Saturday, August 23, 2014

catch up numero uno : views from the road

(I have a habit of starting without finishing, of getting so caught up in the phrasing of a thought that I never quite articulate it. And I've discovered in these days now that I've returned to Canada from Honduras that this habit results in rather a stockpile of written-never-published blog posts. This week I'll make a half-hearted attempt to play blogging catch up - as long as it doesn't prevent me from enjoying these last weeks of Vancouver summer!

And so...back to blogged thoughts from Honduras:)

There are days when life moves fast and days when life moves slow and I feel that (as I've written before) I am in a constant battle to live with contentment - contentment in all circumstances as Paul says - with every pace thrown my way. Sometimes moments pass by so laden with smells and tastes and sounds that all you can do is bow the knee and give thanks. Like snowflakes you catch for a moment or two on your tongue or gloved hand, when life moves slow it's easy to catch life fully and savour it for a moment before it melts away. And then there are seasons when seconds pass by so quickly that their individual weight is blurred, raindrops that follow one after the other so quickly that each one is subsumed into the next and time moves with the waterfall rush of Honduras' wildest storms. 

Sometimes I forget that even rainstorms pour into the soil and bring forth new things from the earth. I forget that even when I cannot and do not slow myself down to savour seconds, God is at work in the rainstorms. My life has been in rainy season of late - a time not to be confused with sorrow but simply with abundant activity. Scarcely is there a morning of sun but it is followed by an afternoon of rain. In the midst of this rainy season, then, this time of seconds subsumed into seasons, I am learning to be content with the wild pace of it all, to allow myself to be swept into the rush until a moment emerges when I can look back and see the rich, rich spring growth (in myself most of all) that the rains (and God who so often moves through them) leave in their wake. 

I took a long road trip this past week, around eight hours of sitting in a van driving first through the terraced, rolling, misty hills of Honduras, then through the dry, hot land that longs for rain, into the city of San Pedro Sula and then back along the same route. Travel does a funny thing to time. It moves oh-so-slowly inside the van (punctuated with the antsy antics of children and, let's be honest, myself), but when looking outside all one can catch are stolen glimpses - a fragment of graffitied wall, a quick view between billboards of the rolling mountains beyond. But there is beauty even in the quickly captured glimpses of the road beyond; the road is beautiful even when moving so quickly that the sights are blurred by speed, by passing trucks, by a strand of hair that blows in front of eyes And sometimes, if ever so lucky, the sun hits a spot of dust on the windshield and suddenly all that can be seen is the sun sun sun shining down on the road and everything passing by. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

On Chasing Contentment

As a general rule, I'm the kind of person who likes to plan. The grass is always greener, you know, and all to often the other side of the fence is on the other side of today. I do so love to plan for tomorrow, so much so that sometimes I forget about today.

Today I am sitting in a cafe here in Copan. Five minutes ago a torrent of rain ended. Thirty minutes or so before that the sun shone so bright that I moved my chair into the shade. And when the rain with a crash broke through the sky and the winds picked up, bringing mangoes from the trees down to the ground, the air was mist not air and the brilliant sky grew dark. But more rapidly than I thought possible the crash of rain ended with a whimper, the sky brightened, and now I can see two lizards running back and forth across the grass beside me, upright on their back legs, dinosaurs in miniature. Who knows what the next thirty minutes will bring?

I think I am content with today even though, right now, I cannot plan for the next thirty minutes. I've often sought to chase contentment around the world and back. On dark January days it is my habit to slip into googlemaps, plotting trips and looking down roads in places on the other side of my today,  places that are not my place.

Ten days ago I was preparing for the other side of today, dreaming that distant future that is now my today. And, unlike my habit, as I planned I was content with my little house in Vancouver, my walks to the beach, my homework and my work with kids.

Now that I am here in Honduras I am still consumed with planning for future events and exciting days to come. But I appreciate these moments when a torrent transforms the brilliant blue of the sky into darkness and I'm forced to remember that this moment is my present, and it is good.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Packing

I've been purging life's detritus of late. 

