Immanuel

In the wake of a tragedy, the world is sensitive and throbbing, like a wound irritated and freshly opened. Fingers are pointed and blame is cast–from guns to mental illness to the government to the belief that God was “kicked out of the public school system long ago,” the last one standing out from the others as something that makes me so, so sad and not for the reason you’d think.

It’s simply because I don’t think it’s true.

In her blog, Rachel Held Evans counters the argument that “God did not show up at Sandy Hook because ‘God is not allowed in public schools,’ because ‘we have systematically removed God from that place'” by stating:

God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t ‘systematically remove’ God if we tried.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Like Rachel Held Evans, I feel troubled and provoked by the assertion that God can be removed from somewhere, especially in light of the Christmas message that He sent His son to be Immanuel.

God with us.

Allow me this space to vent.

God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), He is higher and more powerful than our human laws, and our government, and our educational systems and institutions, all the ways in which we attempt to organize our messy and sinful world.

He is more infinite, more far-reaching, and big that even our most sophisticated systems and intelligent laws cannot even begin to explain what He can do.

To think that a law, a bill, or an institution can keep God out is to greatly limit how vast and powerful He is. Preventing children from saying the Lord’s prayer in schools will not keep Him out, because, as Rachel Held Evans says, He cannot be kept out. He is everywhere at all times, God with us, even when we can’t feel it, even when we think something we’ve done or let happen will keep Him out.

What’s even more troubling to me than the loss of the Lord’s prayer in schools is that hearts have turned away from Him and don’t know His love. Because His people, Christians, aren’t showing them love–they’re keeping it to themselves, sequestered in their churches and programs and systems and then shaking their heads in disbelief when the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit.

They think that what a broken and hurting world needs is another church, another building, another system, another organization, another program or law, turning their noses up at the whiff of anything subversive or different, forgetting how subversive and different the very core of their religion is.

It is not, I believe, the system, the government, the organization, the program or law that people need. Telling people what to do and how to live their lives and “taking over” the government is not going to cause people everywhere to fall on their knees and take up Christianity.

It is you, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

It’s people, showing His love to other people in the simplest of ways, showing others how valuable they are without a script or a tract or a million-dollar church building or the “anointing” of another spiritual celebrity.

As previously mentioned, Jesus was different. He didn’t require the most sophisticated synagogue to reach out to people, or traveling funds or ministry school degrees or the celebrity status of the modern-day spiritual leader.

His ministry was so simple. He sat with people–the prostitute, the tax collector, the homeless, the adulteress, the sick and poor and forgotten and neglected and built relationships with them. He listened to them, broke bread with them, wiped their tears and spoke to them, the ones from whom many church people would turn away.

Because it was the religious people who ticked Him off, how they inflated their own egos and turned his “church” from being about people to being about getting money from people.

It is my personal opinion that many Christians are fighting the wrong fight. They’re fighting for laws to be passed and systems to be changed, when they should be focusing on how they can change their own hearts from being marred by self-righteousness and pride.

The fact of the matter is simply this:

Jesus loved people, and if we want to change the world, that’s what we have to do too.

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A Christmas Full of Thanksgiving

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

The last few days have been tough for my family with the sudden passing of my uncle. When something like this happens so close to a season when you’re supposed to be jubilant and jolly, you really begin to see that for many people, “the most wonderful time of the year” is more like “the most difficult time of the year.”

Grief is a complex and interesting thing, and in that state of fragility, many emotions come to the surface when you’re least expecting them. Standing in the checkout line at Dollarama. Driving along a country road listening to Christmas carols on the radio. You’re more sensitive to the smallest of slights, whether real or imagined, and sifting through the myriad feelings of hurt, anger, relief, hope, resentment, shock, and peace can leave you feeling exhausted. It’s hard to keep the tears from spilling over when someone cuts you off in traffic or bumps into you in a crowded store and doesn’t apologize or deletes your comments on Facebook, and to remind yourself that–like all things–this too shall pass

Despite everything, my heart is overflowing with gratitude for all of the many gifts and blessings in my life, both big and small. Even though Thanksgiving is traditionally the holiday for counting one’s blessings, I think it’s even more important to be grateful in the midst of loss and pain. As a friend used to ask, “Are your hurts going to make you bitter or better?

