16 January 2018

Winter Reads

When the weather gets cold, there's no better time to curl up with a book (or two) and some tea. Actually, I would say the same thing for every season, but winter seems to have a need for staying warm and cosy inside more often than other seasons.
Here are a few books I have been thoroughly enjoying lately. 

The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is an incomplete alliterative poem. Just as the suspense is building up and the story gets into a full swing, the story breaks off, and Tolkien never finished it. Tolkien's son Christopher does a wonderful job working with the various drafts and manuscripts written by his father, and writes several essays included in his book about the continued story. Where would Tolkien have taken the story if he worked on it more? What would happen with Lancelot and Gawain? It is interesting to ponder about what could have been. 

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Have you read this book? If not, then why aren't you reading it now? I just re-read it this weekend, and each time I read it, it is more wonderful, in the same way the Narnia books get better with each reading. It is a book for young people, and the theme of love is the undertone of everything. Meg is one we can relate to, as she feels inadequate and lacking the smarts (that her parents, both scientists, have), and yet she is the only one who can save her little brother. Her faults actually help her accomplish a triumph over darkness. L'Engle always wrote about family dynamics, struggles, and the love that families can demonstrate in her books. Mix all these deeper themes with space and time, traveling to other galaxies, and experiencing other planets and the strange inhabitants and you have a story you won't forget. Oh, yeah, and there is a movie coming out, but the book is always better. Be sure to read the book.

The Beautifull Cassandra by Jane Austen
'She has many rare and charming qualities, but sobriety is not one of them.' This tiny Penguin classic book holds a collection of Austen's early writings, that include her usual wit and sarcastic humour about those in society. She wrote about what she knew best, and she can certainly capture some silliness and some very accurate portrayals of situations at that time. Austen is always so fun to read. I found myself chuckling several times while reading this little book.

Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne
I have been slowly reading this book for a while, and finished it at the end of the year. It is a collection of his reflections and responses to life's questions. It is like a book of wisdom, written in the mid 1600's. Traherne went to Oxford, and C.S Lewis mentions reading this book in his letters, and enjoying it very much, so of course these things motivated me to read it. I have grown to like Traherne. Some of the passages are above my head, in the realms of metaphysical that I reach for. My imagination needs to work more to get to that point. I can see the influences he had on George MacDonald, and C.S. Lewis. I really did enjoy these writings, even if I didn't fully understand them all. These are the kinds of writings that the more I read them, the more they will unravel and reveal truths.

11 January 2018

Winter Weather

Behold, this winter weather withers
Branches barely clinging beneath
Icy facades, cascading temperatures
Sweep through, settling into nooks.
Even our tropical-infused landscape
Makes no escape from frosty, freezing air.
Moonlit, star-scattered velvet sky of night,
Assures an icy cold resting on land.
The calm comes, bringing the freeze.
No winds now to scatter the dancing leaves.
They did dance to keep warm, under a clear, frigid dome.
Embrace warmth inside your heart and home.

I wrote this poem in the midst of several days last week of below freezing temperatures overnight, while in my home with only two portable heaters to warm me. Layers is how I kept the cold from sinking in. Living in an old place is a delight for its charm, but not very efficient when it comes to windows that keep the temperature outside from entering in. Even though I froze, I felt thankful that a real touch of winter had come this far south, and I tried to focus (when my brain thawed) and reflect on the beauty of winter, because I cannot deny the draw it has on me. 

As I wrote the words, I was reminded of a particular walk I took a few years ago, around Christ Church Meadow in Oxford. It was early Spring, but it was so cold, the trees seemed to be shivering. The breeze was icy, the ground seemed frosty, and the trees needed blankets.

09 January 2018

Is God a Minimalist?

Jesus thus reveals a God who is no discrete minimalist. Abundance is the nature of God.
- William Willimon

We live in a world that (in its modern views thanks to Freud) assumes scarcity. It holds that there isn't enough love, grace, space, time, money, or things. We make our way trying to do it (whatever "it" may be) our way, with this assumption. While the modern view is to look at the world and see no direction or pattern infused, as Christians we should see the pattern of God intertwined in everything. That is what helps us see that we are each a part of the story, which is ongoing.  There is no end to this story.

God started this story of abundance. That we may choose to receive a gift we never would or could imagine. That we may be filled with His love to the point of overflowing. We each play our role as a character in that story (I like to think of it as one chunky, wonderful old leather bound book). We provide our own twists and turns by way of our choices and actions. Some leaves of the book may become scattered by actions as a result, but God will retrieve all the scattered leaves and bind them into the book because we are all part of the story. 

We may draw lines in our world, with exclusion and scarcity., but Jesus wipes all that away in the rain that covers all of us. A rain of grace, a salvation story we are to be included in, each person, no matter who they are. The same gift is given. The purpose of such actions is to draw all things unto God. He wants us to be close to Him.

