My January column from the Christian Courier.
As this column appears in your mailbox we are in the season of Epiphany—in the midst of the church’s celebration of light and the one who is the light of the world. The texts that echo in our ears and minds are those that invite: “Arise, shine, for your light has come.” Or which declare: “Jesus did the first of his signs…and revealed his glory.”
Yet as I write the words of this column we are still in the thick of Advent. The present season is as much about darkness and judgment as it is about the light that shines in the darkness. On the Sunday that approaches we will hear “rejoice in the Lord always,” alongside “You brood of vipers.” The one for whom we wait is a judging/saving God who names our death dealing ways.
Thinking beyond the church year, the earth’s tilted, rotating orbit around the sun implies a similar gap between the writing and the reading of this column. As I write these words in early December we are still on our way toward the longest night of the year. You read them on the other side of the winter solstice, with daylight hours steadily increasing.
Cawing, keening crows
loud overhead on the bike path;
inky silhouetted flock
against deep indigo sky,
twilight of Advent.
Lift, turbulence, beating wings;
cacophony in whorled air
become, somehow, invitation to
envelopment in mad feathered flight,
toward hidden social roost.
Memory of Colville’s Seven Crows
gliding in captured stillness
toward some opaque future,
encircled viewer drawn
forward in uncertain landscape,
or foreboding of Cyclist and Crow,
detailed symmetry in acrylic,
anonymous rider enamoured with
jet-black, prominent corvid
following or leading where?
My latest column in the Christian Courier.
TIS THE SEASON OF THE HOLIDAY coffee cup. Whether you prefer to line up at Second Cup or Starbucks, your paper cup will evoke a festive and holiday spirit. It will do so, of course, without reference to any traditional Christian teachings concerning the birth of the Messiah. At this time of year, Starbucks is often singled out by the Christmas/Christian culture warriors for its willingness to exploit the birth of Jesus while simultaneously erasing the Bethlehem narrative.
But what about Second Cup? Are we going to let that Canadian company off the hook? Let’s look at Second Cup’s holiday campaign, which involves beautiful, baby blue cups evoking snow, ice and tinsel. Each cup is emblazoned with one of the following three words: Peace, Joy or Love. Here in Quebec it’s Paix, Joie or Amour. I like these cups. Who in their right mind would object to anything that celebrates the first three of the fruit of the Spirit? Continue reading
Advent Psalm (126)
Weary and sleepless,
caught off guard by
racing pulse, panic, vertigo;
rare reprieve to breathe,
Heading for home,
down old Highway 6 through tears,
Aberfoyle, Puslinch, Clappison’s Corners,
steering south on automatic pilot,
college kid’s stick-shift Jetta.
Over Skyway Bridge,
past belching steelwork ugliness,
along escarpment’s familiar lines;
angled off-ramp deceleration
toward welcoming place. Continue reading
A new poem for the second Sunday of Advent (2017):
And here is the poem within an alternative geometry (click on the poem/image to open it in a more readable format): Continue reading
Scattered desiccated leaves cling to branches
against autumn’s churning winds,
resisting deciduous barrenness,
new coloured prominence of
Red Pine, Juniper, Hemlock.
Feathered, long-distant migrants
soar, flit, and fly from greyed terrain
for southern home and habitat;
wintering chickadees cache seeds
in creviced bark for hunger’s moment.
Poet’s romantic autumnal landscape
lost on those sleeping rough tonight,
rougher for indifferent wind, sleet,
Wax and wick, strike of match,
white phosphorous flare and flame, Continue reading
We have these amazing texts preserved and handed down to us in the prophet Isaiah. Beautiful texts that speak about the transformation of our world. Beautiful texts that remind us of what we are waiting for. We are waiting for God to come in judgment and grace to his people, a waiting that infuses every moment of our lives. Last week we explored one of these texts – one of these songs.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Ain’t gonna study war no more.
This is huge, world–transformative stuff. It’s about politics, and about the life of nations, and it’s about the possibilities for peace in the world – it’s about what happens when the kingdom of God comes in all its glory.
This week we get more of the same as we turn to Isaiah chapter 11. This week we read these astonishing words:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain. Continue reading
I am by no means an artist. In fact it’s only in the past number of months that I’ve begun putting pencil to paper – that I’ve begun taking baby steps in trying to understand how to use shading, lines and different pencils (2B 4b HB 6H) in service of an idea or image. And aside from being a total novice, I don’t exactly have a lot of time on my hands for drawing. Though I do find it a soul-nourishing way to make myself slow down for a moment, to reflect on life and its meaning.
Earlier this Fall the Presbyterian Record opened its annual art competition for the December issue of the magazine. I took the competition (and the reality of a deadline!) as a source of motivation to create something. It was an opportunity to think about how I would represent some aspect of Christmas. The end result is the pencil drawing, below, which I have also put through a “sepia” filter in iPhoto.
Like many within the church I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Christmas. On the one hand I have beautiful childhood memories of Christmas – of trees and lights and family celebrations. And even today I have a kind of delight in aspects of the season. And yet beneath these positive aspects of memory and celebration is a deep frustration with the way Christmas (Advent is essentially bypassed!) has become a saccharine and tinsel-strewn affair of little or no substance. Worse, perhaps, the church often caters to this indulgent and superficial approach to the season, which means that our representation and celebration of Christmas is not as rich as it could and should be.
In submitting my own drawing to The Record, I had no sense this was a great piece of art or that it had any chance of making the cover of the magazine. It’s not, and it didn’t! The piece absolutely belongs in the small little corner they found for it toward the back pages. Continue reading
King Ahaz is afraid. We know what that feels like. Fear has touched each of our lives.
Perhaps you have a childhood memory of finding yourself suddenly alone in a public place – you have lost sight of your mother or father – you can’t find them. Your chest tightens in fear. Panic sets in. You run – you search.
Perhaps as an adult you have encountered or known someone who is prone to anger and violence. If so, that experience of clammy hands, of a pounding heart, and of weak legs is something you know well.
On the other hand, perhaps your fear is not quite so visceral, not so full-bodied – maybe your fear is more of a steady anxiety about life, about your health, about your children, about your future.
My sermon from yesterday, which was the first Sunday in Advent.
Does that name ring a bell with you? Well, Thessalonica is a city in modern day Greece – also known as Salonica. But for our purposes what’s interesting is that the city of Thessalonica existed already in the time of Jesus and the earliest Christians. In fact, this city was founded three hundred years before Christ by the King of Macedon – he named it after his wife Thessalonike.
Well, it must be nice to be able to name a city after your wife… Reading that historical tidbit this week I wondered whether I might try that this Christmas. Becky, there’s a beautiful little village in the Eastern Township called North Hatley, and but I’m going to re-name it for you as a Christmas gift. More than likely that’s a gift I’ll never be able to give. Continue reading