20 June 2018

The Stories We Live

Vocation becomes, then, a creative act, something we create with God and others, unique to each of our lives.
- Kathleen Cahalan

I've been given this book to reflect upon and it seems so appropriate that it has fallen into my hands at such a time. Isn't it interesting when God surrounds you with reminders by different avenues that you need to pay attention? I think God speaks to me in puzzles - pieces I have to put together for myself requiring paying attention to myself and the world around me to understand. This book is all about "calling" and vocation. The author reminds us that God's callings are all around us, but we have a hard time seeing them. 

What is "calling"?

I'd like to think of calling as the action and movement through our unique story, and the passion that we use for the good of others. I like how the author introduces the use of prepositions to talk about calling. She points out that when most people talk about calling, they refer to a static thing (a noun). For example - "I'm trying to figure out what my vocation is". This leaves me with a sense of this solid thing I am trying to grasp at, that is already pre-made and complete. But our lives are not pre-made and complete. We are on a life-long journey of learning and growing.

I've heard of a story told by George MacDonald (a favourite 19th century Scottish writer and minister) that a young child was reluctant to want to go to heaven because he was told he would become a pillar of God, and he didn't want to become a pillar. Who would? A pillar is static, immobile, and cannot play. We are meant to be creative and imaginative all of our days, and beyond our days on earth. Why would God give us imaginations if we were not made to use them?

Instead of the static noun use of a vocation, the author suggests using prepositions (which in grammatical terms are small words serving to mark relation). This would include words such as by, to, as, from, for, in, through, within. I love that prepositions express relationship, and that is exactly what we were made for - relationship with God, and with other people.

The thing about using prepositions to talk about calling is that it is always moving. It puts us in the creative act of imagination that is unique to each of our lives and moves us forward. It is the story we tell with our lives. 

When I muse about how God created us to create, I always think about sub-creation, which is something J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a lot about. He believed that we were made to be sub-creators in this world. As you may know, he was a master sub-creator, inventing the world of Middle-earth and the vast history, stories, lineages, languages, and maps. He took his job as an earthy sub-creator seriously and look what he has made - the most complex, detailed, and beautiful tales of love, sacrifice, and goodness. He followed his passion of creating a world and its history, which has inspired millions of readers who have encountered The Lord of the Rings and writers who ventured into a new kind of way of telling stories to a modern world.

Through the book, she goes through many different prepositions and talks through ways our calling can be seen in those actions. She writes about being called as a follower, being called as we are, being called from places or situations, being called for service and work, and several other ways. Touching on all aspects of life, I could begin to see how we all have many different callings on our lives, and we live them out in our own ways.  This inspires me to dive into my own callings, because I know they are unique to me, and God will show me ways in which I can do good with these gifts I have. I don't doubt that God can find ways to put me to use. I just need to keep paying attention for what He is showing me.

18 June 2018

Words of Grace

I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 
Acts 20.32

When I start my day with several minutes reading Scripture, I am setting myself up for a more focused, centered-on-God kind of day. There is something about reading words that opens us up to listening to God speak to us through these ancient texts. If we are to work towards who God made each of us to be, we need to be immersed and be familiar with His words.

My daily routine is such that I make a cup of coffee and open up my beautiful cloth-bound hardback Bible on my lap to read. I don't aim to read a lot - it sometimes can be less than a chapter if I am reading slowly. Sometimes I will re-read a section if I feel like there was something to pay closer attention to.

I feel built up when I start my day this way. Even if I am reading through passages that don't initially register with me. I trust that God will help provide clarity through the Spirit as appropriate. And that clarity may come later down the road.

Is as if the Lord has put these words of encouragement (or questions, stories, frustrations, lessons, etc) in Scripture to equip my soul with the defenses it will need for the days ahead. To strengthen my knowledge through truth. To dwell in the words. To have these words on the tips of our hearts everyday. What if everyone did that? How much better equipped we would be to show one another grace?

14 June 2018

Tune of the Rain

I wake to the sound of a bird singing a tune of the rain
Flapping through the rain-soaked sky
A steady rain and grey sky doesn't wake all
But this particular bird,
He flits and flutters joyfully
Coming around again.
To the shelter of the limb, high above ground
Thick leaves hover above, offering what they can,
as if an umbrella was opened.
Rain splashes off and falls to puddles
on the ground.
Pools for a swim later.

I have only had time for poetry lately. Short dashes of words and phrases expressed from a momentary reflection. The ounces of creativity that overflow in a few minutes as I pay attention to the present moment. Days flow quickly like a rushing river, and I long for that which we all wish we had more of -- time. Thoughtful musings need time. But in these bursting moments of poems, I let the words flow out like the quick and intense cloudbursts we have had lately. The summer season of heat surrounds us with moisture every day, in the air, and then in the raindrops. I cannot help but write about it when my imagination had a few minutes to spare. I imagined these little birds who were singing so exuberantly, splashing around in all the puddles that are left behind by the storm.

