On the first day of 2022, during a second pandemic winter and after a year which has shown us the seriousness of the advancing climate threat, you are forgiven for peering into the new year with some apprehension.
Take the long dark hours and the lack of daylight this time of the year and the recipe for depression is right there. I have known many times of inner dark, and while I share this perspective as an afterthought out of a time of newfound life, I do not forget what it feels like, do not take the darkness lightly.
But we wrong the darkness when we shove it into the category of the unwanted, the "bad", the deep drawers of the things that are best left alone and untouched.
Without the dark of the womb you and I would not even be here.
Without the dark of night you and I would be seriously sick.
Without the "dark night of the soul" you and I would lead spiritual lives of superficiality and arrogance.
Let me share with you a symbol of healing during and through the dark times.
The humble, mass produced poinsettia.
I love plants, but am not a person with what you would call a "green thumb".
Most of my houseplants , given to me by well meaning folk, have suffered from neglect in the past.
Many a year my Christmas pointsettia looked dry, crumpled and withered by the time January came around. Its last trip was to the compost pile.
But this time, something is different. It may have to do with our confinement to the home due to Covid 19. The plants all look greener, having got more attention and water. And the pointesettia, from last year is fully alive.
Last spring, I set it out next to the house in the yard and wished it good luck.
told it I would not be able to mollycoddle it and " please make an effort if you want to live". Rains, the mild climate and very occasional helpings from my water can during times of draught helped it along.
When fall came I brought it back in and set it by our north window.
The leaves were green.
Strangely, about a week before Christmas, I saw one of the leaves turn red and two others turn white. Unbeknown to me at the time a process called "photoperiodism" had begun, whereby a lack of light causes the poinsettia bush to change the colours of its leaves. Its the darkness which causes the beautiful leaf "blooms" of the poinsettia. Unless the plant gets 12 hours of complete darkness it won't show the beauty we all like so much.
As the world turned into December darkness, the leaves slowly birthed colour and joy.
Who would have known?
Be gentle with your darkness, your's too may slowly birth new life in you
"If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to You;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to You."
Psalm 139: 12
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
Recently, I went tent camping again – having dropped that form of vacationing over 20 years ago - it took a re surge of adventurous spirit (and the assurance that my adult daughter would be an experienced companion in this) to pitch that tent again.
The weather was fine, the air mattress comfortable and the neighbours on the campground eventually stopped talking and playing their guitar around midnight. In the morning I awoke to the sound of camp wood crackling in the fire place and birdsong above my head. It was lovely.
Is our “earthly home” a tent? Tent maker Saul of Tarsus (turned apostle Paul) offers this metaphor.
And because of my recent camping experience I've come to appreciate that image again.
The physical home I live in, a sturdy farmhouse from the early 19th century, is anything but tent like.
Those who built it placed the wood frame on a basement made of massive squared granite stones.
The house is standing straight and tall 170 years later. Because of its solidity it invites solid furniture.
Sturdy, well built 19th century tables and sofas have found their earthly home there. Together with countless books the combined weight of our living there is...lets just say – substantial.
While “de-cluttering” and “letting go” and even preventive “death cleaning” are all the rage, our family so far defies the trend by sticking with some of the stuff that speaks of roots, of memory, of manual skill, and of awareness of time before this very moment in history.
Despite the language that evokes “home” and “buildings” what Paul speaks of when he says “our earthly home” is our body, not the homes - and not the earth as our planet.
He speaks of my (and your) body which in winter time is grateful for the warmth of a farmhouse and in summer likes to cool off from the heat outside.
The tent- like earthly body- home for our self – is fragile and subject to storms and mishaps.
I've seen for myself how tent like the body is...how quickly we overheat, are cold or get damaged...
how we can be moved and transplanted to almost anywhere on earth.
I know people who think they could never survive outside of the place they were born into or went to school. They are extremely wary of travelling, and often, frankly not good at it because they so much seek to find what they knew before and travel to see what is familiar already.
I know other people who are very comfortable with being tent like and with travelling light through this world, with being always open minded, always ready for campsites with new vistas.
All of us though carry everything within ourselves that makes us who we are.– I have met displaced people of all ages and different cultures who brought their self with them wherever they had to set up camp. In the end its our individual stories and our gestures, our loves and our dislikes, our talents and desires, our laughter or lack of it, that is who we are. Not our furniture, not our wine cellar, not our collections of this or that.
What when this tent-body is destroyed? When the body dies, the tent rips and goes to the eternal recycling plant?
Opinions are divided of course: For some, its back to the earth, molecule to molecule, dust to dust...for others its the hope of a “mansion in the sky”...everything good the way we knew it - only better.