In no particular order, I am thankful for:

  • Amazing friends. You know who you are, and whether we see each other on a regular basis or hardly at all, I love you and keep you in my thoughts. Thanks for the encouraging text messages, coffee dates, listening ears, prayers, and most importantly, the gift of your friendship. Some of you have really helped me through some difficult things especially this past year, and I’m eternally grateful for your unconditional support. A special shout-out to both my Book Club and Writing Circle. Cheers to dovetailing interests!
  • The best family ever. We may be small, but we’ve got a heck of a lot of love for each other and have dealt with more than our fair share of death! However, we’re stronger than ever and continue to prove that blood is thicker than water. I have incredibly strong, spiritual, powerhouse parents who are still as much in love as they were in the 1970s and my mom is my best friend who knows me better than anyone. I have an inspiring big sister who has followed her heart and is carving her own path in Alberta. I have a loving and sensitive big brother, a wise and beautiful sister-in-law, and the sweetest little nephew who has captured my heart. I have a hilarious little brother who is 20 going on 25, and an affectionate and loyal pet schnauzer. I have a handful of pretty amazing aunts and uncles and the best cousins ever, one of whom feels more like a pal who just so happens to have had a very similar upbringing. Whew … I could write a novel about how fantastic my family is, but I mean every word of it!
  • Music, always and forever. I don’t know you personally, Marcus Mumford and Sufjan Stevens, but your beautiful music has especially spoken to me in the past few months (and you’re both rumoured Anglicans. Interesting.) Your faith is inspiring and something reflected so creatively in your art. As you sing in “Thistle & Weeds,” Marcus, I will hold on hope. For your listening pleasure, here’s my favourite band of 2010 by far:
  • Beautiful books. Specifically this year, I think of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, both of which have had a profound effect on me.
  • The simple, everyday moments that take your breath away with their perfect orchestration. The other day, I was sitting in the coffee  shop waiting for my friends to arrive and drinking a chai latte. For a brief moment, no one in the coffee shop spoke any louder than a whisper, if at all. No milk was being steamed and no smoothies were being blended. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” was playing on the radio. Sun was streaming through the window. In the words of Stephen Chbosky, and in that moment, I swear we were infinite.

it goes without saying, but most of all, i'm thankful for this--the fount of every blessing

  • Favourite hymn + favourite band =

On that lovely note, let this be my bloggish Christmas card to you: my friends, my family, and the wild and wonderful blogosphere which has provided me with some great friends.

Wishing you comfort and joy this holiday season.

Repeat the Sounding Joy

Et Verbum Caro Factum Est: "And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us" -- John 1:14

Yesterday I experienced something of a Christmas miracle.

I went to the mall–which, on a Monday morning was busier than a Friday evening during normal shopping hours–to purchase a gift card for my workplace Secret Santa. It was a specialty store (the name of which I cannot mention in case my coworkers read this and the Secret Santa is ruined!) and predictably very crowded with long lineups.

I got the gift card, then went to the bathroom and into some other stores, feeling kind of grumpy about being in a mall, slipping on the wet floors with my broken, trackless Aldo booties, surrounded by consumerism and Christmas greed, bitter that I had to get a gift for a coworker. I was generally a big Scrooge McDuck.

As I climbed into the van, my mom noticed that my shopping bag was ripped at the bottom and stuff I had purchased at Shoppers Drug Mart was falling out. My gift card was nowhere to be seen.

