Arek Socha – Pixabay.com

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs – 
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. 

                            From God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

There are times in life when it feels that the night has been so long that it will never be light again, times of grief or worry about a loved one struggling with illness, or when the sheer repetitiveness of daily work becomes drudgery.  In the first part of this poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins sees  that “Generations have trod, have trod, And all is seared with trade” and adds “nor can foot feel, being shod.”  But he  wants to reassure us that the Spirit of God still hovers over this formless chaos to bring new life and hope, just as it did in the creation of the earth.  Every day is a new beginning, a new “Let there be light!”  I’ve found comfort in this poem ever since I was introduced to it in college.

Though tragedy unfolds to his heedless people, the weeping prophet Jeremiah also sounds a note of hope:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”

Lamentations 3:22-24

When we’re tempted to give up or to despair, we need to remember that day always follows night, that God has promised to be faithful when we wait patiently for His providence.  Morning will come.

Artist – G.J. Prins



Get Your Nose Out of the Book!

Nearly 20 years ago, I participated in several seasons of singing in the Fanshawe Chorus, a professional choral group in London, Ontario.  It was a classical, symphonic choir, and to say that I was out of my league would be an understatement.  Nevertheless, it was very enjoyable, especially in our annual Christmas presentation of The Messiah.  The altos  around me were experienced, and I learned to attune myself quickly to them.  Conductor Gerry Fagan, with his wife Marlene as accompanist, worked tirelessly during rehearsals to harmonize the group.

As the concert date approached the pressure increased.  Because I had somewhat of a musical ear, keeping the alto voice was not my main problem.  It was the keeping count that preoccupied me and I felt I had to pay close attention to the score, fearing the potential embarrassment of hearing my note break the prescribed silence.

There must have been others wrestling with their own anxieties.  This, of course, created another problem because a choir looking down has lost the full richness of sound, and Gerry Fagan would admonish us with a thundering “Get your nose out of the book!”  Increasingly, as we had already learned the notes, we needed to be focused on him as he brought all of the elements of orchestra and chorus together.  In a choir, you need to be alert and aware:  of yourself, the score, the voices of others beside you, the instruments playing, the conductor’s baton.

Even with the last-minute panic, final rehearsal was always joyfully exciting.  For the first time you could sense the majesty of the music as all participants joined in.

The choir taught me valuable skills that could be applied in other areas – to listen to direction, to let art enrich my life, to join in with the harmonizing of community.   And specifically, I think about how often I have needed to get my nose out of the book and fully experience relationship.  I think about how the Pharisees in Jesus’ day knew the Torah law, the Psalms songbook, even the Prophets writing so well, but couldn’t recognize that the Messiah was standing right in front of them.

Our Messiah is the Master and the Conductor of the Universe,  and He will someday bring us all  together in a joyful symphony.

We All Have Gifts – They Differ

This week, on a lighter note, I thought I’d include a script written for a puppet performance at Friendship Club, a weekly event held at the church for people with mental disabilities.     We had a lot of fun with these puppets.  It’s very interesting to see performers come out of their shells and really ham it up, and  audience reception was enthusiastic.

Cast of Characters:  Narrator, Melody, Rhythm, Blue

Narrator:  I would like you to meet some members of First Puppet Church.  This is Rhythm, Melody, and Blue.  The Bible tells us that we all have different gifts, so let’s just listen as these members tell us about their gifts.

Rhythm:  I have to say that I really sometimes wonder whether I fit in anywhere.  You could say that I march to the beat of a different drummer.  Sometimes people think my talent is really just a lot of noise.  (Bangs on drum.)

Blue:  I like to sing, but not all the songs suit how I feel, and I don’t know a lot about music.  Sometimes when I look at other people’s gifts, I just want to hide my little gift away, and it makes me feel so blue.  (He hangs his head.)

Melody:  Well, I think I have a bee-utiful voice, much better than some other people have.  God must think I’m pretty special to have given me such a great gift.  People come a long way to hear “Moi.”

Narrator:  Well, it appears we have a bit of a problem here.  Rhythm has a gift, but he thinks people might not want to hear it.  Blue has a hard time using his gift when he feels it’s not really much, and Melody thinks it’s all about her.  Melody, first of all, when you sing about God, does it matter what you’re thinking?

Melody(preoccupied with preening)  What?

