30 November 2016

Artfulness of Imagination

I turn my head and sudden shafts of light catch my eye, causing me to pause in wonder of God's created universe, where the power of a star in our galaxy gives life and light to our planet, casting lovely shadows and shapes onto the wall of my office, traveling more than 92 million miles to get here. Why do these little things that occur each day fascinate me?

We return to good books, poetry, art, and music for a reason. There is more truth to be drawn from it each time.

God has crafted us with shaping imaginations that are meant to explore, wonder, dream, create, and discover truths.

Malcolm Guite explains this well in a short 2 minute lesson on why we return to these imaginative things that remind us in different ways at different times how to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The creative works reach us differently each time we see or experience them. How can we incorporate this into our daily lives in everything we do all day? 

Recently, I have been thinking more deeply about how I can be more aware and present in each moment. With each sense more attuned and awoken to the daily blessings. This is the season we are called to pay attention to the details - Mary's journey, a period of darkness and uncertainty, the star, the birth, the coming of light. All things that should cause us to stop and ponder. Musing upon the story of Jesus. Welcome to Advent.

28 November 2016

Advent Beginnings

Truly to me, this consideration, that his mercy is new every morning, so his grace is renewed to me every minute, that it is not by yesterday's grace that I live now, but that I have my daily bread, my hourly bread, in a continual succession of his grace, that the eye of God is upon me, though I wink at his light, and watches over me though I sleep...
- John Donne

Over a cup of steaming tea, I contemplate these words, and the meaning of recognizing the new mercies of every morning. Even with the nuances of everyday, our days begin refreshed. We are hit quickly from the moment we wake up with worldly distractions that seek to distract us from distraction. 

As we enter the Advent season, it grows only more distracting. Our minds become cluttered with all the crowds of shopping and getting here and there. Our culture rushes into Christmas with items on sale weeks before Thanksgiving, so that we are already tired of Christmas before it even arrives. We lose sight of the story of darkness traveling to light. We become distracted with the parties, gifts, errands, and "doing things".

I don't want Advent to fly by in this state. I wish it to be filled with meaning and deeper appreciation of the arrival of Jesus. This is my goal for the season. To be fully present and taking moments to simply think about the story as if I was in the story and seeing it unfold. It is an event that changed history, but we do not have the B.C. state of mind, when we live in A.D. Can we think from a perspective of B.C. for a little while to gain the transition from darkness to light?

But in the end solitude is not so much a place as a state of mind and heart: it is the ability to enter into the desert of the heart, the poustinia, the inner cave of the heart, however one might wish to describe it. It is an inner attentiveness to God, a continual stream of contemplation which becomes possible even in the midst of crowds, noise, and the demands of daily life.
 - Esther De Waal

22 November 2016

Links to the Spheres

I thought it would be fun to share some interesting places I've been meandering through all over the spheres of the interwebs lately, just because. It's a holiday week when our busy-ness kicks in and we scramble to get to places to be with family/friends. Without further ado, here are some links to spheres of the interwebs.

- There is nothing quite like listing to a beautiful choir in a cathedral, singing ancient carols that echo off the stone and harmonize perfectly. This short piece, Adam Lay Ybounden, is particularly lovely.

- My old home (built 1950) gets so cold, and the floors stay frigid after a cold night. These dreamy moccasin slippers are what I want on my feet this entire winter.

- The Feast of Christ the King was this Sunday, and the poet, Malcolm Guite posted this poem with the poetic words reminding us that in Him all things hold together. Everything visible and invisible is under His sight and under His wings of grace.

- Do you know what the 2016 word of the year is? The Oxford English Dictionary will fill you in on the word of the year. There is also a shortlist of the other words that didn't win the title. I personally vote for the word hygge

- The insanely talented mandolinist Chris Thile has a new collaboration with another talented musician, and I keep hitting repeat of the video of this song, Scarlet Town. I love the duet with piano and mandolin. I cannot wait to hear the rest of the songs.

- I love candlesticks these days. There is something so old-fashioned and also elegant about them. I have been indulging several nights a week as I eat dinner by lighting them on my kitchen table. I came across these gorgeous candlestick holders and these as well. They would look lovely adorning any table.

