Monday, December 21, 2009
(This was first published on my website as a meditation in December 2007.)
Once more the Christian year rolls round to the last few days of Advent. We repeat the oft-told tale of God-with-us in a child’s body. The tale is oft-told but each year different as we change and grow in spirit. Our interpretation of God-with-us matures; we have a new understanding of the meaning of God’s life and light in us from the one we had a Christmas ago. God is the same—it is we who are different—changed by life’s events, our willingness to go the extra mile, love the extra measure, laugh the extra joy, and cry the extra sorrow.
These gifts, unwrapped, are the gifts of the Universe, the Divine gifts, the gifts born from struggle, freely accepted and freely given again. Though darkness may come in one way or another, yet light shines ever more brightly upon us and in us because spiritual maturity and light cannot die but must grow more strongly in the shadows where someone lights the Divine candle.
Pain that one endures knowing that its outcome will result in a cure is easy to bear. When the outcome of one’s pain or burden is not known or is uncertain, it is more difficult to bear. When one is willing to endure pain in faith that God has a good purpose in mind for the growth of one’s soul, it is worth the uncertainty of physical cure. To think that one has been chosen to witness to God’s love in endurance is a great honour.
Mary bore Christ two thousand years and more ago, not knowing what the outcome would be. She endured humility at the Virgin Birth, willingly accepting God’s request to bring the God-child into the world for human good. Let us bear our burdens with this same simple faith in God’s love.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-10
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Several years ago after a pre-Christmas sermon on servanthood, these two poems came to me. Often I return to them at this time of year. I offer them to you for your contemplation as we near the celebration of Christ's birth.
A Double Take on Attitude Measurement
How great our God, to manger come,
How calm and still he lay,
As tiny babe of lowly birth
He slept upon the hay.
He grew to walk upon the earth,
A carpenter his trade:
As royal heir, he humbly toiled
As common things he made.
He did not deem it beneath him,
To hold a leper’s hand,
Nor to hold a child on his lap
Or help the lame to stand.
He walked among the common folk
And fed the multitude,
And though he was God’s very son,
Quiet, bore taunting rude.
Sometimes do we get to thinking,
As folks, we’re mighty good?
We’re owed a trouble-free living-
The poor – not understood.
We trample on each other’s rights,
To make sure of our own,
We greedily hoard our riches,
Leave hurting people lone.
We search to buy ornate gifts
Expect lots in return,
As more abundance we gather
For more we seem to yearn.
How good ‘twould be, this time of year,
To use the manger crude,
As you’d use a measuring stick ,
To gauge our attitude.
Ruth Smith Meyer
In manger laid-
For stable stall.
Who he was
Not changed at all.
Come adore him!
I knelt before him,
Taking full note
Of more than
Meets the eye.
And as I stood,
I saw the manger
As measuring stick
Ruth Smith Meyer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
(The following is a guest post by Janice Dick who is a member of InScribe Christian Writers Fellowship, His Imprint, Chi Libris, The Word Guild, American Christian Fiction Writers and Toastmasters International. Among other writing, she is the author of two historical novels that won first place in The Word Guild’s Best Historical Novel in 2003 and 2004. Janice Dick may be found at www.inscribe.org/JaniceDick.)
I’ve been amazingly blessed with grandchildren over the past seven years—seven of them. And we have just received word that there will be another one by spring. And yet, here I am, still so young!
While visiting Jordy’s family in July, I snuck away to the bedroom with him so we could talk privately. After all, a grandma has to get to know her little ones. I lay on the bed with six-week old Jordy and began to talk to him. He fixed his eyes on mine, connecting with my soul. He watched my face, and my mouth, and then his mouth began to move. He struggled to make a sound, and when he did, we celebrated. He had found his voice.
I tried making the same connection with Sydney at about the same age and the result was exactly the same. She wanted to express herself to me, and when she was successful she wiggled with pleasure.
As writers, we talk about “voice” and wonder what it is. Is voice something we create or something we discover? Jordy and Sydney taught me more about voice than any books or workshops could ever do.
Voice is who we are. Jordy’s cry is squeaky and pitiful. Sydney’s is demanding. Neither baby decided what he or she would sound like. They are who they are. We each have our own voice, are born with it in its raw form. This is the voice we eventually use for speaking and writing.
Voice is not something we create. It is in all of us. It is who we are, expressed in words, or the equivalent of words for the pre-speech set. We all have thoughts and feelings and ideas that long to be expressed, but they do not always come easily. Consider how varied the stages of development are from baby to baby. Some, very early in their lives, jabber in an alien tongue. Others refrain from speaking until they are older and then launch out in full sentences. Neither is right nor wrong; each is unique.
Once we discover our voice, we are responsible for developing it. How? By using it. Our older daughter practiced words until she got them right. Hers was a determined approach to capturing the essence of speech.
