Celestial Bodies {a #poem}

My weary eyes need reminders to
view the galaxies aright. Focused on
the sliver of moon, they forget an
entire orb hides in the dark.
I gaze at dull concrete, traipse
around the observatory, past
an entrance where God stands in the
doorway beckoning me to peer,
Galileo-like, past roofs, across
trees, into velvet sky.

As feet pause on sure ground,
a whisper beckons to dream
above, beyond to distant beauty.
Consider the immeasurable
heavens inside, reckon my
need as I’m handed a telescope.

Brightened eyes rest and remember.


This poem was written as part of Poems for Ephesians, an online project of D.S. Martin at McMasters Divinity College. I was particularly taken by Eugene Peterson’s rendering of these verses in Chapter 1: 17) “I ask the God our master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, 18 your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, 19 oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength! 20 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, 21 in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments,” 

How appropriate this passage is for these times, #lifeinthetimeofthecorona, where we cling to the truth that God is “in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments.” And, that as believers in Jesus, we would be urged to “grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life.”

I want to reckon my need as I’m handed a telescope, to rest and remember the power of Jesus in me and on display in the world, from the particular to farflung planets. He is over it all.

How to Lent-Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us

DSCI0476
Posing by New Orleans trolley, 2012

The city of New Orleans has a singular reputation for laissez les bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”) no matter what time of year. During Mardi Gras, though, the celebrations take on an over-the-top frenzy that is hard to match.

We lived in New Orleans in the 1970’s and saw this dress-up carnival cum Halloween celebration firsthand. Mardi Gras (literally ‘fat Tuesday’ in French) offers the citizens and umpty zillion of their best friends to dress up, dance and drink, throw candy and don beads. There are parades uptown, downtown, in the suburbs, everywhere.

I still have some beads from one of those parades. I also have snapshots of folks in the crowds during one particularly bawdy celebration. In New Orleans many of the folks live for Mardi Gras, its year round preparation and presence synonymous with their fair, old city. In theory, Mardi Gras is a day to indulge one’s senses, for the next day—Ash Wednesday (February 26th)—is to be marked by ashes and repentance.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, the forty days of prayer and fasting observed by many faith traditions, and derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants. Priests or pastors recite either, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lenten practices are intended to prepare our hearts to acknowledge the passion and death of Christ on the way to the celebration of Easter. But like the candy and costumes on Mardi Gras, the overwhelm of the world has overshadowed the meaning of Lent.

Seven Books for the Seasons

Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas.

presbyterian calendar

This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.

What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve.  And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.

But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.

Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.

THE CHURCH YEAR

IMG_20200130_113141

Candlemas  Malcolm Guite

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.

A Slow Walk into the New Year

P1200354It’s New Year’s Eve as I sit here in my Seattle dining room, typing with a view to the sky. Things are quiet; only the chimes noising their song outside my window as the gray and muted horizon frames the day. It’s time to be pensive and think deep thoughts, I suppose. Here are some of mine as we end not only this year, but an entire decade.

There are those who relish the action of turning the last page of December’s calendar with the promise of a new start each January. But the invisible leap from one year to the next sometimes is akin to falling over a precipice to an uncertain future. The page turning is dramatic and dreadfully sudden with the only certainty that God will be there to catch us.

I much prefer the slow walk into the New Year the Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas day until Epiphany on January 6th) provides. A meandering approach to ease into the days ahead with a look, not to something Brand New and Wonderful but to the slow revelation of who God is in the world.

Which is, of course, what Epiphany means. “A showing forth or manifestation.”

We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth–the revelation to His Jewish parents of the Messiah as a child. Epiphany is the event when we observe Christ’s appearance to the rest of mankind as the Magi (Gentiles) came from other parts of the world and left with the message that they had seen the Saviour.

Christ’s birth was a singular occasion–The Word, come to Earth as a babe. But walking out what that means as believers in Jesus–taking that message of salvation to the world much as the Wise Men must have done–is a lifelong journey.

