Justice is not soft

But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream. Amos 5:24

We cannot sit silent when we are told
that justice is meant
to roll like a river
Rivers rage,
roaring with holy and righteous anger

Justice means we cannot accept
that something “just is” a certain way

We cannot accept that
porn fuelled by human trafficking is just is part of our sexuality
and that black women being shot their beds just is our reality

Justice is not soft
And justice is not silent

The Lord rained down fire to set his people free,
used a scared and stuttering man to declare
that his people would be set loose
even if it took parting the sea

So May I, in my stuttering, be faithful to the moment
in which I was created
Bold in my words not to prove I am righteous
but to declare that each Image Bearer is fated
to be free

And when darkness and chaos feel like they are drowning us all,
I remember that the the Word spoke into the void,
at the beginning setting things right
and so made in the Image of God
our call is to be light
justice is in our DNA

May I also step into the discords of justice,
knowing when to sit and listen,
May I learn to welcome the taste of the stones of ignorance,
harder to swallow than pride,
to feel the shocking cold plunge that wakes me
from the sleepy privilege I have denied.

I have to remind myself that
I am not the water nor the river of righteousness,
but just a pebble in the cascading flow
of Jesus’s justice
that is so much bigger than my two hands could ever hold
justice and mercy slip through my fingers

I may never get the balance right
so may I be firm in this fight
when it is my time speak
and let the rest rest on the yoke
of the Judge, Jury and Defender of the weak

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Mid-performance at the fundraising virtual coffeehouse for International Justice Mission at uOttawa

A fun lil background to this poem. I was just going to perform one piece for a justice themed coffeehouse earlier this week (this poem) but went for a run about an hour before it started and found a few lines that had been rolling around in my head for a couple of days suddenly start flowing out in a fully formed piece. I got home and sat on my bedroom floor to furiously type it into my notes app, shifted some things around with copy/paste in the Uber on the way there and performed it right away, no rehearsal, ha! Very fun when the Holy Spirit brings words to me like this 🙂

On Baking Bread and Being Present

I think a lot of us are rediscovering the joy of slowing down, these isolation days. For me, that has meant being able to sleep in until just before I start my work day, rolling out of bed and across the hall to my “home office”, instead of rushing around to catch a bus or make the 40-minute walking commute. It has also meant a return to old hobbies, ones that require uninterrupted time at home and a physicality that we don’t always pay attention to. While I can easily lose myself in a good book, the uncertainty of the present moment has had me seeking out activities that make me feel grounded in both time and space and allow my mind to rest while my body works. I’ve been seeking out activities that force me to work within the constraints of time, to practice patience, activities that permit me to get my hands involved, to practice presence.

And so, while I love to read and learn languages, to listen to music and chat with friends on Zoom about the Bible or development theory, I am finding these days a lot of joy in spending time on more physically present hobbies, rather than mental ones. Hobbies which, for this 23 year “old lady” are a pleasant return to things I used to love doing in my childhood: knitting, bread baking, long walks in quiet reflection. I am glad many people are learning these things for the first time. But for me, this has been less about developing new skills and more like putting on a well-loved, well-worn sweater and catching up with old friends.

As in any good quarantine household, there now sits a jar of sourdough starter on our kitchen counter, the lid poked full of holes and, often, a line and time written on the side in whiteboard marker. 11am, one inch high. 3pm, three inches high. After 6 weeks of careful cultivation, weeks of careful pouring and stirring and watching and spilling and waiting, my starter is thick and stretchy, spotted with bubbles that pop if I shake the jar and a slightly alcoholic, yet kind of sweet, yeasty smell. This is not my first go around with this baking ingredient and pseudo pet. In high school, I had a starter for a year or two but it sadly died off when I went to Switzerland for three months; sourdough requires you to give it love and flour weekly, if not daily. Life in residence and back and forth stints abroad have likewise prevented me from trying again but now, the slow, long days of working from home have given me the space to get back at it.

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But preparing my starter, affectionately named Khobz (Arabic for bread) is only the first step. Sourdough is an art that takes time and practice. Day after day I have measured out warm water and flour, gently squished the ingredients together in big bowls, carefully covered them in plastic wrap and damp towels, and waited (more or less) patiently for the dough to rise. When I go to do my laundry, all my clothes have bits of flour stuck to them; I always seem to miss some dusty white patch on the kitchen counter. This hobby is little bit messy.