God's actions and inclusivity is not a minimalist mentality, but one of love in abundance.

...for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 
- Colossians 1. 16-17

04 January 2018


And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Welcome to 2018 - and now you will all freeze with a winter chill!

This is what the world is telling us right now. I woke up to 31 degrees this morning, and will do the same for the next few mornings. This is Florida! This kind of cold usually doesn't make it all the way down to Florida, and if it does, it is usually here for a very short drive-thru visit. This time around, it's staying for a meal, and also for tea, and making itself comfortable for some story time.

These days I have a new appreciation for warmth and comfort.

I don't think one realizes how much comfort we need in extreme weather - hot or cold. When the hurricane came through this city this summer, I experienced the heat issue, when I was without power for almost a week. I couldn't stay in my home. I could not handle that kind of heat.

Now, in the winter, this blast of icy air has come down, which thrills me! If you know me, you know I love cold weather. However, I am without heat in my home (it needs to be repaired), and that changes things a bit. I live in an old place (built in 1950), so I know it comes with quirks. I have a few heaters going and I am doing well with wearing 5 layers and using 3 blankets. 

But it really does give me a true appreciation for how much we take for granted our comforts at home. And I continue to look upon this weather with excitement. I love having a cosy home, warm and comforting, and when the weather outside is frightful, come inside where it is delightful.

During these last several days of cold, I have been particularly reflective on the nature of nature. The power and majesty of God's creation. I look upon it in wonder. The words that best summarize this feeling is Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "God's Grandeur". The last stanza is above.

Hopkins was masterful at word play and alliteration, and also paid a great deal of attention to nature. I love how there is a sense of wonder as he looks toward nature, and even amidst turmoil and strife, or extreme weather in our case, "nature is never spent" and somehow our bent world is looked after by the Holy Spirit, bringing us comfort. Within the warm breast, we can rest in Jesus. Within the bright wings, we marvel at His creation. To borrow from Hopkins, 'the world is charged with the grandeur of God'.

29 December 2017

Greeting Hidden Realms

I greet the evening like I greet the dawn -
Sleepy eyes awakening to hidden realms.
Creativity brewing in a mug, too steamy
To take a sip, until thoughts rise and come.

Welcoming the quiet like stacks of books - 
The more the merrier, in moments or pages.
Getting lost in the lines, moments lose time,
Into a perilous realm, where it isn't as it looks.

The imaginings unfold, cracking open a door - 
Leaks of light delight, and take us places.
To bring us out of ourselves, words are power.
They sink deep into our souls, to show us more.

27 December 2017

Meeting In A Tea Cup

Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup.
- Kakuzō Okakura

I finished reading The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura, written in 1906. He comes to the pages with views of his own Japanese culture and has many comparisons of our western world. To me, this was fascinating. Reading it excites me to learn more about tea and the Japanese lifestyle, as he details the way they decorate, how they focus on simplicity, and how they are very intentional about not being symmetrical in decor. The tea room, specifically, has meanings behind every aspect. Each detail is well thought out, and nothing is overlooked, from the shape of the vase placed on a table, the short doorway of the traditional tea room (which causes every person to duck low, a sign of humility), the dress of the patrons, the dishes, the cleanliness, etc.

Thus prepared the guest will silently approach the sanctuary, and, if a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath the eaves, the tea-room being pre-eminently the house of peace.

The book is a compilation of topics -  tea, tea-houses, religion, art, culture, decor, and the western world. His words written more than a hundred years ago still speak truths to the differences in our cultures. He points out the propensity of the western world to collect more and more, and to display their wealth with grand houses and displays like a museum inside them. While, the Japanese aim to display simplicity and neutral tones. Clutter in a house clutters the mind, but the westerners always seek more. It was interesting to read from this perspective (myself being a westerner), and finding many pieces of truth all the same.

I like the focus on thoughtfulness, mindfulness, and simplicity. The desire to remove distractions appeals to me as I seek to be intentional in my life in all aspects. We have much to learn from one another, in our different cultures. There are pieces of truth in all of them.

In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself.

25 December 2017

Ancient Inn

Merry Christmas!

May the joy and light of Christmas fill your heart, wherever you are. 

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
- Luke 2.14-16

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
The place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth,
And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

"A Child of the Snows" by G.K. Chesterton

20 December 2017

Myth of Tolkien

In Britain ways are wild and long,

and woods are dark with danger strong;
and sound of seas is in the leaves,
and wonder walks the forest-eaves.

- J.R.R. Tolkien

Something as of late has captured my imagination in the form of myths and legends. There is the mystery in the stories passed down, the characters, the decisions they make and how that shapes their future. Tales that teach and inspire more stories.

Tolkien gathers most of the attention for the well-known tales of Middle-earth, but this poem rests in the tradition of old Celtic myths, written during a short time period in his life where he was focused on studying the Celtic traditions. This is well before he wrote any lines of Middle-earth's stories.

