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.

07 December 2017

Wintry Pages

I wake up to the comfortable chill of the dew's morning air. I dream about a chill much deeper; mornings when I tuck my blankets up closer to my chin before emerging from the warm cocoon. To be patient in the unknown is the theme of this whole month of Advent. With a resolute air, I am quietly determined to soak in every short-lived wintry day that graces our land, when it does indeed come. To me, the brush of the cold is a gift I can barely behold. I hang onto it tightly, and let the words linger from my pen to page, growing dim as the warmth returns. 

Eager to capture it all, I know I cannot, so sometimes I simply sit back and let my senses take it in without the urge to write it all down. Sometimes I don't feel that I can capture it well enough, for how do you write about a joy except to do as I am doing now, letting the words escape as they come to heart. Over the threshold they spill, unaltered in thankfulness.

Can it be subdued? Hopefully not, as these wintry pages are glimpses into my favourite days of weather. As one who is steady and constant, I find myself opposing that inclination by preferring a variety in weather. Perpetual summer and sun does not quench my need for interesting weather. Nothing seems to spark when the sun is always shining. Wintry weather brings interest in the form of soulful meaning tucked in each glittering moment different from the one preceding it.

May these pages continue on; filling up with all the textures and tones of these days teeming on the cusp of a wintry season.

05 December 2017

When All the Lights are Out

Notes from the first Sunday of Advent.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,"I am the light of the world. 
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 
- John 8:12

I entered church, and I immediately saw that all the lights were out. The usher who greeted me said there was a power issue. What a strange, and I thought enlightening, way to begin the first Sunday of Advent in a quiet, dark sanctuary. Like an Advent tiding to pay attention to, and dwell in. Light came into the space by way of the stained glass windows, and it was hauntingly beautiful. Other than having some trouble hearing the speaker at some moments in that large space, I didn't mind the darkness. It encouraged a universal quiet that everyone took part in, and a stillness settled in over the pews. We all had to pay closer attention and listen attentively to let the sounds travel into our hearts. Nobody left the service or shifted in frustration. We were there to meditate and focus on God's word, with or without the modern convenience of electricity.

Sitting there in the grand space, it all looked a bit different. Shadows lingered in recesses and the front alter was darker than the congregation pews. I imagined what it must have been like in the enormous cathedrals before electricity; before microphones were amplifying the sound. They must have been so hushed in order to hear all the nuances of the music and the words reverberating through the open space. It must have felt like today, with light only present through candles lit, and stained glass windows filtering it. Soft lighting, in my mind, causes us to become more introspective and reflective.

In the modern age of today, we fully take for granted the fact that our lights and power always work (or should, 99.9% of the time). It is expected that we have all the light we need, but in church on Sunday, we were transported back a hundred years. And in fact, even that morning we had all the light we needed, in Jesus. May we not miss such moments of grace and His ever present light, so that in the darkest times, we can know that we are taken care of, we are loved, and God is with us.

It is more difficult to see the light when we are always present in bright light. Sometimes we need to sit in some darkness, as in the very timely dark service of the morning this Sunday, and imagine ourselves in the time just before the Incarnation and ponder it in our hearts as Mary and Joseph would have pondered. Did they feel like they were in darkness for while? Did they have any idea what their legacy would be? Could they even imagine what God's plans would include for Jesus? A myth becoming fact before their eyes, entering history, and restoring to us the greatest of all, hope.

01 December 2017

Advent Tidings

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
(O Antiphon from 8th century)

As we are now upon the beginning of Advent, we deck our halls with beautiful greenery and lights. The scent of evergreen trees rises in our homes. We dream about it all being calm and bright, but it usually is more hectic than calm. Most of the time it is too bright all the time, meaning we don't take the time to ponder the darkness of the season and the coming of the Light.

If this season becomes overwhelming and busy, then we would do well to pay attention that we are not slowing down to experience the darkness and thoughtfulness of Advent. If we place ourselves in history, we would find ourselves in a patient state, in hopeful expectation of what is possible to come.

There is this overarching problem we all face this month. Here is what it looks like. Our days quickly become a constant barrage of hectic scheduling (work, parties, gatherings, travel) mixed with the commercial materialistic factor that began two months ago (do you notice how it starts earlier each year?), but on the flip side it also likely contains some quality time with family and friends, and thoughtful gift giving with those we care about. Those things hold a special place in my heart (and probably yours, too).

