☕️ Looking Up

A Saturday Caesura

I needed to stop and just look up today. My gaze has been pulled in many directions this week, sometimes dragging my heart with it, sometimes my feet, and most often, my already weary brain.

I try to avoid claiming that I am busy because I don’t like how it suggests that I am more important or useful or productive than someone “less busy.” But I will admit that there are times when I feel the need to stop and collect bits and pieces of myself scattered here and there across the days and weeks.

Reclaiming wholeness requires me to turn my gaze upward — not just to fully attend to the latest iteration of prairie sky, but to see beyond the distractions and demands of life to the steadfast Oneness of God.


The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Duet. 6:4-5


God does not exist in bits and pieces. He is not scattered, but fully and wholly and eternally present.

He doesn’t want my love and obedience in bits and pieces either. Give it all, he says, give it wholly. That’s where true wholeness is found.

☕️ When Words are More Than Just Words

A Saturday Caesura

What if words were more than sounds strung together, more than marks neatly divided into varying units on a page, more than a means to an end.

What if they became fully animate, took on substance and form like miniature people who could rally their synonyms and join hands and encircle you in a gentle embrace.

What if they invited all their like-minded relatives and pieced together a quilt of protection and comfort for just that moment when you most needed it.

Perhaps a few wise, discerning words would forge themselves in a sword capable of cutting through thickly matted lies, of slicing cords of fear and hacking away shackles of shame. They wouldn’t be fickle words, these defenders of truth, but words tried and tested, refined and strong.

Some words would be playful, like clowns, and dance and tickle and entertain. Gentle, warm words could soothe like a cup of hot tea on a cold day.

No doubt there would be those words bent towards dissention and malevolence. Rough, shabby and too arrogant to notice or care, they scold and scald — or snap, bite, slash and stab. Gaping wounds, deep scars, and wearied hearts are evidence that they’ve either passed by or still lurk, hungry, in the shadows.

Thankfully, more words come marching along, grim-faced and determined. They assemble a triage team and set to work bandaging, repairing, relieving, healing. Their work never ends and they never stop. They are faithful words.

Words are actions. They are causes with real effects. They carry weight far greater than nanograms of ink or graphite on a page. They may seem devoid of mass when they leave a person’s mouth, but they can slam into a life and completely destroy it, or they can huddle shoulder-to-shoulder and somehow form a solid foundation on which to stand when the ground is sinking sand. Words have strengh and power.

So when I think about words, as I have this week, I marvel that God chose to identify himself as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” writes the apostle John. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The incarnate Word is the epitomy of action.

Since we are created in the image of God, it seems to me that our ability to use words is embedded in that image. To speak and write words as if there is not a greater Word is to be but a sounding gong or clanging symbol — noise without meaning or purpose. If God can animate his Word in flesh and blood to show the depth of his love and commitment to the creation he spoke into existence, then my words, in his hands, can be an extension of the incarnation.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, (which often end up as words on a page), be pleasing in your sight (and in your ears), Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer, the Word of Life.

☕️ When Darkness is not Dark

A Saturday Caesura

The wind walloped us this week — not a politics and pandemic sort of walloping, but chaotic and destructive nonetheless. It tore tossed toppled tangled with a ferocity unusual even for our wind-prone prairies. Pictures of roofs stripped naked and semi-trucks flopped sideways populated our community social media pages. The power company’s online map lit up with outage symbols. Our community sat right under one of those symbols. Estimated time of repair stretched from one hour to three hours and stuck there as time moved on. We have an alternate heat source and use candles every day, so the only real inconvenience was not being able to complete some work for school because the internet was down. I probably welcomed the excuse more than I should have.

It took the repair crew five hours to restore power; until then it sure was dark outside. No streetlights. No blinding yard lights from our neighbours across the street. No squares of window-light. No horizon glow of a whole community living and doing all the things that light helps us do. I thought, this must be what a bird feels like when a blanket is put over its cage. Or what it feels like to be in a cocoon. Or a womb.

The darkness was palpable, but not in an eerie, foreboding way. It was a stillness even though the wind was still terrorizing the air outside. It was a turning off of the world and its demands and perplexities and absurdities. It was permission to pause. It was a nothingness in the midst of everythingness. It was oddly comforting. Calming.

We are created for light — literally, symbolically, spiritually — and I usually revel in its energy, yearn for sunrise each morning, look for glimmers of it in moments of grace and hope, but the stillness of those five hours of darkness brought a different level of healing to my harried heart. Light can, does, exist in darkness.