Narrator:  Your gift comes from God, but it’s not to make you look good.  It’s about worshiping God and loving other puppets through your singing.  It’s a “gift,” remember?  You need to think (taps her head lightly and affectionately) and sing from your heart, so that others can receive that gift.

Melody:  Oh.

Narrator:  And Blue, God just wants you to be honest.  If you are feeling sad, you can make that part of just the right song, and it will be beautiful.  We need you, too!  Everyone’s talent matters, everyone’s life matters, and our puppet church just wouldn’t be the same without you.

Blue:  You really, really want me?

Narrator:  Absolutely!

Blue:  All right, then!  I’m ready whenever you want me.

Narrator:  Rhythm, the drums might sound like a lot of noise to people who don’t understand your gift.  But they don’t understand that some things work better when everybody’s gift is included.  Let’s see if we can put this together.

Puppets:  (Singing) Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Blue’s line is “sometimes I’m down.”

Narrator:  Thank you, Puppet Praise Team!  We enjoyed your music and  are very glad that you were able to share with us.  We could give you the gift of listening.  And thank you, God, because all good gifts are from you and will help us to grow.

Narrator:  Turning to audience) Thank you all for joining us in our special interview tonight!

Loving Extravagantly


“But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

  Luke 7:47


Sometimes it’s difficult for those who have consciously and carefully tried to live a good life to be aware of just how inadequate this rule-bound life can be.  Sins of commission are fairly evident, but sins of omission don’t necessarily reveal themselves in the short term.  Attitudes and thoughts of the heart are invisible, and we don’t always see how they affect our lives.    If we refuse to risk developing and contributing our talents for fear of criticism, for example, it’s not readily apparent that we have cheated our Creator, ourselves and the world.

In his book Dreams and Healing, John A. Sanford writes about such a woman, who had played it so safe that her life had essentially not been lived.  Sanford observes, wryly, that “she has nothing to be forgiven for, therefore she has everything to be forgiven for.”

Contrast this to the woman in Luke’s story who anointed Jesus with perfume.  She knew herself to be a forgiven sinner, and recognizing the depths of that love, she loved much in return.  Simon, Jesus’ host in that incident, was stingy in his love and half-hearted in his hospitality because he was not conscious that he also had accumulated debt.  Like Simon, perhaps our careful observances of rule and decorum lead to pride that keeps us from acknowledging the fact that all that we have is a gift.   And worse, this focus on externals causes us to  build walls to hide our neediness and pain, even from ourselves.

Truly living life means realizing our common humanity, getting our hands dirty, falling down and being picked up again, putting ourselves to the test out there in the arena, gaining compassion for others out of our own painful experiences.  Learning inevitably involves making mistakes.  Love can be heart-wrenching.  We fear honestly facing ourselves and others.    But Jesus came loving, forgiving, and healing so that, like the prostitute overwhelmed with gratitude, we are free to love extravagantly.

Fall Apples

When I was a child, one of my favourite autumn activities involved selecting a juicy red Mackintosh apple and an enticing book, then finding a spot where I could tuck myself away to enjoy them without fear of interruption.   I thought fall the most beautiful season of the year then, and still do today.

In our early teens, my sister and I got up before the break of dawn on Saturdays to work for a neighbour who sold his produce at the Kitchener market.  Later I sold apples at the Burlington Mall market with another farmer.   Markets, with their overflowing abundance,  are such a feast for the senses.  There’s the bright colours of flowers and vegetables and fruits, the  lively bustle of people everywhere, the spar of wits in give and take bargaining.

There was also the September happiness of picking apples in an sun-drenched orchard under clear bright blue skies.  That job supplied my first real income after being home with small children for a number of years.  We strapped on special apple-picking buckets that had canvas on the bottom.  When the apple bucket had been filled, you would waddle down the orchard lanes, unwind the cords wrapped around little hooks, and gently lower the apples into the bins.

The farm was kilometres away from the lake, but we could hear the boom of the foghorn on misty mornings.   Days would begin crisply cool, but as it warmed you would see various articles of worker’s clothing draped over the branches.    Hawks soared overhead in search of unwary little creatures.  Once we saw a little unblinking owl perched deep inside the tree’s shelter.

With the nights turning chilly, it’s time to get back to baking, to savour cinnamon-infused apple crisps and pies.   It’s a joy that includes wonderful memories of days spent outside, of the gratitude and urgency of harvest, of knowing God’s blessing of provision for another year.