29 March 2017

Tiny Faith

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, High Street

A word  with power is a word that comes out of silence.
- Henri Nouwen

I am currently in Oxford, England enjoying my favourite city in the world. While I am here, I like to reflect on the contrast between the world that is eager to pull us away from faith, and the tradition of history and liturgy that seeks to draw us back to our deep roots of faith. Oxford is the perfect place in which to study such a contrast. It is part of why I love this city. There is always so much to learn from it.

If we had faith the size of a tiny seed, we would be able to truly move the trees themselves. The power of faith is often missed. Do I have the tiny seed of faith? Or am I grasping at air?

I am being reminded of the kind of faith (the truly unrelenting faith) that holds so much power. Not the kind that diminishes people, but the kind that encourages others and does amazing things. It is so immense, and yet all we need is a tiny bit. Jesus points out to the lowliest people that their faith heals or restores them.They probably didn't even know how big their faith was, because it was the size of a seed.

The world seeks to take our faith so that it rests in and with the world. So, there is an underlying longing for that which the world can give, but something deeper longs for that which only God can give. Strip away the facade that the world puts on, and your true faith will lie within, deeply rooted (or find out that it is not rooted). This is the point of flourishing. 

When it becomes so deeply rooted in us that God and His promises are true, we can be held by God, and the possibilities are truly endless. We can look forward to a challenge without doubt or fear.

Not even creation holds an end to what God can do.

23 March 2017

Give Me Understanding

Give me understanding,
that I may keep your law
and observe it with my
whole heart.
Lead me in the path
of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
Turn my heart to your
decrees, and not
to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking
at vanities;
give me life in your ways.

- Psalm 119.34

What is it to be human?
It is to be mortal and accept that we are made to be finite.

We cannot understand the glorious resurrection of Christ (the good catastrophe, or eucatastrophe as J.R.R. Tolkien calls it) until we understand what it is to be human. The mortal nature we are meant to have mixes with wisdom that goes beyond us.

Let us be open to wisdom God bestows in us, knowing that we are bound in humanity.
Let us be comforted that Jesus experienced all that we experience, being fully immersed in humanity as well.

Let us embrace and grow into the paradoxes of our world.
We need to let go in order to receive.
We need to be set low so we can be raised.

May we see that God is disguised in everything. We don't ever have to fear being alone or to walk toward the gravest danger. We are never alone. Our shepherd goes before us, and He will go with us through every darkness.
Can we become rooted and grounded in this love?

20 March 2017

Art / ifact

This weekend, there was a grand opening of the Mass Market and ART/ifact art studio just outside downtown. It is in an old abandoned warehouse from 1924, that has been restored to this beautiful venue you can see now for events, markets, and artists to rent out studio stalls. Located in a rough area, the hope is kindled for a restoring of a neighborhood.

The original elements are intact, with concrete floors, wood plank ceilings, and white brick walls. The upstairs loft are the artist stalls that have old creaky, wooden floors. I love to see something old restored back to its former glory. The history is then preserved, and it means the space is shared across generations. 

On Saturday, the event space was filled with local vendors selling their homemade goods, photography, art, macarons, clothes, flowers, etc... The place was buzzing with excitement. 

A once forgotten place becomes the harbinger of community.
It's a beautiful thing to see.

The whole project came straight from the heart of my lovely friend, Elizabeth. She presented this idea to the city, and they said yes. She has since (over the last 2 years) faced all the challenges of the abandoned warehouse that sat empty for 35 years, and all the logistics of opening this place to the public. Her artistic talents, creative imagination, as well as her drive to keep going made this all possible, and I am so proud of her for making this dream a reality. We had many talks along the way, and she would tell me how God was literally placing the opportunities, the connections, and the avenues to bring this all to fruition. I think He could place them in no better hands. It is amazing to see God open all these avenues for good. 

To read more about the project and see some photos as well as an interview with Elizabeth, click HERE.

17 March 2017

Tales of Old Scotland

Glen Coe, Scotland

When I think I know something about the world, I travel, and realize so quickly  that I don't think I know much about the world. I've seen so little. These places we can visit are open to us to catch a glimpse of history, and a past steeped in story. A ground heavy-laden with those tales of old, shared with travelers and held close by the locals. 

Places of beauty can be so barren, broken, and still beautiful. They are home to some, with dramatic grand scale scenes of nature. It may seen a harsh environment with wind-tossed weary fields at the bottom of mountains. A valley desolate. Yet this is where some yellow thistle blooms on the side of the road. This is where I catch glimpses of the sun breaking through the craggy rocky mountains and through to the valley floor. It lasts only a moment, and then shadows rolls in. This is where I see small streams of life-giving water run through the cracks we can barely see.