11 June 2018

Lightness of a Saturday

A daydream rises into the air
Floating around the lightness 
of a slow Saturday.
Coffee and sunshine abound
in the midst of people - 
A busy come and go.
Cool marble table where I sit,
poised with pen, scribbles on pages -
Then, an open book,
as the morning swings on.
I deeply abide in the moment,
letting the words leap onto the pages.
Conversations sway in and around -
casual like everyone today.
A day off in the sunshine.

06 June 2018

Love is a Form of Knowledge

He existed before everything else, and He holds all creation together.
- Colossians 1.17

Our lives each have purpose and importance. We have gifts and talents that make us unique creations. God also created us with that deep need to participate and enjoy the lives of others. All good things come from God, as James tells us, and we have lives that are filled with gifts, especially through other people who are a part of our lives. Since we were made with a relational design, we have to learn how to relate well to others, and learn more about ourselves through that process. So many things impact the way in which we engage with others, from our childhood history and upbringing to the experiences we have had since a young age.

I am thankful for the opportunity to read this book, The Relational Soul, and to be gifted with the ability to engage with the depth of it. Exploring these things in yourself is both fascinating and awakening. Sometimes we cannot see the connection as we dwell within our own lives, caught up in the experiences, but when we take a step back and evaluate, or map out some of our experiences, or have someone along side us helping us see certain things, we begin to see patterns emerging and therein rests many learning opportunities for what to do next.

The premise of this book helps the reader grasp at different scenarios of life, and relational situations that could cause tension and struggle. We read examples so that we can place ourselves in there and see what could be worked on relationally. If we are able to recognize it here, we will be able to grow the desire to be more fully present in our everyday relationships and be more mindful about how we are with each of them.

My favourite line of the book is "The one who loves more sees more. (Love is a form of knowledge)."

Since I am of the personality who loves to learn and acquire knowledge above all, this reminds me that in all my love of learning and gaining knowledge, loving more aligns perfectly with all that I seek, and I shall see more through loving more.

God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished.
- Philippians 1.6

04 June 2018

Summer Routine

The routine of summer commences.
I can feel it making home here.
Thick, heavy air fills the hours,
drenched in the layers of moisture above.
The sun feels stronger, 
drying the leaves in minutes
after a quick spot shower.
Green leaves flourish on each limb,
soft and nimble they dance
in the wind.
Of the approaching storm, they fear not,
They know well the tropical nature
of the rain-drenched noons,
and in gladness praise the rays
of the sun-soaked days.

31 May 2018

Reconsider Inconvenience

Arriving in Reykjavík, Iceland

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
- G.K. Chesterton

When you think about it, travel isn't very convenient. It involves packing up a select number of items into one smallish luggage (which never seems big enough) to take with us somewhere far away from home. We leave behind comforts, conveniences, and familiarity. We trade it for adventure, waiting, traveling, and exhaustion. 

Traveling and going on adventures is an inconvenience. Even for us in the modern day, we have to deal with delays and waiting at the airport, missing a train, going through security, dragging our luggage down (and even worse, up) stairs. 

Some of us love to travel, and are well-equipped with the tendency to overlook the inconveniences because they love the adventure so much.

Others of us dislike travel, and would much rather stay at home. But sometimes travel is necessary for work, or for family matters, or even just to get away and recharge.

What if we thought more like G.K.Chesterton and turned something that could be an aggravation into something filled with possibility? 

Can we turn something negative around on its head? Can we imagine the inconvenience of adventures rightly considered? How should it be considered? I like to think that every trip is open to a whole array of possibilities. 

- Consider how much we can learn in our travels about others.
When I travel, one of my biggest goals is to learn as much as I can about the place I am going, the history, the story, the people, and the culture. I read books, do online research, and I study maps. I want to spend time there experiencing the culture like a local. I don't want to go there expecting to eat all the same foods I am used to, or having all the same conveniences. Often I find that their food is better, and their conveniences more efficient. I love seeing from their perspective the neighborhoods and nature. I always feel privileged to experience just a little bit of that.

- Consider how much we can learn in our travels about ourselves.
By learning more about others, I examine myself and find out more about my own beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. When I travel, I am taken out of my comfort zone in so many ways. I believe it is good for us to be placed outside our comfort zones, as that is when we learn and grow. 

- Consider how much we can learn in our travels about God.
Through all these things, if we reflect and pay attention to what travelling has taught us, we learn more about God, as His diverse creativity in the creation of this world. Through the perspectives of others, visiting holy sights, meeting people who are very different from ourselves, and appreciating the beauty of the world we live in, we are more aware of God's presence in every place. 

29 May 2018

Lessons From Listening

Sometimes I sit at my kitchen table, or in my living room and just listen to the neighborhood. I try to stop reading or doing things and be still. It's not easy to do, as my mind has a list of things I could be doing, but I find that it is important to sometimes let my mind drift as I simply listen with a purposeful attentiveness. It's when I do this that my imagination begins to kick in, and the owl is not some background noise, but instead he is hooting a friendly greeting, as a neighbor who has made his home in a nearby tree.