It reads almost like a fairy tale of a decision made and the consequences of that one decision. Lord Aotrou and Lady Itroun desire to have children, but are unable to. Aotrou makes the choice to go on a journey to see the Corrigan, a 'Celtic fairy', living in a cave. The Cotrrigan tradition is that they are known to be crafty. She gives him a vile of liquid that will help, and won't receive any payment. She taunts him that she will collect payment if he sees results, and she won't say what she will require. 

Aotrou goes back home, and mixes the elixir into his wife's drink. With a glad heart, he seems to feel that good is on the horizon. Itroun ends up having twins, and they appear to be doubly blessed. They wish to celebrate such a good tiding. Aotrou goes out to hunt to bring back a prize to help celebrate, and is drawn to a white doe that lures him. It turns out to be the Corrigan, who then says her payment is due. Aotrou is to leave his wife, and be with her. Aotrou refuses immediately and tells her he'll be going home. The Corrigan says he will die in three days...a kind of spell is on him that he cannot escape...

It is a complex mix of choice and consequence. The poem is quite short, and there are a few different drafts included in the book, which is not at all surprising, knowing how many times Tolkien would write and re-write his stories. He was a perfectionist, and a story never seemed to be finished. There were always some details to clarify.

As I read this, I could see hints of tales of Middle-earth that haven't yet fully brewed in Tolkien's mind (elves like Galadriel, and their mysterious abilities). He liked to write tales that told of some tragedy but that have a deep sense of moral at the core (especially with marriage, such as this story), and it causes us to think about lessons to be learned in the choices we make. 

15 December 2017

Winter To Do's

When the season comes around (at last!) that we call Winter, I rejoice and jump into action. I know it is a short-lived, sporadic season, and therefore, one must take it all in. Soak it up. Bottled it in one's heart.

One thing that is always more enjoyable is walking around downtown. The city puts up all these lights and Christmas figure lights in Munn Park. A lot of people take photos as they walk through the small square. Downtown has many charms, and when the weather is chilly, it tempts me more to explore or appreciate some local architecture, and perhaps grab some lunch at a favourite downtown spot.

When the cold comes, one must wear all the sweaters, jackets, scarves, and boots one can. Finally, those lovely sweaters can be worn. Many people who live up north chuckle that we might pull out our jackets when it's not that cold, but until you have lived here in the deep, tropical south, you may not understand that we long for the day when we can wear that jacket, so if we are blessed with a cool day (even coolish), we jump on it. That chance may not coming around again for a long while!

Orchestra concerts are abundant in the Winter, I have learned. Many are free, and almost all are in my neighborhood or just beyond (at churches, or my old college, for example). I love orchestra concerts, and I almost always choose a balcony seat if possible. The sound is better, and I can actually see. I tend to sit behind someone tall every time.  I enjoy watching talented musicians play their instruments and letting the music fill me as it dances about the room. 

What are some of your favourite Winter To Do's?

13 December 2017

We Need the Cold

The soul should stand in awe - 

- Emily Dickinson

The coldest day since last winter passed through our land. I rejoiced and froze a bit. I have been without heat, and my home is an icebox. I made cups of tea and snuggled under my soft blanket. I reflected on light and darkness. Cold and warmth.

We need the cold season. We need to experience the darker days. If we do not experience the cold and dark, how will we appreciate the light and warmth when it comes?

In a conversion with my closest friend recently, we were talking about how so much of our culture does jump into all the carols, songs, shopping, and decor of Christmas at the beginning of November, which results in a lack of any experience of the Advent season. There is never a journey of waiting.

She mentioned that it is ironic (but actually very intentional of Satan) that during this season of Advent, in which we are supposed to be focused and quiet, patient and waiting, December is actually our busiest month of the year. It becomes jammed packed, exactly as Satan would hope (isn't his hope our demise?). Anything to distract us from being centered in the true meaning of these days before Christmas is a success to him. As long as we are distracted with shopping, events, gathering, wrapping, and driving all over the place, we are potentially keeping ourselves at a safe distance from God. These events of the season are not bad in themselves, of course, but when they fill all our days, and continue to distract us again and again, we lose our centre, and therein lies the danger.

I really respect those people who hold onto the tradition of waiting to sing carols about Jesus and decorate for Christmas until Christmas actually happens, as if it were the first Christmas. They celebrate and sing Jesus's name only when He is born. Then the celebration happens. Isn't it strange that so much of our culture is worn out with Christmas before it arrives? And many times, people are keen to take it all down quickly because it has been up since early November?

There is a meaning in these beautiful reminders at Christmas. Satan will try to distract us from them, and he is even distracting us with good things. It is so easy to do this time of year when goodness is more abundant. In these few weeks before Christmas, as the calendar looks even more full (with good things), I pray that we can be more intentional about staying focused on what matters, and letting distractions glide by when they should.