I have been remembering that sourdough waits for no one and cannot be rushed or urged along. It is not something done on whim or without planning. While I often operate in whirlwind, fitting my hobbies in during bus stop waits, or in the 30 minutes between dinner and class, baking a loaf of sourdough begins 48 hours before I plan to eat (or gift) the bread. I have to feed the starter, make the dough, shape the loaves, leave them to sleep and rise in the fridge, bake at varying temperatures while taking lids on and off. It is a long process that requires a few minutes of attention in intervals of 30 minutes to 16 hours. It isn’t time consuming all in one go. But you have to be present.

One morning a couple of weeks ago, I got up at 4am to shape the bread after miss-timing a long proof. Sourdough waits for no one, slows for nothing. The next week, I spilt goopy starter on my laptop while trying to show it to a friend on Zoom. Sourdough is not a digital activity. Over the weeks, I have tested loaf after loaf, playing with lids and ice cubes and various temperatures, trying to get a crusty outside and soft inside with a labyrinth of holes. Sourdough is an art and an experiment. It requires me to be home, it requires attention, it requires touching and smelling and tasting to know just what to do next.

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Bread, the most basic of foods, has been helping me remember the powerful yet simple rhythms of time and patience, the mental peace that comes from kneading and working something out with your hands. For the sake of these lessons, I am grateful that we are an embodied people. We are not just our minds and our souls but we are whole bodied creatures who need to eat, to sleep, to move, to work with our hands. We learn and live through the five senses, through home-baked crusty bread and tight hugs from dear friends, from the smell of the sidewalk after a warm spring rain and the feeling of fresh cleaned sheets on our skins.

I live through the sounds of my roommates’ laughter below me as I try to fall asleep and of the neighbour practicing an instrument through the thin walls of our old crooked house in Sandy Hill. I taste red wine and think of Jesus, our Word who was there in the beginning, who created and knows the importance of embodied living…so much so that He came down to walk dusty roads and swim in cold rivers and feel the rumble of hunger in his stomach. I run along the river in the early morning fog, watch rabbits dart across the path, feel the chill of the wind on my cheeks and the burn of exertion in my legs and lungs; I sing the chorus of the best song on my playlist at top volume when there is no one else on the path. I knit for long hours, winding the yarn around my fingers to keep it taut, wrapping and dipping and sliding off stiches with the metallic click of the needles slipping against each other. I make coffee slowly, savouring the smell and experimenting with flavours. While my favourite to drink is espresso, I love the step-by-step of using my French press: measuring the water and waiting for it to boil, scooping out a heaping spoonful of fragrant grounds, brewing and straining and pouring out the coffee. I am resting by letting my hands work and my mind wait.

Online, I am struggling to connect with people’s disembodied voices and the long hours of working alone at my desk. I am remembering just how much of a whole-body human I really am,  how much I ache to be present with people and to go through the motions of daily life within the restraints of a 24-hour day. I am learning to slow down and be present here; I am wanting back the opportunity to be full-body present with my people. I have no idea what the world will look like tomorrow or next week or in six months and there are so many things I miss about normal. But I pray that when we emerge from our houses and get to be close again that we will lean into the physicality of our humanity, rather than see our COVID-tech adaptions as examples of not needing to be present together. Right now I am learning to slow down and bake bread; it is physically present activity. But so is loving people. I want to remember that when all is said and done.

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Bible Study

Most people hate Mondays because they mark the beginning of a work week. But this year, Mondays quickly became one of the highlights of my week. Monday evenings brought friends crowding into my living room, on the couches and on the floor, and even some standing by the door at first, so as to have an escape route if needed. Each week we gathered, a core group consistently and a rotation of guests intrigued and drawn to our funny mismatched group of Christians and non-believers. There would be chatter and shuffling and throwing off of coats as people got settled into their spots. Often someone would bring a treat: cookies, scones, chips. Mondays meant using every mug in my house for tea, an open invitation to bring along friends and quickly whispered prayers as I printed manuscripts 5 minutes before my pals arrived, prayers that the Holy Spirit would make up for my gaps in knowledge and, sometimes, for my woeful lack of preparation. And then, when most people had arrived and everyone had a pen ready, we would start. 