- If you are looking for the energizing road trip song for a long drive to visit family this Thanksgiving week, this is the song. Colony House will keep you cheerful.

21 November 2016

Begin Exactly Where You Are

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.
- Malcolm Guite

A recurring theme has sprung up in many ways before my eyes lately, all reminding me to be still and begin right where I am. I do not have to wait for the "perfect" moment or setting, time or space. I do not have to be in my favourite place to begin writing or musing creatively. Right here is where I can start - wherever here is at the moment.

The challenge is to keep beginning right here, and not rely on feeling like it, or feeling inspired. Waiting for that would be like waiting for rain in the desert. The more you wait, the drier you become. The majority of the work of writing well-formulated thoughts out is simply sitting down and putting pen to page, wherever i may be at that time. 75% of the time I have no idea what I will write about when I open up my journal, but I just let the pen touch down on the smooth, blank pages and let my thoughts lead the pen onward. 

Whether this is at home in the quiet, still place of my tiny tree house, outside in a garden or on a bench, or at a coffee shop that is buzzing with conversations and ambient sounds, I can write my heart out on blank pages at this very moment. Take a deep breathe, slow down my routine, dwell in the moment, and let the conscious thoughts mingle. 

18 November 2016

Oxford in Heart and Mind

I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera. 
- William Butler Yeats

The air is getting chilled. I return to Oxford in my mind. Oxford is always in my heart. I walk the streets paralleled by walls laden with green ivy vines and centuries of whispered stories. So much of every inch of this place is ingrained in the past. Even the shadows are beautiful, as they are silhouettes of ancient architecture. The cobblestones have rested there hundreds of years, being trod upon by the musing, thinking students, the professors, and the tourists. Each crevice of the stone buildings cries out for the learning life. Gardens are tucked away behind the ancient stone walls. The very air has the scent of life-long pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, trials, research, and history.

The streets are paved with learning. The desks are lined with books. The windows are decorated with flowers when you need a colour pop. Ancient tales hide in every nook.

Students have satchels filled with books as they ride their bicycles across town and hop off in front of a coffee shop to dash inside for a cappuccino before a tutorial. 

Why does Oxford draw me so? 

If you set up a profile for me and had to list my hobbies and preferences, it would read something like: excessive reader (especially of British authors from 1400s-1900s); avid writer; loves to drink pots of tea and eat scones; prefers the cold, greyscale weather; loves to roam old bookstores for treasures; feels giddy with excitement when entering a library (the older, the better); an old soul who prefers traditional services like evensong; delights in orchestra/concert events and lecture events; great reader and researcher of the Inklings literary group; frequently goes on long walks; loves a good mix of city and country sights; admirer of Medieval, Gothic, Norman, and Classical architecture.

Oxford is the only place in the world that is a perfect match to all of these things that describe me so precisely. Can a soul be matched with a city?

Why Oxford over other places? 
That question could lead to an entire dissertation, so I will ere on the side of brevity. Have you ever been to a place that has caused you to stand in awe of it (be it size, history, beauty, detail, atmosphere)? A place where every sight you behold makes you pause and admire with great respect? When the respect runs so deeply through your veins it becomes part of your draw to the place? A place that feels like a second home, but then always somehow feels so steeped in the past that you cannot possible belong because you live in the future? It feels like I step into history when I am there. Another day in Oxford is like turning a new page in its journal - centuries of historical importance. 

I don't miss other places like I miss Oxford. Many other places in England and in the States I have loved and wish to return to, or explore more deeply, but Oxford is always the place that tugs at my heart to return as often as possible. 

 I agree with Mr. Yeats, but all I do is dream and remember Oxford when I am not there, and when I am there, it's all dreaminess.

I picture dreaming spires lovingly in my mind.
An imitation of Oxford you shall never find.
You cannot reproduce the authors and tales of place.
You cannot rearrange a skyline of spires full of grace.

