Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time to See

I have a couple of friends who are photographers (Brienne Michelle and Briana Moore). Both do fabulous life-style shoots as well as the bread and butter of many photographers, weddings. Sometimes, they do second camera work with a friend. The second camera person is the one who gets background and crowd shots while the main photographer is covering the action of a wedding – processional, first kiss, communion, recessional, etc. One of them – which one, I can’t remember – posted a comment on her blog a while ago lamenting an increasingly common dilemma for second camera people at a wedding trying to get reaction shots.

A reaction shot is the picture taken of someone in the crowd as they react to the action taking place. So, for example, a second camera would catch the tear in a father’s eye as his son stands bravely up front awaiting his bride. Or, perhaps, the mix of pride and terror on the face of a young mom as her flower girl toddles up the aisle dragging a reticient ring-boy son in her wake. You get the idea.

Anyway, the problem for the second camera person is that, increasingly, reaction shots are disappearing behind a phalanx of pocket cameras, flipcams, and smartphones as people take pictures of the action rather than see it. As sophisticated as the technology of these devices is, I can’t imagine that the picture that emerges could possibly be anything more than a pale imitation of the reality it portrays – but still, people would rather take a picture than revel in the real. And the simple act of taking a picture removes us one step from the moment – we become observers rather than participants. It gets even worse when we critique the moment because it isn’t properly composed in the micro-screen into which we are peering!

I am thinking that one of the gifts of Advent is the opportunity to put our cameras away and simply become present to the approaching glory. To take a slow walk towards Incarnation – open handed, willing to receive. To let life come to us rather than grabbing for it. To learn to see rather than watch.

Advent is a speed-bump in time – a chosen slowing to allow meaning to seep into the cracks and crevices of our busy-ness. A decision to become present and accounted for in the deep reality of our own lives. A willingness to respond to the wonder breaking in all around.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanks as Entrance (Luke 1:5-25)

He was honored
     a once in a lifetime moment
     to stand before the Lord
     bringing the sacrifice

He had carried into that
     holy place his own
     longings – unspoken to any
     but Elizabeth – who shared
     them at a deeper level than
     even he.

His service was interrupted
     by great good news
     His prayers were answered!
     His longing fulfilled!
     His dream come true!

Perhaps long longing made
     it impossible to receive
     without the incredulous
     questioning of an
     imperious angel – who
     brought something a little
     extra. Silence. A long silence.

He could not speak his joy
     because he had not spoken
     his gratitude.

Joy muted is still joy
     but it is not the same
Joy is meant to be shared
     sung – laughed – wept
His was kept silent.

He was unable to enter fully
     into his joy
     His joy
     kept out by
     silence when
     provided entrance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Shall I Thank You?

I shall thank You by living gratefully every day of my life. I will train my soul in gratitude by consciously beginning each day with an expression of appreciation for the gift you give in the sunrise. I will return often to the rhythm of thanksgiving by taking advantage of the opportunities each day provides to pause and  give thanks for the beauty that shouts and whispers “Glory”; for the people through whom You love me; for the laughter of children who know secrets I have forgotten; for the gentle signs of your presence in the wind dancing with the blushing leaves; for the chaos of color in fall flowers and falling leaves; and for so much more – everyday miracles.

I shall thank You by enjoying as much of the life you have graced me with as I can, not letting it disappear without notice in the frenzy of my busy-ness. I will choose to work hard when I am working, play with abandon and trust when I am praying, and worship with all of my being in all that I do. I will tune my heart to the underlying anthem, “To God be the Glory.”

I shall thank You by valuing the people who come my way and seeking to see You in them – even the prickly ones. I recognize that not all of my enemies are Your enemies, so I will seek to recognize which is which and, until discernment instructs otherwise, to receive and treat all persons with the dignity and respect I would give to Jesus were I to recognize Him in the disguise of the person in front of me. I will not allow myself the deadly luxury of hating anyone so much as it is in my power and will seek to learn all that I can from those pieces of iron that come hurtling my way in the course of life.

I shall thank You by recognizing and laughing at my vain attempts to control the uncontrollable, to manage the unmanageable, to fix the unfixable, and to corral the uncorralable! I will let You be God and will happily take my place as one of your humble servants and subjects.

I shall thank You by not giving in to the spirit of cynicism which come so naturally to me. Anyone can criticize, so I will leave that, as much as I can, to them. I will give my energies to encouragement and uplift and edification – which seem to me to be more reflective of Your character than mine. So help me, God.

I shall thank You by saying and living “Thank You” for all of my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have a series of childhood memories that center around a family friend named Jimmy Christensen. He was a tiny man – even as a child I remember thinking him small. He probably just made it to five feet in his army boots. His frame was as sparse as the hair on his bald head. We knew him at the end of his life. He still had an inviting and welcoming smile that, combined with his size, made it easy for children to love him. He was an occasional Sunday afternoon visitor and, when his health failed, a regular stop to visit him in the Colonel Belcher hospital. It was a hospital reserved for veterans of Canada’s wars. Children were not allowed up in the wards, so my sister and I would sit in the lobby and wait as our parents went up. We hoped he would be well enough to come down and see us. I wish I could say it was because we were concerned for his health but, in truth, it was because he usually had candy to give us. We would hear the elevator doors open and then listen for the slight shuffle of his slippered feet.