I traced my steps through the mall with no luck. I waited in a lineup at the information desk to ask if they had received any gift cards from that store, but they hadn’t. I marched/slid back to the store, receipts in hand, hoping they’d let me purchase a new card or cancel the one I had just bought. I figured there was no way in hell someone would find a gift card of that value from that store and not keep it for themselves.

It turns out human honesty and integrity are still alive and well at the Pen Centre in St. Catharines. The store clerk informed me that some kind stranger had found the gift card in the women’s washroom and promptly returned it to the store. Needless to say, I felt ashamed for having such a poor attitude about the gift exchange and my faith in humanity was restored.

Something else struck me when I was at the mall yesterday. As I was waiting for my mom to come back from Home Sense and pick me up at the mall entrance, I could hear Mariah Carey’s version of “Joy to the World” piping through the mall’s speakers. Even though I’m not a Mariah Carey fan, the words of that song are poetic and powerful and it made me wonder if people realize that Christ’ s sovereignty is being proclaimed in a centre of materialism.

Whether darting in and out of stores with arms full of gifts or busting my buns at the coffee shop during the busiest time of the year, I can’t help but notice that nestled between the trite and silly songs on the loudspeakers about “Santa Baby” and “Frosty the Snowman” are golden hymns that have been sung every Christmas in grand churches and decorated doorsteps since the days of top hats and petticoats.

let heaven and nature sing

As much as we try to be politically correct and dilute the Christian origins of Christmas under piles of candy canes and gift wrap, the songs ringing through the atmosphere proclaim a gift too immeasurable to be fit into a box with ribbons and bows and too big to be placed under the Christmas tree. The beautiful lyrics and heavenly melodies remind us of the reason why we get together with our loved ones every year and exchange presents, why we take the time out to offer each other gifts of kindness, altruism, and love in the spirit of the celebratory season.

I have a big weakness for old hymns, and the ones we sing at Christmas have a special place in my heart because of the season’s significance to my faith. The lyrics are just so rich and sacred and there’s something so lovely about singing them with others; new life is breathed into songs written in the 1700s when sung in community.

Here are some of my favourite ancient carols. Their beauty is absolutely breathtaking:

Hark the Herald Angels Sing written by Charles Wesley, 1739

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

 

Joy to the World — written by Isaac Watts, 1719

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

 

O Holy Night — written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, 1847

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

fall on your knees ...

The picture above may be a bit tongue-in-cheek and I’m by no means anti-Santa, but the implications are profound. When confronted with the miraculous and majestic message of that silent night, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

For your listening pleasure, here’s another beautiful old hymn performed by one of my favourite musicians:

Dearest friends and blog-readers, my wish for you this Christmas is that you’d be filled with comfort and joy. The richest blessings for you and your loved ones.

 

Daily Jewels

all is quiet; all is quiet now

There’s so much anger, violence, and sadness in the world that you sometimes wonder if there’s any room left for love, beauty, and joy.

The other day, a customer broke down at the counter telling me about his twelve year-old niece’s suicide. Twelve. A time of lingering childhood and self-conscious innocence. Just yesterday, a man was shot dead inside a Toronto library–a sanctuary of serenity–with a crossbow.

In the weeks before Christmas–a time of celebration and contemplation–everyone is bustling around at breakneck speeds, tapping their toes impatiently, barking at their children, dropping hundreds of dollars on parties and presents and getting stressed out over nothing, obsessed with unattainable sugarplum visions of the perfect holiday. My massage therapist said her busiest time of year is Christmastime and it’s no wonder; all the shopping, planning, preparing, fighting for parking spaces and the best bargains has given us less joy and more pain than it’s worth. They must call it Black Friday because it reveals–and encourages–some of the darkest aspects of human nature: consumerism, selfishness, and greed.

A friend’s Facebook status recently said: the standard in which you love yourself is the standard in which you love others.

