☕️ What’s in a Name?

A Saturday Caesura

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love mountains. Even as a child, all that rock and snow and majesty captivated me, saturated my soul with goodness. I eventually learned that some mountains have names, and being able to call a mountain by its name somehow made it more of a friend than the other nameless ones. I viewed maps and learned the names of more mountains and that mountain families were called ranges, and then I read books and learned that mountains weren’t just piles of snow-capped rock; they had features as distinct as my nose and eyes and freckles. Peak, alpine, glacier — those were the most obvious ones, but then I learned about seracs and scree, cirques, saddles, and cols. And fun-to-pronounce names like krummholz, bergschrund, arête, and nunatak. Mountains still captivate me, heart and soul, but they are no longer generic entities imposing their glorious mystery onto the landscape. When I look at a mountain or hike to its summit, I now name what I see and yearn to learn more.

So I’ve been thinking about naming and the difference it makes when I don’t see just a tumult of colour in a sub-alpine meadow, but I’m able to say, “Why hello, Moss Campion and Pink Mountain Heather and lovely little Wintergreen.” (I like to think that I’m on such friendly terms with flowers that I needn’t bother with their formal, scientific names). Likewise, the vast night sky seems less vast and unknowable when I recognize Big Dipper, North Star, and Orion’s Belt.

Naming is an invitation to move from abstract, general knowledge to a deeper form of knowing that gives us language for the stories through which we share our learning and our experiences. Naming can be a matter of utility and function, as is the jargon specific to vocation, profession, business, politics, and sport, but even more than the practical and necessary, naming can be a way of paying attention. And paying attention is a way of knowing our world. Paying attention is a way of halting the blur of activity and productivity. Naming and knowing help us prioritize presence over performance.

And this practice of presence is why naming has become more important to me. Where my devices encourage me to scroll, swipe, refresh, repeat, naming forces me to get the binoculars and look closely — is that a Cedar Waxwing or a Bohemian Waxwing? Where my day-to-day life pushes me to go, go, be, do, naming makes me be still and listen — is that insect-like buzzing a Grasshopper Sparrow or a Clay-coloured Sparrow? Naming invites me to turn from the distractions and enticements of the faraway and beyond to focus on the people and places right here in this small but endlessly knowable piece of creation where I live.

I do not wonder that one of the tasks given to Adam in the garden was to name the other creatures. I think God wanted Adam to have intimate knowledge of the world he was placed in because that world, then and now, points to the Creator who knows our names, who is himself present with us.

☕️ Jots & Tittles & Scribbles

A Saturday Caesura

Whenever my husband sees me staring out the window with my thin blue notebook and a pencil in hand, he asks me how the ‘jots and tittles’ are going. On some days I answer, “Fine.” On other days, I sigh. Sometimes my mind swirls with words and images practically begging to be embodied on the page. Sometimes the words seem to have flown south or gone into hibernation. Or something.

I have another notebook (brown, spiral-bound) and a whole set of pencils, though the latest favourites are H and B, sometimes F. This notebook contains my “scribbles.” When lines and curves and dots won’t cooperate to make words, I repurpose them for other ways to create images.

Creativity is about observing our world and taking the bits and pieces, the broken shards and the impossibly intact, and using them to tell a greater story about beauty and truth and wholeness.

I’ve been trying to use what I have —jots, tittles, scribbles — to tell this grand story of grace and redemption, but it’s a story we all can tell through our unique callings and abilities.

And this story? It’s one our world desperately needs to hear. We need to hear.

Mountains are not easily reduced to jots, tittles, or scribbles…
I could scribble prairie skies for days and days.
Marsh ❤️
My addiction — alpine meadows.
A tree growing on a rock.
How does life flourish in such impossible places?

☕️ The Almost Didn’ts

A Saturday Caesura

The first three weeks of school in the midst of a pandemic with all its uncertainties, regulations, and anxieties has left me feeling like the world and my words are speeding by, the shape, form, detail lost in an indistinguishable blur. One of the reasons I write is to pay attention and to notice things, to find beauty and discover wisdom and wonder. Lately, my eyes and ears and heart have found it difficult to focus on anything in the jumble of life zipping past the window. I’ve not noticed so many things.

So I’m grateful for the things I almost didn’t notice.

I almost didn’t notice the skies pockmarked with dusky clouds and reverberating with the animated chatter of hundreds of geese making travel plans, discussing weather forecasts, channelling the energy of young ones caught up in the excitement and anticipation of their first Great Migration.

