.

God speaks His final word, and sends the crazed world reeling.

All that’s chaos explodes into mayhem, trying to drown out the angel’s song. But all that’s of heaven harmonizes with the messengers, even when it’s crying pain, and groaning for sheer life. Because peace doesn’t mean tranquility—peace means that the Creator is here, and nothing can happen to us outside His control.

Peace means we’re poor shepherds in the fields, tired old men, impressionable young girls, aspiring craftsman—singing the song of heaven.

Peace means we’ve been touched by God, have heard His final word, and surrendered to it as Reality . . . the heaven we can’t see utterly undoing and redoing the world we can see.

And He calls us further up, and further in, crawling into our shoddy hiding places with us, rescuing us where we are . . . this heavenly Man.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Shepherd’s Candle, Part 1

Dear Pilgrim,

We lit the third candle in our Advent wreath, and basked in the growing illumination. The Shepherd’s candle, pink candle of Joy, it blushes with pulsing adrenaline. Rosy and healthy, laughing and panting from exercise, perspiration dripping down its stout frame. Its life wastes before our eyes, but what triumphant demise!

It’s nothing special, a wad of wax and some string, melted into shape, then melted out of shape, till it evaporates or cascades into useless puddles onto the wreath and table. Simple, inexpensive, basic: it lives to be consumed as a memorial of another’s life. Significant only for what it represents, not for what it possesses inherently; still, it melts away merrily.

Why did the Shepherds have so much joy? Why is their candle different from all the others: that tacky pink that clashes with our decor and insults our sense of refined, contemporary design?

Tacky shepherds—low, odd-ball-ish, smelly, ignorant of life’s finer pleasures, bankrupt of education and station and the ability to better themselves—somehow, they possessed this joy. Children brushed aside, shooed to lowly, simple tasks, out of the way, out in the quiet lonely fields.

The soul sighs: so what Hope is there to keep us going? What Love can spur us to become something more than we have been? What can make this dreary life significant? What if we never can alter what we do?

“Do not be afraid,” he said first. Fear calculates the future without God.

Fear believes good will not come.

Maybe that’s why he said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”

We have to know that God is fundamentally, ultimately good . . . we see the opposite in our world and in our hearts. We need assurance of what we can barely whisper, wishing it to be true, unsure if it can be . . . knowing we are utterly undone if it is a mirage. What is the point, if there is no good?

We just don’t expect God’s revelation to come.

We don’t look for Him.

Maybe that’s why He shakes us out of our minds with angelic choruses bellowing His reality. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

These stirrings, these cravings, these groans and bellows and heavenly fireworks . . . these mark the journey of Joy, and take us deeper yet . . . .

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Storm Tales

Dear Pilgrim,

The gale churns into full momentum: uncanny winds—not so odd for this region or unprecedented during our chinooking winters—but stronger and longer and unexpected-like. Warm weather all week, so why blow now? Then the brown clouds begin drifting, building, obscuring vision, threatening ominous. It’s not dirt, it’s smoke.

Driving home into the gale force, the wall rises hundreds of feet above the city, filling the coulee, reckless and morphing and serious. Smoke holds no concern for the lung or eye it stings, the sight it obliterates, the terror it invokes. Smoke warns: smoke is a gift.

We learn the news: six massive prairie fires devouring to our West. Then, the palpitations shoot up like flares: evacuating orders and rumours and warnings. What if we must evacuate?

So, if we had to get out in five minutes, what would we take? What would we take? What’s valuable? Clothes: no. Books: replaceable, except those nine ancient encyclopaedias—my Grandfather’s first commission on graduating auctioneer school. But they are heavy, and cumbersome . . . and the information is probably obsolete by now.

I throw a few pieces of clothing in a bag, along with my passport and a few coloured pieces of paper we use for money. The computers, the hard drive, old journals . . . these contain soul journey . . . these cannot be replaced.

Then we wait, bags packed by the door . . . and how do we live now? A pang gnaws my heart when I go to put a DVD in the computer: this is non-chalante, in the face of impending tragedy. But then, what can we really do? Everything’s prepared, after all, it’s just the two of us. I feel for the families: frantic to stow pictures, recipes, memories in laundry basket and cardboard box. It’s nice to be unconcerned—weird, because there is so much worry and desperation out there—but nice.

