15 May 2018

Here I am

Here I am
In a quiet refuge of reflection
As the soft pitter patter of raindrops
Lulls the evening to sleep
As I should be
And yet
Here I am
Staying up late with candles burning
And words brewing within
They need a place to go
So here they are with me
Falling a gentle rain
Like grace.

A bright red cardinal is living in my neighbourhood. I've seen him several times over these last few days. He's been hanging out on the bird feeder, dangling from the orchid tree in my yard. He grabs a snack, and flutters off to the tree across the alley, chirping his very distinctive song and I watch him in wonder. Then I hear the owl hooting nearby, too. I love that my little yard is a welcoming place for such lovely creatures. And as my landlord works on the yard more and more, clearing things out and adding more elements of a garden, the space will become even more of a refuge and dwelling spot, for humans and creatures alike. The cat has already been testing out the new bench and table, and I told him that he cannot hog the bench for himself. I may want to bring my book out there one morning.

The last few nights have provided the perfect atmosphere of rainy and cosy. Amidst all the day's activity and things to do, I have been trying to simply sit and listen. What does the rain sound like? Is it the sound of the metal railing that I hear, or the roof over the front of my home? Sometimes I find that when I stop to pay attention to the present moment and observe the senses, a few things happen all at the same time. I feel thankfulness for that moment and the blessing that it is to me and I hear words rummaging around in my head that can find a place to rest on pages of my journal. 

10 May 2018

Eternity is Now

My eternal self is here.
Now is the day
Every day is the time
to live into it, new creation.
Every moment matters
Every effort matters
It sets the tone for the next
When all we do and all we are
will be perfected
All our efforts will be seen in 
the beauty they were meant 
to be.
A gift. We shall see
It's all going on now.
Every moment matters.

Say hello to moments that matter. When we learn to change our view of how we look upon each day, and we see each moment as a beautiful gift it all looks different (fresh, as if seen with new eyes) and we live with an appreciation about it all. When I recognize that what I do now matters in the eternal perspective, it causes me to think more deeply about every step and every thought I let sink in. What do I let myself dwell upon? 

And on the other side, what am I creating and doing that will be continued into eternity? Am I using my gifts in all the ways I can for God's glory? Am I removing myself from the equation so that my own clutter doesn't hinder me?

These questions cause me to pause and reflect, because I am a work in progress, I know there is more to do. That fact is encouraging to me, as it means I am not done yet and there is so much more I can be and do. These questions remind me to be more and more who God created me to be.

07 May 2018

Walk to Emmaus

Stand here awhile and drink their silence in.
Annealed in glass, the twelve Apostles stand
And each of them is keeping faith for you.
This roof is held aloft, to give you space,
By graceful angels praying night and day
That you might hear some rumour of their flight
That you might feel the flicker of a wing
And let your heart fly free at last in prayer.

(Malcolm Guite)

When you experience an event that demonstrates the love of God in every aspect, it takes a long time to fully grasp it and reflect upon it. It's so much to collect, it's like trying to fit a lake into a glass jar. I know that I will need to take one scoop at a time.

I recently took the Walk to Emmaus and have been in constant reflection since the end of last weekend. It was held at a retreat center, away from the busy-ness of a city, and all those distractions that come with it. I am so thankful for the many people who were involved in that weekend, behind the scenes, before, during, and after. Friends. Family. My new Emmaus community.

I sat there on my bunk bed that first night feeling displaced. We all were. I wrote in my journal with the mindset of having no idea what the next few days would entail. We all were on the strange and unknown journey. I decided to give all the details of what I was encountering some good thought, and embrace the unknown, and it became a beautiful time of opening up to God. The communal living kept me in mind of those who lived together such as the Disciples and monks, where an essential element of their lives was community. Sharing meals, sharing learning, sharing the hours.

I sat at a table with five other ladies (and we shared meals together, chapel, and lessons). These ladies shared their hearts and souls, which was so amazing to me. They reached for tissues often as this place gave them the opportunity to work through some things. I did the same. The Lord reached deeply into me, and sorted through some things I needed to give Him. We learned about different kinds of graces the Lord bestows on all of us.

