Birthday Gifts


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What is filling my soul this morning, the anniversary of my birth, so long ago;

Well, finding this silly picture that makes me look like a birthday fairy queen, I guess…

And this…grounding me, confirming I know nothing, but…

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 1999), 79.

And this;

  1. relationships that continue to ask of me…and give to me…and the beauty of discovery within the complexity of life with people, these gifts that I will never truly understand and yet there they are, talking, breathing, working, living alongside me and I get to be with them all…
  2. anticipating the arrival of my son, and the intersection of 5 lives over several days…oh the anticipation of all that…
  3. a unexpectedly delicious poem, written by my lover, posted to Facebook.
  4. the dog, coffee, porch, quiet, sunshine, bluebird day, time, space, lingering…
  5. messages of love on social media
  6. challenges and considerations…each day to choose what is important, what is vital, what is life giving, and what adjustments must be made to live with integrity
  7. creative energy…that vast stream of Creator God’s creative DNA that flows and overflows in me with thoughts and ideas and possibilities and just enough courage to try something new…
  8. health, dreams, desires, all those elements that make up a life and are often taken for granted and yet are foundational to living well…
  9. writing, always writing, listening to the inner voice speaking and writing, playing with writing, writing with people, reading and writing, writing, writing, writing…
  10. the audacious pink thread of The Trinity woven through the simple fabric of my life …often hidden, sometimes apparent, but there…oh yes, there!

Gift. Gift. Gift. All gift.

Undeserved. Thankful. Gifts held with the knowledge that this may be for a day, a month, a few more years. Breath held for a few seconds, then breathing, breathing, wondering…what happens next?

Lesley-Anne Evans, July 29, 1962 – ?

 

 

 

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Possible, probable, or mystery?


DSC_0184I received a letter today after receiving a phone message from a stranger. She told me that she had a letter addressed to me from an address I last lived at in 1999. The woman now owns and rents out the cute old house we used to live in, and the letter…the letter…

I went by her house today and picked up the letter. She told me beforehand that she had opened it, by mistake, was just busy and didn’t read the name before tearing into it. She apologized. The letter was taped closed.

I went back out to the car, looked at the airmail envelope and the value of the stamp and noticed no return address. I thought how it’s been some time since postage in Canada was 43 cents. I drove away, pulled into the parking lot at the grocery store, and opened the letter.

Two pages, typewritten, and hand signed. I read the words slowly. I read them again, noting the telltale signs of time of writing. “seeing photos of you and Bob and your wee lad” and “He has given you one of the greatest of all blessings, a dear wee son…” and further on “God bless you – all three”. We are “five” now and have been a family of five since 1996 when our second son was born.

Just now I google stamps in Canada 1996 and see…45 cents

And a little more digging around and I see the stamp…issued for 43 cents, December 30, 1992.

The letter is dated June 15, without a year noted. But our wee son was born in May, 1993, so it could be from June 1993, or a stamp saved and used in June 1994, or June 1995…because by June 1996, we were a family of four.

Could this letter have been in transit for 20 plus years? Is this even possible?

Could I have received the letter while still living at the old house and left it behind when we moved? I can’t recall having read it before, but sometimes I have trouble recalling my PIN! Probable, I suppose, but why would multiple owners of the old house, and multiple tenants save this letter over and over again rather than recycling it?

What am I to think? What does it mean?

An old family friend, a mentor all those years ago, the writer of the letter is long passed from my life and from this world. I wonder how many years he has been gone now? I text my brothers and ask them.

What is it he had to say over 2 decades ago that I am to pay attention to now?

And so I will sit with the letter, and ponder the question… what is it God, that you would have me see?

And at the same time, shivers that this is happening…and the memories of that time…the people…a reminder of someone good, kind, and gentle who took the time to write a letter.

This is just a wee note to renew acquaintances, for I so well remember you…

Sincerely, in Him,

Alan

Small


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My faith is small, or maybe the way I live my life is small, and ordinary. In small things I find God: his presence, his provision, his orchestration, his glory, his love.

When I recognize God in my life, it usually comes in the form of just enough rice or just enough flour, or sun breaking through cloud before sunset after several days of depressing grey, or a poem just right for the moment, or the colour of a pair of mittens matching a child’s snowsuit I’ve never seen before, or the heart shape of trembling aspen leaves strewn along a creekside pathway. God is in the shade of orange kelp on sand. God is in a small child spinning in a pink tutu. God is. I have come to notice God in all the details.

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I believe my Grandfather taught me to see God in this way. When I was very young, Grandpa walked me around his garden on summer evenings, our hands clasped behind our backs, each flowering shrub like an offering, a miracle he had discovered and wanted me to see. “Look at that” he would say, gazing deep into the centre of a Hibiscus bloom “have you ever seen a design like that?” “Rosa, Spiraea, Forsythia, Weigela, Hydrangea…” he repeated over and over until I knew them. Name these plants, see these small miracles. He was the same about song birds. His curiosity and joy of creation spilled over and captivated me. Little things. Seeing small. Seeing God.

