Grace in the Pandemic

The past weeks have been difficult and stressful for many of us, or perhaps all of us. It’s no exaggeration to say there have been sleepless nights, worries in the day, challenges in family life, and a kind of fogginess about where life is going. This is on top of the very real suffering that some of us have experienced or witnessed in relation to COVID-19.

In the midst of all of this, we can perhaps also acknowledge that there have been moments of grace and joy—when we have discovered something of God’s goodness, creativity, and grace. We have discovered this in one another and in the world around us. Not unlike in other seasons of our lives, moments of struggle and of grace are often set in tension alongside each other. (Continues below pictures…)

One of the ways in which I have experienced the grace and providential love of God in these days, has been through birds in our back yard. The pandemic season has happened to overlap, in the past few weeks, with the spring migration of all types of birds. In cool mornings on our back porch I have found a gracious reprieve from the anxiety and stress of the day. With their beautiful, feathered fluttering these birds have descended with God’s grace into my daily life and that of my family (though three teenagers are not always as excited about birds as their dad is!). Continue reading

My garden won’t save the world…

My latest column in the Christian Courier.
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My front-yard garden measures 12 feet by 11 feet and so represents a modest effort in terms of urban agriculture. It certainly doesn’t compete with the larger plots tended by some Portuguese seniors in west end Montreal, or with the wide-open community gardens that flourish here. But its postage-stamp size doesn’t tell the whole story of my veggie patch either. Year over year my acreage (dreaming big, here) teaches me much more than many other areas of life—it is the source of innumerable successes, failures, and opportunities to learn.

This year I decided to plant kohlrabi for the first time, which one website describes as “a unique, easy-to-grow veggie.” Easy for them to say! I don’t know whether to blame the less-than-consistent rainfall of this past summer or my less than strategic enriching of the soil, but the resulting, stumpy little kohlrabi stems were rather disappointing. In my defense I should say that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in the garden this year. And the decision to leave town for four weeks of holidays wasn’t exactly conducive to its flourishing.

IMG_1472Most of the carrot seeds I planted in early June simply didn’t germinate, though the few seeds that did spring up produced twenty lovely carrots. Twenty! (You can interpret that exclamation mark as either frustration or delight!) They were typically odd-sized and wonderfully misshapen. Also, at some point during the season I simply forgot I had planted onion seedlings in the back corner, and only discovered them when pulling out overgrown crabgrass and other weeds a few weeks ago. And there they were, 10 of them pulled up and held in one hand, as remarkable and beautiful as anything on God’s green earth. Continue reading

Judgment and Grace of Strangers

My Christmas column in the Christian Courier.

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It is one thing to be rebuked for something you’ve done. It is quite another to be rebuked by a complete stranger.

I was in line for a coffee at Second Cup in downtown Montreal – and was checking my phone as I came to the counter. I started to order a small, dark roast, but the guy at the cash paused for a moment, waited to get my full attention, and then said: “I wish we could go back to the days before those phones, when we could have some human contact.” Oof. The feeling of embarrassment and shame was immediate for me. What was I thinking!?

And just to be clear, this wasn’t some cranky baby boomer objecting to smart phone reality in general (we tend, mistakenly, to associate grumpiness with the older set). No, this was a twenty-something guy who was tired of serving coffee to people who wouldn’t even look at him. Continue reading

What are you not seeing?

My latest column, for the Christian Courier.

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Up until a few years ago I had never seen them. I didn’t even know they were around, so didn’t know to look for them. But every Spring they are here. In fact, we are at peak season right now so there’s a good chance you will glimpse them if you look carefully. And it would be worth the effort, too, given how beautiful they are in their blues and greens and reds and yellows – especially the yellows.

IMG_6359Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m referring to the birds that make their way north each spring, particularly the warblers that rest each night in the trees around us on their journey. There is the Blackburnian Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the American Redstart, the Chestnut-sided Warbler, and the wonderfully named Yellow-rumped Warbler. The picture accompanying this column is of a Yellow-rumped Warbler that stopped over, ever so briefly, in my backyard last May.

For so many years, I missed this annual wave of feathers and song. While I have always enjoyed watching common backyard birds (finches, cardinals, jays, juncos and chickadees), I assumed that beautiful, multi-colored birds were a unique preserve of more tropical regions. Now that I know better, I’m learning to recognize the telltale movements of these tiny creatures in high branches as the sun warms them early in the morning. Continue reading