16 November 2016

Time for Reading

Why do days get cluttered up so much more as we get older? We have a list of chores and to-do items that take time and consume our thoughts. A weekend can turn into a big list of chores, and then Sunday evening comes, and we realize how little we rested and relaxed.

I am trying to be intentional about making time for the resting part. It is so hard to fit all the errands/chores into the weekend, sometimes, and I find that while that is hard, it is sometimes even harder to actually feel relaxed. Our weeks are so accustomed to busy-ness that our weekends just follow suit.

I have been trying to go against that grain that is so entrenched in me lately. I am trying because it has become natural for me to try to do too much. Instead, I am letting myself read more. I am putting aside the chore and reading another chapter.

Here are the books I have been indulging in lately:

Lilith by George MacDonald

This is one of my favourite books, and a re-reading felt necessary. With each reading, this book becomes more enriching, and I see a different aspect more clearly than before.
It is a fantasy, dreamlike book, where you, the reader, sometimes are not sure which parts are dreams and which are real. There is a lot of melding of the two, which fascinates me. 

Mr. Vain is brought into a land of seven dimensions from his old, cosy library. The wise, knowing raven brought him there. He is given an invitation to do what is wise, but he instead chooses to try to fix something himself. As a result, as he travels through the land, he encounters many trials and learns from his mistakes. While he tries to do what is right, he uses only his own momentary feeling to make his choices, and forgets all that the raven told him. The wise words float right out of his head. This makes for quite an adventure, with strange, fantastical encounters along the way, and the most deeply beautiful ending (akin to The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis) that I could read over and over again.

I underline so many lines throughout the book because it is rich in metaphor and meaning found in the darkest places. The characters are purposeful and provide wisdom to the traveling Mr. Vain, and we see ourselves in him all the while, filled with the same questions he asks, and doesn't get answered right away. 

Yet even through his mistakes, the sweetness lingers as you read. When the love of God is portrayed through some characters, and the requirement of dying to be awoken, tugs at your heart and soul.

Click HERE for one of my previous posts on Lilith.

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I get the newsletters from the Oxford University Continuing Education Department, since I have taken a few courses through them, and this book was spotlighted, as the author finished her master's there. They highlighted how it was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. The cover is beautiful and the synopsis indicated it was a magical book, "a spellbinding tale of maps, myth and friendship." That was enough to intrigue me, so I ordered the book and finished reading it in a few days.

It was the tale of Isabella, a map-maker's daughter, who is brave beyond her years. Something very strange is occurring on the island on which they dwell, a myth and a mystery surrounds it. When her friend is in danger somewhere in the forgotten territories of the island, Isabella guides the search party with her knowledge of the stars, and charting maps of ancient realms. Therein lies monsters and dead forests, underground tunnels, and a selfish governor who put everyone in danger from his arrival.

I enjoyed many undertones of myth, story, courage, and redemption. It portrayed an ancient time that could be almost any time, an imaginative realm of floating islands, fiery underground dangers, and the reminder that people who think that myths are not true make a mistake not to think some of it is possible.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The movie caught my attention, but I knew nothing about it except it looked like magical kind of story, which drew me initially. I heard the movie was good, so of course I wanted to read the book first. Maybe some day I will see the movie. 

Something I loved about the story was the peculiar children were all normal children who cared for one another very much, but they each had something "odd" about them, that makes them a target for bad things to happen. The story embraces their uniqueness, though, it doesn't mold them into what might be "normal". Miss Peregrine has her own unique gifts as well, and she keeps the home as a place welcoming to each of them, while simultaneously keeping the home a safe place in time for them.

The adventures of the time loops really added interest to the story, to me. The danger exists for these children in more ways than just being hunted by some evil creatures. I appreciated some unexpected aspects of the story, and it was a fun, quick read.

14 November 2016

Ruth - Moving Pieces

"The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”
- Ruth 2.12-13

I finished reading Ruth this morning, a seemingly random, gentle story in the Old Testament about a young woman who puts others interests in front of her own. She takes care of her mother-in-law, Naomi (after they both lose their husbands), moving with her to a foreign place, gleaning fields for their daily sustenance. The fields belong to a wealthy relative of Naomi, Boaz, who is an honourable man, showing mercy and love. He ends up marrying Ruth, and it all ends happily. 

