26 February 2015
It is difficult to portray temperature in a photograph, unless you are taking a photo of snow or frost. But in the home? You cannot hear or see my heat running. You cannot feel how cold the floor is. But you can see me, bundled up in grandpa sweaters, layers, and always in my crochet slipper boots. As quickly as this cold (30-40 degrees cold) appears, a few days later it is warm again (70 degree warm, and soon to be warmer). This fluctuation in temperature is kind of silly, I think, but it is the Florida Winter way.
So, I run my heat, warm my hands by the stove whilst cooking, make countless large mugs of tea, and cover myself with my blanket when sitting. It's the no-central-heat-in-my-home way. I will take this over the heat of our Summers any day, even if my hands are frigid right now. There are always ways to warm up. I think this is all to say: I am just not ready for our version of Winter to be over. Summer don't come too soon! Once you come, you never seem to go away!
25 February 2015
But the religion of Jesus, forgiveness of sin, can never be the cause of a war, nor of a single martyrdom.
- "Jerusalem", William Blake
"Jerusalem" is a long prophetic poem by William Blake, which is sort of like reading Jeremiah or Ezekiel in the Bible. All of these are warnings to those who will listen, of all the things of this world that lead us astray, and how it all has consequences. At the beginning of the poem, Blake addresses the Jews, the Deists, and then the Christians. Blake writes of how we stray and in self-centered pride we set ourselves up for a future where we use our power to oppress others. Isn't that what we see so much of around the world? Oppression?
Awake! Awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake!
I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine.
There are some deeply beautiful poetic passages throughout, but also some dead-on truth that speaks to us today, even as Blake wrote it between 1804-1820.
Blake states quite bluntly, it's either follow Jesus, or follow the world (Satan), because we all will and must follow something. However, there are those who say there is a God out there who is all powerful and yet doesn't take part in our lives (the Deists). They think of God as a clock maker, who created the world and then stepped back to let it run on its own. In this, then, they have made their own God of this world, which Blake refers to as the natural philosophy and morality.
When Satan first the black bow bent
And the moral law from the Gospel rent,
He forg'd the law into a sword
And spill'd the blood of mercy's Lord.
It is the make-your-own and whatever-makes-you-happy view (whether or not that follows Jesus) that is the enemy. Following Jesus is not a pick-your-own religion whereby you can choose what to listen to and what to ignore, or what to be virtuous in while accusing others of their faults, while being a hypocrite yourself. Blake compares those people to the Pharisees, and I think even our modern day has far too many Pharisees, for it is such an easy trap to fall into. It is the way of the world, and Blake reminds us that any religion that preaches vengeance for sin is a religion of the enemy. Do we forget that God says "vengeance is mine"?
Our job is to forgive. To follow Jesus.
Blake writes that the glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness. How different would our world be if more of us lived like this, wholeheartedly?
For a tear is an intellectual thing,
And a sigh is the sword of an angel king,
And the bitter groan of a martyr's woe
Is an arrow from the Almightie's bow.
24 February 2015
Tulips come but once a year, and whilst here, they should be in every room. Since they are my favourite flower, on my recent grocery visit I bought ten stems of pink tulips. Now each room does have tulips and I can gaze at them wherever I may be.
I admire how tulips are clean and graceful, and are not cluttered with lots of distracting leaves stems. With single stems, always are they tall and lovely. A simple beauty reaching toward the light, bending gracefully. A tulip reminds me of a ballerina, strong and balanced, always looking classy and on tiptoe.
I only get to enjoy tulips in real life these few months (January- March) because they like the cold weather. One cannot grow tulips in our tropical climate, which means I rarely get to see these blooms in nature. Though they are not the cheapest indulgence, there is something so charming and lovely about having fresh flowers on the table, no matter the flower, really. But, tulips are my favourite to have in my home.
23 February 2015
I am a friend of the library. The bookstore there is a realm made for me. It is a treasure trove of all topics of books. No matter which town I am in, the library is sometimes the best source for me to find an illustrious bundle of books.
Do you think I found enough books?
This was my most recent visit, at the Selby Library in Sarasota. Ten books. Yes, that is four more than six. It was a good day for me and my library at home (actually, a few of those books are gifts). And I must point out that my mum was the successful finder of at least four of these books.