I've faced my inner hoarder, the girl whose freezer overflows with a stash of frozen bananas (fourteen if you must know), endless quantities of ends of bread and an empty container of ice cream that remained in the freezer for who knows how long because I was too embarrassed to acknowledge by tossing it promptly just how quickly I finished eating it. I've been chasing after loose ends, making calls to soandso about suchandhsuch, going on errands to find a bitofthisabitofthat. 

I've been gathering these loose ends and dropped threads together into a mound of yesterday's newness and today's trash, moving what I need and tossing what I don't. It's funny how it all builds up around me. 

It isn't comfortable to say goodbye to my detritus. Its build up makes me feel comfortable, at home. I know I am at home in a place when my freezer has fourteen bananas, a past collected with high hopes of future banana bread. But even though packing is a temporary bother, it means new beginnings. In this case, in two (goodness gracious, two!) days I'll be boarding a plane and heading south to a town in Honduras where thunder strikes the night sky and where the cobblestone streets hum with stray dogs and taxis and streams of people. I'll be serving with UrbanPromise Honduras once again, this time as intern director. It is a good beginning I'm moving towards in the midst of present endings. 

I want to start chasing after words again in the midst of my travels. Words have been elusive lately, easily found to write a book report or an email, but less available when just for fun. But they help me to piece life together, to figure out how yesterday becomes tomorrow and how my hoarded bananas are actually (perhaps?) a symbol of hope. 

I've decided to use this blog (rather than for this year's journeying so please take a look here now and again to see some pictures of where I am and what I'm doing and (hopefully) some words that strive to piece it all together. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sometimes it's better to chase the setting sun

Sometimes it's better to chase the setting sun. It's better to pursue sun smeared clouds before the last light sinks below the rim of ocean and trees. Who knows whether it will rise again in the morning?

For now it slashes the billows of clouds with fire. It does not matter that Edison perfected the lightbulb and that life goes on after the sun gleam fades, and that behind me the Vancouver skyline glistens an echo to the sinking lights across the water. For now the sun's light is the only light that matters.

I had a sentence to write, and a comma to edit into a semicolon. There was a text to reply to and an email or two or three to send. I had a schedule to fill with a bit of this and a bit of that. I probably needed to check Facebook, because, you know, I'm kind of a big deal. And the fruit fly trap on my counter won't clean itself out; it needs me -

But no, I chose to chase sunshine and the way the rippling waves leap up to catch its beams and make them stretch long and then thin on the surface of English Bay. I chose to pursue the apocalyptic glimmer beyond the trees and power lines, drive down down the hill to an empty lot, and then clamber over rocks to meet the rising tide and sit on the edge of the sea. And then I took a photograph, or two or three (or eleven if we want to be exact) because I am of this generation that lives to document.

Imagine for a moment that this is the last sliver of light before spring, never to glow on the eastern clouds in the morning until mid-May. Imagine that the city's echo of lights are not there and that all the light before you is all the light there is with nothing but storm clouds at your back. Would you not have ignored the commas and the semicolons, the texts and the emails, even the fruit flies?

Sometimes it pays to pay attention.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I had no desire to displace a microcosm.

With slight movement of fingers curved to grasp I plucked a rock from the ocean's tide and dropped it in a gaping bottle. Three-hundred millimetres of seaside snatched from leagues and leagues of coastline is hardly a crime. I only meant to document the satin edge of a sanded pebble, to represent the glimmer of sunlight on a patch of slime.

Back at my kitchen table, with clash and clatter a universe in miniature poured from my water bottle to a plate sitting in the evening sun. It made no stirrings when I carried it up the hill, when I slung it among the books, pens and leftover hummus in my backpack. But now oh now it is no static stone.

It is occupied by clusters of gaping barnacles opening and shutting perilous mouths. Its surface breaths in and out and pulls and tugs at the train of seaweed trailing over jumbled horizons.

It sits in seawater teeming with translucent beings. They dart from shadow to shadow to spark of light chasing who knows what to who knows where.