As a reader, you might wonder why this story dwells in the pages of Scripture. Then, the last paragraph reveals the mystery. A genealogy is listed....Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.

Within this short book, we see how God is moving pieces of the grand story of the world with a small, simple story of goodness. King David would not have existed if this small story of Ruth and Boaz had not taken place.

I love when little details like this are revealed in more than just a list. We get a story about how it all came to pass. God is overseeing all. We don't know how He plans to use our small story for something much bigger. But if we let Him use us, His plans shall come to fruition.

This is no invitation to assume that we are so great and we shall make things great. It is not you or me that does great things - it is God through us. God can use all that we give Him, to bring some glimpses of His kingdom, but the point is, we must take our annotated selfish notes and let them rise in the wind of God. Let Him take them where He might. Ruth leaves all her family and her familiar land to move with her mother-in-law, to take care of her. I can imagine Ruth dreamily imagining a quiet, cosy life in a familiar place, but she went with Naomi instead. We don't know what she felt, but it was a strong urge. God moving pieces that changed the course of history. One small story.

10 November 2016

Soup Season

It may not be downright frigid yet. and it may not ever get to the status of downright frigid here, but when we start to cool off in the evenings into the 50s overnight (it's coming soon!), I start craving the warmth of soups. Each year I try a few different recipes, and gain a new soup to my collection.

When the leaves are falling and the winds pick up in the afternoon, adding blustery notes to the day, there is nothing more cosy than ladling steaming soup into a pretty bowl and sitting down at the table with some fresh french bread. 

I admit, though, I am not good at following recipes. I get an idea from something I might see on Instagram or a blog, and I alter it, replacing and exchanging ingredients to my taste and to my availability. That is exactly what I did with this soup. I won't give measurements, because I don't measure (I know - I am no chef!). But that is one of the best things about soup. You can alter and exchange ingredients and kind of make it up as you go.

This was one of my favourite soups thus far. Simple and savoury. I am such a fan of vegetable soups, but I am also a very simple cook. If it gets too complicated or has too many ingredients, I usually pass. I like to make tasty dishes without getting too complicated. I'll leave the complex matters to those wonderful professional chefs.

For this soup, I sauteed in olive oil chopped onion, 2 cloves of garlic, added a cut and cubed potato, peas, vegetable stock, rosemary, and let that boil and cook for a while. I shredded a stalk of kale and stirred that in, and seasoned with salt. The best part (aside from its deliciousness) is it makes a lot, so I can serve it to others (my brother got to taste test this one with me) and I have leftovers for the next few days.

What are your favourite soups when the weather turns cold?

08 November 2016

Something Solid

The Lord is just in all His ways,
and kind in all His doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on Him,
to all who call on Him in truth.
- Psalm 145.17-18

The wispy, misty morning brightens meanderingly. The contemplative atmosphere created promotes wondering what lies ahead, but you cannot see through the fog. Into the distance, you are blind. Stuck in the cloud of a vaporous nature, you cannot see forward, and are forced to look at the very present moment. The place you stand.

I contemplate the paradoxes, disappointments, and changes that we go through in life. The ebb and flow of our relationships, our government and the state of the world, and our community. Feeling jostled asunder likes waves of the sea, we are tossed to and fro as we try to grasp onto something solid that won't fluctuate and toss us away. All we want is that pure, solid thing to hold onto. 

Through all the turbulence, only God remains that solid foundation that will not toss us away. His word we can dwell in - it remains unchanged for all of time. His word comforts and guides us. As a lost sheep looks to its shepherd for guidance and security, so shall we look to God. There is a reason we are called sheep. We lose our way too easily, and we forget truth all too quickly. From one minute to the next, we forget, and lose our true selves. We need a shepherd, that is God, who can fulfill each and every need.

May we not be afraid of not seeing far ahead, but rather be content with the knowledge we are given right now. for God gives us what we need in its due time, even when the fog surrounds us in all directions. I am thankful that God sees through all of it.