Not that I think all the world’s problems can be solved if people learned to love themselves better, but it’s a start. I notice that if I’m taking care of myself, making healthy choices, and indulging in small comforts that bring me great joy, I feel nicer towards others and am more tolerant and loving. When I ignore my needs and don’t check negative thinking, I’m easily annoyed, cynical, and snappish. It makes sense. Thoughts create feelings and feelings lead to actions and if the tone in which you speak to yourself is that of an angry tyrant, that’s how you’re going to treat others in some way or another.

 

cocoa, a Christmas tree, and a quote. What could be better?

 

Dear readers, I know I talk about this all the time but I can’t stress enough how important it is. Take good care of yourself. Take mini-breaks now and then to check your thinking and make sure it’s gentle and positive. Treat yourself in little ways that make you happy. Right now I’m sitting in bed with my fairy lights on, drinking tea, and eating dark chocolate. It’s these little daily jewels that bring joy and love to my life so that I can then extend it to others.

Peace on earth.

Winter Winds, Warm Fuzzies, and the Wisdom of Winnie-the-Pooh

stepped out through the melting nights, took care in the common light

Winter’s coming and I’m craving softness and loveliness. Warm sweaters and acoustic music, feel-good books and the crackling fire, quietly productive mornings and restful nights. I’ve decorated my room for Christmas and have hung twinkling fairy lights on my bed. I’ve eliminated sugar from my diet and despite feeling grumpy and craving all of the cranberry bliss bars and peppermint mochas of the season, I feel more balanced and whole.

I’ve recently acquired VUZE and have thus far downloaded Bombay Bicycle Club’s acoustic album “Flaws,” “White Water, White Bloom” by Sea Wolf (my new favourite band of life), stuff by Said the Whale, Cave Singers, and Loch Lomond, and the Dark was the Night album. My acoustic-loving, indie-folk heart is happy. I’ve decided to get over my hatred of winter and invest in warm sweaters, leg-warmers, and moccasin slippers so the coldness won’t turn me into a grinch.

I’ve resolved to embrace winter with sweater-clad, tea-sipping arms, with enough beautiful music to get me through, a body/mind made more sane by a sugar-free diet and plenty of yoga, and Christmas cheer.

… And quotes. There’s nothing quite like a good quote to give you the warm fuzzies. Here are some of my current favourites:

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies — Erich Fromm

In the midst of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer — Albert Camus

And of course, Winnie-the-Pooh:

“Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” — Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

When late morning rolls around and you’re feeling a bit out of sorts, don’t worry: you’re probably just a little eleven o’clockish.

He may be a silly old bear, but he sure is wise!

Hey winter! Hit me with your best shot!

How Soon Is Now?

Have patience, have patience

Don’t be in such a hurry.

When you get impatient

You only start to worry.

Remember, remember, that God is patient too.

Just think of all the times when others

Have to wait for you.

— sung by Herbert the Snail in Agapeland Music Machine’s “Fruits of the Spirit” CD, a song which made an appearance in my Sunday School days and for some reason, the one about Patience is the one that stuck.

"the time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things ... "

If good things come to those who wait, do bad things come to those who can’t wait?

Sometimes I wonder if my lack of patience and unwillingness to relinquish control in the important areas of my life has sabotaged an overflow of God’s blessings. I’ll be honest with you — I’m an impatient person from an impatient family. I want things done yesterday and I can’t stand not knowing how my life will turn out.

When we were kids, we were so impatient to open our Christmas presents that my parents would often let us open them weeks before Christmas. This yearly occurence made me come to two realizations: first of all, that Santa Clause didn’t exist because there would be no presents under the tree on Christmas morning; and secondly, that we’re an impatient family. Now that we’re grown up, we have more self-control and have even waited until Boxing Day to exchange gifts to accommodate everyone’s hectic schedules, but a little bit of that inability to wait has carried on into my adulthood.