Together we would dive into the Bible, into the book of John. As we worked our way through the book, John became our trusted narrator and eyewitness to the miracles of Jesus; we knew he was on a mission to prove his thesis that Jesus is the Son of God. We contextualized ourselves as best as we could, trying to figure out what ancient Israel was like in John and Jesus’ time, what these events and words would have meant to people then and there. And then we jumped back to Ottawa, 2020, and we asked honest questions: some nit picky, irrelevant questions, some easily answered questions, some big picture philosophy questions, and some real life “more vulnerable than we maybe would have liked” questions about who Jesus is and what he was trying to teach each of us. All of us asked questions: those of us raised in the church, who felt like we should already have every answer, and those of us who had never read the Bible before, and all of us in between. We noticed themes, of light and darkness, of living bread and water, of Jesus knowing people intimately, of people asking and seeing and believing. We shared what we had seen that made us believe in Jesus, or what we would need to see, or what we were desperately hoping to see and had yet to. We sat in tension. We came together to study and we took it seriously but, we also laughed a lot. We became friends. 

And as we became friends, we chose more vulnerability and we learned more and more each week from the Word and from each other. A deep fondness for and trust in our group grew in my heart as we wandered through each passage. We became a team and as one of the leaders I learned to adapt to the strengths of my people. They didn’t need me to have prepared application questions or to drag observations out of people; they just needed me to show up. I trusted our team to navigate well together, to ask the hard questions and be engaged in trying to find answers. I trusted us to be ok with not always finding those answers, to be ok not wrapping everything up with a bow for the sake of simplicity. Unspoken, we decided to leave space to walk away still chewing a challenging question. As a leader, I trusted my team but even more so I trusted the Holy Spirit to keep teaching us throughout the week. That trust meant that I got to walk with people rather than ahead of them, to be vulnerable, to ask my own questions, and to be deeply blessed by conversations we had. 

This year, on Mondays, I fell back in love with the Bible and with my community. A mixed bag of experiences with manuscript studies before, I should have had low expectations. But in September, at the start of the year, God gave me vision for this Bible study. He told me He was doing something new, whispered that I would get to watch the Holy Spirit change hearts right in my living room. He gave me specific names of people who would be there (despite some of their own proclamations), reminders of how He desires to speak to His Children, promises of investment and consistency and engagement. And He has been faithful to those promises. 

God doesn’t have to let me play a role in His ever evolving story of redeeming humanity. But, thankfully, He is in the habit of letting His kids step into what He is doing, letting them see and participate in and be changed by His work, despite their (read, my) many flaws. This year, on Mondays in a small way, I think I got to watch and participate in and be changed by what He was doing through the Word in my living room. And dang, I am grateful. 

Walk boldly friends, into the places and with the people the Lord has given you vision for. It’s a gift and a joy to see the ways He is making all things new. Speaking of, the song “New Wine” by Hillsong has been a beautiful ongoing conversation this year between me and God. You should give it a listen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5

Week 7

Today I sat on the porch while it rained and I tried to focus on my work. Instead I was distracted and, my eyes weary from staring at the screen, I spent much of the day looking out over my neighbourhood cocooned in grey clouds. I listened to the drops hit the roof in an irregular rhythm and observed how vibrantly green the moss on the tree out front looked, in contrast to the gloomy sky. I watched the people go by. The two small children in classic yellow raincoats who passed around lunchtime, walking slowly as if their feet were heavy weights. The tinnier one spun in a half circle, bent over to examine some small treasure in the grass of my lawn, then stood up again to ask the wet and tired looking father how much farther to home. I watched pairs of friends marching two by two, separated too, by two meters…usually. Runners going full speed and runners clearly out of steam passed by, the sound of their feet catching my attention, pulling my eyes away from the report I was attempting to read. A cute boy with too-long hair hanging wet in his eyes, walked his dog by our house twice in the span of three hours. A friend stopped by to drop off a borrowed dish on the porch and called my name. The UPS man got confused about where to drop the (then damp) brown packages he carried and I watched him as he paced up and down the street until he sorted it out. The birds sang brightly all day, despite the constant drizzle. Around 3pm, the neighbour came out onto his porch for a while and we both waved, then sat in silence. All afternoon, I got up to make tea more than was necessary. I was restless; the weather and the street were too.