I personally hope for the “self” to still have a home. While my tent- body returns to the elements, the “we” or “me” might be “housed” in a space all together different. Not an eternal “mansion”, but with a building from God. A house “not made with hands” -clearly not something you and I could recognize as a “house.”
For me its sufficient that Self might enter a space in the realm of Eternal Divine Love after death. That would, in fact be way more than sufficient...outright awesome.
The camping trip was a good reminder of the fragility of my life-body and also of the beauty of simplicity.
How little it is I need, how moveable the essentials of my life really are.
With that I can even return into the heavy- weight of my farmhouse for a little longer.
How many questions may a Christian ask?
Are bible stories true? How can we continue to believe in God with everything that's going on? Will Christianity survive? If God is in heaven, where is heaven? Why do some children have to suffer so much? What is the Christian responsibility towards the environment?
These were just a few of the dozen or so questions I received when asking for the faith questions that people wrestle with today. The people I asked were those who are in church on a regular basis, who form our congregation and attend Sunday worship when they can. They were not people who have left church, nor were they people who never darken the doors of a sanctuary except for a wedding or funeral.
They are the Faithful Ones. And faithful people are people who are aware and awake.
Greening Power of God
In the Annapolis Valley there is a month where everything turns from brown to green. May is that month. Ever since I've lived here I've watched the month begin with bare branches, browned and bent blades of last years grass and dead, dry stalks of last years flowers in our yard. The snow is gone (if we ever had any to speak of) but nothing else is there yet for the eye. And then, it starts: Swelling red buds, tiny leaves emerge, bulbs push through the hard ground, the new grass begins to appear...and the speed is incredible.
While over in ”Old Europe” in mid May spring begins to feel “old” indeed, it's still coming on strong here. This is the greening month and we will not let you forget it. No one lush green looks the same. By the end of it, dandelions unfold their thick yellow patches all over the lawn, fruit trees wave blossom-packed branches to the pollinators and everything is full of colour. The eye bathes in the green and spirits soar.
“Green power” at work.
It has been said that we all long to return to the original garden – perhaps this explains my immense sense of well being and gratitude on a recent supremely peaceful Sunday morning experience in Cambridge, UK.
We were guests of Westcott House; a training centre for future clergy of the Church of England - located in Jesus Lane (seriously!). Built in the late 1800's red brick buildings enclose a courtyard on four sides. Here, in the heart of the city, fruit trees grow, birds sing, blossoms and flowers abound.
The grass is left long on one side, refuge for the old turtle who dozes under the apple tree and for countless wildflowers others would call weeds. On the other side the grass is cut to a lawn, so students can sit and picnic and their kids play soccer. Even a palm tree grows here - 3 storeys high! Such is the protection the walls offer from stormy interferences of the meteorological or other kinds.
The men and women who are trained here for the ministry leave this place during the day to go to classes or to their church placements and at night they return to this oasis. The wooden doors that lead to the street are heavy and iron clad. Blessed are they who have a key to paradise!
Because paradise or garden of Eden it is – paradeisos, paradis, Eden, all come from the old Persian word for “walled garden”.
For me its a Sunday where I am on vacation. No service to lead, no duties this morning.
Because paradise or Garden of Eden it is – paradeisos, paradis, Eden; all come from the old Persian word for “walled garden”.
Given the accelerating pace of climate chaos and extinction, global political polarizations and increasing injustice I ask myself more and more often: who or what keeps us from falling?
In my walks I came across this delicate fabrication of a nest.
Small, made of dried grasses and leaves, suspended on thin threads between the tender branches of a beech sapling, it had nevertheless survived long after its occupants left. It had remained intact through November and its winds, the January snow, February rains, and a March hurricane force wind storm. Something so delicate; yet still in balance, still habitable, still functioning.
There came again a time in February when I got “Nova Scotia Cabin Fever”; that state by now fairly familiar to me when I just can't stand the bleak winter landscape around here any longer. Fields lay bare and brown, the ocean day after day displayed a greenish gray that makes your bones freeze just by looking at it, and the skies overcast.
Day after day after day. Mood: Downcast.
Travelling south doesn't tempt me, but I figured that the woods might contribute to lifting my spirits. Even without snow a healthy woodland would be interesting: Mosses and creeks running, smells of evergreen needles, towering trees.
I wondered, "How much space does a person really need?"
A project for this year...a place where I will share musings on art and faith, bible and scholarship, nature and science, contemplation and action, personal and world events that touch me. Thank you for dropping in. Blessings to you wherever you are.
“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was frightened.” Matthew 2:1-3