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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