Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bear Eyes

The family story goes like this: I had a teddy bear that my brother threw in the mud. For some reason (and to this day I’m not sure what that is), it was impossible to simply throw it in the wash; it was beyond repair. My parents wanted to offer some kind of replacement, so I got a wise-looking stuffed mouse, which I proceeded to name “bear eyes.” In whatever way my two-year-old mind could process, I knew that this mouse, no matter how lovely, would never replace the bear I had lost. She might be a mouse, but there was clearly bear in her eyes.

Every holiday season when I see what’s going on around me—exhaustion, despair, busy-ness, greed, and worry—I wish again for the ability to simply rename them. To take all that turmoil and sadness and call them “Advent peace.” And find that somehow the words alone could make it true.

Naming something so clearly in opposition to reality is the province of children, with endless circular arguments of “it is too” and “it is not.” But the ability to remember is the true gift of childhood. To know that no matter how many things the world takes away, no matter how deep the losses, there will always be the memory of peace, joy, wholeness, the certainty of being loved beyond what we imagine. And those memories are continually calling us back home, to eyes that we’ve definitely seen before and never forgot how to love.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holding Back Chaos

If my husband stays up much later than I do, a predictable thing happens: I inevitably drift over to his side of the bed. So when he gets in, he has to make his body into a kind of battering ram that pushes me back to my side of the bed. And while he may think of this as an example of me being a bed hog, I think it has much to say about the theology of creation.

There are so many parts of the Genesis 1 story that involve setting boundaries and limits: the light is separated from the darkness, the vault of the sky is defined over the chaos of the water, the sea is held back from the land, the day and night are named as distinct.

In a simple way, my husband’s presence in bed is a limit that says, “You will go no further.” When he is not there, I wonder if the night went on long enough whether I’d simply drop off the other side of the bed. But when he is there, I know where the bed ends and that I am safe from the drop on the far side. My own side of the bed I know instinctively; it’s that other, far-off edge that represents the unknown, the fearful limits of what I don’t understand.

Oftentimes I wish for some dramatic re-creation moment in my life: for new ground to appear out of endless seas, for light to push back a long darkness, for the naming of order out of chaos. But time and time again, those order-making moments don’t happen, even when they are needed most.

What I have instead is a kind of wall that keeps me from going over the edge—a tenuous wall made by intangible things such as the faithful constancy of a communion of friends, the perfect resonance of songs sung into the night, and the quiet certitude of the sun setting to end each day. It’s not much to hold on to when you add those things up, but somehow it’s enough to keep the chaos at bay and hold me back from going over the edge.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

... And

For Krista
... and for you.

There is a prayer in the daily office that pleads “that I may not fall into sin nor be overcome by adversity.” There is something about that word overcome that falls from the tongue like a full stop, a period at the end of a word or a sentence that gives a note of finality. Overcome. And so often with adversity—things like unemployment, loneliness, despair, it is hard to find much more to say, much hope beyond that closed-off sense of ending.

And yet, as Scott Bader-Saye said at the King’s Interdisciplinary Studies conference last week, people of faith are the ones who are able to always say “and.” So it’s unemployment … and. Loneliness … and. Despair … and. There is so much grace in that one word, to be able to say, after even death, there is an “and” in the hope of resurrection.

Whatever the adversity you find yourself overcome by today, there is, even now, an “and.” May it find you as quickly and as certainly as the grace of God, in which we live, and move, and have our being.

Friday, August 27, 2010


“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.”

—Matthew 25:1-4

There is something about the song “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning” that makes me tired. Not just because I often hear its peppy tune on still-sleepy Sunday mornings, but also because I’m not so sure it would be a good thing to just keep burning all the time without a break.

It’s not that I don’t prepare; like the wise girls I am always over-prepared with everything I might possibly need for my trips. So I’m sure I would have enough oil in my backpack, ready to go even through a long night of waiting. But even with enough oil, I imagine myself getting angrier by the minute as that oil is used up, wondering what the delay was about and silently scorning those who didn’t think ahead as well as I did. With every second that went by, with every lick of oil on that flame, I would grow slightly less loving, slightly less gracious, slightly less alive.

Today I heard something on the pray-as-you-go podcast that encouraged me to think symbolically about the passage: what might the lighted lamp represent in my life? And what is the oil that will keep it burning?

Because of course the story isn’t about being prepared; it’s not about greed or getting high marks from the bridegroom for planning ahead. It’s about a different kind of oil, one that keeps you alive instead of consuming you.

What is the oil that keeps me going, that keeps my lamp alive, that keeps my soul from growing dark and dead and tired? Because whatever it is, this kind of oil—oil that flows down the beard of Aaron, oil that anoints my head, oil that brings gladness instead of morning—is not about scarcity at all, but abundance. And maybe with enough of that kind of oil, I can keep my heart alive and full of grace, burning, burning, burning till the break of day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


“Everything is possible for one who believes.” —Mark 9:23

We have friends a newborn baby, and last time we visited, my husband leaned close and smiled at the baby, talking in a voice I haven’t heard him use in years. As I watched him, I thought to myself with a pang, This is impossible. How am I supposed to look at him doing that and NOT want another baby? And yet, that, too, is impossible. I’m too old; there would be too much space between our now eleven- and thirteen-year-olds; we don’t have any baby stuff any more; we couldn’t adjust our lives to a baby schedule again.