07 November 2016

Baking Autumn

Freshly baked pumpkin granola. I made this last weekend, and ate it each morning for breakfast for the whole of the week following. After I took this photo and it cooled to room temperature, I mixed in some tiny dark chocolate chips, which was the perfect addition.

When autumn arrives and it finally does cool down, I am inspired to try some cooking/baking experiments. I am not a baking/cooking expert, and I tend to like very simple things. Granola is the perfect autumn and winter breakfast staple, and after seeing an idea on a blog, I decided to bake some of my own granola, which I have never done. Occasionally I get these fancies to try something I haven't done before. 

This granola experiment turned out to be quite delicious. I altered the recipe I saw, which is what I tend to do with recipes, and I don't really measure things, but give general estimates of what I used. But it is pretty easy to mix it all and see if you need more. 

For this batch, I started with a tablespoon of olive oil, mixed a few tablespoons of honey, a few dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg, half a can of pumpkin, a dash of vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, sliced almonds, a dash of salt, and mixed it all into old-fashioned rolled oats. Once it was mixed well, I spread it out onto parchment paper on a baking sheet, and baked at 325 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. I stirred about halfway through. Once cooled, I mixed in the chocolate chips.

Each morning, I poured some into a bowl, and added in unsweetened vanilla almond milk. It was like pieces of autumn were crumbled into my bowl. While it was baking, my whole home smelled like granola, cinnamon, and pumpkin, which was the most autumnal and cosy scent.

03 November 2016

Morning Musings

I sit in the solemn quiet of the morning. My heart feel a bit restless; my mind wanders off and I have to bring myself back to focus on dwelling here, in this present moment. Even first thing in the morning I can wander (even before my coffee- gasp!). The pre-dawn grey begins to cast light, entering slowly into my home through sheer, white curtains. The air is still and mild. My coffee is cooling, and I take little sips.

I am using the first pages of a new journal; one that is so lovely, with rough edges around the pages and soft leather covers. With delight running through my veins (or maybe it's the coffee now) I unbind the leather cord and open the cover. The fresh sound of new binding and the smooth pages excites me as a writer (to fill these pages with words of stories, truth, observations, and wisdom -oh what joy!) and as one who appreciates the aesthetic beauty of something like a well made journal. 

I feel as if I might be writing in an ancient book, with pages already worn. I am just a piece of the bigger story already going on, and these pages will be part of that history. The words shall be imprinted in this book, by my hand, and the book shall keep alive all these thoughts that enter in.

Starting a new journal always inspires me to write more, and this time it is even more forceful of an inspiration. I have a particularly strong penchant for old looking, weather worn, imperfect journals. Books that could be mistaken for a great great grandparent's journal.

There is an element in me that clings lovingly to the notion that our stories continue on and on, and there is always so much to learn and muse upon. The journal is where much of the musing happens, of course. We are never quite done. Our pages keep turning, and there are more. As people who aim at bigger and better things, we should keep journals to record those fluttering ideas and thoughts that meander around our heads all day and all night. It is within these records (whether written by hand or typed on a device) that truth can be discovered, truth can be told, wisdom can be gained, and memories can be savored. Not to be forgotten in the mist.

01 November 2016

Fall Festival

This weekend was my church's fall festival, which got me out into the country life, and I enjoyed it so much. I went with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and their niece. The weather was warm, it reached the mid-80s, but the humidity was very low, so it was actually pleasant outside! Especially under the huge canopy of trees that spanned the estate. A big, 3-storey home was on site, with wraparound porches on each level. There were horses, a few ponies, cows, a big barn with tables set up for lunch and walls adorned with treasures from auctions. We took a hay ride around the property. The girls played little games, drew faces on small pumpkins, and squealed with delight riding on horse swings.

I loved the shaded walks, the pieces of history scattered about, the horses grazing happily, some good bbq lunch, time with family, and talking with our lead pastor and his wife for awhile at the lunch table. 

The breeze was just right. I wanted to wander and take a hundred photos, but I restrained myself, and just enjoyed the fresh air on some country land. I've been craving some real nature and country time, and this helped give me a little taste of some outside-the-city life.