☕️ Hope is a thing with leaves

A Saturday Caesura

It’s been cold here lately. Cold enough that all school buses were cancelled one day, several buses refused to start on other days, and most days my truck tires thump thumped squarish for a few kilometres before they softened to round again. Cold enough that the number of layers I had to wear outside and the number of times I had to refill the bird feeder in a day were roughly the same. Cold enough to earn the ranking of Extreme Cold by those who are officially tasked with determining such rankings.

It is an extreme act of hope to think about gardens and flowers and seeds and greenery when it is February and bitterly cold and there is not a patch of rich brown earth visible anywhere. Thanks to the recently repaired greenhouse that is attached to the science wing of our school, the hopeful thinking has turned into hope-in-action for a few of us who are particularly fond of gardens and flowers and green growing things.

So, in the middle of the day, after teaching writing craft and grammar and literary analysis, after supervising my portion of the lunch break, after processing emails and recording attendance, I escape to the greenhouse, incubator of summer, oasis from the cold and the flurry of the day.

First, the planting: tomatoes, peppers, herbs, rudbeckia, lupin, soapwort, geranium. I hold the seeds, tiny shades of brown, in my hands and taste sun-warm sweetness, see splashes of blossoming colour. I smell moist soil, feel its earthy coarseness, watch as bitter winds shove pale drifts of snow against the glass window-walls.

Then, the watering — a careful and faithful misting done with far more anticipation than a simple daily routine usually merits. And then on a particularly cold day, there is sprouting and green and jubilation. A cadre of icicles clings outside, peering in and perhaps wishing they could have contributed to the party, while we possess the evidence of our planting and watering as if the resulting growth is our doing alone: “My tomatoes are up! Look at my herbs! My lupins!!”

But of course, every sprout is the miracle it has always been, and we are blessed to be part of nurturing a life we can in no way create.

This week’s lunch caesuras in the greenhouse have been devoted to transplanting — moving seedlings from tiny pots into bigger ones where they can grow deep and tall and strong. It is gentle work, this handling of tender shoots and tentative roots. One more step in the patient acting out of a hope for what can yet be in a month, two months, a summer, next year.

I return to class with dirt under my fingernails. The weak afternoon sun slants through the classroom windows, slips across the desks where even more tender shoots with tentative roots sit, ready, needing all my hope-in-action efforts, too.

☕️ Half Lives

A Saturday Caesura- with sorrow

I’m not particularly prone to use movies as tools to reflect on real life issues, but a couple of scenes from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, keep replaying in my mind as I attempt to process the recent exposures of notable Christian leaders and pastors who have been living duplicitous lives.

The movie tells the story of two up-and-coming magicians during the late 19th century. While it is ultimately a story of bitter rivalry and one upmanship, it is also a tale of duplicity. In the beginning scenes, the apprentice magicians, Angier and Borden, observe an older Chinese magician perform a seemingly impossible feat with a goldfish bowl full of water. Angier is baffled, but Borden recognizes the “method,” the secret: the Chinese man has pretended to be a doddering cripple both on and off the stage for years, a deception crucial to the success of his act.

The closing scenes reveal (spoiler alert) that Borden himself has a secret behind his most successful act, an impossible feat that requires a “double,” but which he never appears to use. The secret? Twin brothers living as one person. On and off stage. For years. Borden confesses, “We each had half of a full life.” Half lives that gave the illusion of a full life of success and fame on the stage but brought death and destruction off stage.

I’ve thought of this in light of the Ravi Zacharias story and other similar situations over the past months and years. I’m wondering if the core issue is not that these leaders have lived double lives, proclaiming Christ from their public platforms while desecrating God’s name in their private behaviours, but that they have actually lived half lives.

When an expert in the Hebrew scriptures asks Jesus to identify which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” All. Your whole life. No justifications. No false pretense. No duplicity. No half living. Only a wholly obedient and faithful love for God. “I have come, ” Jesus declares in the gospel of John, “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” No half lives are intended in God’s economy of mercy and grace and forgiveness and transformation.

Without full obedience to the first and greatest commandment, there can be no proper fulfillment of the second command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Without commitment to the first, our love for others becomes skewed, disordered, manipulative, abusive, self-serving — in essence, not love at all.

I grieve for the victims; they have not been loved according to God’s standard of love. I grieve for the families, friends, colleagues who have been betrayed and now face the accusing fingers of those who would also hold them responsible for not seeing through the act, for a measure of complicity in the harm of half-living. And in my grieving I am reminded of the Lord’s promise to King Solomon: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We need humble repentance. We need healing. Oh, how we need to end the charades and live wholly for the God we say we love — on stage, behind pulpits, in bedrooms and living rooms and government offices and work rooms and shops and hallways and basements. If we claim to follow God, then it must be with all we are and wherever we are regardless of who we are.

Then maybe we can begin to truly love as we have first been loved.

☕️ 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.