Not that I don’t dream big. I love to dream and drink wine and talk about ideas. Not that I don’t dive into big things, because I do. But the dreams and projects and ideas must quickly settle into a series of little steps to realize the bigger picture. And maybe it’s not the big thing that matters as much as the little things that take place along the way. Usually, that means the people, conversations, conflicts, resolutions, and love. Each little interaction, each small encounter, mattering so much more than any end result. God is in the details of people too, I find.

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My faith is small, and wildflower and honey bee sized. My faith is my search for tracks to hang gallery hardware on the wall and finding them no more and no less than I needed, and my faith is the width of several old doors that now cover windows, in exactly the right width for the openings. My faith is sometimes the size of these three words…”I don’t know”. My faith is the sound of my daughter’s joy that she drove stick shift for the first time over the winding road to the Pacific Rim, and back. Safe. Back. My faith is light and shadow, juxtaposition of words on a sign against audaciousness of spring blooms. God is in each one of these small and sacred things.

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My faith is small.

My faith is small, and simple.

My faith is small, and ordinary.

God is there.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “God is in the details.”

God is.

Lesley-Anne

And they wrestled all night


My intention is to continue unpacking what I began yesterday, talk about it, bring it into the light, consider what it means, consider how being at this juncture is where I’m supposed to be.

Today I opened The Good Book, which led me to a commentary by Alexander MacLaren, and there I discovered his wonderful essay about Jacob wrestling with…a man…an angel…the divine presence…God!

Alexander Maclaren (February 11, 1826 – May 5, 1910) was an English non-conformist minister of Scottish origin. “Called the “prince of expositors,” Alexander MacLaren was a renowned preacher of the 19th and 20th century. [The published collection] Expositions of Holy Scripture brings together many of the sermons over his fifty years in ministry.”(https://www.ccel.org/ccel/maclaren)

Here are some highlights from MacLaren’s commentary on Genesis 32 :

So this failure of natural power is the turning-point in the twofold
wrestle, and marks as well as symbolises the transition in Jacob’s
life and character from reliance upon self and craft to reliance upon
his divine Antagonist become his Friend.

How interesting to land on this particular story, and these particular insights now. Spiritual formation study and practise have been part of my life for over ten years. My recent studies have led me to the teachings of Contemplative Christianity (Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Margaret Silf etc.) with distinctions between living from the false self vs the true self. I am beginning to understand my longing for authenticity and integrity, and my unique place as an artist/poet in the world. I have begun to look at The Enneagram as so much more than a diagnostic justification of identity, rather a starting point toward spiritual transformation, balance, and healing. These teachings are rich, impacting. I continue to sense the draw toward this way of being.

And yet, ironically, I find myself wrestling with certain fundamentals of faith…and perhaps wrestling is what is required of me to continue on The Way with God. Do I truly desire to be transformed? Do I?

Further highlights from MacLaren’s expository on Jacob’s encounter with God (bold text by me);

God desires to go, if we do not desire Him to stay. He will go, unless
we keep Him. Then, at last, Jacob betakes himself to his true weapons.
Then, at last, he strangely wishes to keep his apparent foe. He has
learned, in some dim fashion, whom he has been resisting, and the
blessedness of having Him for friend and companion.

The desire to retain God binds Him to us. All His struggling with us
has been aimed at evoking it, and all His fulness responds to it when
evoked. Prayer is power. It conquers God. We overcome Him when we
yield. When we are vanquished, we are victors. When the life of nature
is broken within us, then from conscious weakness springs the longing
which God cannot but satisfy.

And God prevails when we prevail. His aim in all the process of His
mercy has been but to overcome our heavy earthliness and selfishness,
which resists His pleading love. His victory is our yielding, and, in
that yielding, obtaining power with Him. He delights to be held by the
hand of faith, and ever gladly yields to the heart’s cry,’Abide with
me.’ ‘I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me,’ is music to His
ear; and our saying so, in earnest, persistent clinging to Him, is His
victory as well as ours.

This is far from being tied up with a bow. I will continue to lean into what is revealed…in word, deed, circumstance, and the world around me. I don’t yet know what it means…this seeking and longing for…answers…peace…justice…love…God?

I continue to read and consider the the new name “Israel” that Jacob receives from God after morning comes and wrestling ends. I admit there is a teeny shift for me when I read MacLaren’s words;

To impose a name is the sign of authority, possession, insight into character. The change of name indicates a new epoch in a life, or a transformation of the inner man. The meaning of ‘Israel’ is ‘He (who) strives with God’; and the reason for its being conferred is more accurately given by the Revised Version, which translates, ‘For thou hast striven with God and with men,’ than in the Authorised rendering.’