Find some of your earliest writing and read it over. Unless you were especially gifted, the early writings seem weak and unformed. As you grow and experience life, as you struggle to express yourself, your voice, both spoken and written, gets stronger.
Some writers, like my friend Bonnie Grove, broke out in an amazing voice that captivates and communicates in a most unique manner. Others, like myself, struggle to discover how best to express our inner selves on the computer screen. Either way, we are who we are. Let the struggle begin. Keep practicing.
I didn’t expect to learn about voice from Jordy and Sydney; it was a bonus. They and the other grandchildren have also taught me much about tenacity, but that’s a blog for another day.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Each year, during the Christmas season there seems to be a word or a phrase that catches my attention and seems to recur throughout the season. I take it as God’s personal message to me for that Christmas. One year it was Emmanuel – God with us. Other times it has been words like joy or incarnation. This year it is peace.
Our world is in need of peace. We affirm again this year through so many of our Christmas activities the reality that only One can really bring peace to our individual lives and to our world. It is Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who calms our storms and who quiets our troubled hearts. His presence is synonymous with peace.
A few years ago, I sang in a choir and one of the songs I loved that we sang included these words. “Jesus came with peace to me. His strong hand was stretched to me. He, my burden took from me – my Saviour.” I also lived it.
I really do not like to fly, which was a challenge for me, as for many years I spent so much of my life in airplanes. I discovered a way to find peace and calm my fears when I flew. After I checked in at the gate, as I walked down the ramp to the airplane, I would whisper a prayer. I said, “Dear Lord, I am placing this plane in your strong hands. Please take us safely to … (wherever our destination was that day).” Then I pictured placing the plane, whatever size it was in His big, strong hands. I know they were even bigger than the largest jumbo jet. With confidence I then entered the plane, knowing it was in His hands.
Knowing that God is in control gives us peace. His disciples discovered that in the middle of the storm, Jesus could bring peace. He has not changed. He, whose name is peace, brings peace. As Paul reminded the new Christians at Thessalonica, “Now may the Lord of peace himself, give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” 2 Thessalonians 3: 16.
When He is with us, we know peace. May that peace permeate our lives and our world this Christmas. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” Numbers 6: 26
Friday, December 11, 2009
‘Tis the season. Looking for some good gift ideas for writers? Here is just a sampling of what you can put in your writer’s stocking this Christmas:
* A good set of dependable pens
* Lovely notebooks
* An ergonomic keyboard
* Kindle or Sony e-reader
* Magnetic poetry
* Books on writing
* An inspirational coffee mug
* A nice candle
* Speech recognition software
* A laptop
* A maid, a cook and a chauffeur
* A quiet private writing retreat
Have any other ideas for Santa?
Thursday, December 10, 2009
by Glynis M. Belec
When Ruthie, Eddie and Annie came to visit one week, I was reminded about what it meant to be a mommy to junior munchkins all over again.
Activity and creativity I could handle. It was the not-so-cooperative play part that sent me into colorful stages of bridling the tongue. Whining made me crazy. Bickering caused headaches. Telling tales grieved me somewhere in my teeth. That week I experienced a taste of all three. But I knew my junior relatives were going home in a few days. So I decided to grin and love them anyway.
One afternoon we went swimming. I think the best question that day came from Ruthie’s lips. “Aunt Glynis. Why do you gots two towels?”
My adult mind tells me the criteria for entering the Kingdom of Heaven involves a little more than whooping it up when the elephant sneezes, though. I’m thinking this is more about the flawless faith of a child and his ability to wholly trust. Can I do it? I think it’s time to evaluate how childlike I really am.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
can be achieved.
To change, one must be determined to risk. It’s having the ability to believe in self, while at the same time, being able to look beyond the obvious to possibilities.
Or being able to sigh, admit when change hasn’t worked and revert to the initial plan.
A decision to change might enhance a particular position or ricochet to a whole new situation. Somehow the first option is the easiest. Who doesn’t want to build on a life already experiencing acceptance? Yet, the concept of finding oneself in a brand new situation created through change tests one’s faith and gives opportunity to draw on God’s guidance in new ways. Certainly, the latter allows the possibility of something we might miss if we hadn’t risk.
Winston Churchill said, “There’s nothing wrong with change if it’s in the right direction.” So how do we know if our choices will take us in the right direction or create chaos? And why does it have to be an either/or situation? Why can’t we have what we’ve got as well as enjoy what we’ve had the grace to change? This last option sounds much less stressful and offers some diversity.
This was my experience over the past three months when my friend Sharon suggested that my Grammie Books, as well as the collection of stories that I’d written and edited with grandkids over the last ten plus years, should go further than the Story-chair and the Christmas stocking. When I also considered additional resources of my newspaper grief articles and rural church support work, I was soon led in the direction of exploring how to create audio books/stories and marketing them on the internet.
