☕️ 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.

☀️Cardiography

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, 
     faltering...
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
hearts
that beat to the 
rhythms of 
your own
heart.

☕️ Hand Dance

A Saturday Caesura

Of all the things I did this week, going to the dentist felt most like a “just-get-‘er-done” activity.  The visit (euphemistically speaking) was comprised of all the usual dentistry things: elephantine needles, awkward rubber dams, whinning drills, and other torturous what-nots.

Have you ever noticed how limited your range of vision is when you are lying in a dentist’s chair? You have an awareness of the dentist on one side and his assistant on the other, but watching their faces without turning your head is physically uncomfortable (as if you were comfortable to begin with). Besides, wouldn’t watching their faces be a little weird anyway? And you especially don’t want to catch even a glimpse of The Needle or The Drill. So you look at the Garfield (or Snoopy or Elmo) poster on the ceiling and think about the smoothie you’ll likely need for supper tonight. Well, maybe you don’t, but I did.

I did notice something other than the ceiling poster though. 

Hands. Dancing.

On centre stage of my vision, I observed a hand dance performed without pomp or ceremony but with a practiced rhythm as the dentist and the assistant passed various instruments between them.  No words were spoken or needed; the choreography was well-rehearsed and perfected into a fluid, almost elegant routine. With a simple twist of the wrist and some elaborate finger-work, the assistant could catch one instrument in her pinkie while simultaneously handing off another one with her thumb and forefinger. The dentist knew exactly where to reach to make the exchanges, never had to look or guess.  His hands just knew.

I was impressed.  And I have a deeper gratitude for people who know their craft and perform it well.  Even dentists. And mechanics and pizza makers and cashiers and musicians and farmers and roofers and janitors and grandmothers… the world is full of hands that know the dance of their work.

☕️ Waffling

A Saturday Caesura

I made waffles the other day. Just saying that makes it sound like a big deal, but the real achievement was in cleaning the cupboard where I discovered the partially used package of buttermilk pancake mix (expiry date: distant past). What made me pause and ponder wasn’t the waffles or even the viability of the pancake mix, but the word waffle itself.

The Dutch origins of waffle are connected to wafer and in certain contexts can refer to a honeycomb-like weave. But from its English roots, to waffle is to be undecided or unsure.

I’ve done my fair share of waffling lately.

Over the years, I’ve also encountered a few Waffle Makers. You’ve no doubt seen them, too. They come with a few standard features: a raised eyebrow and some questions — “Really?” and “Wouldn’t it be better if…?” or “Are you sure?” Suddenly your sure conviction begins to wobble, teeter…and you are all in a waffle.

Sometimes we need Waffle Makers who will step in and stop us in the midst of a decision and make us waffle and wrestle before we move forward. These Waffle Makers genuinely desire to create in us deep wells, full and overflowing with wisdom and discernment.

But there is another kind of Waffle Maker whose questions and raised eyebrows come from judgment, jealousy, or even malice, and what they leave behind are recesses where discouragement and insecurity can pool and stagnate.

And sometimes we get ourselves stuck in waffle-mode and we need to hear the same words Elijah spoke to Israel and 850 wayward prophets: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him.” *

That was rather unambiguous and very unwaffle-like.

*1 Kings 18:22

☕️Anticipation and Delight

A Saturday Caesura

I spent the month of April anticipating spring, watching with delight as snow white gave way to earthy browns, and most recently, to hints of green.  And now spring is here.  The anticipation is over.  Life continues.  And isn’t that how it goes? We look forward to something – graduation, career, marriage, children, travel – and when the waited-for-thing arrives, we celebrate and then pack up the party hats and slip into something more comfortable and ordinary and continue with life, and sometimes in that ordinary continuing we stop finding delight.  

At some point everything we wished for in spring seems humdrum, run-of-the-mill, so what, or whatever. We anticipate the fresh new leaves of spring but complain about raking them in the fall.  We delight in lush green lawns but are annoyed at having to mow them each week. 

Occasionally we’ll do or see something that sparkles with delight – an evening BBQ on the deck, a drive in the countryside, a hike in the mountains – but mostly our days are smeared with the nondescript colours of ordinary.  So we make sparkle our quest but too often lose the ability to discern between what is real and meant for delight and what is illusionary and results in despair.

We live as if wonder and delight cannot be found in the mundane and exist only in the extra-ordinary, the superfluous, the majestic, the miraculous.  But what if wonder and delight are woven into the fabric of creation?  What if we took our eyes off the Big Shiny Things and found delight in something as ordinary as a cloudless sunrise, the gentle touch of a spouse, a moment of laughter with a friend, a muskrat swimming in the ditch. 

We live as if anticipation is not a sustainable emotion, its life-span restricted to that liminal space before the big events, significant changes, momentous moments.  But what if we stopped reserving our anticipation for the Big & Memorable and lived each day as if it is in itself an anticipation, a continual expectation of yet another day and another and another.

What if the reality that life does continue is extraordinary and delightful and wondrous and anything but ordinary.

Paused…but not

A Saturday Caesura

Who knew that Caesura would suddenly gather its relatives both near and far and commandeer our news, our conversations, our ways of living: closed cancelled postponed distanced isolated quarantined. A giant pause button, pandemic-induced.

So much has changed since last Saturday.

But not everything.

Spring was not cancelled and arrived in typical northern prairie fashion. Which is to say that the trees are as bare as they have been since forever ago and snow still congregates en masse along roads, on rooftops, on our woodpile, and throughout our yard. Congregating is a wishful word in a coronavirus world.

Inklings of spring are here though if I look beyond first appearances. Chipping sparrows and red polls are more prolific at the feeder. Chickadee chatter has distinct mating overtones. Pussy willows poke their tousled heads out to test the weather. The sun, as brilliant as ever on a clear day, extends its daily visits and snuggles into nooks and crannies with warm delight.

I need spring. I need to notice it in all of its nuanced arrival. Noticing keeps me anchored in the deeper rhythms of life during a time of unprecedented helter-skelter anxiety and uncertainty. I need to pay attention to the sun that still rises every day. To the snow that melts and refreezes, melts and refreezes, melts, melts, melts…mud. To the trees that will yet bud and grass that will turn up and turn green.

I need Spring to remind me that there are deeper rhythms of love and grace and kindness and joy and lament and worship and goodness that are still here, must still be here when the season of pandemic has released its wintery grip of isolation.