Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Trees Planted Near Water

The bible has some weird, weird stuff in it - no question - but so much of it stops me in my tracks with awe. 

I’m writing this at the end of a long bitter Canadian winter. Snow and ice covered our city for months and even in April, everything looked grey and dead. Most of the snow had melted to reveal the messy detritus of months of neglect. I cringed when I glimpsed a squirrel's body half buried in the mucky boulevard near my grandkids’ house.  As a gardener and mystic, I felt desperate for the sight of green growth. 

On the first day that my backyard was only soggy instead of treacherous, I snipped some branches from a forsythia although the bush was nowhere near blooming. It’s scraggly branches held the same tiny dormant knobs that hadn’t changed all winter long, but I was starving for living flowers and thought I’d at least try.

I filled a vase with water and set the brown branches on my livingroom mantle. Every morning I’d check, wondering if there was any chance that they would spring to life. And then the day came. All up and down the length of each branch were tiny tips of green with a minuscule bit of yellow poking out. I gasped, and almost cried. I felt like running out into the street yelling “LOOK! Come and see this! I can’t believe my eyes – these dead branches are blooming!”

Honestly, there is no word big enough except miracle. A dry woody stick, given some water and warmth, produces out of nowhere a soft, pretty lime green casing for a sunny yellow four-petalled flower. How is this possible?!

A couple of days later I happened on this biblical sentence:
“Happy are the ones who delight in God’s way and meditate on it; they will be like trees planted by streams of water, trees that yield their fruit in season, trees whose leaves don’t wither.”
YES – water! Christ’s offer stands,“If anyone’s thirsty, they should come to me and drink”
Wherever things look dry and dead, the God who powers Spring’s flowers can bring new life.  

Monday, 14 April 2014

Donkey Riding

On the day before Palm Sunday, I sat with four other church women, drinking coffee and checking in with each other before we began our bible discussion - sounds prissy and boring, but it wasn’t. Somebody mentioned Holy Week and Denise, who’s enduring a huge computer mess at work, disgustedly spat out the words, “Holy Week!” like a curse. We all laughed because we knew exactly what she meant. We felt her frustration at the discrepancy between everyday reality and formal church traditions like Easter. 

No matter how sincerely we want to follow Christ’s way of life, sometimes Christian festivals seem like a farce and we feel tired just thinking about them. On Palm Sunday, there's the story about Jesus the Messiah riding a donkey through cheering crowds – we shout “Hosanna” in our pews and wave tropical palm leaves. By Maundy Thursday, the plot comes to Jesus' weeping with dread in Gesthemane’s garden - we kneel in grief as our church sanctuaries go dark and silent. At the Good Friday service, commemorating Christ’s crucifixion, we cringe at the thought of nails splitting human flesh and consider our own guilty role in power grabs. Two days later, “Alleluia, Jesus is risen!” Joyfully, we begin Easter Sunday's celebration, our churches filled with colourful spring flowers and glorious music.
Whew, what a ride.

What do Easter traditions like Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc. have to do with actually following Jesus in the way we work, parent, vote or spend  money? Does this festival reflect the rickety jostle of being an intentional Christian or is Holy Week a distraction from reality?

I wondered if it would help to think of Holy Week as a donkey ride, bumpy and risky.
Do you know the old campfire song called “Donkey Riding”? You can find it here with the lyrics, sung by Great Big Sea. I was surprised to read the last verse - it sounds a bit like Palm Sunday! In fact this may be my personal hymn of faith from now on.

Just like the disciples in the bible story, we have high expectations of Jesus. We’d rather our Christianity were practiced and under control, like an expert ride on a thoroughbred horse that clears every jump and wins every race. Why would we follow a Saviour who rides a donkey right onto death row? His contemporary followers were shocked and completely confused. They’d had such high hopes for a rescuing hero. Even when they were amazed by his new life after death their ride was far from smooth. Sound familiar?

Instead, Jesus invited them to hop on with a God who is unpredictable; a Mystery who chose to show up as a Jewish carpenter advocating humble service instead of triumphant success. Christ calls us to mercy instead of retribution. In God’s kingdom we chant “Justice and compassion!” instead of “We’re number one!” For Easter week and for whatever comes next, may we trust God’s love and hang on for the ride. “Way hey and away we go, donkey riding, donkey riding”  

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Four Things That Made Me Smile

1. Driving through suburbia I was amused to see a real life version of those cheesy and rude lawn signs (landscape decorations? more like desecrations). You know the ones. They show the rear view of a bent over woman’s skirt and fat legs, supposedly gardening without bending her knees. I’ve always detested the image but in this case, I had to smile. From my car all I could see of a young woman on the sidewalk was her polka dotted leggings stretched tightly over her legs and her bottom while she tightened her shoe laces without bending her knees. I doubt she was aware of our view.

2. I arrived home already a bit chagrined at having to appear in our rusty wreck of an old van, the one that’s been toting, for six months, mind you, a chaise longue that needs reuphostery. The van is usually hidden behind our cute new Honda Fit but today the Honda was in for a check up. After I parked, I opened the driver's door, got out and then crawled back inside to reach across for all of my stuff that was on the passenger seat. Bad idea. I grabbed a shopping bag, a sunglasses case, gloves, my phone, two library books, and my too-warm coat. Backing awkwardly out of the driver’s door, arms laden, I fumbled the slipping pile. In my desperate flailing to catch everything, my elbow bumped the steering wheel hard. An embarrassing blast from the horn alerted the neighbours. Made me laugh.  

3. In the middle of an exciting charismatic church service, the man beside me sat stone-faced. I, of course, was up and down, moving to the drums, waving my arms to the music. Mostly I avoided meeting anyone’s eyes in order to concentrate on God’s goodness, but a couple of times I glanced at my neighbour, hoping to share the moment. He didn’t return my glance. He sat slouched and stoic. Beside him, his wife managed their very young grandchild. The toddler was as active as you’d expect, climbing around and wandering as far as his grandmother would allow. Her husband ignored them both. Finally, the little one tried to climb onto his grandfather’s lap. I was relieved to see the man help him up and settle him facing forward. The little boy leaned his head onto his grandfather’s chest, rested his baby hands on the much bigger gnarled ones, and then turned his sweet face to look up into his grandpa’s eyes. I couldn’t see if he got any welcoming response but the child’s trusting and hopeful overture made me smile.
"Unless you become like children..." Matt.18:3

4. My neighbour, Sue, was holding a wrapped bouquet while she unlocked her car door.
“Oh, who are the flowers for?”
“My Mom.”
A passing stranger she’d met on the sidewalk had given her the blooms. When asked why, the stranger smiled, “ Oh, just a random act of kindness.” Sue was handing on the unexpected gift to her elderly mother. 
She told me a happy back-story. A couple of days earlier she had noticed a woman running for a bus that carried on without stopping for her. Sue pulled over to offer the stranger a lift to the subway and heard that she was on her way to visit an ailing uncle. Her long trip would include another bus ride even after the subway.
Sue and I smiled at each other, seeing the flowers as a sweet reward for Sue’s previous favour. Karma or an affirmation by our kind Creator.