The nature of being busy leaves us lacking actual substance on which to nourish our souls. We know deep inside that this season is supposed to reach us in soulful ways. We should be learning something everyday about what it was like in the days and weeks before the incarnation. It was a dark time, indeed, riddled with uncertainty, and yet unbeknownst to them, they inched closer to the glory of God in the incarnation.

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, 
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death 
light has dawned. (Matthew 4.16)

If you are looking for some thought-provoking words to nourish your soul this Advent season, here are a few suggestions that I will be picking up again starting today.

Each of these books is structured with a poem (ranging from ancient to modern) and then the author details the core of the poem, what it means, and extracts deeper thoughts we can take from the poem. Each poem and the subsequent summary takes up a few pages, so it is easy to read one each day, if you set aside ten minutes. These are wonderful books, with deeply nourishing words to help us focus on the true meanings of this season.

Waiting on the Word, by Malcolm Guite
Waiting on the Word

Haphazard by Starlight, by Janet Morely
Haphazard by Starlight: A Poem a Day from Advent to Epiphany

30 November 2017

A Little Tweet

Sending a little tweet your way, just in case you needed a charming chirp of a moment. 

If you are looking for some ideas on how to bundle up best for the winter, take direction from these smart birdies. These little birdies so graciously agreed to model the latest trends for keeping warm this season. 

For those long walks in the park, a checkered cap is perfectly paired with a wool scarf and suede jacket. You will enjoy every minute amongst the fallen leaves.

Surely, you'll need to head to the library frequently, and the perfect attire is a tweed jacket, bow-tie, and corduroy deerstalker cap. Don't forget your glasses, so you can read all those stacks of books that are on your list.

When you are lounging, choose the onesie (and cap!) that makes you look like a candy cane (or Where's Waldo?). You will surely be the most cosy for sitting by the fire with a good book.

If you must head outside to the frozen tundra, grab your puffer coat, resplendent with wooden toggle buttons, and complete with fur lining to keep your face feathers warm.

It's only getting colder out there, so, grab your scarf, tweed jacket, striped pajamas, and fur lined coat.

28 November 2017

Locked Doors and Imagination

They open a door on Other Time, and if we pass through, though only for a moment, we stand outside our own time, outside Time itself, maybe.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories"

I've been reading Tolkien's excellent essay "On Fairy-Stories", which covers the depth of story, meaning, purpose, and hope. I have read this essay a few times before, but this time, my eye was keener and my heart took time to dwell in these ponderable ideas that provoke me to celebrate and embrace the written words of imagination and good story-telling.

Fairy stories take us into a new realm, a secondary world created by a thoughtful sub-creator with an imaginative mind. When we open a book into a good story, we exit the primary world and enter one where we are open to strange and different things. Here, elves are living in the woods. The woods may feel familiar, but there is magic amongst the trees. Elements of nature become more real to us as if seeing for the first time, and there is a hidden mystery that we explore along the laws and rules of the realm.

The Locked Door stand as an eternal Temptation.

We come to a place that blocks us, and we can go no further. How much do we desire, then, to get through? Our curiosity should imagine what is on the other side. Why would we not imagine that? I wonder about those who would have no curiosity. How dull it must be to them all the time to come across something imaginative.

Tolkien believed to be a true fairy-story, there should be a happy ending, which likely takes place after the sudden good catastrophe (he coins a new word here, eucatastrophe) when everything seems most dark. It comes out of nowhere, with no sense that it could ever happen again. This is where the hope in the story shapes our own imaginations to look for that hope in other stories, including our own. 

Bringing it all the way home, Tolkien explains that the story has entered History. The eucatastrophe of man's history is the birth of Christ, he writes. Then, the eucatastophe of the incarnation is the resurrection. Fairy-stories are not just those little tales you learned as a child. The Gospel is a telling and entering into history of the true fairy-story. 

20 November 2017

Week of Thankfulness

Every week is a week of thankfulness. I fill many pages of my journal with stories and things I am thankful for, including prayers that keep me centered in the thankfulness. But this week in particular should be more keenly focused. The week of Thanksgiving can be hectic and rushed, with travel and frustrations along the way. May we be more mindful of all our reactions to any snags we hit. If there is traffic delaying us, listen to some favourite music. If you cannot seem to get everything done, acknowledge that everything will still be grand if you don't finish it all. If things feel too hectic, take fifteen minutes, step away, sit in quiet solitude to re-center and pray for refreshment.

