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Monday, 21 December 2009

God With Us - Lawrence


(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, 17 December 2009

Attitude Measurement - Smith Meyer


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

Manger Moment

God,
A babe
In manger laid-
All
Royal splendor
Traded freely
For stable stall.
Inner strength,
Inner knowing
Who he was
Not changed at all.
Come adore him!
I knelt before him,
Taking full note
Of more than
Meets the eye.
I arose,
And as I stood,
I saw the manger
As measuring stick
of
My attitude.

Ruth Smith Meyer

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Finding Our Voice - Dick


(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, 15 December 2009

The Sleeping Giant Awakens - Part 2

The Aboriginal writing community has, in the past, been a relatively small and unknown element in the Canadian publishing industry. Now this awakening giant is becoming a major player in the field.

Still many challenges remain. I recently had a publisher turn down an excellent manuscript (he agreed it was excellent) because it was written in the Cree language. Another manuscript was turned down because the story premise wouldn't be acceptable in the mainstream market. When I talked to the author, she said it was Native humour. I agreed with her. It was something that a lot of people in the Aboriginal community would think funny but perhaps most other Canadians would not understand.
And joining the growing number of Canadian Aboriginal writers is a much smaller group of Christian Canadian Aboriginal authors. And yes, there is an added challenge for these writers. Their writing is typically not “mainstream.” Often the books are set in the far north (Churchill north; not Sault Ste Marie north!) where many Canadians have never traveled. Their plots, characters and dialogue may be more reflective of Aboriginal, rather than the mainstream, culture. But the Lord we serve is the same. Jesus’ love crosses time zones and transcends cultures.


A pioneer in Native Christian writing was a woman from the USA named Crying Wind. Her self-titled book, Crying Wind, crossed the cultural barriers into the Christian mainstream in 1977. Her publisher, Harvest House released her second book, My Searching Heart in 1979. More recently, Crying Wind has authored: When the Stars Danced and Thunder in Our Hearts, Lightning in Our Veins – both excellent titles available from http://www.indianlife.org/.

Today, many more fine Christian Aboriginal authors are joining her ranks and some of these are Canadian. Howard Jolly’s book, Hope for the Hurting, has become an important resource for parents, teachers and pastors who are counseling teens who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Free-lance journalists, Brenda Fontaine and Brenlee Longclaws, bring a Christian, Canadian, Aboriginal perspective to the articles they write. Children’s book authors Flora Rideout and Brenda Fontaine are paving the way for a new generation as budding authors such as Corrine Clyne begin their writing journey.
It is an exciting time we live in – a time when many new voices are blending with ours. And today, we have all have the joyous opportunity to step out of our comfort zones, open wide our hearts and minds, and read some books by people who are perhaps not so very different from us after all.

M. D. Meyer

Author of The Little Ones, available from http://www.wordalivepress.ca/, author's website and bookstores across Canada.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Peace - Christmas 2009 - Shepherd

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, 11 December 2009

Gift ideas for writers - Payne


‘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, 10 December 2009

Are We There Yet?


by Glynis M. Belec









He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

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.

The week was…uh…well…full. Yes. That’s it – full. Full of creativity cleverly disguised as messes. Full of cooperative play opportunities often interpreted as arguments. Full of educational moments initiated by questions upon questions upon more questions.

When my visiting trio walked into a room they exploded. Books, toys, craft supplies, dress-up clothes I’d forgotten even existed, were scattered about the house.

Messes I could overlook. A sore back from bending to pick up after everyone could easily be soothed by a good night’s sleep. Who knew how many kilocalories I burned dancing around the kitchen with five-year-old Ruthie to the ever hip sounds of “Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo; How about You, You, You?”

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.
The voluminous questions were the best. “Are we there yet?” was Eddie’s favorite. Every 60 seconds I had to give a run down on lap time, RPMs, distance, speed and ETA every time we went anywhere.

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?”
“Because I have a lot to cover,” I said with lilting laughter.

“Oh,” came the sweet little beep in response. Ruthie didn’t get the joke. She believed me. I could tell by the look in her eye. Now she would tell everyone I was fat and needed two towels to wrap around me. She didn’t hear me say I was kidding. I should have known better.

Then there was Annie. Annie was nine going on sixteen. She was a vegetarian, so she informed me. I thought vegetarians had to be at least 25 years old. Each evening she’d check out what was for supper and announce her hatred for the poor dead animal sizzling on the stove.

“Eggs are okay as long as they are not fertilized,” she told me.