So we wait it out, watching the neighbours across the street, checking updates . . . and the sky turns out the lights, so we wait in the dark. And we must walk in the light we have, while we wait.

So, we munch popcorn, and work on hand-made Christmas gifts, and watch a movie, and wait. And eventually, the warning is lifted, the fire is controlled, and we can go to our own beds to sleep.

The next morning, we wake to perfect calm, and the fading memory of flurried prayers, hurried packing, waves of worry, and the brief panic evaporates in the light of a new day.

We did not suffer loss, just a few hours of the daunting great unknown. And today, I don’t want to live disengaged, dulled by shock or distracted with unimportant clutter. I want this unconcerned happiness to fill my heart and transform my every-day dullness. Because at the end of the day, God’s children are secure—all that’s really important is totally safe, and all the other stuff doesn’t really matter.

And it’s the big storms that teach us how we should live everyday . . . and the little storms that reveal what we really believe.

(Photos courtesy of the weather network.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Those Anno Domini People

Dear Pilgrim,

What makes the Anno Domini people different? What characterizes their conversation of living, what is communicated by their actions? What does life in the reality of God is, and God is good look like?

We compile lists, reading the Text and jotting references to the Divine will, trying to chart a map and define the parameters of our existence. Sometimes we take the information and make a box to live inside. Sometimes we use the Text as a fence, to keep someone in or someone out. Sometimes, we sit down on mental crate, gazing at scattered tools and supplies, and sob in overwhelmed confusion.

We are confused about what to do, because we are confused about who we are.

We assume we must construct, must do business, must dominate territory and possess a corner on the market. We flail and pump and beat ourselves, and end up ragged with effort, or stiff with exhaustion that will not admit mistake or fatigue.

The problem is not the things we ought and want to do; it’s the best thing, we are not doing, NOW.

Above all other roles, beyond all expressions of energetic endeavour, transcendent through labour or reflection, beckons the call to worship God.

A worshipping heart hones appetites, pleasures, chores, as defining love colours all other affections. We’re always worshipping something or someone, Pilgrim.

So when my affections lie elsewhere, and joy is not centered on God, what can be done? Pilgrim, I’ve run around with condemning clouds enveloping me, stealing air and light and touch . . . but it’s not a matter of me trying harder to love God better: my duty is to acknowledge that He is worthy, He is God, He is good; to let go of my efforts and demands for justice, and let His goodness change me.

So, what does life for Anno Domini look like? At its core, the people who live in the reality of Sovereign Goodness say “thank You” . . . a lot. Because, if every good and perfect gift in life comes from God, and if every pain and sorrow is constructed and managed by Him for our good, how could we not say Thank You?

Today, I cannot change my heart . . . but I can acknowledge the One Who Can, and thank Him.

“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Hebrews 13:15

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Expectation`s Pardox

Cocks crow in the courtyard; cat pads soft on window ledge, returning from last night’s prowl. Sun opens her eyes, soon to fling her scarlet and purple morning robe over her shoulders. He squints in the fading darkness. Even in full day, his light is dim. He lies still a moment, preparing his mind for the difficult task ahead.

Heaving knobby knees and calloused feet off the bed, he sits upright, letting everything settle again. Once, he could stretch and pop and wrestle stubborn joints into lubricated submission. Not now. But he must move, however slowly. He must keep going. There’s a promise to be fulfilled.

He splashes water on leathery face, rubbing it into countless wrinkles. He works shaking arms into his robe, worn and thin, like him.

Stepping into the street, sun dances off his balding head, laughing in her morning play. He takes in everything his senses will proffer. Muted bellows from the neighbour woman: that’s nice. Diminished smells from passing donkey and horse: he won’t miss that. Children run and crouch and play in the street. Their voices muffle. He smiles, sad. He remembers ordering his own children to hush. Now, if he could only hear the cheery banter. But he must bend over painful and look directly into their eyes, watching their mouth, their expression, to understand their words. The little ones see him, and rum towards him. This ritual he loves! He puts gnarled hands on their soft black heads, and blesses them. Off they run again, and he watches them go, seeing beyond his limited vision, into the ebb of time itself, sweeping the children away.