Today was Thursday, nearly the end of week 7 working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. Week 7 of working from the worn-out yellow porch seat with a blanket over my legs and a cup of tea beside me, or from my bed with the covers pulled up, or from the floor in the corner of my bedroom, my legs crossed under me like a kindergartener. Week 7 of sitting on my couch with my laptop, trying not to be distracted by my roommates chattering over morning coffee, while I cross my fingers that the network connects easily and I can check my email without issue. Week 7 of daily Zoom calls, week 7 of missing chatting with colleagues in the bathroom and in the hallways. Week 7 of unsettledness, of an anxiety in my chest that comes and goes without warning. Week 7 of seeing the same walls and faces on an endless loop. Week 7 of dress shirts with pyjama bottoms, of sundresses while it snows, of lipstick as my only makeup, of not changing out of my yoga pants post morning flow, because I’m not going anywhere anyways. Week 7 of candles on my desk, sleeping until 8am, playing music and having a dance party at lunch time; it isn’t all bad. Week 7 of uncertainty about what comes next: where will I live, what will I do, how do I pray into this? Week 7 of working with choppy wifi and no printed documents for this paper and pen gal, week 7 of too much time staring at the light of my computer. Week 7 and I feel like I never know what day it is. Week 7…and I am tired. 

So today I watched the rain come down and I drank my tea and I tried to work, bit by bit. I accepted that this was Thursday of week 7 and that it was raining and that my brain, like the world, was moving a little bit slower than normal. Today I tried to work but really I just watched and listened and remembered that the world, while slowed, is still moving. It is raining and the moss is growing and the children are learning and the people are talking and the runners are running and cute boys are dog-walking and the UPS man is delivering  and the neighbour is waving from his porch. We are still living, still pressing forward albeit at a slower pace, day by day, in the sunshine and the in the rain. And we will be ok. It is week 7 and today I had to remind myself many times that we will be ok. 

Communion

Two weeks ago, on a damp and drizzly weekday, I went for an angry walk. My heart pounded and I walked quickly to convince myself that my rapid pulse was from the physical exertion and not my temper. I knew that the actual situation that had triggered my fury, which I can usually keep in check, would be resolved. But I also knew there was a lot of “feeling” I had been avoiding actually “feeling”.  My emotions had been piling up; I needed to get away from my house and take some time to process and pray. 

Three weeks had passed since the World Health Organization had declared a global pandemic and I had whiplash from how quickly life was changing, sometimes hour to hour. Three weeks in and I felt unseen. I felt unheard. And if I am honest, I felt like God was screwing with us all. As my plans in the short and long term seemed to be quickly slipping away in the wake of COVID-19, I wondered what else I would be giving up in what felt like the most whack Lent of my life. My house was in week two of a self-imposed quarantine but I knew that even at that end of our 14 day period, not much would change. Social distancing and self-isolation would not (and will not) be ending anytime soon. And I felt real damn angry about it. I felt exiled. More than ever before I could relate to the Israelites, wandering in the desert when the promised land had seemed so close. A little dramatic but hey, what else is new? 

That afternoon, I soaked my socks walking in mud puddles along the river bank, yelled across the water at God. I yelled and walked and prayed until my anger had burned itself off, leaving only a smokey sadness. 

As I turned towards home, it started to rain again, hard. And for some reason, I started thinking about church. I thought of how no one would be there that coming Sunday, nor Easter Sunday quickly approaching. I thought of the empty pews and darkened sanctuary, of the elderly folks struggling to figure out live streams with crackly internet connections. Most of all, I thought of how much I have come to cherish taking communion each week; I am often brought to tears by the honour of confessing and repenting, of accepting and resting in grace, of coming to the Father’s table with my community each week. I thought of how cared for I feel when the pastor gives the absolution to the congregation. Of how my mind, body, soul and spirit are being formed each week in the kneeling and the sipping and the chewing and the praying. Of how I can no longer drink red wine without remembering Jesus. Of how that moment of breaking bread is sometimes sorrowful and sometimes joyful and always communal. And as the rain came down so hard it hurt when it hit my skin, I started to cry. Not cute tears running down my cheeks but true sobs with my head thrown back, making me look like a cartoon character. Can you picture it? The pouring rain and then me, walking down the street audibly and evidently crying without even trying to hide it. Did I mention I can be dramatic? To be fair, I figured anyone who saw me would understand that these days, you sometimes need a good cry.