You see, when I am in a bookstore, I approach the classic section (of old editions) and move slowly across the shelves. I look and observe; my eyes perusing each title along each shelf, from top to bottom, so it sometimes takes me awhile to finish that section and move to poetry, fiction, travel, and children's. I pull a book out, flip through it, put it back.
Mum on the other hand is more like a bee, buzzing from one section to the next, darting to and fro. She will suddenly show up with a book in her hand for me and be off again. A fabulous find. An old A.A. Milne book that I have never found before, from 1925. And then another. Oh a delightful book on the Brontë sisters. Perfect.
It will usually come out to mum finding a book or two, and me with an armful of books. Did I mention that it supports the library? And that on this day, every book was half off? I told you, it was a good book day.
20 February 2015
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Why do I love Psalm 19 so much? It is the most beautiful poem in the Bible, I think. I was not shocked to learn that this was a favourite of C.S. Lewis as well. I love it because it is about the Word of God and the beauty of creation. We are invited into God's creation that we can see and be a part of. Nature and wonder is all guiding us toward the love of God. All the goodness, all the awe inspired moments, and all the subtleties. And the power behind words is made evident through some poetical lines.
God's word spoken, creates. It has always astonished me that such power can come through something so small. It expresses the power we also have in our words. The language of this Psalm is so beautifully poetic, and floats through the mind with knowledge that the whole world was made for us to see God. All the good things of the world point to the Creator.
We are to touch and taste and see all of God's goodness in the world. Nature was made to communicate God's love to us. The world of creation is meant for us to see the love that is deeper than words sometimes, and beyond what we might be able to describe.
18 February 2015
With the swift evening drawing to a close, the morning will start a renewed time of reflection. As the morning begins its rising, wiped fresh from the overnight rain, a tone of newness is present. The bitter chill stays the air and I breathe deeply the cleansing scent of a new day. Waking now, it is the start of Lent, which is a time to remove distractions that take us away from focusing on God.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. To turn away from sin and be continually faithful to Christ. The service at church is solemn and quiet. Deep and thought provoking. I have felt most moved by God's Spirit in these services over the years, so much more than in any loud and vibrant service.
There is something about reaching down into oneself, as God sees us, to recognize our place in God's eyes. We come forward and receive the cross of ash on our foreheads, as a reminder. Each time I have gone forward, I sat back down in the pew with a full rejuvenated hope. A joy expectant. The presence of God felt among a congregation. After a long day, the evening service forces me to quiet my soul and listen. To let everything else go, and just be in the presence of God. To know that I am loved, and forgiven.
Lent is a time to reshuffle our efforts to give God time, by casting aside some things that take away time with Him. That is why many people select certain foods or drinks to abstain from during Lent, to help refocus themselves from those distractions. I seek to find more time to quiet my soul to be in God's presence, and to reflect on His words in thought and prayer.
17 February 2015
I had some great coffee with my mum this weekend. At a favourite spot in Sarasota called Perq Coffee Bar. As I sipped on my flat white, I said something out of the depths of my heart that kind of came out without me even thinking about it.
"Write that down", my mum said. Mum knows best.
So, I wrote it down in my journal:
Writing takes effort, but it is time spent that I never regret. I have never heard anyone regret taking time to write out their thoughts.
We talked about writing in journals, and I mused on the fact that even people who don't like to write regularly are always thankful when they take some time to write out their prayers, their lists, their thoughts, their memories. I am one who always encourages others to write in journals. I buy them journals and give them ideas (I will even say that if typing their thoughts on the computer works better, then that's okay too!). Never do they say to me, "That was a waste of time and I wish I hadn't written that."
No, it's more of the opposite- "I am so glad I wrote it all down. It felt good to get it out. Then later, I read some writing I had done a few weeks ago and saw how a prayer was answered!"
That is what writing does. It reveals to us our own selves. We forget sometimes. The good things that happen. The challenges we get through. The prayers we say. The memories from travel. Some particularly encouraging words from someone. We forget these things, unless we write them down.
The best things in life take effort, right? Friendships, marriage, performing a job the right way, growing a garden, knitting a scarf, learning, travelling. If we didn't have to put forth an effort, it wouldn't seem like anything very important. It would just come to us. A friend would just be there but no stories would be a part of their journey. We wouldn't have the chance to grow if things were just handed to us like that.