So we ended our visit with the baby, and I came home and stared at my daughter’s teenage feet, which it seems just yesterday could fit entirely in my hand when she herself was a baby. And those lanky, impossibly large teenage feet hit me like a wave of sadness: some things are no longer possible.

It’s not possible to get back the days that are gone. Long summer days when entertainment was as simple as a popsicle and a wading pool and “making it better” as easy as a band-aid and kiss. Evenings with newly bathed kids in blanket sleepers snuggled beside me to read a story for the one hundredth time. Days that seemed impossibly long at the time, but now seem impossibly far away.

Even as I am grieving what I miss, I see in those big feet other things that are still possible. It’s possible to talk to my children about things in the world like floods and forest fires and poverty and wonder with them about why they happen. It’s possible to sit on the edge of their beds and night and hear their ideas and questions about the world without knowing, as I used to, how I can answer easily in response. It’s possible to love what someone else has without needing to possess it for yourself.

And this is the art of living by faith: finding what is still possible in a world that shuts us down from a delightful sense of openness. This is one reason I have joined the High Calling Blogs Network—to see, in the voices of others who struggle to walk the life of faith, what is still possible. And in hearing their stories, to trust the words of truth that everything is still possible for one who believes.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Under Wide-Open Skies

“We live under wide open skies and know where we stand.”

—1 Thessalonians 5:4, The Message

These days I have been driving more often through farmland, and I am entranced with the way the clouds make patterns on the pastureland below. You could be standing in one spot, thinking it is a dark and gray day, when not 10 yards away is a place outside the shadow of the cloud in full sun. And I understand something now that I have not understood before: without that kind of wide-open space, it’s impossible to know where you are standing.

As someone who grew up in the city, I am not used to seeing so far around me, miles of open space rolling into the horizon. Time and experience come in small packages. If the sky is gray when you look up, dark is all there is; dark is everything. You don’t have the perspective to see that maybe a short hop away it is already getting lighter.

There is healing in the wideness of creation. There is a grace in seeing the big picture, in knowing how the story ends a short skip across the rolling farmland, in seeing a moment in the shadow of the clouds is only one small drop of dark in a wind-swept land of light, in a world of grace, in a universe of blessedness.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why? Yes.

Recently I watched the classic movie Out of Africa again and was moved by many things I hadn’t noticed the first time I watched it as a teenager. One exchange in the movie has really stuck with me. After Karen and Denys spend a night together she is full of questions the next day about what this means for their relationship and for her future. The short dialogue goes something like this:

Karen: I need to know what this means.
Denys: Why?

And that’s it. As someone who spends probably way too much time asking “what does this mean?” I love the simplicity of his response. Why do you need to know what it means? Maybe you don’t need to know at all. Some things may not need such close examination. They just are.

This past Sunday, we went on a hike on a beautiful sunny day. There were tufts of dandelion fluff in the air, the sky was liquid blue, the green leaves were filling out the trees, and my son caught a frog in his bare hands just before falling into the creek. It was a day of laughing, a day of slowing down and living in the moment. It was a day that in all ways seemed to be God’s “yes” to a question I never asked.

Why? I don’t know. But yes. Definitely yes, and amen, and yes again.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring Snow

Spring in Edmonton is a tease. You get several warm days—enough to make you dig out the t-shirts and want to run to the garden store—but then you are slammed once again with cold and possibly even snow. So we sometimes see two things that don’t often go together: new green leaves and cold white snow.

I wonder why the leaves don’t just figure out by now that they need to wait a little longer. But there is no caution in spring. It will not wait for a better time. It just is. Is now. So very green and new.

Once it’s begun, growth is never straightforward. We step ahead and we fall back. We step ahead and we are slammed with snow. Why are we surprised? After all, we were told: “In this world you will have trouble.” You will, you will have trouble. We’re also told to “take heart” because Christ has overcome the world.

Overcoming is as long and hard to pin down as anything I know. But if snow and new leaves can survive each other, maybe we will survive too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


"Hospitality requires the creation of friendly, empty space..."
—Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
The word "hospitality" instantly conjures up images of a crowded room full of people talking around a table of food. But this past weekend, I experienced hospitality of a very different kind. I attended a silent retreat at King's Fold Retreat & Renewal Centre (one of the most beautiful places in southern Alberta). In the absence of words , there are only thoughtful preparations to speak hospitality to the stranger.

For example, there are the slippers: when you enter into the outdoor greenhouse, you are supposed to remove your shoes. But your feet might get cold, so ready and waiting for you is a basket of handmade slippers in a variety of sizes.

In the outdoor nature paths, there are little brooms to whisk away any debris that may have collected from the woods so you can sit on a clean bench.