This has been a tremendous challenge to me and I admit that fear showed its ugly face on more than one occasion. However, I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to make the necessary changes in personal schedules and mental aptitude to see this project through. There is an excitement in the Internet audio world that I find very invigorating, yet I cherish the times when I hold a book in my hand and see the words flow from one sentence to another.
Although designing a web site was not new to me, I found building a StoreFront was. But, this too has become a discovery that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. A win-win situation is good in any change, and I think my benefit was inviting the child in me to come out to play during this early season of retirement. I invite you to come and visit http://stores.livingwordsmann.com/. And don’t forget to visit The Playground before you leave the site.
Take Time to Make Memories (1996)
MeadowLane Audio Stories for Children(2009)
Monday, December 7, 2009
As I’ve done scores of times over the years, I sat at the computer, knuckles resting on the edge of the keyboard. Lord, what do I write about today? I mused, then ran a few news matters of the week through my memory banks.
There was, for example, the hoopla over Tiger Woods’ apparent indiscretions, and our PM’s trip to China, and his being chastised by the Chinese leader for, among other things, his delay in making his first trip to the People’s Republic, and his criticisms of their human rights record. Next, I recalled the debate over the Swiss democratic vote to disallow its Muslim community from building minarets on their mosques, and the possible implications of the vote – was it right and fair? Is it a phobic response? And so on. Next, my thoughts drifted to matters closer to home – of families dealing with enormous grief and facing the loss of loved ones, at what is often considered the most difficult time of year. But then, I recalled a brief article I wrote for my church bulletin several Sundays ago, and decided I would build on its simple message with you.
How can we account for some of the things that grab and hold our attention? Take the common experience of the kid who quickly gives up playing with his new expensive toy, only to spend hours playing with, or in, the box in which it came. Or the woman who scours house and home all day in search of a lost, inexpensive trinket, even though she still possesses other very valuable jewellery.
Let the psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists implement studies, peruse data, and label their conclusions, as to what engages one person’s interest in some pursuit, or another’s interest in something entirely different. However, the sense of mystery about what interests people attracts me. For instance, why does one kid, coming out of the same stable family pod as another, have entirely different interests than his siblings?
My sons reflect this contrast. Chris, quite mechanically oriented, manages a parts department, and loves basketball. Jay jogs, and plays volleyball. He’s the one we might have least expected to become a Christian minister, yet is now in his eighteenth year of being one. Jerome, a schoolteacher, composes, writes plays, sings, and acts. Yep, the mystery as to what makes people tick, provides in part, the allure for studying human nature.
Consider: Reporter Jim usually reports the merely observable facts of an incident or story, whereas reporter Jane rises to a higher level of the craft. How? By engaging in investigative journalism. She looks more closely, inquires more deeply, and pursues more tenaciously, the people involved in an incident. Jane is interested in people, and wants to find out what happened to them, why it happened, and how it affected them. She writes the "story behind the story."
St. Luke, in writing his accounts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Acts, was that kind of a reporter. Although not one of the Twelve Apostles, through his thorough research and sensitive reporting, God has given us a wonderful view of our Lord Jesus, and a unique reflection of Mary and other personalities surrounding our Saviour’s birth.
You have a Bible or New Testament? Why not take the time to read deeply the Christmas event (Luke chapters 1 and 2; Matthew chapters 1 and 2)?
Yes, Advent is a time to look closely.
(© Peter A. Black. An edition of this article will be published in The Watford Guide-Advocate, Dec. 10/09.)
Saturday, December 5, 2009
That was nothing new. Every year it seems to happen. The choir director is tearing her hair out. Kids run helter-skelter, some don’t show up, some can’t find costumes or those made for them don’t fit.
This year seemed a bit more chaotic than usual. But somehow it all came together in the end. The night of the performance seemed to go well. I say seemed, because I was too busy trying to keep my “cast” quiet and focused, to notice if the play was working. One of the magi discovered he could use one of the shepherd’s headbands as a slingshot to wing the beads off his crown clear across the front of the church. That delighted the kids in the front row who dashed out to pick them up. Mary couldn’t stop squirming because her costume was made of wool, and Joseph kept changing his mind about which robe fit best – right up until he walked out onto the ‘stage.’
I wasn’t sure it had really all come together until the audience stood to applaud at the end. When many congratulated us on a job well done, all I could say was, “It’s a miracle!”
And that’s the promise of Christmas – it all comes together in the end. I’m sure the followers of Jesus, watching the drama of His life and death, felt the same way we ‘directors’ did. To those who thought they were in control, it looked like chaos reigned. From the moment of His birth, He and His parents had to run from those who wanted to kill Him. As He performed miracles, religious leaders plotted against Him. Even the disciples themselves didn’t understand His message. They were disappointed that He didn’t chase the Romans out of the country; He never did set up an earthly kingdom. Then, the cross. It looked like everything they tried to accomplish was doomed to fail. But in the end ...