Yes, writing takes effort, even for me at times, as one who loves writing. Sometimes, when I am tired and I feel like I have nothing to write, I just start writing, and it comes out. Thoughts hidden away that I didn't know were there, just waiting to be set free. Lines emerge from the depths of my soul and words form so quickly that my hand cannot keep up. And when I close my journal I catch myself thinking how glad I was to make myself write, even when I felt like I had nothing to write. Four pages in my journal say otherwise.
16 February 2015
When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
William Blake was known for his imagination but also for being a visionary. He saw visions of spiritual things that nobody else could see. I don't think this was a characteristic of madness, but rather looking at the world with eyes that allow one to see beyond what this world holds. Knowing that there are spiritual battles at play in front of us each day, and it is simply possible to pay attention to it. At least, for Blake it was.
When you look at a sunset, if all you see is a round disc of fire then you are not looking properly. Blake says he sees the heavenly realm of angels singing. This is an example of what Blake referred to as either looking at the window, or looking through the window.
There is quite an important difference here. Simply looking at the window is not going to tell one anything, other than the general state of the present. This worldly view. But if you look through the window you are looking beyond the scope the present moment, and possibly into the heavenly realm. Possibly even using your imagination to go further.
I can feel this same sense in C.S. Lewis's essay about looking at a shaft of light in his shed, versus looking along the beam of the light. When I read that essay years go it changed my way of thinking. It left me with ponderings in the best of ways that opened my imagination and let in a bright light. As I have been learning more about Blake, I am drawn to this concept in all aspects of my life. We stay at the surface level when we only look at the window (our present moment). Going deeper requires more effort to see with longer lenses by looking through and beyond (contemplative knowledge). How can that apply to your everyday life?
13 February 2015
Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
What do we know about our hearts? We are complicated beings who can contemplate, muse, and make decisions that shift and change with the weather. Our emotions drive us much of the time. We hold a lot of power in our words and actions, and sometimes we say our heart isn't in it. What does that mean, exactly? Do we remove our heart for that moment?
Do we realize that we sometimes use words so frivolously and carelessly that it causes the word to become a more trite, superficial word. Love, for example, is not a surface level word, but it is so often used under conditions that do not really match the true meaning. The new shirt that we love so much won't return our love. We all do that but it is just an example of how we can water down true meanings of words.
There is an outline in all of us, with inclinations to love. A silhouette of love. That silhouette is going to reflect the thing that we worship, and we all worship something. That which is in our hearts will be showcased in how we live our lives. Our actions should reflect the beauty that is held deep inside; present there because of the deepest love we are recipients of.
Imagine how God must feel when He sees how we act. He gives us boundless and endless love, but do we return it well? Do we tell Him how much we appreciate His love and point our lives toward His grace? Do we share that love with others?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
12 February 2015
God is always the God of surprises.
- N.T. Wright
The other night I was talking with my dear friend, Jen, and each time we talk she tells me how much she enjoys reading The Chronicles of Narnia books. She is reading them for the first time, and it is thrilling to me to hear her reactions to the story and the way in which it was written. We usually talk about some element of the books; this time we talked about Alsan (the lion) and how he portrays different aspects of God throughout the story. The mystery, the strength, the wildness (Aslan is not a tame lion). While Aslan is not tame, he is gentle and kind, and only uses his power for good.
Jen reflected that it is how C.S. Lewis weaves these attributes into these books so beautifully, and she cannot wait to get to the parts where Aslan is there. She absorbs those parts because they are so full of wisdom.
One thing we mused on was how he is not a tame lion, which reflects God and how He is the God of surprises. God can do whatever He wants. We do not understand His ways or His thoughts. We cannot tame Him. We do not know what He has in store, and that divine mystery is something we should be joyful about, because what He shrouds in mystery is greater than any of us can even imagine.
11 February 2015
The imagination can both perceive and at least half-create reality and truth, far more reliably than any other method of apprehension.
(from Introduction of Romantic Poetry and Prose)
I study and read English Literature as if I were a student learning all this for an exam and a long paper. I underline, I take notes , I write out poems and quotes. It is not something I make myself do, rather, it's an intuitive action that comes as naturally as turning the page. Is that not normal?
I want to learn about words, the usage, the history, and the time period at which the poet was writing. A lot of what is going on at the time influences what the author is writing about, what he is referring to, and the style of how he writes. If Milton was a main poet of study, the work of the author is going to reflect or model Milton in some way. I like to know how those relate.
There are secrets and information hidden in writings of the past. There are deeper meanings to meander through. There are tales of old. There are facts and reactions about events at that time in history, and all of that fascinates me. It is not about being drawn back to the past to dwell, but it is about incorporating that wisdom written centuries ago into today's life. How can these words guide us today? What do they say about what we have become today? Were the words prophetic?
I may not be a student in a class receiving grades right now, but I will always, forever, be a student of English Literature, and all things word-related, poetry, prose, language. As I read more, I see how much more there is to discover behind all of it. The layers of knowledge, and that is so exciting to me. To have almost endless sources to read and absorb. So, excuse me know: I've got a lot of reading to do!
10 February 2015
I wait for the rain to stop. But it doesn't.
It drizzles on and on into the evening, as it grows colder. The dampness chills me and a blanket and fleece sweater warm me up to be a contented comfortable.
I do not mind that the rain hasn't stopped. I feel no hostility toward the rain. I rather like it.
Puddles splashed under my feet as I tried to step purposefully from my car to my stairs. The sounds of drips and drops hitting objects around the yard made it to be a cacophony, chaotic at best, or was it? On second listen, it could be a quiet soothing soundtrack of repeated noises and sounds that stay to the background, never commanding all attention. That soundtrack made me feel drowsy a bit later.
When I sat with my legs curled under a blanket and book in my hand, peppermint tea all consumed, I grew very tired.
My eyes tried to shut as I read.
No. Just a few more pages. Eyes, stay open.
My yawns came more frequently.
No. Just a few more pages. Wake up.
Those few pages are done. Bookmark resting at the start of a new chapter. Head is about to rest on a pillow. It is the best thing to go to bed tired.
A good night's sleep is in store.
09 February 2015
I finally have a new electric kettle. It looks like a big teapot. I know, this is very exciting news to you, I am sure. I am so excited because I use my kettle at least twice a day during the week, and probably four times a day on the weekend when I am at home more. My old kettle was a cheap, plastic contraption that left much to be desired. It was a long overdue new investment, and I love it. So, would you like to come over for tea? I can boil the water in a fancy looking kettle. I also bought some teas from Twinings in England, because they have such fun flavoured teas that you simply cannot buy here. That just means more tea is steeping around here.
Much of this weekend was spent catching up. I don't like the feeling of being behind in anything. Be it work or personal stuff. Once I caught up on the essential items, I was able to fit in a lot of good reading.
I finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I rarely read modern novels but this one caught my eye because it was imaginative and about London. It was kind of like a satirical and sinister Alice in Wonderland, where the character Richard falls into the cracks to London Below, an alternate world amidst modern London, with creepy characters and an engrossing adventure through some strange places, like the London sewers and a floating market at Harrod's. He helps a girl named Door, who is on a quest to avenge the murder of her family. I enjoyed the imaginative creations of things from the funny London names (Knightsbridge, Earl's Court), the wit, kooky characters, and how it was fun to read. I certainly won't look at the London Tube the same again, and next time I go to London, I will imagine the crazy characters at the stations (like the British Museum station that doesn't exist).
I also went to the library (of course) and bought an English Literature book on the romantic poets that I have been reading one whole afternoon, so you might be getting some doses of Blake, Wordsworth, Keats,and Coleridge. so, prepare yourself. You may feel like you are in English class again; that's just what I like.
06 February 2015
Why is it that the setting sun draws our attention? (and don't say it is because it blinds us as we drive, even though that can be true)
Why does it capture our hearts so?
Is it because we can stand in awe of it? Because it is much bigger than us?
Is it because it draws us out of ourselves and focuses our attention on that which is created by our good God?
Does a sunset make us feel closer to God? Or are we truly seeing a piece of God's handiwork that could only be attributed to Him? While the presence of darkness hovers nearby, we can choose where we fix our gaze. The darkness will not overcome the light.
I think we can easily stand in awe of God as we watch a sunset, or as we stand in the presence of a grand waterfall, or as we stand on a mountaintop overlooking a great expanse. Those are the big things that demand our attention because they make us feel so small, in the kind of good way where we remember God created it all and is bigger than all of it.
