Sunday, 27 January 2013

Endless Renovation

By the time I staggered out of bed, the sun had risen. The reluctance I’d felt toward the day while lying in my darkened bedroom magically dissipated in the bright sunshine. I was struck by the profound effects of light. 

Light is on my mind because of our ongoing house renovation. When the main electrical work was complete, I noticed pretty new patterns of light and shadow and more comfy corners that were bright enough for reading or doing crossword puzzles.
We’ve added recessed lighting in kitchen and living room, as well as a vanity light fixture above the bathroom mirror. I was appreciating our new toys, dimmer switches and all, until I noticed something I should have foreseen.
The better the light, the better one can see… EVERYTHING! 

My “vanity” light, for instance, shows me all the reasons I have for humility. Looking at myself in the bathroom mirror I can clearly see thinning hair, drooping jowls, deep wrinkles, dark blotches, rogue whiskers, a sagging neck … okay, somebody stop me.
The new fixture also reveals the grubbiness of the tile grouting and the permanent stains on our aged bathtub.
Under brighter living room ceiling lights, every table and lamp displays a skim coat of dust, even five minutes after I clean. Newly visible are all the scuffs and chips on painted trim work. The kitchen pot-lights expose a layer of grime on the stove’s dials, the spice shelf, etc. 
Mercy! Hit the dimmers! 

The mixed blessings of brighter lighting made me think. As my blog title shows, I try to focus on the sparkling aspects of life – the beauty, compassion, humour and wisdom in every day. It’s joyous to know that Jesus was called the Light of the World, and that in God’s loving light, every human being appears as a wondrous and cherished creation. 
However, the new lights also remind me of a less enticing part of spiritual illumination. God’s Spirit reveals dirt just the way my fancy fixtures do. If we’re open to Christ's offer of personal renovation, over time the Spirit gradually turns up the dimmer so that bit by bit we can see our own grubbiness. 

You know what I mean. We think we’re humble until one day we realize that we still resent that person who corrected us in public. We think we’re forgiving until we realize that we scorned someone who failed in a way that we have never failed. We think we’re kind until we realize that we were annoyed when we offered a coffee to a guy on the street and he swore at us. We think we care about the world’s children until we realize we had revenge fantasies about that kid who made our daughter cry.

It is awesome how carefully the Light of the World exposes to us our shameful failures, the cobwebs in our thinking, the parts of our lives we find too comfortable to need changing. S/He never makes us feel unloved or stupid, but gently reveals the real state of affairs: we are wondrous and beloved and yet petty and ego-driven. God’s steady beam shows that we can be freed from self-hatred, judgment, envy, greed, and the rest.The best part is that once we give the go-ahead for the reno, S/He does most of the heavy lifting.

As Simone Weil wrote,  “Love is not consolation. It is light.” 

Sunday, 20 January 2013



The giants are dancing at daybreak. 
Spire-tall fir trees bow before an invincible windstorm, their solid wood trunks flexing at the gale’s command. 
Whipping winter branches are choreographed by coercion.
The rooted dancers bend low and spring erect, waving with irresistable reverence.

Icy bits of snow whirl through the frigid air like dervishes, abandoned to their swoops and spirals. 

Swinging on a precarious tether, wind-chimes jingle in ecstasy: "Joy, joy, joy!” 

Pearly clouds, limned by dawn with gold, hang like art in the high blue sky.  

In crescendo our white-hot star appears above the horizon, blinding any defiant human eye. Its fundamental light decrees another day of wild risk. 

Oh, Mystery. Oh, glory.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Stress in the Mess

It didn’t seem like such a big deal to take down the original acoustic ceiling tiles in the basement ceiling and hire electricians to replace our bungalow’s knob and tube wiring according to current (!) standards. When we began the preparation, I was amused by my costume of a dust mask, goggles and ball cap (don’t scare the horses). It was fun ripping out dozens of nails with a crowbar, pretending I was young and strong…until I moaned, “Okay. I’m done” and left my husband to do more than his share of the labour.

We collected estimates (web-search, emails, appointments made, cancelled and re-booked) and settled on a company owned by a good-natured young Master Electrician. Although the trappings of Christmas hadn’t even been packed away, the work began shortly after New Year’s Day.

As everyone knows, once you start even the smallest of house renovations, a troop of problems…I mean "possibilities"… pops up. We couldn’t leave the work site for long because, especially with an old house, frequent decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment. 
Wasn’t that supposed to be a dimmer switch? Is that outlet plate crooked? Are we planning to drywall there? Should this ceiling fixture be replaced? How little electricity do we need for surviving overnight? Wait – the bathroom has no lights –catch the truck before they leave!

By the third day, there were six young men hard at work throughout the house, clomping around in work boots and tool belts. The way their clothes and hands shed dirt reminds me of PigPen in Peanuts. 

Furniture, from a baby grand piano to wastebaskets had to be piled in the centre of each room so that wall outlets were accessible. Drop-cloths covering the floors were soon littered with bits of wallboard, screws and sawdust. 
I kept flinging bed sheets over bookshelves and dressers, fearing a nightmare of dusting and damp-wiping our forty years worth of vases, candle-holders and books. Before I could get to a room, favourite art pieces got shoved into corners, or single switches were installed where two were supposed to go. 
The air filled with clouds of dust and the buzz of electric drills as we stepped over gigantic spools of wire and connected our own extension cords so that we could make tea or use our desktop computer. 
At one point there was exactly one useable chair in the building. There I sat, trying to read Lauren Winner’s new book while I waited for the next consultation and counted the minutes until the gang would leave for the day.


My husband and I both have noticed unusual fatigue and tension in our bodies. Our minds spin with aspects of the project and new questions we need to ask. We have little energy for any optional errands or events. We’re feeling the effects of stress.

For once we’d had the sense to think ahead about the personal/spiritual challenges of starting the construction project. We knew we’d better find the kind of light that doesn’t depend on electricity. As the days went by, we talked to each other and we talked to God. We prayed for patience and self-control in our interaction with our workers. We asked for a kind and compassionate attitude as well as the strength and wisdom to stand firm for fair business practice. 
We relieved some of our stress by going out for yummy food, taking a brisk walk in the winter sun, and watching DVD’s on the laptop instead of our disconnected TV. 
We reminded ourselves that only the wealthy in this world have the luxury of renovation frustration like ours. We listed some of the many reasons we have to be thankful and thought about what really matters in life. 

Despite the feelings of stress, so far we haven’t said anything we regret, and have had cheerful conversations with the electrical crew. No panic at miscommunications; no breakdowns over the chaos and dirt (well, hardly any). We wish we were spiritual superstars, filled with a peace that leaves no room for negative stress, but…

If, on occasion, you feel as wimpy as we do when it comes to ordinary stressors like home improvement, we recommend turning toward the light. 
Christ's promise applies to things minor and major:
I am the light of the world. 
Anyone who follows me 
will never walk in the darkness
but will have the light of life. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year!

"Once you choose hope, anything's possible."
- Christopher Reeve

Here are some random reasons, from the trivial to the profound, for feeling hopeful today.

The snow has stayed in Toronto for the school holidays, enough for tobogganing. Yippee! 
We currently have women premiers in five Canadian provinces. 
The “Idle No More” movement is getting attention. 
And on the other side of the world, thousands of Indians are uniting to demand justice for women and girls in their country in the aftermath of a fatal gang rape.

As we face the future, personally and globally, it’s good to read this quote from J.R.R. Tolkien,

 “The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” 

The world, at least my world, is also full of minor frustrations and disappointments, but still there is "much that is fair."
On New Year’s Day my family decided to go out for dinner to celebrate. Sounds elegant, doesn’t it? Ha. To keep the children happy we went to the Swiss Chalet, never a first choice for excellent food but now sunken to an even lower level. Beside its traditional chicken dinners, the menu offered what all “family” restaurants seem to, everything from pizza to stir-fries. This vegetarian dutifully ate a Greek salad and a few greasy chips, while trying to engage the grandchildren and relieve their parents for a few minutes. The restaurant’s one success was its children’s activity book for which all accompanying adults were pathetically grateful.

After the usual to-do of dropped food, changing orders and conversations interrupted by trips to the bathrooms (no soap in the Ladies!), we left the pile of messy serviettes, broken crayons and half eaten meals and trooped outside. Heading for the cars, in the cold night air, I felt grateful for my dear ones, but was trying to banish my discontent. Our short time together had consisted of limited interactions and crummy food at some financial cost.
Just then I heard a cheerful little voice at my knees, “That was fun!” I bent down and kissed her three year old cheek.

My New Year's resolution is to keep on looking for light every single day.