☕️ The Best, the Good… and the Ugly

A Saturday Caesura

Before Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions moved my students from our classroom to their homes for three weeks. We made the transition with resigned acceptance; for too many students extended time alone at home only leads to anxiety or depressive loneliness. To help curb the mental health issues that arose when we had to ‘go remote’ in the spring, I added a “What’s your best thing from today?” to our daily writing exercises. Every day for those three weeks we took time to look for goodness and joy and positive things even when we weren’t necessarily happy about our overall circumstances.

Just this week, our first week back in class, though not back in the classroom yet, a grade 12 student popped back in to our online video session after I had dismissed everyone to work on the day’s assignment. She shared with me that she found the daily focus on “Best Things” so helpful that she decided to extend the practice. She took an empty mason jar, dubbed it her “Best Things Jar” and has been using it to collect more Best Things, each neatly written on slips of paper.

Any guesses what this teacher’s Best Thing for that day was?

My frequent Noticing Walks, a (mostly) weekly writing habit of Saturday Caesuras and Sunday Doxologies, my daily time in prayer and Scripture are all meant to focus my attention, not only on Best Things, small blessings woven into the routines of daily life, but also on the Good Things of God, rich blessings etched with eternity in the human heart.

But noticing the good does not remove the ugliness from the world, or even from my own heart. And sometimes all that ugly looms large and ominous. It consumes.

So I’ve been pondering another aspect of noticing and paying attention: What do I need to overlook or ignore? This question is not meant to ensconce me in blinders, to box me firmly into a position of denial about the world or my heart, but it is a reminder that I do not need to wade into the ugliness or let it weigh me down with anger or swamp me under in despair. Instead, I can respond to the Ugly Things by following Christ’s commands to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (best way to deal with my heart uglies) and love my neighbour (best way to respond to the world uglies).

If this first week of 2021 has taught me anything, it is that I need to pay attention to what I am giving attention to. I need to focus my noticing, set boundaries on what deserves or requires my attention, celebrate the Best Things, be deeply grateful for the Good Things, respond with love, prayer, and humility to the Ugly Things.

☕️ Thinkski

A Saturday Caesura: New Year’s Edition

Grey snow clouds smudge the horizon. Falling snow blurs the middle-ground and slowly whitens the foreground. I bundle up for a New Year’s Day “Thinkski.” Although I skied these trails yesterday, the new snow muffles my tracks, leaving them at best discernible parallel grooves, at worst, blown into oblivion by the wind or stamped out by snowmobiles. Maintaining my own trails is both an exercise in futility and an act of love for skiing. I reset the tracks more than I ever simply ski them nicely packed and smooth.

As I settle into a rhythmic swish-glide, I think about how this almost daily resetting feels so much like the past year where so many days required a reset of expectations as the world was blown over and apart by pandemic fears, racial violence, political divisiveness, and conspiracy theories. Many days felt like a beginning again, a re-finding of something we used to call Normal even though its exact configuration has always been so elusive that we keep renaming it The New Normal to accommodate all of its mutations. Ski, snow, blow, storm, reset, ski, thaw, snow, reset…

My eyes scan the snow ahead, looking for signs of the trail, but it is my feet that tell me whether I have found it or not. The foundation trail beneath the fallen and blown snow is firm and reassuring. This is the way, it says, ski here.

I think there is a foundational trail through the year ahead as well, just as there was one that brought me through last year and the year before that and the year before that… Choosing each day to orient to that foundation is most certainly an act of loving life and Lord and neighbour. “Stand at the crossroads and look,” said the Lord through Jeremiah, a prophet well acquainted with unrest & lament, “ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This is the way, God says, walk here. He is firm and reassuring, a faithful refuge, a steadfast guide.

Christmas 2020: Tiles, Toilet & Turkey

A Saturday Caesura, Christmas Edition

Christmas morning begins in the semi-dark living room, the glow of coloured Christmas lights and candles accompanied by hot coffee (him) and tea (me) with a chaser-splurge of hot chocolate (also me) and a deep dive into words of Christ found in Matthew that speak truths both knowable and beyond understanding. No exchange or opening of presents, just this gift of God’s presence.

I listen to “Bethlehem, Year Zero,” a poem penned and read by Irish poet, Andrew Roycroft, the lilt of his brogue adding to the resonance of his words for this day, this year. It nourishes my spirit like the breakfast bowl of warmed-over Irish oats nourishes my body.

The dark sky gives way to ordinary grey. It starts snowing, lightly.

I fill the bird feeder and the wood box, stoke the fire, don my painting clothes and put a final coat on the window trim in the bathroom we’ve been renovating. We work together to adjust the new shower drain, brainstorm solutions for tiling uneven, unsquare walls (old farmhouse syndrome), abandon the tile idea, reinstall the vanity, re-plumb the sink, reinstall & re-plumb the toilet. It needs a new seat, we agree.