This weekend showed me in some small way that the essence of hospitality is not filling the space with words, or filling the space with anything, but simply creating what Nouwen calls a "friendly, empty space" by the sense of thoughtful preparation. There is deep human connection even in that kind of emptiness: someone who has gone ahead, who has your best comfort in mind, and who offers you nothing more than the gift of their forethought and some quiet to enjoy it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Learning to Walk

This past week I was working with a group of elementary students on the topic of self-esteem, asking them to fill in a worksheet with something they could do that they were proud of. It's so much easier for little kids to give you a long list of things they are proud of than it is for adults to do the same.

But what most struck me most in that afternoon was was a timid girl who asked me quietly, "Does it have to be something from now or can it be from a long time ago?" I said of course it could be from a long time ago and what was she thinking about? And she replied: "When I was a baby, I didn't know how to walk at all. Then when I was one, I had to try really hard, but by the time I was two, I didn't even have to think about it." I smiled and said "that's great" and she turned to her worksheet and proudly filled in the blank: "good at walking."

By that standard, I'm still a baby in terms of living the Christian life the way I want to. I either don't do it at all, or have to think about it very hard. But I know several older women for whom acting gracefully doesn't seem to take much effort at all. That gives me hope that one day I will be as good at acting gracefully as I am at walking, that it will be so natural I forget to be proud about it at all.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


“He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea. Then they were glad because of the calm, and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.”
—Psalm 107:29-30

There is something about a storm that wants to shout—the loudness of the crashing waves, of thunder, cracks of lightning, and the whipping wind thrashing everyday objects into projectiles. And maybe because of this loudness or maybe because of the panic of being unsafe, you can hardly hear yourself think to know what to do, to know the way ahead. And then…

“He stilled the storm to a whisper and quieted the waves of the sea.” And then all is quiet again and silent. And you can hear your thoughts and hear the whisper and then you know it will somehow be okay.

“Then they were glad because of the calm.” They were glad for the quiet, glad for predictability and safety, glad for the little everyday things like a cup of tea or a hot bath or sitting quietly on the couch talking to one who loves you. They were glad because of these things, glad because they realized they could be taken from you and because they had them back again.

“And he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.” And the end of all the chaos of the storm is being brought to the place you were supposed to be all along. What I would give in the midst of the storm for one glimpse of that harbor I am bound for, that we are all of us bound for, far away on the other side of all this wind and rain.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


“Do not worry about tomorrow … each day has enough trouble of its own.”
—Matthew 6:34

“Today in your hearing this scripture is fulfilled.”
—Luke 4:21
There is something about working among the poor that puts the words above into a vivid context. People are missing some of the most basic necessities—food, shelter, safety. And these needs are urgent. I have talked to people who need bread today—not tomorrow, not in a little while. Right now. Today. So we open up the freezer at my place of work and send them away with a loaf.

In some ways, it is a luxury to have the space to worry about what might happen tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that. You have confidence that enough of the basic necessities will be met today to allow you to reflect on other needs down the road—a sense of purpose, meaningful relationships, being valued in community, healing and wholeness for the soul and the body. Yet having the luxury to think about tomorrow does not make it any easier to survive today.

These other needs are just a different kind of bread for which our souls may be starving. The call here is to be present in today, whatever we are missing. In these words from Luke, Jesus speaks in this kind of immediacy with his announcement of hope: “Today in your hearing this scripture is fulfilled.” Not tomorrow, not in some distant far-off future, but today. Right now.

It is easy to mark off the ways I am fortunate (I have a freezer full of bread). It is harder to admit the ways I fall short of the hope in these words. I worry about tomorrow. I fail to fulfill the promise of this “today” for those who are in dire need of bread of all kinds. And yet I hope that the one who announced these words of promise will keep announcing them to the places in my heart where things are missing, keep announcing them through all who extend a hand to those in need, keep announcing them to all of us who sometimes find it hard to be here, in this moment, today.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Frazils and Ice Fog

Two new weather concepts I have learned about this winter: frazils and ice fog. Frazils are the first stage in a river freezing over. Ice crystals called frazils begin to join together. At the “pancake” stage, seen in the picture above, the frazils begin to form round clusters. And eventually these little frazils wind up forming a solid sheet of ice across the river.

Ice fog comes when tiny crystals of ice have frozen in mid-air. This is common when temperatures are below -30 C, mostly in arctic regions; apparently Edmonton is close enough to an arctic region (it’s certainly cold enough) because we have it here from time to time.

The strong current of a river becomes immobile in a frozen sheet; the free and invisible air hangs heavy in a fog. It all begins slowly, on a much smaller scale. Frazils become frozen rivers; drops of mist become ice fog. The world is rolling, changing, pulsing along and somehow in the smallest molecules of water at the most unexpected times, things become solid.

This season of epiphany, I am thinking about the small beginnings of things—small beginnings that make big things or invisible things stop and be known by us. Like words become flesh, like one small star that pierced the Bethlehem sky: started small, made something solid, and meant that night would never be the same again.