☕️ Semester New Year Reflections

A Saturday Caesura

February is like a second new year for some teachers: old semester done, new semester begun. Fresh starts, new students, and resolutions in the form of course outlines and long-range plans. Even as I anticipate Monday’s new classes, there is a lingering sadness with the realization that in spite of the connections I make, when students complete my courses (grade 12 in particular), they will move on. The hours with them — learning, laughing, struggling, growing — will be a small blip (if that) on the radar screen of their years. Memories will fade as life continues its pace. They leave; I stay.

Yes, I know that teaching is, for the most part, a short-term relationship gig, but I still feel a particular emptiness at semester-end and at graduation.

In many ways, life is comprised of these come-and-go relationships. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but sometimes I wonder if we abandon some relationships too easily. When the “things” that bring us together to begin with — school, church, work, family, activities, interests — are removed or fractured or worn out or burned out, what happens to us? Do we pretend we never knew each other? Exchange pleasantries when we meet in the grocery store aisle? Become Facebook friends and peek into each other’s lives from time-to-time? Maintain a manageable distance through friendly but guarded conversations? Or do we seek new connections that move us beyond that initial “thing”? Do we fight through the change, distance, absence, or inconvenience to live as if this relationship still matters?

Yes, I know that relationships take time and energy and most (all?) of us are parsimonious about how we allocate those resources. Yes, I know that some relationships need to end, and some are necessary but can only hold together because of a healthy distance. For most of us though, such situations aren’t the norm. Most of us, I suspect, just slide through our relationships on the path of least resistance. I know I often do.

But I also know that every relationship — fleeting or long-lasting, easy or hard — contributes to the larger story of our lives. And part of that larger story for me is that several young people I know and care about have transitioned from student to friend. I stayed, but they came back. We developed relationships built on something other than school: common interests, mutual encouragement, similar losses and griefs, a shared faith. And really, isn’t this what makes and sustains friendships and relationships at any level or age? It isn’t about convenience; it’s about forging connections through all the changes that inevitably come. It’s about saying that we matter to each other in ways that are worth preserving. It’s about living love.

So at this Semester New Year, I’m rethinking how I approach relationships, and not just those that arise from classroom connections. Maybe there’s a few that I haven’t fought hard enough to hold on to. Maybe there’s a few that I have fought for but need to keep doing so even when it is hard and I’m tempted to not bother anymore. Maybe I’ve written former friendships off without fully recognizing the ways that even these “short-string” friends still impact me (you’d have to have been in one of my classes to fully understand the string reference, but I’m sure you can figure it out). There’s no “maybe” about this though: the friendships I do have are a treasure and a gift, a grace and a joy.

☕️ Going in Circles

Reflection. Best of lists. Highlights. Anticipation. Resets and resolutions. So many rituals connected to the ordering our lives on the foundation of time. We live into chronology like we traverse airports on moving walkways, the past recedes as we are perpetually propelled forward. Life becomes a timeline, the significant moments labeled and dated, new years noted as harbingers of progress.

This metaphor works because it is not wholly inaccurate, but it falls short of explaining the full-orbed experience of life. Life, like time, is also cyclical. The hands on the clock circle round and round measuring minutes and hours. The earth rotates as it circles the sun, measuring days and months, seasons and years. My own life is better understood through recognizing its cycles than by resolutely marching down the number-line of accumulated age and years.

Progress occurs through returning again and again to perspectives that continually shift and grow or shrink as more learning and living inform my understanding and my choices. Growth is less linear, and more a circling back to build on what was before. Sometimes to scrap and start anew. Sometimes simply to try again. Sometimes to repeat what didn’t work last time only to experience despair or self-recrimination…again. Cycles can create ruts, and dangers lurk there to be sure.

And maybe this is why we often use the metaphor of “going in circles” to describe lack of progress, lostness, “stuckness.” We can certainly experience all of these at any given time, but what if going in circles could also mean building layers of learning, like the rings of a tree. Or patterns of beauty like the concentric circles of a chrysanthemum. Or habits of faith like the woven materials of a sturdy bird’s nest. What if going in circles means recognizing repeating seasons and being more intentional about how we cycle through them. Or, especially in our relationships with God and others, what if it means rotating on the axis of a deepening love, commitment, and understanding. What if going in circles is about growth rather than stagnation. What if.

As we spiral our way through the days and year ahead, may our circles be as wide and wondering or as narrow and tight and focused as needed to let our hearts be tilled, planted, and watered by God’s good work in us. May we return again and again to what is good and true and right, and turn away always from what is not. May our wounds gain another layer of healing. May our cycles of grief be buoyed by hope and comfort. May our ruts be filled in with the core layers of repentance, grace, humility, forgiveness, and belonging. May we collect treasures of joy and goodness in each loop and lap and curve. May we know above all, that the God who first ordered time into morning and evening, days and years makes “everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”

I’ll spend the next years of my life circling back to ponder the implications of that last sentence. Which is exactly what was intended, I think.

Here’s to going in circles…

☕️ 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.

A New Year

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” G K Chesterton

Indeed, it is not a new year that is needed, but a new way of living the small moments that collect, collide, and coalesce into the larger collage of time we designate as a year.

I need:

New eyes – to see the wonder of the ordinary, to understand the significance of the mundane, to know the profoundness of simplicity…

New ears – to perceive truth when lies seem more credible, to attune to quietness when the noise of living deafens, to discern wisdom when uncertainty mires me in the crossroads…

New feet – to walk softly alongside the broken, to tread expectantly upon the ancient paths, to run and not be weary…

New hands – to release rather than clench, to cradle rather than crush, to reach out rather than withdraw…

A new heart – to pulse life in spite of the gaping holes left by death, to stay in sync with God’s heart instead of sliding into discouragement’s arrhythmia, to remain tender and malleable rather than retreating into the stony protection offered by a myriad of hurts…

And all of these things:

Eucharisteo. With gratitude.
Coram Deo. Before the face of God, the Audience of One.
Sola gratia. By grace alone.