It’s like I can see my future all wrapped up and pretty sitting under the tree, elaborately decorated with bows and ribbons and I can’t stop obsessively feeling it and shaking it to see what’s inside and what will become of me. Rather than let destiny unfold and trust that God knows what he’s doing, I want to rip the present open weeks before the appointed time. To carry the metaphor further, I want to be the one who picks the gift out for myself because I don’t trust God’s judgment.

When it comes to the phrase, “Let go and let God,” letting God is one thing, but letting go? Not so easy …

how soon is now?

Like Abraham in the Bible, I know the promises God has for me and know he has a plan for my life, but I’m not getting any younger. With my 25th birthday only a month away, I can’t help but throw my hands up in exasperation sometimes and wonder, “So where’s the writing career? Where’s the exciting job? What happened to this promise and that promise?” God’s timing can be as slow as molasses, and I wonder if I should be doing more letting go and trusting — which would be an excellent life lesson to curb my restless and impatient nature, or if I should be taking matters into my own hands — which would be an excellent life lesson to overcome by contradictory passive nature.

Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands and Abraham became a father to Ishmael, which wasn’t the plan but God made good come out of it anyway and still blessed them with their promised son Isaac. Perhaps God can shape my destiny despite my stubbornness and stupidity and insistence on immediacy. Maybe it’s not too late for me and my dreams which have lately seemed to lie dormant for fear of failure. Maybe all this waiting is meant to teach me to find the perfect balance between waiting and trusting and using the gifts God has given me, despite the risks. Maybe 25 isn’t the end of the world …

Maybe waiting until Christmas morning to unwrap my present will be worth it all.

Auld Lang Syne

we are all made of stars

I hope everyone had a fun and relaxing holiday season.  I’m sorry I haven’t blogged lately, but I got caught up with moving from Toronto back home, Chanukah and Christmas celebrations, and being sick.  Go figure.  I haven’t been sick since Sept. 2008, and didn’t catch anything when I lived in Toronto and used public transit every day, but the first day I come home, I get my dad and brother’s colds.  Anyway, I was going to write a super stellar post about how this Christmas season, I was reflecting a lot on the humanity of Jesus and the significance of his infancy, but the moment passed and now it’s no longer a timely message.  Even though I had a lovely Christmas and was more in the “Christmas spirit” this year than in years past, now I’m looking forward to the new year.  The new decade.

look up, look forward

 

2009 was a pretty swell year for me.  I became a graduate, an intern, a working journalist, a novel writer, and best of all, an aunt.  2010 now sits before me, sparkling and new.  The possibilities are limitless.  And this year, I have no idea what the future holds for me.  I have no idea where I’ll end up, where I’ll get a job, what my path will look like.  It’s exciting and petrifying at the same time.  That is why I’m declaring the year of 2010 as a year of trust.  Trusting God with my future, my job situation which is currently undecided, my career, my many fears, my relationships, and every other tiny detail.  I’m also holding Romans 8:28 very dear to my heart this year: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT).

I’m not exactly a firm believer in New Year’s Resolutions, but I’ve come up with a list of things I’d like to accomplish, at least in this decade.  There are things, like getting behind the wheel again and getting my full license, and finding a steady job which are no-brainers, but the others are just a few things I thought would help contribute to bettering myself as a person, or something like that. 

  • Teach myself how to knit (I got a beginner’s kit for Christmas, so I’m well on my way!)
  • Teach myself sign language
  • Teach myself German
  • Revise my workout schedule to incorporate dance and more cardio
  • Travel somewhere … anywhere, even if the finances don’t allow such a luxury (Montreal wouldn’t put such a huge dent in my bank account, would it?)
  • Read a crime/mystery/thriller/law book, just ‘cuz
  • Learn a tea-making ritual
  • Learn how to play a card game
  • Learn to cook yummy dishes
  • Edit Unlovely and rewrite Angelica’s Wings
  • And do a lot more of things I love, like this:

one book after the other ...

How about you, blogosphere?  Have you made any New Year’s or New Decade’s Resolutions?  What are you most looking forward to in 2010?