Let us be thankful for the depth of all we have, and the freshness of each new day.

Like the glory of mornings
and the cheerful birdsong outside.
The wonder and beauty of the everyday.
Nature is never spent.

Soft lighting with candles.
Long conversations with friends and family.
Safety and comfort from another
like warmth gathered with a blanket.
Closeness and familiarity.

A mug of hot coffee or tea.
Thoughts swirling in gratitude
and words spilling out on paper.
Bound in pages and cover.
Words of truth and beauty.

What fills your heart with thankfulness?

16 November 2017

A FLW Tour at FSC

Space is the breath of art.
- Frank Lloyd Wright

A Frank Lloyd Wright tour at Florida Southern College.
I love to be a tour guide of my old college, Florida Southern, to anyone who is interested. This weekend, my aunt and uncle came to visit (from Tennessee) and I jumped at the opportunity to show them the largest site of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and my old Alma Mater. My brother and sister-in-law also share in the enjoyment of this campus, as they graduated a few years before me. Many thanks to my aunt for taking several of these photos, and sharing them!

Every time I step back on campus, it feels the same, in all the essentials. Sure, some flowers are planted by the chapel now, there are new buildings on the outskirts, and the rose garden did not exist when I was a student, but the main buildings, the landscape, and the feelings of the college are ever present in the same way. The students look super young, but somehow I feel like it was just a few years ago that I graduated.

Included in the delights I love to show on campus - Danforth Chapel, a tiny chapel that many probably don't notice. It has the original pews, vibrant stained glass, concrete details, and geometric elements scattered everywhere.

Always on my list of favourite spots is the Hollis Room, which was the original library. This room is not usually open, but we had providence on our side that day. Uniquely, it is a round room (so as to let sunlight into the library at any time of day) now used for seminars, speakers, and meetings. It is the perfect setting for that. They also had some original Frank Lloyd Wright designed furniture on display. I always thought those little geometric chairs looked fun, but probably not comfortable for long. FLW was an original designer of the mid-century modern. I wonder where those chairs were used, and if people thought they were comfortable.

I always hope that when I give tours people find it all as interesting as I do. I think the buildings and the campus is filled with interesting viewpoints, angles, and structures. There is no other campus like it!

14 November 2017

On the Heart Again

This forming of heart-stuff in moulds of brain
Is helpful to the soul by which 'tis wrought,
The shape reacting on the heart again.

- George MacDonald

I emerge at last, to dive in deeply. The sun's rays hide behind dark grey clouds all day, and misty rain falls almost continuously. My kind of day. I smile, as the temperature stays down because of the welcomed clouds. It's a southern Autumn day. The scent of cinnamon and nutmeg permeates my home as coconut granola bakes in the oven.

I yield to the feeling of Sunday. The slowing down and being more intentional. But it is hard to slow down, to think, to be explorers of the heart. I recognize it is not a lane we all like to travel. But here is where I feel the pause pulling me to its gravitational field. I resist many times with lists of things to do, and all the chores staring me down when I am at home. So many times we know of the goodness that awaits us, but we hesitate to enter the realm:

I always had a feeling it led somewhere wonderful, but I was afraid to go and see, in case it didn't.
(Elizabeth Goudge)

I am one who likes a lot of time to reflect. I know this about me, and most people who know me well also know this. If there is a busy day, filled with good things, or travel, or talks, or events, I prefer to take the next few days to ponder and reflect by way of writing in my journal to record all the thoughts and stories that were and that could be. I suppose that I need to let my thoughts take a walk for a bit. As my thoughts stretch their legs, my musings become more meaningful. Immediately rising in me is thankfulness and praise to the Lord for all the good. Then, I anticipate when I can be introspective.

It doesn't always come so easily. This is a busy, fast-paced, distracting world. I believe we all need time to be reflective, so that we can be intentional in our actions and thoughtful in our intents. Fruitfulness expands as we dwell in the quiet presence of our place, wherever that may be. 

This lovely month, November, should be a month of thankfulness. Too often it becomes a rush of events and calendars that are crammed full. This heart-stuff is helpful to the soul, but it requires some work on our part - to let it sink into the heart and dwell in the shape that it is.

Lord, whether we gather papers or gather friends, let us dwell deeply in thankfulness.