One of the big impacts on me was how much I was surrounded by prayer. I had no idea as I arrived, but slowly I would learn bit by bit how my friends and other lovely people there who didn't know me were praying for me by name. They would pray over certain events and special times during the weekend. This kind of selfless, dedicated prayerfulness I had not experienced before and I felt overwhelmed with the presence of God's love.

This kind of experience transcends the weekend. It will stay with me for years, and I will continue to learn from it. I expect bursts of it to emerge every now and then as I pray that I reflect and grow wiser from the knowledge I received.

02 May 2018

Tolkien on Light and Darkness

Through the telling of complex histories and stories, J.R.R. Tolkien built a world bigger far more expansive than Middle-earth. Before Frodo or Aragorn entered the story, he had created a cosmos supposal, with a creator and beings who continued to create the cosmos through music. It is a history of a sub-created world, The Silmarillion is, which precedes all tales of Middle-earth, and through these tales the consequence of decisions is passed down through generations. Elves, like men, have free will, the misunderstanding and misuse of that ability causes the fall of many good things. 

Tolkien was a master at creating tales of the fall and studying the consequences of our actions. In his view "there cannot be any 'story' without a fall - all stories are ultimately about the fall - at least not for human minds as we know them and have them."

We should know very well in our modern day how the temptation of power within a leader or influencer can change the lives of many with a small decision to follow darkness that leads to destruction of light down the line. When the significant choice is made out of selfish desire, it sets the tone for not only that person, but for all the lives that intersect for ages. 

The intensity of his nature drives him both to make and to break, and here again we see in him humanity's potential poised always on the edge, balanced between light and darkness.
 (Verlyn Flieger)

There are so many avenues in which Tolkien uses the light and darkness to capture what he was so passionate about reiterating in story. He uses the tales of elves and men and their downfall so that we can see in ourselves the same selfish desires and actions we take, and heed that warning. Through his sub-created world, he imagines the conflicts that arise as different races (elves and men) intermingle with each other, with nature, and with the temptations of the darkness.

The darkness is not always bad. In the beginning the darkness of space and time was neutral. On a starlit evening, the darkness is not evil. It is part of creation. But the bad darkness that takes over what was light, corrupts and ruins what was good. This is an aspect of loss deeper and more painful because it is the absence of light which had once been life-giving. 

For Tolkien that is shown by characters not willing to yield to a good choice. They instead choose selfishly to hang onto what they possess and need to let go of. Feanor has the chance to give up the the Silmarils (jewels he created that hold the light) to make good again the world and rid it of darkness, but he will not do it. In his free will, he chooses to hoard his possession. That one decision sparks the downfall and destruction of so much good. Frodo is an example of this as he stands on the brink of fire on Mount Doom at last, after such a long journey, and has the chance to throw the ring over to destroy it and save the world from Sauron, but he cannot give it up, and he fails, sealing in the darkness by his choice. Thankfully that story does not end there, and a surprising twist of fate brings Gollum into a vitally important role in the destruction of the ring.

Tolkien was pointing out that while external events may be dire and dark, the most important aspect of what happens and a determining factor as to whether light can win the battle at last is our internal free will and the individual test of that. He explores this again and again, and from story to story we are reminded through beauty loyalty, love, and courage that there is always reason to hope that the light will endure.

25 April 2018

Paperback Pockets

This is the second poem from a poetry writing session a few weeks ago at the library. Celebrate national poetry month by writing a poem!

This is a 'found' poem, taken from a page in Space Odyssey. The idea of a found poem is that you pull words from anything (a page in a book, a magazine, an advertisement) and create a poem using those words, tweaking if you want to. I have never really explored found poems, and it sparked my imagination and was fun to write. It is kind of like a word search, pieced together into a poem. I love space and exploring, so that could be why this was even more interesting to me.