I almost didn’t notice that the trees have shivered and shimmied out of some of their summer garb, letting it drop in disarray at their feet like a discarded memory.

I almost didn’t notice the gradual slouching towards darkness that cloaks the morning commute with mystery and evokes a comforting cup of hot chai tea.

I almost didn’t notice the shifting colour palate of the marsh, not so long ago a richly nuanced green, now a motley gold-russet-chocolate-lemon that flavours and textures this year’s marsh fall fashion.

I almost didn’t notice the tracks trespassing on the newly graded road a few hundred metres from our home — a young bear venturing out to leave his bear-foot mark on the edges of society. I wonder if he felt brave and adventurous.

I almost didn’t notice the tears forming above the mask. The voice behind the mask was trying so hard to be brave. Even in a pandemic, school is already the safest place to be for too many teens. I wish I could give hugs.

I wish I could list all the things I didn’t notice. They probably contained so much beauty and wisdom and wonder. But I missed them.

☕️ On the Wearing of Masks

A Saturday Caesura

A brief history lesson: Michel Montaigne was a French nobleman who lived during the 16th century. He liked to think and write. Over his lifetime, he wrote a lot of words about a lot of things. Eventually, all his “little attempts” at writing and thinking were collected into a book he called “Les Essais” and the essay genre was born. So what did Montaigne think and write about? Check out these titles: “On Cannibals,” “On Thumbs,” “On the Wearing of Clothes in Public,” “On Fear.”

If he were alive today, maybe he would write about the wearing of masks, too…

Because who knew that in the 21st century mask wearing would lead to so many debates, protests, law suits, so much intense emotion and divisiveness. We can’t breathe. We feel uncomfortable. We don’t like being mandated to wear one. We demand our rights. Our glasses fog up.

The deep irony is, of course, that we humans are actually amazingly adaptive to mask wearing. We put on masks to hide our deepest breath-robbing, heart-throbbing fears, to put a new face on our discomforting guilt or shame. Being our own master means the right to wear whatever mask best suits our need to appear the way we think others want us to be or to hide the parts we don’t want anyone to know. Our closets are full of masks for all occasions:

Don’t want your friend to know you are intensely jealous of her? There’s a mask for that (it may look a little critical and snarky, but hey, better that than admit to jealousy.)

Don’t want anyone to see the crippling guilt you carry because of a harmful choice you made? Yup, got one for that, too (it may be a little bold and boastful, but it should cover all that unnerving insecurity if you wear it consistently enough).

Don’t want anyone to know the pain and loneliness that overwhelm your very existence? You could choose the classic Perpetual Smile mask, or perhaps the more ‘modern’ Zen-Mode version. Like everything mask-related, you have choices. Many, many choices.

Some of us wear so many masks that we don’t even know who we are without them.

I’m wondering if it’s time to just put on that cloth face mask that may actually prevent someone else from getting sick and put our energies into the unmasking of our attempts to remake ourselves into someone we think we can live with when God has told us all along that being made in his image is unfathomably good. Believing this and living accordingly does require trust, humility, wisdom, authenticity, and truth. But no masks. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

Montaigne probably would have a lot more to say about this topic than I do (and he for sure would have quoted Cicero and Socrates and not used the word ‘zilch,’) but maybe part of being authentic is to reflect on truth. And that is simply what I attempt to do in these Saturday musings.

☕️ Fall

A Saturday Caesura

Yellow leaves, (and a few greenish ones), lie in scatter formation on the back lawn. Three trees lie there also, more shattered than scattered, victims of core rot and the 90 kmh winds that accompanied a severe thunderstorm earlier this week. The leaves lost their grip in that wind, but they are also succumbing to the inevitability of fall. Fall once felt at least a summer away, but now here we are, easing into late sunrises and early sunsets, golden fields, fading flowers…falling leaves.

Fall is a “back” season: birds fly back south, students and teachers go back to school, vacationers head back to work. Eventually we will turn our clocks back an hour and settle into the extended darkness of winter. This year, we wish we could also go back to some pre-pandemic normalcy. If we had a sense of control in our lives before, we’ve lost our grip on it now. We skitter-scatter with the winds of uncertainty.

The downed trees splayed across the lawn are an obvious aberration in the back yard; their tragic posture is clearly “not normal.” But the reality is that only three trees fell; all of the others are still standing — a rather normal thing for most trees. The winds of last week didn’t topple them, nor the winds of yesterday, and neither will the winds of tomorrow or next month, or possibly even next year. “Normal” still surrounds us; some truths and realities haven’t changed just because others have. Uncertainty about some things doesn’t mean that everything is toppled and uprooted. I, for one, need to pause and remember this.

