📝 Leaves

The season of gold has arrived here on the prairies and I treasure it. Yesterday, I stood on the top of a mountain and marvelled at the valleys aglow with yellow and orange. Today, I view gold and red and russet trees framed in my living room windows, a life-sized art gallery. I love autumn.

This month’s Jots & Doodles is a tribute to leaves in all their seasons. I can’t imagine a world without leaves, yet we tend to only really notice them when they first arrive in spring and when they flare their fall farewell. The title poem, “Leaves” came out of an attempt to listen to the leaves, to pay attention to the aural ambience they bring to each day. Doing so made me realize that leaves bring a unique music to our world. I’ll miss them and their song throughout the winter months.

When I was taking biology in high school my teacher-who-was-also-my-uncle taught us how to identify trees by their leaves, bark, seeds or cones. The school was in Oklahoma and the variety of trees there far surpassed the popular, fir, spruce, pine, aspen regulars back home. The prairies where I now live are not exactly known for their trees, but they are everywhere, interspersed between fields and linking us to the mountains not far away. I love knowing the names of things, so I’ve learned to pay attention to all the unique characteristics that enable me to correctly identify a tree. “Family Identity” brings together what I’ve learned through people like my teacher-uncle, and what I continue to learn from Jesus about how my actions and attitudes identify me.

The final Jot in this issue, “The Fall” is a reflection on the deeper realities of autumn and the symbolism and metaphors of death that accompany this season. The closing question of the poem is one I continue to wrestle with as more and more of what I see and hear around me feels and looks like death-in-progress. Yet Jesus calls me to an abundant life with eternal promises. Living in that dichotomy is what keeps me returning to his words of hope and salvation and strength.

I’m grateful for autumn, for the blaze of colour that spreads across the land for a brief period each year. I’m still treasuring the mountain top views from yesterday’s hike. I will never not love autumn, but I will also never not continue to learn from this transitional season of death and decay.

Jots & Doodles Vol. 1 Issue 9 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page in the menu.

☀️Dear Author of Life

I’m noticing the fine details you have woven into your Grand Story, the one that begins and ends with you, but somehow includes plump pussy-willows and robinsong and purple prairie crocuses blooming in the midst of April snow. I love how these details matter to you.

I’m wondering if you were thinking in hyperbole when you introduced the stars, the galaxies. Did you craft their far-reaching layers just so that we would have a visual metaphor for infinity? You established the motif of light and dark very early in the story, but the way you nuance it by scattering a shimmer of aurora borealis across the night sky is an extravagance of poetic language beyond words. Was this to remind us that light and dark aren’t mere symbols for good and evil, but the foundational syntax of beauty?

However, I am somewhat befuddled that you would actually add characters such as myself into a setting so vastly creative and finely tuned. Pardon me, but don’t we just deface the setting, complicate your story line? Haven’t we pretty much blown up your original outline for how this should all go? Your devotion to keeping us in the story is staggering. In human terms, an author who inserts her/himself into their own story seems a bit narcissistic, in need of a cameo appearance so we don’t forget that they are the mastermind behind the craft. But you insert yourself into your story to remind us that we are necessary and dearly loved and redeeming us is the only way for the story to end as you have always planned. This has been a love story all along, hasn’t it?

Today, I see trees waving tiny new leaf buds and in that intricate detail, I glimpse the height and width and depth of your love and I respond with humble praise that I am here in this particular place, part of your ongoing story, flawed but not written off the page, a redeemed character within your story of redemption.

With sincere gratitude,

One of your beloved

☕️ 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.