I couldn’t help but deeply feel the sorrow of being kept from gathering with other members of the Body. And while I knew deep in my soul that the Church is living and moving and united by the Holy Spirit, the more I learn about faith, the more I have become convinced that it is not a solitary activity. As I walked through my neighbourhood, I tried to get it together but every-time I thought I had done it, I would think of not being able to take communion with my church on Resurrection Sunday and start crying all over again. This year I have been learning that there is power in the liturgy: in the gathering and the singing, in the reading of the Word in public, in of the Prayers of the People and in the passing of the peace. I mourned losing that and I cried all the way home. On and off over the last couple weeks I have cried about the Body of Christ being scattered and separated, even as I studied the Bible on Zoom with friends, worshiped in my living room with a piano and a beat tapped out on the door frame, took communion with peach juice and rice cakes. There is so much grace in this season but I missed my church. 

But today, gathering or no gathering we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. Our Jesus is victorious. He reigns and is King over all. He is not contained by the grave and he is not restrained by social distancing. He is in the liturgy and in the prayers I can’t put words too, in the many walks around the block, in the tears and the loss and in the work from home. Today was Easter Sunday. And while it did not look as I had hoped, this weekend was one of the most beautiful I have lived in recent memory. Over the last couple of days I have prayed with members of my Bible study over Zoom. I have danced and sung in the lineup to go into the grocery store. I have baked 16 loaves of bread with my housemates (flour and sugar and eggs multiplying, loaned and passed on from neighbours). I have walked through my neighbourhood with my housemates delivering the bread to people we love; friends and family in Christ, our community, our Church. 

This morning, I got up and read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ glorious resurrection, on my rooftop as the sun rose. The birds were in full chorus, a woodpecker providing a beat behind the melody. I stood with my socks damp again, this time from the dew, and rolled my eyes, laughing at John calling himself the one who Jesus loved. He makes a point of saying that he ran faster than Peter to get to the tomb first. I’m not sure why that is important but hey, how bold and beautiful that John is so secure in his relationship with His Lord that he declares that himself the one that Jesus loved. May I be such dear friends with Jesus that I do not doubt his love for me.

After sunrise I crawled into bed, fell back asleep while still rereading the gospel of John, smiling and remembering Monday night Bible studies spent digging deeply into the disciple’s words and his thesis that Jesus is the light of the world, come to bring us into relationship with the Father. Later, my housemates and I feasted on strawberries and banana pancakes, strong brewed coffee and the sight of pink tulips in full bloom. I doodled lavender and greenery on cards for our friends as we watched the livestream service from my Pentecostal church in Barrie. So different from my Anglican church in Ottawa, today it felt like a hug from home and a reminder of the beautiful and diverse expressions of the Church. 

In the afternoon, we went door to door giving out the bread we had baked and braided and tied with blue ribbon, chatting with our friends from the sidewalk. When we got home my mom had sent us huge platters of shawarma and our house got to eat together for the second time in one day, a rare occasion. We talked and ate and praised the Lord. After dinner, I laughed for two hours straight on a Zoom call with my mom and sister, aunts and uncles and cousins. We drank wine, watched the aunties try to figure out the app and talked over each other so no one knew what anyone was saying. It was just like a real Kelly party and it made my soul sing with gratitude. As the sun was setting, my roommates and I went for one last walk, singing in the streets as we took cupcakes to our friend Aidan and my cousins Ben and Luke. 

We ended the day in our living room. And we raised our voices in worship to the King of Kings. We praised the name of Jesus because there is nothing else to do on a day like today, so full of joy and community, even from a distance. We drank wine and ate fresh bread and reminded each other that He is risen,  taking communion, in community. And while there was still a part of me that mourned not being in church and walking out the liturgy, the Lord was so generous in the joy of this Easter. It was one I want to remember the feeling of for years to come. 

The Church is alive and well friends.The Church is laughing and crying and coming together, meeting on Zoom and eating shawarma sitting on the living room floor in sweatpants and Easter dresses. She is yelling love across the street and in Instagram stories. The Church is dancing today as She remembers that Jesus is alive. On this Easter I am reminded that death and loss get their sting but hope and resurrection get the final word. Isolation and scattering may feel like long stretches of Good Fridays and Silent Saturdays but we are Resurrection people; hope wins. And wow, what a party it will be when this season ends and we can hug our loved ones and worship together again! 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Jesus is risen. He is working in this crazy season in ways I do not claim to understand. But I know that all is well and all will be well. Because Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. 