We can go forward rather than spend our days longing to go back, trusting that ageless truths and the God who is Truth will not change. Ever. No matter how the winds blow, trees fall, or pandemics spread.

☕️ On Walking

A Saturday Caesura

While out on a walk one evening this week, I saw a little girl and her dad at the street corner ahead. She was learning about stop-look-listen before crossing. When they began walking, the dad’s stride was relaxed and casual, solid and sure compared to the skip-bounce tiptoe half-run of the daughter’s effort to keep up. He held her hand, providing an anchor that kept them together even though her child pace could never match his adult one.

As I watched them, I tried to remember if as a child I had ever felt the need to always be half-running just to keep up with the adult world. Even if I didn’t then, I think I do now. . . and it is exhausting.

I had another walking experience this week. It was a long walk, one that generally gets labelled as a hike, but at its core, it was still walking. Once we bushwhacked (a particularly challenging kind of walking) our way into the alpine, we could clearly see the final route to the summit. Striped of their cloak of trees and shrubs, naked mountain ridges can be deceiving, looking either easier or harder than they actually are. To one member of our group, this route looked daunting. She stopped, looked . . . and stayed stopped. Anxiety set in. Then doubt. In the end, the thought of not reaching the summit after working so hard to get this far loosened the fear enough to get her feet moving again.

So we encouraged her and we walked. No skip-bouncing half-running, just steady and sure walking even when the wind whipped around and through us. Look-step. Look-step. I walked and she walked right behind me, not looking left or right or up ahead– just looking at my feet. When I took a step forward on the slope, she stepped right behind me. Anchored this way to possibility rather than fear, she made it to the summit one step at a time across all the space that felt too steep, too rocky, too impossible.

So I’ve been thinking about how we walk through life and who needs us to be steady and sure. About who needs an anchor when the pace is beyond reach and the way seems too much of everything scary and daunting and impossible. The truth? Maybe there is the odd occasion where I am somehow able to be those things for someone else, but mostly (always) I’m the needy one.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

☕️ Living a Eulogy

A Saturday Caesura

I’ve spent six weeks living in a rural Costa Rican village — three two-week stays over the span of a few years — not long enough for my Spanish to be anything more than embarrassing, but long enough to call many of the community members mis amigos. Since cell phones and internet have become easier to access in the village, we keep in touch via social media and Google Translate. I appreciate that they continue to send pictures of weddings and babies and improvements in the community, the most recent being a paved road complete with speed bumps near the school and village plaza. (Yes, someone sent me pictures of the speed bumps.)

This week the update from Santa Elena was a sad one. One of the key community leaders, a tall, soft-spoken farmer, died from leukemia. I did not know Alvaro well, but I admired and respected his leadership role in the projects we helped with, particularly one that involved an extensive plan to bring fresh water from the mountains to eleven small communities in the region. Alvaro eventually worked full-time as the chief organizer of this project, leaving their farm in his son’s capable hands. When the water project was complete, a community member sent me video footage of the official ceremony. What a celebration that was, a testament to years of labour and a complex system of pipelines and reservoirs — a testament also to Alvaro’s leadership.

The loss of a life always makes me pause, but one of the posted tributes to Alvaro’s life has camped in my mind. In it, there was no shortage of ‘resume virtues’, most of them including the word fundador — founder. That he was intensely invested in his community was abundantly clear. The tribute went on to say that there were many adjectives that one could use to describe Alvaro (I’ve used a few of them), but the one that best described him was SERVER (yes, it was in all-caps). What a tribute.

I doubt that Alvaro woke up one day and said to himself, “My life goal is to be known as a server to my family and community.” Maybe he did. If so, he lived with more purpose and vision than many of us. And if so, he was counter-cultural. A life of service to others is generally admired, but rarely profiled as a worthy pursuit in and of itself. It always looks best on someone else, it seems. Yes, we do promote and applaud the ‘helping’ careers – nurses, doctors, social workers – but the career tends to be the goal, the acts of service a by-product, a means to an end, rather than the Primary Thing. The resume virtue tends to trump the eulogy virtue.

Maybe thinking ahead to how we might be characterized in a eulogy or a memorial tribute is too morbid for us to consider, but if it is in our death that the impact of our lives comes into clearest focus, then we would do well to consider how we are living.

” … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control.” Gal. 5: 22-23

☕️ The Spaces We Live In

A Saturday Caesura

The view from the hotel window captivates me only because of the constant movement: trucks and cars ad nauseam, gyrating cement trucks, a stout armoured car, convoys of b-train dump trucks, fluorescent green GFL garbage trucks, a Smart car, toy-like among the steady stream of freight-liners emblazoned with company slogans – CN We Deliver, FedEx The World on Time, Grimshaw Trucking Gateway to the North – a load of farm equipment, travel trailers and RVs in search of summer, an occasional motorcycle.

Beyond this ever-flowing tributary sits terminal, tower, and tarmac – the stuff of international airports – where roaring jet engines regularly overpower the thrum and rumble of the freeway below.

If we were in this hotel for holiday reasons, we would probably reconsider the choice to stay here.

The freeway and the airport are liminal spaces – those in-between places of transition between somewhere and somewhere else, between a starting point and a destination, between a beginning and an end. How much of my life has been spent in liminal places, I wonder.

Our hotel and others, each one a liminal space of its own, are queued up along the freeway to entice travellers of both land and air. In the foreground between hotel and northbound lanes is a ditch populated with bulrushes and surrounded by shelter-belt trees, still in their youth and in mixed stages of vitality. In the close middle-ground, a no-man’s land of sorts between the going-north and heading-south strips of asphalt. The far middle-ground between freeway and airport is plowed into furrows and fringed with self-seeded squatters – alphalfa and various grasses. These are the marginal places, the borderlands, the edges.

But they are far from empty.

In the foreground ditch lives at least one pair of mallard ducks, visible only when arriving or departing from some enclave deep in the bulrushes. Several male blackbirds, with or without red and yellow shoulder patches, and their nondescript brown female companions make the fledgling trees feel useful as perches and places for playful cavorting. Occasionally a few of the birds dart across the northbound lanes to the middle-ground meridian and back again, if for no other reason than to say they did it and survived.

A steady watchful presence patrols the close middle-ground. A hunter. A Swainson’s hawk scans for life in the meridian grasses that are deep enough to swallow him for the final foot of his plummeting dives. Sometimes he rises on wide wings with empty talons; other times he clutchs a furry morsel, incentive enough to continue this pattern all day. He is agile, soaring back and forth, high and low. With amazing dexterity, he can anchor himself to a singular space of sky in a stalled hover.

The far middle is far enough away to lack sensory detail, but there is a constant swirling animation of gulls settling and rising around the muddy shores of a large puddle sprawled across the dark plowed ground. I can imagine their gossiping chatter and mildly alarmed or offended squawking, but of course too much noise reverberates from the comings and goings of liminal space to actually hear them from my seat by the hotel window.

What is missing from that window view are permanent dwelling places. There are no houses – just hotels, hangers, terminals, and outlet stores. Even the birds living contentedly in the marginal spaces are seasonal visitors, here only for the warmer summer months. They have their own liminal spaces, the laneless migratory freeways of the sky.

And maybe the house, the home, we return to after our sojourn in the hotel too near a freeway and an airport, after a successful heart procedure, after a five hour drive – maybe this space where I now sit watching birds flit through the trees growing in the margins of field and marsh, maybe this isn’t the permanent dwelling place I perceive it to be…

When I sat long enough and paid close enough attention to what initially presented as a lack-luster view from a hotel window, I began to understand the uniqueness of the spaces we live in.

The in-between liminal spaces often feel confusing and disorienting, but without them I cannot grow, learn, change. Without them, I’m stuck.

I live in the mundane margins, part of the greater world, but certainly not the centre of it. And that is okay, because by God’s grace I have all I need to thrive here.

I appreciate the rootedness this house has provided for the past twenty years, but it is not an eternal dwelling, which is very different and far more desirable than any sense of worldly permanence.

Transitional, marginal, temporary though they be, there is goodness in these spaces where we live because God is present in them all.


A Sunday Doxology

Praise God who forms the hearts 
      of all and sees
the ones that beat too fast,
the ones who are broken, 
     wandering, lonely,
calloused, wounded, 
faint, stubborn,  
     despairing, deceived.

Praise God who can bring healing
     to all these hearts 
        so disordered
        so prone to malfunction.
You make us whole and create in us
     wise, faithful, yielded,
     discerning, obedient,
     joyful, undivided,
     steadfast and secure
that beat to the 
rhythms of 
your own