In the end, the stone was rolled away. The baby born in a stable and crucified on a cross was raised glorified, to the glory of His Father.
And there is another promise yet to unfold. As the birth of Christ is overshadowed by the cross, which was blasted away by his resurrection, even that will be outdone by His return. One day, God has told us, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength’.” (Isaiah 45:23,24)
It will be a miracle and it really will all come together in the end.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Putting up the Christmas tree always was and continues to be one of my favourite family things to do. I don’t know why—could be a Charlie Brown quirk.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
There is something about the writing life that seems to work backwards. A manuscript that wins acclaim, earns its place on a publisher's short-list, and feels complete -- takes on a different tone when subjected to a professional critique.
Requesting a critique anticipates flagging some weaknesses. There is fear of overly harsh judgment. A writer's ego is pretty resilient and has an intensely strong core, but is still subject to bruising. Generous praise for the good, makes it much easier to swallow the advice on less than perfect aspects of the manuscript.
Practical, pointed suggestions, a heavily marked document, lack of transitions pointed out, inconsistencies flagged, places where dialogue becomes cumbersome, or it is difficult to follow who is speaking -- these things, seen by a new set of eyes with professional skills, become painfully obvious when pointed out. They can also prove rather painful to fix.
Two weeks of intense effort (on a "completed" work) have resulted in a new chapter added, dialogue examined and dialect greatly reduced. A key character is introduced earlier with little winsome glimmers given throughout. Dialogue attributes appear much more frequently, and transitions have been added in several places.
Like good editing, the changes resulting from a professional critique are almost invisible. They do not change the author's voice. They maintain the integrity of the story -- where the story has integrity. They are blunt and honest enough to point out places where it fails. Responding to a professional critique can raise the bar. Mediocre writing skills, of necessity, become sharpened. Good writing skills gain that little edge, move that much closer to excellence.
There is a mental exhaustion that sets in, but there is also a healthy tension. A deadline looms. I can settle for 'good enough.' The manuscript did, after all, make the short-list. But is 'good enough' a worthy goal? I have heard both strong praise and harsh criticism for this work and know it is going to fully engage some readers while missing others. But because I have taken to heart those things the critique pointed out, the quality has gone up measurably. Some will choose to keep reading, who two weeks ago with a 'good enough' manuscript would have quit by page three. Others will read with deeper satisfaction and delight.
Putting my writing under the scrutiny of an editor or a critique team is a bit like giving a surgeon permission to go at me with his scalpel without anesthetic. Like most writers, I don't like my writing being under the knife. But I would be hard pressed to put a value to this experience. It has undoubtedly been worth the cost, in dollars and in time and effort.
Deadlines loom, and had I chosen to skip this process, I would still have a book I could take pride in. Yet I would always wonder if I could have done just a bit better. When I hold the published book in my hands, the investment in a professional critique, and the intense and demanding follow-up work from that critique will undoubtedly prove to be a good and worthwhile investment. For I will hold a much better book than I would have published just two weeks ago.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
In this meditative season of Advent, I am often seeking words and music to help carry my thoughts back through the centuries to the miracle of Christ’s incarnation. Every year I go back to past favourites; every year I discover new treasures.
For this year I have added to my celebrations Duet for Wings and Earth, a beautiful book of poetry by Barbara Colebrook Peace. The genesis of this collection was an invitation to write poems for performance at a Christmas concert, which was renewed annually. The poems are written from varying perspectives — that of God, of Mary, of Joseph, of a donkey, sheep, magi, moon and even the inn of Bethlehem.
“Bethlehem: the place where God
tore himself from himself”
Reading one or two individual poems, will only hint at the experience of dwelling within Duet for Wings and Earth. This is a book for meditation — meditation on the profound thoughts of the poet, and on the deep significance of all we already know of this story that comes flooding back into our minds as we read. This book is a perfect reminder of why God selected poetry as the medium for much of his communication with man.
“I tasted a new song on my tongue;
I wanted to run and dance and shout!
The day the angel came and I said Yes —
How could I know what it was?”
I learned of Barbara’s poetry this past June, when Duet for Wings and Earth shared the honour, with my own book Poiema, as joint category winners at the Canadian Christian Writing Awards. I am indeed honoured to be acknowledged along side such a fine book.
Read the review Violet Nesdoly posted of this book on this blog on November 25th. I suggest you should get a copy for your Advent meditations. Visit www.barbaracolebrookpeace.ca Duet for Wings and Earth is published by Sono Nis Press.D.S. Martin is Music Critic for Christian Week. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca