Thursday, 31 December 2015

Book List 2015


Farewell to the East End (Jennifer Worth)
Longbourn (Jo Baker)
Pilgrim’s Inn (Elizabeth Goudge)
The Bird in the Tree (Elizabeth Goudge)
The Heart of the Family (Elizabeth Goudge)
Anne’s House of Dreams (LM Montgomery)
North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry) - my first foray into Wendell Berry, looking forward to more!
A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Dylan Thomas)


The Geography of Nowhere (James Howard Kunstler)
Timeless Simplicity: Creative Living in a Consumer Society (John Lane)
A Year of No Sugar (Eve O. Schaub)
The Dorito Effect (Mark Schatzker)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo)


When Children Love to Learn (Elaine Cooper)
The Three R’s (Ruth Beechick)

And selections from:
A Charlotte Mason Companion (Karen Andreola)
Educating the WholeHearted Child (Sally and Clay Clarkson)
The Well-Educated Mind (Susan Wise Bauer)


On Hope (Josef Pieper)
The Gospel of the Kingdom (George Eldon Ladd) - excellent, worth revisiting
The Little Oratory (Leila Lawler & David Clayton)
Real Worship (Warren Wiersbe)
Whole Prayer (Walter Wangerin)
The Pursuit of God (A.W. Tozer)
Preemptive Love (Jeremy Courtney)
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Shane Claiborne)

With the kids:
(In addition to dozens and dozens of picture books and poetry selections!)

Little House in the Big Woods (L. I. Wilder)
The BFG (Roald Dahl)
Old Mother West Wind (Thornton W. Burgess)

In progress:

How to Pray (R.A. Torrey)
A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

Most influential:

Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
I'd have to say the most influential book for me this year was Pilgrim's Inn. It's the first of Goudge's books I've read, and it came at just the right time. There's something about a well-crafted story that has the power to teach and transform and travel deep into the soul. This is the sort of book I want to hunt down a beautiful older edition of to read again and again. 

Real Worship by Warren Wiersbe
This was another one of those timely books, and I think I absorbed its essence rather than remembered its principles. I love it when that happens. It expanded my view of and approach toward worship.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne
This book, a gift from Micah last Christmas, journeyed with me through the year as I set out live a more intentional life of prayer. It was key in forming a habit of morning prayer for me. Even now I start the day with this line going through my head: O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun...

What were your most influential reads of 2015?
What are your recommendations or would-love-to-reads for 2016?


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Kitchen Sink Gratitude

Sometimes gratitude bursts upon you like a geyser in the spring floods. You're ho-humming your way through the dishes one evening, scrubbing pots and pans and thinking about the year that has been, when suddenly it all shifts into focus at the kitchen window.

The Narnian lamppost in the yard, and the two (soon to be three) rosy children who spent hours playing beneath it in the fresh snow, and the chicken dinner from your own backyard, and the husband stoking the fire the basement.

You think about the struggle and the wrestling that was, and realize how free your soapy hands now are, and how songs rise up out of dirty dishes and restless nights, and how strength has come dancing to you like hinds feet from high places. And from this vantage crest of year's end, you look down, and, like so many timeless moments before, the psalmist takes the words right out of your mouth:

"Truly, the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for me."

And you feel the safety and freedom of these love lines traced across your land, enclosing you in their embrace, all the while beckoning you to new heights in the center of it all.

Now even the dishwater seems to swish for joy, and the snowflakes fall like poems beyond the glass. There is nothing to do but smile wide and thank the Father of lights and keep on your grateful scrubbing.


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Once Upon a Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas to all! 
This little Christmas story is my gift to you. It is based on the old legend that the animals can speak on Christmas Eve, in honour of their witnessing Jesus' birth. 
The photos were taken just the other morning in the woods around our house. 