Sigh . . . life sighs these days, remembering sweetly what was past, lingering long in the beauty of now, wondering what will become of tomorrow. His days fade into silence. But still he waits.

“Go . . . the temple.” He knows this voice. The voice from Beyond itself, beckoning him deep within, sustaining him when all other voices weaken.

Ancient heartbeat quickens. He glances as he passes people in the streets. Do they see? Have they heard? What news and developments has he missed the past weeks? But everyone looks normal. No one is looking. So, then, what is he looking for? What will the promise look like?

Mounting stone steps, pausing shorter than usual to catch his light breath, he enters the temple, scanning, searching . . . for what? No celebration, no military display, not even a debate or political discussion. Nothing out of the ordinary.

He waits near entrance, looking out and in; maybe It left already, maybe It is not here yet. His mind spins while his eyes skim. Calm down, man, or you’ll kill yourself waiting. Intentionally slowing his breathing, trying to relax the tell-tale thumping of his heart.

How long has he waited? What does it matter? He has waited his entire life . . . what are a few more minutes, or days, or slowing, fleeting weeks?

Soft cooing—he can hear it! Clear and sweet, like when he was young! He follows the sound: the man with the cage of doves. The girl with him . . . holding . . . It. This is It: the Consolation of Israel. Realization rushes over, through his entire being, a wave of such life! He rushes over, ignoring the resisting heart palpitations, screaming joints.

He reaches them. He takes the Consolation up in his arms. Nothing out of the ordinary; this is all custom. But everything out of the ordinary . . . no one was looking for Consolation to come this way.

He gazes long into the face: the eyes, the mouth, the tiny ears . . . everything yet to enter into its prime, everything yet to come. The Consolation is an infant. Isn’t it right that the God Who promised blessing through children should come to redeem His people through a child? This baby, an infant needing consoling, He IS the Consolation.

And he speaks, trembling, strong, barely audible, a voice coming from somewhere deep within, where Hope has kept faith all these years.

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

And expectation’s paradox teaches us that a promise received in the heart will change and alter its host; so that when promise is realized in a way no one expects, the trusting heart will recognize it, and glory.

—Musings on Simeon from Luke 2 . . . based on a sermon by Josh Harris: Simeon`s bucket list—

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Final Dance

She lets go her yellow sash, he throws red ascot to the heavens, she steps out of golden ballgown, leaving it in heaps on the ground. Underneath, stark, bleaching, boring brown emerges.

Why do they de-robe, when everyone else clamours for layers? How can they stand there, exposed and chilly, tossed about by fierce icy-breathed winds? Pine and Spruce snuggle into their green jackets, and standing near them, the Pilgrim feels safe, protected, and warm. Pine breaks the winds bellows; Spruce bids the whistler hush, and all breathe relief in their shadow.

But the others: what of Lombard and Ash and Manitoba Maple and Poplar? What of the bushes and ornamental trees? They look so lonely, so abandoned, the first raid of Winter leaving them poor and helpless. How will they survive the coming struggle?

The hermit forest, even now they gather into themselves, away from us, away from each other, into lone silence. I hear her groan as she recedes into her core, bidding me and all the beautiful days of summer farewell. Mute, except for moaning and scratching when the wind blows, they stand braced for fury.

Spruce and Pine cheer us all year round, consistent, quiet, calming. They seem comfortable, and comforted, and make us feel at ease.

But these deciduous ones, their fate upbraids our sense of dignity. Shockingly bare, helpless in the face of forces beyond their strength, the only way they can live is to nearly die.

Spruce and Pine grow constant; always there, we soon forget to look and appreciate their progress.

But these hermits, we cheer for them. We dance in their shed dresses, and glory in their diverse wardrobes. We breathe deep and happy when light green buds appear, because warmth comes to stay then. We picnic and walk under clapping emeralds in summer’s days. And we crunch and race through golds and ambers in autumn’s rhythmic celebration. We mourn their death, and revel in their resurrection.

We wouldn’t love life of Spring so much if we did not have the near-death of Winter. For whatever reason, we watch and glory and marvel more after pain and silence and isolation. So the autumn flurries do not dizzy us, the winter gales cannot dishearten us, the brooding muted months cannot hamper us, only deepen our delight.

We must dig deep for life now too. And we would forget to . . . if not for the trees.

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