Paperback Pockets

Here is a challenge with lots of pockets.
I am going to Mars in the back of my mind.
Travelling through black for breakfast;
coming in through the door of a paperback book.
It's a long day in the biting cold.
During the expedition, I flip across the mountains,
and wonder about their experiences.
It's all about perspective.
A few pages about the dragon is now in its orbit.
We can see its light blinking in isolation.
I feel safe within the corridor, but will
I sleep tonight?

23 April 2018

Poetry Exploration

April is national poetry month, and earlier this month I went to a poetry workshop at the library. I love to see the celebration of poetry, even in small ways like this session where a few people came together to learn about poetry, brainstorm together, and writing our own poems by the end of the session. I also love when poetry is brought out to the world in this visual way. Not everyone has to be a poet, and that's okay, but I think everyone can appreciate poetry, in all the different ways it can be expressed.

I wrote three poems during the session, and I thought it would be fun to share one or two, in the form each was created. I wrote all three in a 30 minute time frame. Here is one, which was supposed to be about something I love.

On Opening A Book

I love books, especially the old ones.
I gently tug one off the packed shelf,
it feels heavy in my hand;
centuries of wisdom cohere inside,
waiting to be read.
Open the cover slowly, it creaks with age
and experience.
The scent of vanilla and coffee rise
as my fingers turn the thick, ruffled pages,
sewn carefully into the ag├ęd spine.
Older books seem to be made with utmost care,
created to last; I wonder how many bibliophiles
held this book years ago.
The wonder rolls down the page as I turn
it past the publication date,
and begin to read in-black words from ancient days.

19 April 2018

Books and More Books - Oxford Inspiration

It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.
- Agatha Christie

Every time I go to Oxford, I browse bookshops, countless bookshops, sometimes a few times. Old bookshops have stacks of books piled high in every nook. Shelves full, and overflowing. I am always inspired by the books I find, to read books by authors I love, and also to venture out to new genres and authors. This, of course, means I tend to buy a lot of books, which leads to a very packed and heavy luggage, but it is so worth it. 

Do I need to buy every book there? No, I could scour the internet and find it on Amazon, which I do sometimes. When I buy at used bookstores, there is no delay in the purchase, for that book may not be there tomorrow. If it's a new book (at Blackwell's for instance) I might wait and put it on my "to order later" list, but I always end up buying a good armful because that is supporting the local bookshop that has been family owned and is a source for so much good, inspiring reading for Oxford and beyond. I will gladly support that.

I will also gladly support the Oxford Literary Festival. We caught the last four days of the festival this time, and I had booked two talks to attend (with authors about their books), which were so enjoyable, and we stopped in to listen to a few more talks in the festival marquee. I browsed books by the 350+ authors in attendance for the festival. I grabbed inspiration from tables filled with classics, or modern books that I should read. I overheard other folks talking about a book or an author's talk they just attended. I know I am surrounded by bookworms and authors when I am there and it's inspiring. 

17 April 2018

Oxford Smiling

The city never ceases to make me smile and breathe deeply the presence of literary history, a place where words and faith have important developments. It is in every building and cobbled street. Every sky-reaching spire is filled with it. And I try to soak it in as much as I can while I am there.

Oxford is an academic city, of course, so ancient walled colleges fill every block. Therein lays part of the charm - especially when I get to step inside said colleges to explore and feel as if I am part of the place.

Every time I go back to Oxford, I feel the city smiling upon me, as if to say, welcome back. You've been missed. I am not sure if a city can miss a person, but a person can certainly miss a city. Those streets might not miss my footsteps, but I'd like to think that Oxford holds some charm to release for me when I am there.

Every nook of Oxford, from the narrow lanes, golden stone buildings, bookshops, numerous coffee shops, cafes, to the atmosphere that oozes study and learning is waiting for me.

Oxford is where I slow down a bit and let myself linger in a coffee shop and bookshop. I am not trying to rush around to see all the sights. My pace slows down even as I do walk to different places to enjoy - such as the northern neighbourhood of Jericho, the pub down on the river for lunch, the natural history museum, or the art museum. The only time I think I was walking a wee bit fast was to church at St. Ebbe's because we were running a few minutes late. 