ONCE upon a Christmas Eve, the woodland creatures began to stir. The forest was dark, save for the patches of light the full moon tossed down through the branches. It seemed quiet enough, but the whispers were growing.
             It began with the mice, drawn into a little clearing by the moon’s glow. One small mouse looked up and sniffed the air. She twitched her nose, and a shiver ran from her whiskers down to the tip of her tail.    
            “It’s here,” she spoke at last.
            “It’s here, it’s here!” A chorus of whispers swept through the clearing. A dozen pairs of tiny eyes shone with the light of this understanding. From the perch of a towering pine, an owl hooted. And the funny thing was, the mice didn’t run for cover. They kept staring skyward, front paws raised in welcome.
            Then the first mouse made a sudden leap in the air and pirouetted into the center of the gathering. The others crept close, trembling with the energy of midnight.
            “It is Christmas Eve,” she said, and a cheer went up from the mice. “This is the one night of the year we are given a voice. This is the one night of the year we may gather without fear, and in unity with all God’s creatures. For we have a story to tell. Just like our voices, this story has been given to us. We cannot help but speak, and we cannot help but tell. For this is a wonder greater than us all.”

            As the mouse spoke, her voice strengthened and rang out like a silver bell in the silent night. As the mouse spoke, the gathering began to grow. The rabbits’ noses appeared first, and one by one they lopped into view. Voles, squirrels and chipmunks followed. Then came the gentle twittering of birds awakening and alighting on the branches of birch and spruce. A pair of skunks flashed into sight, then mink, muskrat and masked raccoon. Two white-tailed deer stepped quietly out of the shadows. They did not so much as blink when the red coat of fox slid past them toward the center of the clearing.
            “Are we all here?” mouse asked, her ears perked and eager. Creatures murmured, turning and looking around them. Where the shadowy branches marked the edge of the moonlight, a silver wolf and sleek black bear took their places. Once again the owl hooted to signal the treetops were filled from raven to wren. The mouse nimbly ascended a moss covered stump. She lifted her paw, and all the creatures fell silent.
            “This is the wonder we gather to remember,” she began. “That on this eve, an age ago, some of our humble kindred witnessed the birth of a miracle. In far Bethlehem, forests away and across the great sea, a boy child was born. He was a creature, like us, and yet he was not a creature. He came by way of the back door, the way the lowliest among us moved, and took up a bed where the animals fed.
            “My own forefathers beheld this child from the nooks and crannies where they hid. And yet they were not hidden from him. In his eyes they recognized the glint of the sun, the glimmer of water, and the gaze of their Maker. The fear that ties our tongues was loosed, and they burst out in a song that seemed to rumble through the whole earth, tumbling out of their mouths and rising to the heavens. Our tamer cousins, ox and donkey, were soon to join their praise, and it wasn’t long before the hillside pastures rippled with worship.
            “That glorious night, we were given a gift. The glimpse of a world made new, of the meeting of heaven and nature, and a taste of the promise that the lion would one day lie down with the lamb. This was the child who would lead them.
            “The Creator has come! This is our story.
            Creation is saved! This is our song.”
            The little mouse’s voice was soon drowned out in a great hoopla of fur and feather as the hushed gathering turned into one prancing, pawing chorus of “Glory to God in the highest!” Even the trees clapped their boughs for joy and the nearby river leapt out of its winter bed in shimmering delight. Overhead, northern lights twirled and crackled, lighting the black sky with streams of brilliant red and green.

            When the voices faded, tears were glistening on the mouse’s whiskers.
            “The Lord is come,” she said at last with great solemnity. “Let earth receive her king. Let all of nature sing. This gift is ours, for one holy night. The story is ours, to spread abroad in field and forest, hill and plain, beneath the ground and beyond the treetops. Let it be told in every burrow and den, every stable and pasture, every attic and secret shelter, and in every nook and cranny. For he came for both great and small.”
            The mouse looked to the bear, who nodded his velvety nose and bowed.
            “This holy night, we have been given peace on earth, and a voice to proclaim it. Tonight, we are all his messengers. Let the story be told!”
            “Let the story be told!” the creatures echoed, and before you could be sure they were even there, they disappeared into the dappled shadows of the woods.
            Where ears were open, the whispers could be heard that night. The ancient story was remembered, and the future foretold. And for the favoured ones, mostly children, the legend came alive and was welcomed with wonder.

* * *

            As the dawn of Christmas Day broke over the frosty forest, a bear slept soundly in his rocky den, an owl dozed in the thick cover of an evergreen, and a little mouse curled her tail over her nose in the warm corner of an old shed. 

          But if you listen very, very closely, perhaps you may still hear the whisper that danced through the woods once upon a Christmas Eve.