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:3-8 

Thoughts from visiting countless cathedrals

Soaring columns and colours that dance on the walls due to stained glass windows letting in the light, Gothic architecture is a pretty specific (and stunning) look. It’s one that is extremely prevalent in Spain and particularly in the many Catholic cathedrals and basilicas that sprinkle the country. As I learned more about the architectural choices and the significance behind them, I definitely grew to see the beauty in them as an offering of creativity by architects seeking to honour God and in some cases (such as the Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona), an opportunity for the entire community to come together and create a place of communal worship in the centre of the neighbourhood. Cathedrals are truly awe-inspiring and I think some cases, really do create a sacred space that draws people into contemplation, prayer and ultimately, a meeting with God.

However, I also saw a lot of excess. A lot of wealth being demonstrated by ancient royalty to prove their power and “devotion to God” while they simultaneously allowed their people to starve, while they destroyed minority communities, while they exhibited cruelty instead of love. Some of the places I visited felt so joyful and spirit filled (guys, visiting the Sagrada Familia was actually such a holy experience for me, despite the crazy crowds of people trying to get their perfect picture). But some of the cathedrals and the history behind the buildings, the context of how and when these monuments were created, made me feel sad, made the hallways feel empty and hollow and fake. Monuments to man instead of God. Wars waged over who got to worship within their walls. Monuments to the institution of religion instead of a home for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts.

I’m currently working on a post about what God was teaching me about having a pilgram’s heart and mindset while travelling, as well as some just about travelling with my mom and the incredible adventure we had. For now, I want to share with you this poem I wrote while exploring one cathedral that felt like a museum to the king who had built it and a space for the Church to honour itself instead of Jesus. I am not going to say which one because I don’t think it’s important for you to know. We must acknowledge the history of spaces and also know that the Lord renews all things; who am I to say that God will not meet you in that particular cathedral in a powerful way? He met me there. In that centuries old building that felt like an empty tomb, Jesus reminded me that He is wherever I am. And He also reminded me that I am not innocent of the same sins I felt there. I too try to build up things that show the world how faithful I am, instead of just walking it out and being the church to the people I meet. I pray that this poem will be a prayer I don’t stop praying, that I continue to seek to honour God with the things I am choosing to build with this life. And you dear reader, what are you building? What do you want the monument of your life to show?

 

Holy God.

You are not contained in cathedrals.

Yet we strive,

build up impressive monuments,

instead of creating churches out of our lives.

We each want to prove that we love you the most.

Build big enough examples to see for miles,

and yet we can’t even find a smile

as we walk past yet another beggar.

So easily we forget;

you are in the rags that we turn our eyes away from.

Gilded statues and gold,

we are willing to give our money but refuse to let you hold

our hearts.

Surrender is a false concept we bury deep in the foundations

to hold up our own creations

instead of being fully present in the one You gave us.

And Jesus, I know you are with me always,

in the mountains and in the hallways

of this church.

But may I never try to keep you here.

These drafty hallways and ruby coated walls,

heaven on earth is not this at all.

Lord,

you have all the riches you need.

Instead I offer you my heart.

Please,

take away my tendency for jealousy and greed.

Build cathedrals in my soul, Lord.

May I worship you each day,

singing holy, holy, holy is the One

who has shown us all the Way

to the Father’s throne.

It is not here, not made of velvet and stone.

Instead make pillars out of faith Lord,

to hold me up when life is hard.

I can survive without stained glass windows

but losing intimacy with You,

I can’t afford.

For though I see the beauty in these walls,

when our bodies are all temples, echo chambers of your call

for each of us to know You

we shouldn’t need a massive space to prove

our faith.

Lord,

may I never create for creation’s sake,

for conquest, power or for pride.

But as an imitation of your love

that is tall and deep and wide.

God thank you for this journey,

as you carve in me a pilgrims heart

Your Holy Spirit rests in me, in my study, work and art.

Let these buildings not distract me,

or others from the truth

that it’s not about the saints and angels

but the simple joy of knowing you.

Jesus,

teach me as I worship,

with each step and every breath,

how to find You in this world of wild excess

and more importantly, in the quiet and the rest.

These buildings are stunning and some have pointed me to you.

But others are empty of the Spirit,

honouring earthly kings and their world-views.

I learned that in Spain three religions warred,

wanting power and control,

but you Lord are the Lion

who comes in as a baby, with a cry and not a roar.

Though you are the keeper

of all Creation big and small,

You sacrificed the last True Lamb

to save us one and all.

Holy Spirit,

Cathedrals do not contain you

though they amaze me with their size

You are in our daily rhythms, in our hearts,

our prayers, our minds.