What if instead of a freight-filled, auspicious turn from one year to the next, we evened out our steps a bit with a deliberate and intentional walk through all the days afforded us in Twelvetide?

Instead of making January 1st the beginning of each new year, why not make it simply a resting place along the way in a timetable anchored in the life of Christ, as we anchor our lives in His?

Perhaps I’ll begin observing the New Year on January 7th, walking into the world with the Gospel news that Messiah is here, come to bring health, healing and hope for all.

How about you? What are you going to take into the next season? I’d love to hear in the comments.

(This is an edited version of a recent social media post.)  Cheers!

5 Favorite Things About Fall

P_20180918_145023

There are so many reasons I love this time of year–it’s hard to choose, but here are my top five:

  1. Pumpkins Who knew there were white pumpkins and bumpy pumpkins and sorta-blue pumpkins and well, all manner of heirloom squash family members?? God’s creativity abounds in the gourd department, no? The displays at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere are a delight for the eyes. (But no Pumpkin Spice anything. Sorry Starbucks. And sorry, Hostess. Pumpkin Spice Twinkies? Um, no.)

P_20180920_143530.jpg

2. Half-a-pie moons in the night sky, crisp, clear mornings. Dew on the leaves in the garden.P_20180920_095150 Purple asters, full, ripe raspberries, colors beginning to creep up the foliage in the Japanese Stewartia.P_20180920_123823The world is getting ready to sleep.

I praise God for the way He speaks to us in creation. As nature is cycling through her seasons, the picture outside my window sends a visual message that murmurs just below the surface: I need to s l o w down. The waning hours of daylight are a subtle hint.P_20180919_081748From Websters, ‘Dormant’–asleep or inactive, latent but capable of being activated. From biology, a relatively inactive or resting condition in which some processes are slowed down or suspended. It is good to not always be in a hurry, the world whizzes by fast enough as it is. Tarrying awhile inside or out helps us to see that while we sleep God is still at work. Capable of being activated.

3. Cool nights mean fragrant candles, warm socks, and cozy fires. 

Burning Candles

There are fewer hours of daylight, forcing us inside to rest and redraw boundaries. Again the period of dormancy and slumber outside provides a reflective way to re-center ourselves physically. While my nature is to please everyone and Do All the Things that people ask of me, the natural environment moves me to a mental and spiritual process of gathering myself in. I’m grateful for the natural slowing down of Autumn when we’re inside more and attentive to the quiet. This posture leaves me more margin in my life to say ‘yes’ to God and what He’s called me to do, instead of overextending myself when I shouldn’t.

4. Cooking, Baking = Creativity.

We’ve had some humdinger, hot summers in Seattle the last couple of years and the last place I’ve wanted to be is in the kitchen. Now that the days are much cooler, I relish the chance to return to cooking and baking, especially on Sunday. That probably sounds odd, but it’s how I sabbath in the Fall. Rest to me looks like creativity–make something or organize something. I spend most of my days working with words, which requires a lot of attention to this old brain. Working with my hands leaves my mind free to process, another way to build white space and margin into my days. Plus, banana bread. It’s a win-win.

20161128_102313
My daughter Leah and I in the kitchen. A very long time ago. (I mean, look at the floor. Can we talk about the floor?)

5. Fresh Starts

Rosh Hashanah–When I taught in Hebrew school several years ago I welcomed the immersion into Jewish practices surrounding the beginning of the year. Rosh Hashanah literally means ‘the Head of the Year’ and signals the beginning of the Jewish New Year. How interesting that this head of the year coincides with the first day of school, a time for new beginnings, no matter whether it’s Kindergarten or college. When I read back through my journals each year I find a record of God bringing the most dramatic changes in my life in each successive September. As a Christian I love the way God weaves the Hebrew festivals into our New Testament understanding of Scripture. Our lives as believers in Messiah Jesus are a reflection of the type and shadow of those festivals God gave His people from the very beginning. I love being part of that. 35a52-sam_0246

You can find out more about Rosh Hashanah here.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. I think that’s why we sense God’s call to us, soul-deep, in this season. How about you? What are your favorite things about Fall?  I’d love to hear in the comments. And as always, If you’ve liked this post, would you consider sharing it with a friend? Email, Facebook, Twitter buttons are right down below. Thank you ever so much!