The One Word You Need to Hear This Christmas

There is no one word that can fitly capture Christmas.
It is a celebration of holy mystery, divine wonder, an ever deepening pool whose treasures increase as the seeker descends.
Trinity, incarnation, salvation.
Humility, intimacy, fragility.
Birth, death, new life.
All is here, wrapped in swaddling cloths.
This is the eternal word that ever speaks, and calls us to listen again and again - Jesus.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Good Stranger

In times of fear, how do we open our hearts to the stranger among us? How do we live when the neighbourhood looks less like our own, and the back yard neighbour is not “one of us?”

It is in times like these that we must lean ever closer to perfect love, and to the greatest commandments.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

It’s easy when the stranger is on the other side of the world. But when the stranger begin to make an appearance, to make demands in our own world, what then? What if the stranger moves next door?

Now is the time to put the command to work, right when it seems most inconvenient, most irrational, and most impossible.

This neighbour? This “other” with the wrong accent, the wrong beliefs, the wrong God?

Yes, for Jesus Himself redefined “neighbour” in the well-worn story we call The Good Samaritan.

It’s funny. The original question is this: “Who is my neighbour?” We ask from a place of security and self-righteousness, wanting to survey all the options before committing to such an impractical endeavor. “Just who is my neighbour?” we ask with barely veiled suspicion, as if we are in the position to pick and choose.

In the end, of course, the neighbour is not one of the old stock or religious establishment. The neighbour is the Samaritan, the half-breed, the undesirable “other.” It is he who fulfills the command and becomes the shining example. It is he who loves beyond requirement, beyond the letter of the law, beyond reason. 

And the tables are turned (as they often are in the Master’s stories), and the one who asked the question is actually the one dying on the road. This is life and death. What’s at stake here is nothing less than eternal life. The real question of this story is not “Who do I have to love?” but “Who will love me back to life?”

Could it be that we are the ones most in need? Could it be that we are indeed wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked? And where does the gold come from? The white clothes? The salve? The stranger.

And how do we receive this life? “Go and do likewise.”

Let us not think we have all to give, and they have only to take. That we are in the know, and they have but to learn.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a dangerous place, if we are not walking with Jesus.

It is in showing mercy that we receive its full benefits. We are in need of what the stranger has to offer, and this humbling may be the narrow gate to eternal life.

For what the stranger shows us is the face of Christ Himself. We would do well to ask, “Where is Jesus in this story?”

And he answers, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Yes, the great commandments are for such a time as this, and for the least of these. For if we pass by on the other side, we may just miss Him.

How can we be sure to find Him? By recognizing that we too are in need of the healing only mercy can bring. By laying ourselves down for the bruised and broken and looking for the face of Christ in the ditches of the world.

Perfect love embraces the cast off.
Perfect love saves us from being cast away.
Yes, perfect love casts out fear.

Perfect love is the only way to live in these times, and we may just find it in the face of a stranger.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Secret of the Pink Candle: How You Can Have Joy Right Here

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Yes, there is joy, even in the waiting, even in the absence of a promise fulfilled. It comes as a pink candle, the one the children have been asking about since the beginning of Advent. We light it now, this third Sunday, because joy cannot help sneak into the patient sequence, right here.

It's here in little bursts as anticipation bubbles up.
It's here, a song in the air, even as our hearts yet grieve the darkness.
It's here, a merry flame of rose and gold, the steady blaze of the far country.
It's here, lighting the feast of God's provision and defying winter's icy grip.

It's here, because He is here, and in His presence is fullness of joy.

When we abide in His love, which casts out fear and overcomes death, His joy fills us.

He is here, in the secret place, where the seed of hope awakens. He is here, in the hiding place, where peace is spoken to still the angry waves.

He is here, with us in sorrow and sighing, with us in uncertainty and shadow, with us in the watching and waiting.

Sometimes a pink candle is all it takes to make the children laugh, to remind us of the colours of dawn, to assure us that joy comes to us from another kingdom, and nothing on this groaning earth can take it away.

Joy is the laughter of God resounding from heaven to nature. It is the music of eternity reaching the ears of creation. It is His delight in us embracing our flesh and bone. It is the welcome of His presence right where we are, and the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Joy is Emmanuel, God with us.

O come, o come Emmanuel...