A true Christian is an ‘Israel.’ His office is to wrestle with God.

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An encounter with the Divine…

Wrestling as worship, leading to transformation…

I wonder…

Spirit wrestler


jacob-with-the-angelThis is me taking a risk. I doubt that I am alone but it sure feels like it right now.

Thing is, I recognized yesterday that I am wrestling with something fundamental and HUGE. I admit my biggest struggle is what I will do with Jesus, The Christ. Jesus, the centre, the hinge of Christendom, and I am wrestling with what it means to say yes to the entirety of the Trinity – The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, three-in-one.

My heart has been troubled with this question for some time. Oh, I want to believe. I do believe, many days. Still my guts churn over what I perceive as the exclusivity of Jesus, his life, his death, his atoning sacrifice that right sides me with God, the Father. Because saying yes to Jesus means you can also say no. And saying no means…well, you probably already know where I’m going with this. And this empath with a social justice heart is deeply perplexed by the thought of that.

I hide my perplexity, mostly, because it feels embarrassing. My life indicates my clear Yes! to God, and Yes! to the Spirit, but when I unpack the theology around Jesus, The Christ, I get stuck. I resist. I say “BUT.” But what about those who don’t believe or don’t get it right? But what about those who have a strong belief system of their own? But is hell really real? But what is the limit of God’s grace? But, but, but…

I wrestle with God like I’m the gatekeeper for the eternal well being of all souls. I wrestle on in doubt and then belief and then I attempt to stand under the tiny bit of assurance I can muster up. I am conflicted. I wonder what this makes me?

A wise friend shared a story with me.

There was once a sacred gathering of people who came together to seek spiritual wisdom. Among them was a young man who had a spirit of negativity, of questioning, of smouldering resentment. This man carried that spirit into the holy place of gathering, and began to share his discontent with others. One elder considered him with great love, listened to what he had to say for a little while, and then offered this;

Go outside. Dig a deep hole. Place your head and shoulders down into the hole. Shout your complaints to the earth. Then, when you are done, come back and join us.  

I have been carrying my complaints for several years…too long. I have made them heavy with meaning and power. My complaints stand between me and the freedom of The Way.

Truth is I WANT, but do not NEED, answers from God. Who am I to demand, to arrogantly suggest that God explain himself to me? I am one human, being. Who do I think that I am?

Perhaps here is where I must dig my deep hole?

Part of me resists…LORD, have mercy on me.

The practicality of metaphor


July, 2014, I buy several books of poetry in a Belfast booksmith, including “Selected Poems” by Belfast’s son John Hewitt. I pack the book into my luggage and take it with me on the next leg of my journey; a pilgrimage of sorts, a homecoming, and a mysterious gathering of strangers walking and tale telling and music-man healing and Guinness tasting, in Kilkeel and Cultra. The book remains packed for several days.

July 10, 2014, and I cozy in to a little Kilkeel cottage with my fellow pilgrims. I take note of the country walls about us, invisible lines of heft and pull and balance, boulders gathered from the fields and lifted into place, and the walls find their way into my psyche.

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Sunday July 13, 2014, we begin a time of silence and solitude, from 1 pm until the following day at 11:30 am. We are asked to choose a slip of paper or two with words ‘that serve.’ I choose a Thomas Merton quote, then find myself seeking out the Hewitt book of poetry and a phrase that sticks;

I am the green branch asking for the flower

John Hewitt, ‘The Green Shoot’

I take a walk, chewing on the words, repeating them over and over in my head. I walk along the county roads, bounded by country walls. Again the walls. I look. I listen. I return after a couple of hours and write;

The walls, always the walls, my eyes drawn equally to the spaces as much as to the weight of boulders. At first I think it is the wind they must build for, a feat of engineering with revelation built in. If they build and leave room enough for the wind to pass through, the walls will stand forever. But the more I look, the less I see of stone and more evidence of green invasion, seed and wayward bits of bracken carried by wind or wild beast finding cracks and crevices rich with possibility to root in, find purchase. And so a transformation takes place in the spaces, created hollow where light and rain and soil collect. The wall does what the wall does…encloses, defines, stands firm with unquestioned ownership. But is is also a catchment for transformative work, where green shoots take root and thrive, become saplings, become trees, where ferns and grasses fill margins, where moss softens hard surfaces and wild vines climb, and poke through. And slowly, the stones, displaced from the field and placed by hand, become unified by green…and then, small creatures build their homes, raise young, trust in the shelter of the green mass that is slowly enveloped by the earth.