I hesitated to tell her about Belshazaar, the macho rooster who dwelt amidst my contented egg-laying cluckers, lest she suspected. I pretended not to notice when I spotted her picking a bit of pork chop from her brother’s plate when no one was looking, though. I’ll wait ‘till she’s 25.

Night times were the best. I had no complaints then. Was it the anticipation of lights out and tender, young bodies resting peacefully between the sheets?

Nah…it was the stories. I loved the stories. I loved to tell the stories. I loved to act the stories. Bedtime was fun.

“Stand back…I’m going to sneeze,” said the elephant.

“Look out for the falling cloud!”

Ruthie, Eddie, Annie and I dove for cover under the bed. I was a kid again. I loved it.
I sure do miss those kid-like moments. Big kids don’t ask for bedtime stories. Adulthood requires adult conduct – which doesn’t often involve high drama and various sound effects. Childhood is just too much fun.

When I contemplate the scripture where Jesus talked about becoming like a little child, I get excited. I have a lot of grown-up hang-ups. But I also have a lot of child-like (much to the chagrin of many) urges. How hard can it be to become a child again?

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, 8 December 2009

Facing fear in Change - MANN

Rosemary Cash said, “The key to change is to let go of fear.” I see this in my life, in the church, family situations and community life. It is my thinking that most people find change difficult to some degree, and fear can be an important factor in whether change
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.

Donna Mann

Take Time to Make Memories (1996)
WinterGrief (2003)
Aggie’s Storms(2007)
MeadowLane Audio Stories for Children(2009)

Monday, 7 December 2009

Advent -- A Time to Look Closely -- Black





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.)
rmailto:raisegaze@execulink.com; www.freewebs.com/authorpeterablack

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Promise of Christmas - Laycock

Chaos reigned supreme. That’s how it seemed as we rehearsed our Christmas play. The first rehearsal didn’t really happen. The second one was only a bit better, and three quarters of the cast didn’t make it to the third. Those of us who were supposedly “in control” wondered if we were going to have a play at all.

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, 4 December 2009

A Christmas tradition - den Boer





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.

It’s certainly not because of the idyllic nature of this event in our home. Take our 1986 typical den Boer memory-making tree trimming. Why does this warm my heart?
To keep things manageable that year, Marty wisely suggested 19-month-old Michelle be in bed for the occasion. I vetoed this in favour of a truly family event. So, with all six family members in attendance we started the tree-trimming in the kitchen. Marty sawed the trunk to fit into the tree stand. Then he rammed the six-foot spruce toward its destination in the living room, brushing past doorways, children and furniture.
I followed behind, sweeping up a trail of sawdust and needles. Michelle cried. You would too, if a tree twenty times your size came rushing at you. But, by the time we had the tree straight in its stand, Michelle, with her forgiving nature and short memory, was ready to join her siblings in whatever happened next.
While Marty strung the lights, five-year-old Alison danced on the couch destroying the paper box which belonged to the lights. Paul (3) and Angela (7) headed for the cartons of decorations. I yelled out the procedure: “In one corner Mommy takes out the decorations. In the other corner Daddy hangs the decorations. Children take the decorations from Mommy to Daddy.”
A simple plan, but like many such plans, reality changed it beyond recognition. Mommy untangled a mass of wire hooks. Children handed her ornaments to be hooked. Children hung the ornaments on the tree. Daddy oversaw and rehung when necessary. Michelle walked around with a large unbreakable ornament until it dawned on her that others were handling many ornaments. Not to be outdone, she grunted persistently begging breakable ornaments from Mommy, to be brought to Daddy. She was so efficient at this that soon Daddy was juggling four ornaments at once.
When Michelle realized Daddy could not hold any more, she simply ran back and forth between Mommy and the tree trading for a new ornament each time. Finally all the decorations were hung and Michelle cried because it was over. I put her to bed.
That left Marty and the three oldest to put on the icicles which they undertook in the tradition which Marty brought to the family. Each icicle must be hung individually and must fall straight down.
Personally, being from a family of icicle flingers, I could not bring myself to join in this tedious task. Flinging icicles was once the best part of the whole decorating process, but for the sake of happy memories for all of us, I gave it up. The few moments of fun I would spend flinging would probably be nothing compared to the irritation Marty would suffer every time he saw the helter-skelter icicles on the tree.
Why is putting up the Christmas tree still one of my favourite things to do?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Raising the Bar - Austin


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, 2 December 2009

Duet for Wings and Earth — Martin

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