Even now the lament begins to turn and spin toward joy. One more candle, one step closer. We can make out His face in the glow.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

~ lg

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Slow Awakening

The clouds are blushing for the sun this morning in anticipation of his arrival: golden pinks and purple with a lavender secret, fresh scrubbed fleece and the far treed hillside on fire. It's a slow waking this December day. Muted greens and browns wait in the hush for the day to give them voice. A lone raven circles the riverbed, and he is first to greet the glowing king of the day.

A bird begins to sing outside the window. The little creature has my heart this morning, and I can't help but wonder, would the world change if we all stopped to watch the sun rise?

What if we stopped to watch the way a little boy runs headlong into his childish delights?

What if we stopped and held the sleepy girl a few more unnecessary minutes before moving on to matters of so-called import?

What if we stopped to breathe in the nuances of this morning's fresh air, and remembered to offer our thanks and praise?

What if we stopped and counted the colours of dawn, the heartbeats of a hug, and the notes of a songbird's hymn?

Perhaps this slowing would steady our tilted gait and ground us in the reality of our shared creation. Perhaps the light would heal our blinded eyes and reveal the hidden beauty. Perhaps the sun would cast his blush over our faces and kiss us awake to joy.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

morning prayer :: 4

Awake my soul!
Time to rise to beauty, to light, to the sacred work of another day.

I recommit myself to the way of Christ.
To walk in His ways, to live in His love, to live out His love.

I submit myself to the work of the Spirit.
To His wind, His fire, His baptism, and His elemental transformation.

I commit my spirit to the will of the Father.
To reach for His hand, where I am held, recreated, and sent forth.

Awake my soul!
The glory of the Lord is rising.
Rejoice, for the day has dawned.


Monday, 7 December 2015

The Very Best Christmas Surprise

T'is the season for secrets, and this poem by George MacDonald got me thinking today about the very holiest of surprises.

"That Holy Thing"
They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
O Son of Man, to right my lot
Naught but Thy presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!
My how or when Thou wilt not heed,
But come down Thine own secret stair,
That Thou mayst answer all my need—
Yea, every bygone prayer.
* * *

To live in anticipation of a creaking stair, a door opening, a sudden appearance of a familiar face - this is the joy of a "secret stair." 

It was one of the things that attracted me to this old house when we bought it. A secondary staircase, leading from the old kitchen upstairs into what is now a bathroom. A narrow passageway accessed by a painted wooden door, tucked away in the corner. The stairs here are steeper, and there is no railing. This is not the grand ascension promised by our front hall staircase, with its pillars and swirling banister. This is not the guest's welcome. This is the hidden way for those accustomed to our home. We've always called it "the secret stairway." 

It can provide a quick escape to the upstairs rooms. It's a handy way to transport laundry. It is a perennial favourite in the children's games of hide-and-seek. And they delight to sneak down and surprise me in the dining room, throwing the door open to reveal their uncontainable laughter. 

It is this aspect of mystery, surprise, and intimacy that endears me to the crooked passage. It whispers of Irene's tower and Lucy's wardrobe, and I half expect to see a silver haired grandmother or prancing faun peeking down. 

So too does MacDonald's "secret stair" speak of the divine encounter. The way in is not always through the front door. Ladders from heaven drop unawares where only angels know the path. And sometimes we find that first step when we're not even looking, indeed, we may stumble over it in our haste. We look up from our stubbed toe and hear the whisper, "Come up here." And then there are times we are altogether astonished by laughter, because God has tumbled down into our dining room yelling, "Surprise!"

Oh, the doors are everywhere, and to live with such possibility is one of the sweetest delights of our sacred trust, and the opening to our hearts desire. 

Yes Lord, "come down Thine own secret stair." 


Sunday, 6 December 2015

"Advent Sunday" by Christina Rossetti

BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out
With lighted lamps and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

It may be at the midnight, black as pitch,
Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich.

It may be at the crowing of the cock
Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock.

For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride:
His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side.

Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place,
Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face.

Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing,
She triumphs in the Presence of her King.

His Eyes are as a Dove's, and she's Dove-eyed;
He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride.

He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love,
And she with love-voice of an answering Dove.

Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out
With lamps ablaze and garlands round about
To meet Him in a rapture with a shout.