I know Oxford isn't actually a slow place, especially for people who live there and have to go to work and study. The hustle and bustle of High Street is real. The stress of the students is abundant, I am sure. I can see them in the coffee shops perched at tables with their laptops and earbuds, and they don't move their eyes from the screen the whole time I am there. I know it's a holiday for me, and that I get to slow down in that time while others do not.

And I feel thankful for that. Every time I think about it I feel utterly thankful. That I can be in such a place, and know it like a good friend, is truly astonishing.

13 April 2018

Dean Village

I stumbled into the dwam,
following the river's ramble,
past old millstones, remnants
of lives before mine ever began,
greener than I could have known.

-Jane Yolen

Tucked away, just outside the Edinburgh city centre, down into the valley along the waters of Leith, is Dean Village. While it is about one and a half miles outside the centre, you feel like you are out in the country. It was one of the most charming little villages I've seen. You walk down cobbled lanes, and it makes you feel like you've gone back in time to a simpler place. But one that is oozing with loveliness.

The waters of Leith stream through the village, creating a sound of soothing ripples as the waters flow over rocks and down a small fall. A path follows the waters for miles to the village of Leith. We took to the path and followed it to St.Bernard's Well. What a lovely walk that was! It was like we were in the middle of a forest, mystical and shaded. In the valley, it was quiet, and you felt so far from a large city. The sounds of birds and the water made up the atmosphere.

The textures ,shapes, and the colours were inspiring. Mossy stone-lined walls and greenery greeted every step. The sights, sounds, and visual delights made me wish I could spend a whole afternoon there, writing all the feelings, atmosphere, and thoughts in my journal. The book I had in my bag was my newly purchased The Observer's Book of Architecture, which seemed appropriate with the well in front of me (what type of columns does it have? Doric), as well as the city just beyond with a plethora of architecture spanning centuries. 

What a serene place Dean Village is. It is a perfect example of why I love to get off the beaten path.

11 April 2018

Bookish Edinburgh


Here the small press, the untold story
The hesitant pen- can all jostle in and find
A space to breathe

And bask beneath the delighted gaze
Of avid browsers gleaning the shelves
To claim the power of words.

- Bashabi Fraser

You probably know that when I travel, the first thing I look for is used bookstores to browse. There is something different about every place, every city, every selection of books. Every store displays and focuses on different books and has a different feel. I love that. It's like discovery, wherein you never know what you will find on those shelves. It's a treasure hunt.

When I find used bookstores, usually coffee shops and charming neighborhoods easily follow. In Edinburgh, a walk down the famous and beautifully curved Victoria Street lined with colourful shops on the lower level, and tall historic stone on the upper levels, leads to the Grassmarket, which in Medieval days was a grassy, open space where the farmers would bring their livestock to sell. This area is lower in elevation than all the neighbourhoods around, so you feel surrounded by views. This is where my favourite view of the castle can be seen (details forthcoming in next section). The dominating stone castle perched on top of the ancient rock.

Along the way to the bookshops, walking through Grassmarket, you come to a set of stairs. It's not unusual to see stairs leading up somewhere mysterious in Edinburgh, but if you take these stairs (called the Vennel), you will get to the best views of the castle, in my opinion. And best of all, it is not touristy. There were a couple of young girls up there taking photos, but that was it. All the views, and no crowds. 

Back down the stairs, and onto the bookshops, a few blocks away. A perfect accompaniment to book browsing is of course some cake and tea. The perfect spot for that was Lovecrumbs, a coffee/tea shop that had delightful Victoria sponge cake with rose, and violet petal tea. This was a local spot, filled with students and friends meeting up with each other to catch up.

After tea and cake, you see, you have the energy to browse two lovely bookshops, and come away with a tote bag heavy with old books. Actually, I had purchased so many books from Edinburgh Books that the owner saw how many I had, and brought the tote bag over for free. I am one grateful booklover.