Today, the wind is constant, and at times very gusty. I can thank the tropical storm for that. But that means my wind chimes are playing a lot of music today, and it's beautiful. This morning, the lawn mower was weaving lines across the yard back and forth. A few hours ago, a heavy rain storm came through, strong and short. Now, the sky is clearing and the sun has emerged. 

When I sit with a friend over tea or a meal, I seek to listen to them. I mean really listen, and not just in the sense that I am thinking the whole time about what I am going to say in response. But letting them talk from the heart and be received by an open ear that is listening to their thoughts. As I have gotten older, I have become very aware when someone is not listening to me, and I suspect others get that sense as well. 

I believe that God can use us to simply listen to others, and be that safe place where their thoughts can be sheltered in you. But so much of the time we are not truly listening to the other person.

I am less of a talker, so attentive listening should be (generally) easier for me to implement, but it's the thoughts in my mind that are harder to quiet. I've always had the desire to be a hospitable source for someone to feel cosy and at home. But sometimes, just as I want to be doing several things when I listen to my neighborhood, I need to be still and listen to others in a way that is in the present moment with them, and not try to do multiple things at the same time. Then something amazing happens. They are not just a friend needing to talk about something, they are part of a larger cosmic story of good, and I get to see a part of that.

24 May 2018

May Reads

Just a few of the books I've been reading this month.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I browsed bookshops in Reykjavik, Iceland, but didn't plan to buy books because everything in Iceland is more expensive, and most of their books are in Icelandic anyway. However, every bookshop had sections of books in English, and I cannot resist taking a look at what books they carried. I kept eyeing up this book, in a few shops. On the last day in Iceland, I had extra cash to use. There was no sense in bringing back so much money, so I ended up in a bookshop where I bought two books. This was one of them. The story takes place in 1327, when a monk, Brother William, and his young apprentice visit a wealthy abbey in Italy only to find as they arrived that a murder had just taken place. Or was it murder? Brother William becomes the detective who is asked to solve the mystery, but things get even more mysterious as another death occurs. Then another. There are mysterious findings in the library, a labyrinth in the library, hidden passages, and secrets. The observations and conclusions of Brother William are so enjoyable to read, very much in the tradition of Sherlock. 

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

This book is so interesting to me. It is truly a diary written by Shaun, the owner of The Bookshop, the largest used bookstore in Scotland (Wigtown, Scotland). He writes about all the happenings of the bookshop. Recording the strange things customers say, the odd requests he gets, how he buys books, notes about the book trade, online orders, the people who work for him, the nature of the bookshop (freezing cold in the winter), and tidbits of his life in the everyday of a book shop owner. He writes with a wry humour that makes me chuckle often. I am also learning more about what it is like to own a bookshop. Being that I've always had this far-reaching dream of owning a bookshop someday, this book is particularly fascinating to me. I feel it's a good idea to learn about many of the realities, work, and fun it is to own a bookshop. 

Shilling for My Thoughts by G.K. Chesterton
I cannot get enough of G.K. Chesterton. I found this little collection of essays on my recent visit to Oxford. It is my favourite kind of book - old (this one is 1921), small, hardback. I am not sure how he has this gift, but he can write an essay about something so minuscule, such as a piece of chalk and make it so entertaining and fun. He collides humour and wit with knowledge about the world, history, and meanings in things. He finds wisdom in the objects in his pocket. He notices all the quirks of traveling and spells it out in a quip about his recent train ride. I am so thankful Chesterton wrote an enormous amount of books and essays,because I always seem to find a few more books in Oxford each time I go, and they always bring me such joy to read them (and re-read them).

21 May 2018

Icelandic Beauty

Once upon a time I was standing on some sand. Not any usual sand, but black volcanic sand. I looked down and saw how strange it looked to have pure black sand at my feet. I had just been shuffling through it to get to this place. I looked up and saw the tip of the glacier, glowing bluish against the overcast grey-scale sky. 

I looked around me, knowing that I was next to a volcano that was active and prepped to burst at any time. Was the ground shaking? No, that was just me slipping down some sand as made my way down a hill of black sand closer to the melted water's edge. As the glacier retreats, it leaves behind some of its broken chunks of ice, floating in the water. Is this place real? Am I at the dawn of creation? The world is still being made, here. This is still earth largely untouched by humans. We leave behind our footprints in the sand, and hopefully that is it.

I take a deep breathe of fresh air. The air is chilled, but not frigid. Here in between the green carpeted cliffs and mountains, the air is still. If there is a slight breeze, it is very cold because it comes off the glacier. 

How can a world of ash, rock, and snow be so beautiful? Many would call this landscape barren, but the dramatic cliffs with pops of mossy green and the icy expanse of a huge glacier is what causes me to stand in awe of God's creative power in the form of nature. I call this beautiful, yes, my favourite kind of beautiful is that which draws me closer to God. 

This kind of place, most of which Iceland is a perfect example, makes me think about the ever-changing, shaping, and molding of nature, and how our lives follow in the same way. We are not done yet. We are works-in-progress. So is this Icelandic landscape. It's all still changing. God's eyes are on it all. None of it escapes His sight and presence.