~ Christina Rossetti

Thursday, 3 December 2015

To the friend who's lost hope

My dear friend,

I've been where you are. Stumbling down a back road in the dark, trying to get away from myself and the mess I've become. Running from home, not because I wanted to leave, but because I didn't deserve to stay. I've cried up and down both sides of the pavement while the neighbour dogs barked, wondering how I ever came to be the person in these shoes.

And I've felt it. The clutching, gut-punching blast of hopelessness.

I've looked at the stars and known there is a God, and that maybe He even loves me, but He can't possibly change me. I used to believe He could. I pinned all my hopes and dreams on that belief when things got tough, when I faltered, and failed, and failed again.

But this time, the failure runs so deep and it's tainted everything, it has become me and I have become it. And sure, God is gracious and good, but when I look at myself I can't see how it's had any effect whatsoever. The problem's not Him. It's me.

I've lost faith. And I've trudged cold-hearted and shame-faced back home, only to stand in the yard and see the lighted windows and feel like a stranger.

And I've believed all the beautiful news can be true, but not for me. I've tried, and I'm still this sobbing wreck after all these years. This time, I can't go on. I can't go in.

And life goes on, and we keep going through the motions because there is nothing else. But we wonder how we'll ever walk in faith again. We cannot see past this dark night. We cannot see past ourselves.

My dear friend,

I am not so very far down the road, but I think I may just see the morning star. Don't get me wrong. I have not increased my capacity to create faith. But in the howling waste of hopelessness, there has been a humbling. I've been wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, and I've known it.

And somehow I've been given the grace to hold on to the truth that God's goodness and grace are not dependent on how well I've performed with them. The promises have seemed so very far from me. And even now I don't know how and when they will get hold of me and bring about the change I so desperately need.

But even faith to believe in the far off is a gift. And maybe there are days I don't have it at all. But I know it comes from God the Faithful. All I can do is ask. All I can do is seek. All I can do is knock on that door. And wait. Wait for the sky to break and the sun to warm me.

There have been no magic words, no perfect days, no overnight miracles. There have simply been more days with the possibility of mercy slipping in the back door.

My dear friend, you are not alone.

And I will hold your hand when the sleepless dark seems like all there is. And I will sing of the morning star when it dawns. And we will wait for faith and hope to come, together. There is still a welcome, because He who calls us is Faithful.


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Grace of the Weighty Word

I am startled by the Scripture readings for December 1st and 2nd in Common Prayer.* Isaiah 1:1-20. A hard word, a weighty word, heavy with the justice of God.

Here is a broken Father, crushed by the inconsolable affliction of His rebellious children. Here is the Father weeping over the burned city.

And yet these tattered lepers insist on parading their so-called sacrifices through the courts, keeping up the charade of a glittering festival.

"Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted."

Stop the insanity!

"From the sole of your foot to the top of your head 
there is no soundness."

No soundness. Only noise.
No wholeness. Only fractures.
No peace, no shalom. Only the dizzying dance of hypocrisy even as the enemy draws closer.

Righteousness is under siege, and yet the parties and platitudes continue. The fatherless and widow cry out, but who has ears to hear?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble. tremble.

For who can stand against such an injunction? And who am I in the holiday parade?

And yet the word of justice contains a word of mercy. (Blessed be the faithfulness of God.) Here is a diagnosis, and that is grace to the gaping wounded. Here is the naked, ugly truth, and therein lies salvation.

I have known this word. I have sat in complete judgment, rightly accused by the righteous law, the weight of each commandment broken piled on me in succession. And oh, it was hard to bear. I would not have believed in the grace of such judgment had I not known His face. Truth makes free, but only in the ears of the humbled.

"Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are like crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword."
     For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. 

If I had not already known His kiss, I could not have received His rebuke.

And yes, every word of rebuke also breathes healing, if we come close enough to be washed in His tears. His face is turned to us, even in rebuke.

This is mercy - that He speaks at all.

This is favour - that He rips off our crumbling facades and exposes our aching bones.

This is love - that His word became flesh and bone to bear our sin, to stare us down and call our names, and to restore the ears our own swords have devoured. He does not turn away. He does not forsake.

This is love - do not miss it! This is the Word who will heal.

This is the Word of peace for the trembling.

"Come now." 

So I pray, in this season, for ears to hear,
for ears to receive the Word,
no matter how He speaks.

* Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shaine Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro


BCP: Advent Prayer 1

The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent, from the Book of Common Prayer

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which they Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.

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