Build signposts in my heart Lord,

to keep pointing me back to You.

Let me love bigger than a basilica,

so that it is You my actions point to.

Make my life a work of art

A sign that reads humbly but clear

that this is not an empty building, temple, body.

The Holy Spirit dwells here.

 

Creating, Creation, Creator

Sometimes, my pride seeps through.

It likes to take credit for the things that “I” do.

My words dance and reverberate

with power

and I accept the compliments

“you’re a great writer”.

I wish I had the courage

more often to say,

thanks but no thanks,

I was actually such a mess today.

And then God met me

in my wild, tangled up mind,

met me with words the way He designed

for me and Him to know each other.

 

See everything in this world

echoes His beauty

every stunning thing you see

is just a fraction of His truly

magnificent Creation.

And all creativity is

just us trying to imitate

Dad.

 

Abba knows best and so

He guides

with gentle hands,

allows our still learning fingers

to paint green rolling hillsides,

to smash together crooked pottery,

and write crappy lines of poetry.

Our mortal souls

see Creation and let out sighs

of elation

and then we set to work, trying

to express our never ending awe.

 

Like children learning to speak

our parent’s language,

Creation evokes in us a

desire to Create.

Paintbrushes and music scores,

woven baskets and dances that make bodies into

moving magic,

we each become more and more dramatic

as Life

becomes inspiration for Art.

 

I meet God

best among trees and poetry.

Creation and Creating

help me know deeper

my Creator.

And remind me always

that I am an Imitator.

I want to be known

as a someone made out of

clay,

shaped more and more each day

by the One who imagined

each grain of wheat and blade of grass,

forms rainbows and icicles that shine like glass,

the Maker who sewed together

all the wild fish in the depths of the sea.

All the things the Lord created

and he still want to meet with me

through creativity.

Wow.

 

And so together we meet and He

teaches me to write,

speaking to me and through me

and my face lights up

and I can’t help the smile on my face

as I glimpse

Love.

 

I am a writer,

a storyteller too.

They are beautiful parts of

how God made me and I want

to share them with you.

But don’t forget for a minute

I am just the vessel

for the True Author’s words

when I meet with him in quiet or while listening to the

chirping of birds.

 

I lean in,

let Him show me.

I put pencil to paper

and tentatively at first,

I begin

to Create.

Thoughts on Missing Malawi

Missing Malawi hits me in weird ways and at random times.

This week it was a quiet night in my dorm room with low lights, no hurried task to complete and my bed sheets smelling of essential oils that reminded me of (sometimes) lonely nights in the back of the cake shop. Reminded me how I gravitated towards creating rituals in the often candle lit evenings, dabbed soothing oils on my wrists to remind myself to be calm when I heard noises I didn’t recognize, read pages and pages of books, sang loudly in the shower, took time each night to arrange my mosquito net around my bed just so. I hadn’t used my essential oil spray much since coming home and the scent brought me rushing back to my room in Zomba.

Last week it was walking downtown thinking about what I should buy for lunch and suddenly, vividly, being able to taste rice and beans and masamba otendera, all drizzled with mango spicy oil at Uni Café. Since then, I’ve thought often about my lunch hours, eating always too full plates of rice and chatting with my wonderful colleagues.

It’s being at Thanksgiving and my family talking about how the last time we were all together was Canada day. Except I wasn’t there because I woke up in a tent at Chingwae’s Hole on Zomba Plateau, stared at views that seem to stretch forever, hiked down in the mud and sunshine, chatting with friends. It’s missing spotting monkeys and it’s remembering the burn of fire ants biting my ankles.

It’s calling a taxi and having the driver not say a word to me. It makes me think of Edoh and Mr. Mmanga and Kevin and Patrick and miss the friendships that came along with service in Malawi.

It’s getting confused for a month straight as to where my evenings were disappearing to because the sun would set and it would suddenly be 9pm?! I kept forgetting that darkness was not a sign of my evening starting but of bedtime approaching and lost a lot of time being confused by the long summer evenings in Ottawa.

It’s a flood happening in residence and immediately thinking of the morning I woke up and put my feet down into a puddle, called Esnatt and then went to church, while secretly hoping the rat I’d been sharing my house with would drown. William mopped up all the water for me and Esnatt and I thanked Jesus that my laptop survived.