I do not know where they go nor what I have done, moving this thing that looked so dead in the afternoon sun.

But move them I did and now I face the music. I chase after bits of light and patches of shadow with my pencils and brushes, I rub at graphite with my finger, scribbling scrawling shapes, dancing along precarious lines.

But how can pigment grasp the sheen of seaweed bathed in water? How can a stick of graphite snatch the movement of a barnacle's smile? How can any number of scribbles clutch an infinitude of sand?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Half sick of shadows

It was Anne of Green Gables who first taught my nine year old self to love words.

It was Anne's performance of "The Highwayman" at the White Sands Hotel that inspired me to memorize portions of "The Highwayman" and perform it with great enthusiasm in the privacy my bedroom. And it was Anne's literary ambitions that fuelled the writing of my own poetry on all the beauties of trees blowing in ferocious winds under the moonlit skies, written in the illegible scrawls of newly learned cursive. I longed to be a writer, and a writer of the type who spends most of her time wandering in a daze through dewy fields waxing eloquent on the virtues of moonlight. This was a clearly pragmatic plan.

In the 1985 film of Anne of Green Gables, Anne's love for words open the first scene as she wanders through a forest, reciting words from Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" to herself, "willows whiten, aspens quiver/ little breezes dusk and shiver..."

But with the shriek of "Anne, Anne!" she is brought from the heights of poesy to the depths of prosaic life replete with poverty, abusive guardians and three sets of squalling twins under the age of five to look after.

It is a rude awakening.

"The Lady of Shalott" seems a fitting subtext to Anne's life. The Lady of Shalott, the artist living on an island within sight of Camelot, whose only glimpses of that land are through mirrored reflections that she transposes into a woven web. Hers is a reality twice removed. Though she "still delights/ to weave the mirror's magic sights," on occasion delight is replaced with isolation and she sighs "I am half sick of shadows."

Half sick of shadows. Although she is present in the world, sometimes heard singing by "reapers, reaping early in among the bearded barley," hers is a shadowed existence so solitary and isolated that if she but look to the "water lily bloom"and turn to Camelot a curse will befall her.

And so it does when Sir Lancelot's image flashes across her crystal mirror. With a turn of her head towards the prospect of life beyond shadows, she carries out her final artistic act: she makes herself a bier upon which she floats dying down the river towards Camelot.

And that, my friends, is the plight of the artist who dares not only to see but to act in the world.

It is a tempting thing to be an artist, a creative type, who retreats from the world they take delight in. From Tennyson one gathers the impression that the ethereal realm of crystal mirrors and magic webs is where life is lived, and that dull prosaic world is the world that leads to death. But I disagree.

Anne and her friends act out the scene of the Lady of Shalott's death with comic earnestness, striving to leave through imagination the dull realm of harvests and spelling bees, gossip and housekeeping.

But reality in the form of a leaky raft catches up to them and a romantic river death looses its appeal when that river is full of weeds and the only Sir Lancelot in sight is an annoying boy from school. The Lady of Shalott clearly had it better, even though she died and Anne was merely helped back to shore by the annoying boy.

I think that I would tend to side more with L.M Montgomery than Tennyson in the matter of a life in the shadows. Though as a child I thought that the Anne books all about leading a vivid life of the imagination, I have come to see Anne's as an imaginative life rooted in reality and a sense of humour capable of sensing the dissonance between ideals and reality.

And because I am a grad school student, I simply cannot end a blog post about Anne of Green Gables and the Lady of Shalott without quoting at least one of my books from school. Currently I am reading a book by Roger Lundin called Believing Again.  At one point Lundin quotes the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer who writes in Truth that the artist and viewer of a piece of art "is never simply swept away into a strange world of magic, of intoxication, and of dream; rather, it is always his own world, and he comes to belong to it more fully by recognizing himself more profoundly in it."

Art, for Gadamer, leads not to an ethereal up-in-the-clouds state of poesy, but straight into the world of spelling bees, gossip and annoying people that Anne strives to escape. Art leads not to isolation, but to deeper engagement.