I am the green shoot asking for the flower

I am the green shoot asking

I am the green

I am…

This line of this poem in this place for me becomes a prayer as I consider my life and my ask for the flower and a feeling that change is coming through the angst and doubt and struggle I find myself in. I believe in my purpose. I believe I ask God and he hears me. So many of the things I previously held true are dropping away, and yet the truth that I exist and I ask and God hears and gives good gifts remains. This God is close up. This is a new way of being. Can I dare ask this…yes, I can.

I am the green shooting asking for the flower

I chew on this for the entire time of solitude. I write and write and write. I cry. I sleep. I wake and write again. I have other encounters that impact my spirit in a deep way. I return to Kelowna. I live my life differently than before I left. I make difficult decisions. I withdraw from church. I have written of this before. The journey before Northern Ireland, and after.

TODAY: Thursday, May 26, 2016 I recall the line of the poem, almost two years past, and so much since then. The metaphor of the walls still speaks, but I return to this other metaphor of the green shoot and…suddenly I see flowers…maybe not the flower but maybe, just maybe there are more than just one?

How audacious flowers are, how heady and lovely and unnecessarily necessary to the life of the plant, or not? Why else do we green so, why else does the sap flow, if not to some glorious showing of what is happening in us, and the possibility that the flower comes before the fruit. I don’t know what it all means, but I know some things…

like this…

My part of messy belonging within the Metro Community, the gift of bearing witness and holding space for the beautiful broken ones on the streets and how they are just like me, has become vital and fragrant to me, like a flower

and like this…

a community awards nomination has been gifted to me, unexpectedly, and with humility and surprise I see it is also a flower, whether I win or not, I am opening to this possibility that who I am is who I am supposed to be

and like this…

that while there is so much I can no longer say for certain, and while some of my theology is deconstructed or rebuilt or may be forever lacking structure, I only need look at the glory of the natural world and all God’s creatures and at this incredible life I get to live, and my heart bursts open like a flower, the fragrance of gratitude

Back to the wall…and I have to wonder what it is about the wall that matters now, aside from the perspective of the green shoot and the flowering, I mean? And why must it mean anything at all, rather it is helpful for me to find meaning. I do think there is something to be considered in this wall, still something in the placement of the stones and the spaces, and still there is something about the shoots rooting in the spaces, finding a nurturing spot to grow and yes, to bloom.

What is the stone wall? I don’t know. Perhaps my core belief in God, or a foundational structure that is required to root in and cling to? Perhaps. Or the idea of inert stony places in our lives coming alive, assimilated into an ecology of plants and creatures and all living things connected when there is room enough to believe it so? I don’t know. I leave that to you to consider.

Many years ago my then very young son Malcolm told me there were messages in the winter trees that God wanted him to hear. What a gift that he knew that then.

And so, I wonder…

Lesley-Anne

I’m not one to pray out loud


DSC_0763That hasn’t changed for me ever in my life, and sure I could say the same thing about how I feel when I have to speak in a group about anything, but praying out loud is somehow heavier. So what happened today may be God doing what he always does, or God doing specifically what he had in mind when I prayed what I prayed, or God doing what he was going to do aside from anything I prayed. I wonder?

There’s more to it… I struggle with the repetitious nature of group prayers, the competitive feel of it sometimes, the limited vocab we use, the way I believe God might find what I say trite or redundant given he already knows everything there is to know. Still there is mystery in prayer, and I have been reading a book lately that points to a way of being with prayer that is quite attractive to me…to live my life as a prayer…everything matters…everything counts…when my heart is in a posture of reverence and gratitude before the Father. These days I am leaning more into a contemplative way of being in prayer. It’s a learned way. It’s a way I want to learn more about.

But prayer can also be specific, and at a given time, alone or in groups. And as the various members of our group prayed around the circle today I wondered, what on earth can I offer with integrity?

All I know is this…sometime between 2:15 and 2:45 pm today I prayed a short prayer out loud in a group setting. Very short. Pretty much these words;

God, we have so many needs here. And you are a God with lots of connections. Could you please send people to help us?

And when I was done praying I began to do what I always do…self analysis, critical dissection of my choice of words and how odd and how silly and really, couldn’t I have said something a little more eloquent than that? Condemnation…yes!

Fast forward 30 min to when a member of our community joined our meeting with a huge  smile, and we soon found out why. In another meeting that kept them late from ours, a meeting where our representative often feels unheard; today tangible and wide support was offered up to us in ways that left our representative dumbstruck. A shift occurred this afternoon. Between 2:15 and 2:45 pm.

Coincidence? Reading something into nothing? Or, could a short prayer offered up in earnestness count for something in the spirit world that changes something in the real world?

I wonder…

Someone at the meeting said maybe I should pray out loud more often… :) I’m not convinced yet.