A misty rain begins to fall and I still stand there in awe of such a place. I click my camera, but there is no way to capture the immensity on film, nor envelope the sense of atmosphere in the photo. I can only experience it, standing there, and solidifying it in memory. I can write about it later, of course, but it is from that memory of place and milieu that I can recollect it again. 

Glen Coe is always there. Unmoving, we must go to the place to be in its dwelling. We must be willing to open up to its tales of old. We must be quiet to hear the rush of a small waterfall into a stream that runs to the right of this spot, if I panned over a bit.

Perhaps we all have different places that inspire us the most. I have a few, and the majestic starkness of these mountains in Scotland with green carpet and dramatic rocky cliffs fills my imagination with wonder and story. I don't think any place I have been can compare with these areas of north western Scotland. With the dramatic scenery and natural awe-inspiring places. The drives had me holding my breath for the scenery that appeared around each bend in the road. 

Sometimes it is good to remember these moments for no reason other than simple appreciation of time, space, and the place, all created for the glory of God.

14 March 2017

Pi in the Sky

Do you like math? Today is the day for you.
Pi day: 3.14. 
Math isn't really my thing, so I thought I would incorporate this day imaginatively, because I always seek ways to think. 

I took this photo several months ago, when I looked up on a windswept day during golden hour, and saw the symbol Pi in the sky, quite literally. It stopped me in my tracks, because when do you actually see pi in the sky?

Do you ever look to the sky and see shapes and symbols?
Do you let your imagination run with ideas?

This all got me thinking imaginatively (don't worry, not irrationally), which kind of goes against the grain of mathematics with such equations and rational vs irrational numbers. Pi goes on and on and has no end, beginning with 3.14159.....which has always made me think of where those numbers end up. There must be somewhere they all collect, right? Perhaps there is a deep well of pi digits gathered around a circumference somewhere.

Back to the clouds. From my perspective, I saw the symbol of pi in the sky, which probably only lasted a few minutes as the winds above rearranged the clouds very soon after. If someone was standing a quarter mile in another direction the symbol may not be visible, but it doesn't mean that it's not there.

My viewing it did not create the image of pi in the sky, but it was there all along. Or was it?

My perceiving it was merely a culmination of actually paying attention to the sky above me and also using my imagination to see shapes and images that point to something else. I was participating in the image being seen, and anyone standing with me would be able to do the same, as we observe a collective representation. As I thought of this, my thoughts immediately jumped to the writings of Owen Barfield, from his book Saving the Appearances. Here is a video drawing and reading of the beginning of the book, which will far surpass my ability to explain what was making a circumference around my mind. I guess this is what happens when one sees pi in the sky.

13 March 2017

Travel Daydreams and Planning

Do what you can, not what you cannot.

The weekend has the same amount of hours per day that all the other days of the week contain, but somehow they seem to fade away so quickly, and before you know it, the weekend comes to an end on Sunday evening and the whole to-do list is still bold with items not crossed of yet.

Instead of beating myself up about it, I think about how I cannot do it all, and everyone needs a little bit of time for rest and relaxing that isn't hindered by to-do items.

It is on the weekends that I allow myself to linger with a pot of tea and a good book. It is when I rest a little bit more. I take my time while cooking, and don't feel the urgency that tends to be present during the week. But that means time is wandering by, and seems to slip through the cracks of resting.

These days, I am planning and thinking about being in England. As my trip is less than a few weeks away, there are things to do and some items to research. I am intentionally trying not to plan too much ahead, because it is a travel venture that I don't want to be all running. I am not trying to see it all. I am just trying to see with intention.

So I plan a few things. I have some ideas. I look at bus and train routes. And I imagine the lovely moments will come each day.

I lose track of time because I am enjoying the quiet and the restful hours that recharge me for the week ahead. Taking time is an indulgence. Spend time thoughtfully, and do what you can.

08 March 2017

Moon-like Musings

Moon-like is all other love:
First crescent, then decreasing,

Flower that buds, and soon
goes off;
A day that fleets away in rain.

- Anonymous 14th century

We are so changeable, aren't we? Like the shifting phases of the moon. From day to day we roll along with the wind of emotion that sometimes takes us up and down, and then affects our views of ourselves and others. We feel wilted, like flowers past their bloom because we are not _______ enough (you fill in the blank). But we wake up the same person, loved by God, and that person has potential and talents to bring forth every day. No matter where we may be in our journey.