And so, please rest assured that I have forsaken my childhood dream of wandering impoverished through dewy fields writing adjective-laden poetry, occasionally flung into the depths of artistic despair by a rejection slip from a magazine. While I like to keep a strong hold on my adjectives and may on occasion delve into the depths of despair, my hope is that words and pictures charged with beauty will lead me towards and not from the everyday prose of life.

Monday, June 17, 2013


I've had Leah on my mind these days. Leah, the weak-eyed, mandrake-collecting woman of those ancient patriarchal days who marries Jacob because her father tricks him into doing so. Leah's story in Genesis looks like the inconsequential appendage to the greater romance of Jacob and Rachel - the woman Jacob falls in love with from first sight at the well while she tends her flocks, the pastoral beauty set up to be the heroine of a Shakespearian romance or modern romantic comedy.

It looks like Jacob and Rachel's romance is going smoothly after a brief(!) interlude of seven years of work. But then, right when echoes of wedding bells and eternal bliss are beginning to chime above the heads of the beaming couple, conflict bursts onto the scene with the anticlimactic line "When the morning came, there was Leah!" Now it is a story of mistaken identities and conflict uniting to prevent those destined to be together to live out their happily ever after. The elder sister appears in Jacob's bed the next morning, and Jacob and Rachel are yet another pair of star-crossed lovers setting the precedent for the love stories of millenniums to follow.

But unlike Romeo and Juliet, their stars do align with a bit of hard work and Jacob earns the hand of his first true love, their happily ever after only skewed by the continued presence of Leah in their household - no minor inconvenience indeed. But we all know that Leah is an afterthought, a hitch along the way. It is Rachel who is the true heroine of this story. Rachel is Cinderella and Leah is just one of those bothersome stepsisters trying to force themselves upon Prince Charming.

Just when it looks like Leah is destined to fade in the background in the style of Mr Rochester's mad wife locked up in the attic (do excuse the Jane Eyre is a book of marvellously wide-reaching applicability), God reveals himself yet again to be the "One who sees me" (Gen 16:13) as Hagar - another woman unloved by the patriarchs and scorned by their wives - describes him. God sees Leah with all of her cumbersome brokenness, sees that she is unloved, and graces her with children. He speaks into her context, entering into it. But Leah  responds to these children, these gifts of God, as a means to the end of her husband's love. Surely my husband will love me now is her mantra. Love is a competition and children no more than points in her favour.

And then the subtlest of turning points. At the birth of Judah, her fourth son, Leah rises for a moment to shine above her dismal circumstances. This time, she declares, I will praise the Lord. Something clicks and Leah seeks love from the heart of grace. But transformation can be a feeble thing and in just a few verses Leah is swept back into the competition for her husband's affection, offering him maidservants and trading in mandrakes to better her chances for gaining his love.

But this is not where the story ends, with Leah hopelessly unloved and conniving, striving to be the most beloved. Lately I have been reading Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Those ten thousand places, I am beginning to understand, are human places, places where brokenness has a tendency to outweigh perfection. As Peterson writes, "God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be." God meets Leah where she is, working out his promises through her. It cannot be coincidence that she comes up again and again in the genealogies vicariously through her son Judah, the son who inspired songs of praise from her heart. Judah, the son through whom God's promises to Abraham and Jacob are fulfilled. Through the line of Judah a messiah arises, a saviour who thoroughly enters into the circumstances of humanity and, by doing so, brings a hope that enlivens those very circumstances, those oh-so-very human places.

I can imagine Leah as a heroine in a modern movie, probably an awkward and lonely high school student. I can imagine the conflict she is flung into, how she feels herself to be unloved. And I can image the ending to this story, where somebody - most likely a vampire or a werewolf - notices her for her inner beauty or whatever it is that vampires notice, chooses her over all the other girls with clearer vision and she enjoys her own happily ever after.

The kindly vampire never does appear. But the God who sees her and you and I does, and not only does he see her but he also acts goodness to her and through her. And through her broken-heartedness we catch a glimpse of full-heartedness yet to come.