Remember to sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter “Random Acts of Writing” (next edition in November.) You can sign up right here.

Worry & Wonder–Holy Week

“Only in those moments of vivid experience that made her come alive was she at home in her own country.”    –Marianne in Green Dolphin Country, Elizabeth Goudge, Hodder & Stoughton, 1944

Friend T and I were chatting on Instagram the other day about my favorite author (see above). There’s no writer I can recall whose stories have deepened my vision of the Gospel and my appreciation for the beauty of language quite like Elizabeth Goudge.

But my heart is also quieted today, a heaviness at the back of my bones, weighted down by worry for the world and the myriad of ways we are messing it up. I’m afraid to read the headlines (we’ve canceled our daily paper) and when the news scrolls across my computer screen I click through to a different page. There is it the present reality of war and famine afar and the deranged antics and societal injustice at home. Big heavy sigh.

It seems foolish and insensitive to trivialize the trials of this day and age by attending to other simple joys: the gentle breezes waving fir branches outside my window or the way a chickadee alights on a bird feeder, the bright burst of daffodils against the grey. But the mundane holds a bit of miracle this week before Easter. Indeed, the miracles are there in all our days if we but look.

Attending to the richness of words in a good story is another way to pushback the unseen edges of this cool, gray day, much like reveling in the bright color of the salmon-y pink blossoms of quince bush in my back yard. (this is a friend’s clematis by the way, not my quince.)

Remarking on such simple joys may seem frivolous to some. Blossoms, books, birds.

But it’s not frivolous, no. For one, noticing the glorious passages in a good book can call us to remember that beyond the bleak and gray of the day in front of us there is Easter on the other side. For, if an author does it correctly, resurrection will show up in the language and in-between the lines of a good story.

P_20180317_100047_vHDR_On

“All good stories lead to God,” my friend Laura opines. I’m inclined to agree.

But really, why discuss the finer merits of a passage of literature when these are such somber, serious times? Shouldn’t we be d o i n g something?” Well, yes these are somber, serious times. It is Holy Week after all, the days we dwell on Christ’s passion prior to His resurrection.

But often the wisest recourse we have is to remember to fill up our own souls with the staying power of beauty and truth.

So, I give you this, in addition to the joy of remarkable, inspirational language, there are also the right-in-front-of-us gifts: days of new sunrises, friends and family nearby to laugh and pray with, the morning’s hot coffee in a special mug, a favorite book on my lap.

These are also days when the word of God holds out hope, our very breath and life. The one and only Good Book.

When we have the companionship of others on this journey–always with its terrors and triumphs–we can often find a common denominator to lift us up and keep us in place with the anchor of a well-loved book. A favorite line or passage in a poem or paragraph, the sing-song of dialogue that makes us laugh, an author’s way with language as she paints a picture of a season’s wonder and discovery. Together we remember there is beauty above the here and now. We remind each other, “Let me tell you about something I read….you’ve got to hear this.”

When we share the good news of a great story, lines that comfort, encourage and inspire we are partners of a piece of small joy, if even for a moment.

My prayer this week and in the weeks ahead is that you would find a good story to sink yourself into (alongside the Source of all good stories, The Book of Books, of course.)

P_20180325_114543_vHDR_On

The promise of Easter is the power to change how we see the world through God’s eyes. There is victory on the horizon, whether it’s right now or in the not yet.

May you find a good story to anchor your life, not because you want to escape this world but because in its pages you might find what you’ve been missing.

And if you need a place to start for recommendations–good fiction and Christian non-fiction, Sarah Clarkson (aka ‘BookGirl’) has her recommendations here.


Tell me what you’ve been reading~I’d love to hear in the Comments. Maybe I could read over your shoulder?