I change clothes, wash renovation residue off my hands and prep the turkey, saute onions and celery and garlic for the stuffing, peel and chop two small turnips, put them on the wood stove to cook. While the turkey roasts, I lend a hand here and there to ongoing endeavours in the bathroom, tidy up tools and rags, vacuum dust ‘n bits.

We are only two here, but texts, emails, phone calls connect us to family and friends throughout the day – a glittering of grace and joy and love that sparkles like hoar frost in the sun of a winter day, like tinsel in the lights of a Christmas tree.

I exchange the everyday ivory tablecloth for something festive red and green, set out stemware, silverware, white cloth napkins. He exchanges overalls for an apron and carves the turkey while I make gravy, dress the roasted carrots and brussel sprouts with balsamic glaze, whip the turnips with a touch of cream and dollop of butter. We keep the food hot on the wood stove, serve ourselves there on pre-warmed china plates. We light candles, (an everyday supper routine), hit play on Kenny G’s Christmas album (still in the CD player from last year), give thanks to God for the gifts of this day, this year, and savour the meal, the work of our hands, the blessings of life and marriage and home.

It is not a “magical” Christmas Day, but it is one rich in meaning that extends beyond the hours that define it as a day, just as the birth of the God-Man, the Servant-King, carries its deepest meaning far beyond the hours that defined that night in a stable in Bethlehem, year zero.

☕️ 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.

☕️ How to be a Listener

A Saturday Caesura

Make space for stillness.

Attune your ear, yes, but especially your mind and heart and hands.

Eschew all enticements to wander off beyond focus.

Steel against conclusions prone to back-flip over beginnings.

Resist fixes and platitudes which run rough-shod over love and grace.

Offer a whole presence though it may feel too easy and too hard and never enough.

Choose a heart posture that allows stories to breathe vent weep groan gush stumble spill sigh trickle scream…

Catch them. Hold them. Just hold them even if they leak between your fingers and feel sticky or heavy or slippery or awkward.

A Listener carries stories that aren’t meant to be carried

alone.

☕️ Home Invasion

A Saturday Caesura

Our house was invaded last week. Strangers arrived and made themselves at home, and while I was (am) happy to have them, their presence left me feeling not at home in my home. It’s interesting how our lived-in spaces become such an extension of ourselves that changes niggle and unsettle us.

When I say that the ‘invaders’ are an antique dining room set, a multi-place setting of Royal Albert china (Old Country Roses, complete with all the accessory serving dishes, a bell, and shoe-shaped toothpick holder), crystal, stemware, silver, and table linens (actual linen linens), I know that eyes will roll — first world problems, get a life already and all that.

And I understand; this dis-ease in my own home, a home that is generous, warm, secure, and not lacking in any device designed for comfort and ease (except a dishwasher), is not even close to real discomfort. I know this.

The issue is that I am not a china-crystal-silver kind of person. I never have been. My mother-in-law is, and these new arrivals are hers. They felt right and proper in her home, but here, among my basic white Corelle, Pyrex, and mismatched accessories (not to mention my feathers, pebbles, bird nests and dragonfly wings), they feel ostentatious and decidedly not me.

So I’ve been compelled to adjust to a new home-persona (for lack of a better way to describe it), and in the process I’ve pondered a couple of things.

One of them is how the juxtaposition of china tea sets and old milk cans and bird nests and glass covered-cake-stands is not unlike a family with its eclectic mix of personalities, preferences, and perspectives. Families may share homes for a time, but individuals don’t necessarily experience life the same way. And then we add new members and become members of other families, each person bringing a whole self to sit alongside other whole selves just as flawed, quirky and unique. Feathers and crystal. Pebbles and silver. Sometimes we don’t seem to fit together at all…and yet, we do.

And that leads to the other thing. My mother-in-law loved to create meal experiences for her family. At 92-years old, her kitchen glory days are over, but her presence and legacy lingers in these ‘invaders’ of my home. Just as she preferred the baking pans used by her mother, treasured the porcelain tea cup hand-painted by her Aunt Charlotte, and served meals on this same dining room furniture inherited from her mother-in-law, I can eat a bowl of soup from her-now-our-china knowing that the only real value in all of these objects is the memories and the people they represent.

So while interior designers would have a hard time defining my home decor because it doesn’t fit any recognizable (or popular) category and they would be mortified to see bird nests displayed in crystal fruit nappies, I’ve come to embrace the revised feel of our home because it even more fully represents two things I love: God’s created world in all its intricate beauty and the indescribable gift and legacy of family.

PS If you ever come to visit, I promise to thoroughly wash the fruit nappies before I serve dessert.

☕️ 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?