But do we stand in awe of God when we see a young child open a door for a stranger at the local shop? Or when we are the recipient of a kind gesture that came out of the blue? Or when we shuffle by one small flower growing amidst rubble? Or when a gentle hand touches us in comfort? Or when a group of co-workings spend a morning painting the second floor of a building so that lives can be changed with new opportunity? Or when a close friend listens to us in our struggle or pain?
I want to notice the things, big and small, that draw my attention toward eternity. Toward God's goodness and His rich blessings. I want to look at the world and see the foretastes of what is to come. I want to remember that in all things, God is present. All good things big and small. God is in all such things. The sun, the stars, the leaves, a smile, a comforting hug, and I want to always be aware of them. They are gifts.
05 February 2015
This is me, as happy as can be. With a stack of books in my arms.
Now if only I had the time to read them all.
I read each night until my eyes get so heavy I cannot possibly continue. But these books I am reading are the kind that I have a hard time closing, I sometimes stay up later than I should. I tell myself that a few more pages is okay. That the bookmark is not ready to sit between those pages, yet.
Every night I light several tea light candles, and I spend some time reading late into the evening before bed. The way I know it is definitely time for bed is when all the tea lights burn out. Right now, only 3 out of the 7 candles have burnt out, so there is still time to write, and read, even though I should go to bed because I got home late tonight, so the candles were not lit as early.
As the evening grows chillier and chillier, I have to grab my extra blanket off my bed to keep warm. But the books that engross me make temperature and time irrelevant. Are you reading anything that is so fantastic that you don't want to close the book and go to bed?
I am already conspiring for my weekend hours to be full of turning pages in my books, for what else will I do while I wash endless loads of laundry? (Okay, other than clean, run errands, cook, see family, etc) (I can blame my recent travel for that, since one cannot do laundry over the weekend when one is away that whole weekend. I surmise that I will most likely come up with any reason to allow more time to read, like a child who wants to stay outside to play longer. Aww mom- can't I play just a little longer?)
04 February 2015
In the midst of sleeping in the most comfortable beds, the trip to St. Louis was a corporate event that we have each year in January, to gather everyone from around the country to have some meetings, work on a service project together, and get all dressed up to have a big awards banquet. It was so wonderful to see everyone. The people in my company are some of the nicest people and when I get to spend time with them, it's a blast. I work with a lot of them every single day, but only get to see them twice a year.
The service project was at a building we acquired in downtown St. Louis for a couple of businesses our foundation is getting involved with building from scratch. This building was built in the 1920s as a car dealership. So, the tall ceilings, columns, and large windows were perfect to showcase the cars for sale. It is a really beautiful space, it just needs so much work. That's what we helped with. I was in a group that went upstairs to paint the walls, ceilings, and columns. I loved how many of us there were, and all just assisting one another up there while some painted the really difficult spots, like the ceiling. Our CEO was up there scraping the ceiling as much as the other guys were. Christian songs blasted from a radio somewhere. We worked for hours and it looked great when we left.
Oh yes, and then there was a dinner put on by the advisors, who served us and then entertained us with a show hosted brilliantly by my boss, with several stunts that I won't write about (which made me laugh so much my face hurt) and the final dance where a group of advisors danced boy-band style playing the advisors and the operations team apologizing for all the frustrations the advisors give operations. It was highly entertaining, and I had a front row seat.
02 February 2015
As much as I love to travel, coming home feels so good. There is something about coming back to the familiar and comfortable that makes me appreciate it even more. Even when the trip is fantastic, it is nice to be back home.
I got back from St. Louis last night. My office went for the semi-annual corporate event, and we all enjoyed the time up in the midwest with everyone. Per my usual routine, I unpacked my luggage in about four minutes so I could enjoy being at home.
Travelling home is the best, and the worst. It is the best because you are heading back to your cosy home, and it's the worst because it always seems to take forever when it's the last leg of the journey. I try to distract myself by writing pages and pages in my journal about my time away, and reading a book that will engross me and make the time fly by. I was successful in those endeavors this time, as it didn't seem too take ages.
I will share a little about my trip later, but for now.....ahhh, it's just nice to be home.