When Jimmy died, he left all his worldly possessions – one steamer trunk – to my mom and dad. He gave me a “ship in a bottle” which I still have. It was made by the German prisoners over whom he was guard at a prisoner of war camp in Southern Alberta during the Second World War. He was nearing the end of his career in the military, having served as an infantryman for much of the First World War. He saw action in Europe and survived the mustard gas which was used in that conflict. It left him with a permanent rasp in his voice. He had watched hundreds of his comrades die – the fortunate ones quickly as a result of gunshot or grenades, the unfortunate slowly succumbing to the gas or gangrene. The even less fortunate living out their lives in a state of permanent shock, blankly staring into the fearful abyss of their memories.

The campaign book which was part of the contents of the trunk he left behind detailed the history of his battalion – the battles in which he fought, the endless marches forward and then back, their place in the strategy of victory that won the allies that war. He would not talk about it much. His eyes would tear up as he remembered horrors long ago and far away. Apparently, they weren’t so long ago or far away.

What possible tribute can be paid to the hundreds of thousands who, like Jimmy, gave their lives in one way or another for the causes of freedom all over the world? I think he – they – would be happy if we would just remember.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Learning To Riff

As I write this, I am listening to Keith Jarrett, one of my favorite jazz pianists. It is a solo album, just him playing old standards from the American songbook – some Gershwin  mixed in with Ellington, salted with a couple of traditional melodies and original compositions. It is a gentle, lyrical album of great beauty, evoking an emotional scenery that is refreshing and nourishing to the soul. One of the reasons I like Jarrett’s work is his remarkable ability, having played a simple melody, to explode in a lightning fast riff the second time through – and then run down a completely different road the third time, exploring every rabbit trail down which the music leads him. One song can stretch to ten or twelve minutes without getting lost or dumping the listener in the deep weeds. But this album is different. His riffs, his improvisations, his musical comments on the melody he has played are much more restrained and keep tightly to the flavor and tone of the original. It is almost as if he is commenting on the melody, gently suggesting this variation or that all the while honoring the creative vision of the original.

I play this disc often. It is one of the ones that helps restore my soul. My soul is nourished by the space, texture, beauty, and depth of the simple, unadorned delicacy. I have no knowledge of Jarrett’s faith or belief. But, in his music, I hear the gentle refrains of glory. A person does not have to be a believer to have his heart tuned to the wonders. God has put into each of his human creation a sense of eternity – some are able to speak it out in their art. The best are able to shape and frame and respond to it in ways that suggest hints of what might lie just around the corner of what they see and hear. Great music is a snapshot of eternity, carrying the emotion, the thought, the presence of the grand space from which it came.

Such great music is an invitation to soak in the depths of the near universe represented in the music all around me. The laugh of a child, the gurgle of a small waterfall, the iridescence of a primrose, the just there fragrance of a lily and the riotous, overwhelming plumeria, the rough texture of the oak or the paper smooth birch . . . all, all, all give glory to God! All sing to the heavens and invite us to join in with our own riffs – commenting, suggesting, agreeing, reminding, joining in the laughter and song. What wonder is all around us – the music of spheres. This is my Father’s world! Even those who don’t fully know Him as Father still can not help but celebrate the gift.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day by Day

There is enough strength, joy, and grace for each day. No more, no less. Adequacy is God’s chosen pattern.

We demand, and want to define, abundance. God’s response is, “Enough.”

We hear the promise of abundant life – and think “more.” Jesus, who makes the promise, means “other.”

We are greedy for life – reaching, grasping. And in doing so, have nothing.

God is seeking to give us our lives – and does so every day – but our hands are so full with what we grab that we can not receive the life He gives.

Striving to save our lives, to find our lives, we lose our lives. Our constant quest for more leaves us with none. The very little we have is wasted away in the effort and anxiety.

Meanwhile God stands, hands and heart full, ready and willing to give what we most long for. But we have no capacity, so full are we with taking.

We hear – and believe – that nothing will happen to us that we can not handle. But that is not true. We are not built to handle our own lives by ourselves. All kinds of things will happen to us that we can not handle – except with God’s help. It is His way of reminding us that we are built for grander things. But first, we have to receive our own lives.

And so . . . seeking our own lives, we begin with release, with letting go, with surrender. The ancient and still helpful word is relinquishment.

Even in release we begin to give thanks – for the gift of each day, for the events and people of each day, for the promised and real presence of God with us in each day, for the resources of time, talent, energy adequate for each day, for the gentle editing taking place as some fruit is cut off to allow for greater fruitfulness . . . day by day by day.

Then we begin to chose the rhythms of grace that will sustain adequacy. As we do, we will discover that enough is enough. And that is all that is really needed. Thanks be to God.