We wake up to the excesses of love. God's love is not moon-like. Never do we lack and yet always can we choose not to see that love surrounds us every morn. Do we notice it at every angle? Do we hear it as we slide out of bed?

The birds chirp quite cheerfully this morning, beginning their songs with the first tinges of red-tint glow emerging on the horizon. The light presses some pancake clouds upwards and outwards on this new, fresh day. 

The owl replies with his usual hoot of appreciation. I do not think he ever hoots with discontent. He is always happy to be an owl. Something tells me that the owl does not envy the cardinal as she flits from branch to branch, singing a tune, and finding a new perch every few minutes.

No, the owl is quite content to stay camouflaged up high on his quiet branch, observing and reflecting on the scene before him. He tends to hide and blend in as the morning awakens. He knows he was made for this, and isn't meant to be like a cardinal. For, if he were more like the cardinal, he would not be an owl as he was made to be.

I am inclined to take notes from the birds that make my neighborhood their home. 

We should not compare ourselves to others and wish to be just like another. That is when we become discontented and then gone is our bloom. For then we would not be ourselves as God made us to be. The differences we all have make up the melody of God's creation, and God uses every piece of ourselves that we can give. Leave it to Him to fit it perfectly into place. There is much more bloom left to bring beauty to the world. 

Never do we lack in what we need for the day. Be encouraged. Take heart. Your talents are needed today.

06 March 2017

Breakfast at The Terrace

To pay attention; this is our endless and proper work.
 - Mary Oliver

On a fog-laden, quiet Saturday morning, my friend and I ventured out far and wide, the whole 2 minutes it took to drive downtown. We had a plan in place - to be touristy in our own town, at least for the morning. The Terrace Hotel is a charming 1924 building downtown, with history of being one of the first year-round hotels open in Florida. Most hotels would close for the summer, since there was no air conditioning. It was a full-service luxury hotel, and still holds the charm of such history.

When you step inside, from the doors that open up to Main Street, you feel transported in time and place. Emily and I remarked at how we felt we were no longer in Lakeland. There was a classy sense surrounding us, with the high wood-etched ceilings, huge glass lanterns hanging, original 1924 tile floors, and big french windows letting in so much lovely light. Here is where Frank Sinatra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Henry Ford have stayed, long ago.

Being that I was with a fellow friend who loves all things old, restored, historic, and meaningful, we took some pictures and talked about the beauty of certain elements before being seated at our table by the windows.

Classic white tablecloths and dishes greeted us. You cannot go wrong with classic white. We ordered breakfast, coffee, and juice, and delighted in being tourists in our town as we chatted with our waitress about the hotel. We ate delicious breakfast food and talked about our common agreement on how old things are better, especially when kept as original as possible. We wandered around the hotel when we finally finished our leisurely breakfast, before walking down to the farmer's market.

What a lovely morning we had, and it was literally just a few minutes from where we each live. Get out there and explore your own town. There is charm and history waiting for you.

02 March 2017

Discipline of Lent

My sin not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross
And I bear it no more
Praise the Lord!

Sometimes I reach the end of the day, and I am worn. The struggles of a day can feel like being sandpapered. Sometimes I feel that what I have to give is not enough. My efforts are in vain. The cog in the wheel mentality lingers in my mind. I love my job and feel utterly thankful. These days still come. I am content and feel joyful in my quiet life. These days still come.

Entering the season of Lent reminds me to center myself again in the disciplines of prayer, meditating, devotion, and stillness. It comes at the perfect time, not to drain me, but to fill me with love. Sometimes to gain a heart of love we must give up some part that we have been hanging onto. A part we need to let go of.

It starts with Ash Wednesday. A day that begins and proceeds like any other. I am busy. I am seeking. I am learning. I am observing. After a long day, I go into the sanctuary and quiet my soul as I reflect on my own sins. Every pew is packed. There are others who need this time of reflection as well. It is comforting to be surrounded by them, many sitting close to me who I know share in this with me.

God, in His redeeming grace used the time to mend and bring about meaningful, thoughtful musings. The chorus of all our voices filled up the space to the high arched ceiling. God reached down into the dark places of my soul that needed to receive His light. 

My soul has quieted. My worries have diminished. They will come back, to be sure, but with prayer and stillness, this season will teach me to depend on Him.

I go home as the night quiets and stills, and I want to reflect all evening. Other things just don't seem as important. I make some tea and try to let the words of "It is Well with My Soul" sink in.