It’s thinking of Esnatt and Esela and Emela and their kindness, their honesty and humour and care for me. It’s missing invitations to dinner and Ntanda nearly pulling my hair out and eating cake way too often. I need to call them, I miss them a lot.

It’s getting covered in bug bites in late August, panicking for a second, not believing how stupid I  was to not wear long pants and bug spray before I remember that here bug bites are just itchy and not a risk for malaria.

It’s sitting in my government cubicle and not having Mwayi ask questions about the weather in Canada, not hearing Bongani singing in the background, not seeing Helen in all her beautiful skirts, not watching Stella and Queen have photoshoots outside, not getting movie reccomendations from Lekodi, not hearing Bosco sing “Samantha oh Samantha”,  not seeing Sharon and Rodger and Janet and Jess, not chatting with the other volunteers. It’s sitting inside at the same place each day and missing sunny porch mornings and rides to the field.

It’s missing feeling like I was doing truly meaningful work that made my soul sing.

It’s walking all the way to work and realizing no one looked at me. It’s putting my phone on shuffle and hearing the songs I used to dance to with the kids on my street.

It’s Tuesdays with no plans that make me think of Paka and yoga and drinking shitty Carlsburg beer. Its missing friends but knowing paths often cross again, hoping some of our paths will cross again.

It’s buying tiny avocados and being appalled at the cost. It’s missing the conversations I used to have with my potato lady and my banana lady and my vegetable guy.

It’s wearing my Chtienge clothes and getting showered with compliments, always answering “my tailor Isaac made it” with a smile, because I promised him I would give him credit when people asked.

It’s randomly thinking about going on safari because it was beyond incredible and often feels like a dream. It’s having a snapshot saved in my mind of sitting under most star filled sky I’ve ever seen, everyone quiet and the car engine turned off so as not to scare the seven lionesses surrounding us, stalking a pray far off in the distance.

It’s people asking “So what’s Africa like?” and wanting to tell them how little I know about Malawi, let alone the continent, but instead just saying “it is incredible” because that is also true.

It’s getting grades back for papers written about MASA, thinking of the plays and songs and students I got to see. Thinking about how academics can’t capture their energy.

It’s eating eggs for dinner cooked in curried vegetables like I did so many nights in Zomba and remembering how the man whole sold eggs on my street never let me get away with speaking English, always made me practice my weak Chichewa.

It’s working in Ottawa with another intern from Malawi and talking about it rarely but knowing she is missing it too.

It’s planning trips for the Outdoor’s Club and being bombarded with memories of Mulanje and weekends at the lake.

It’s seeing friends on social media and remembering laughing with them in person on another continent where now neither of us are.

It’s walking past tall buildings instead of tall mountains on my way to work.

It’s hearing myself say “when I was in Malawi…” way too often, even when I try to contain it and wondering will people will get sick of me and tell me to knock it off. Half hoping they do and half hoping I get to keep telling stories.

It’s taking my morning vitamins and thinking “wow I’m glad I don’t have to take Doxycycline” Every. Single. Day.

It’s plugging in a charger and for a split second being surprised that it worked right away, even now months later surprised that the electricity never fails me. It’s knowing how incredibly privileged that makes me, how privileged I was even there to have power much of the time in Malawi.

It’s the painting hanging in my office and the tapestry on my bedroom wall.

It’s going to post this blog and having to wade through countless drafts of posts never published because I was scared of telling the wrong stories or of making people think things were law instead of just my experiences.

It’s settled contentment of being home and with friends and yet still missing Malawi.

It’s wondering how long simple things will bring this ache.

It’s missing Malawi sometimes intensely and overwhelmingly but not feeling like I want to run back. It’s people asking me if I want to return and not knowing how to say I’m not sure without making it sound like I didn’t love it, because I loved it but…I don’t want to hop on a plane tomorrow.

It’s remembering that my internship was hard and also good. It’s realizing that missing Malawi is hard but also good.

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Return

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any poetry, friends. Here is one inspired by the parable of the Prodigal Son that I performed at a church “Slam Sermon” this evening. It’s a little messy and unedited but I love the way God teaches me through my creativity, that I get to write inspired by the First Author. I got a little emotional as I read this evening because even when I’m “doing good” with God and with life, I am reminded that I too am a bit of a mess, that I have a tendency to hide my weaknesses and failures, that I try to deal with them alone, and that every single time, the Lord calls me by name and seeks me out. He is the One who leaves the 99 to come after the one and throws a feast when we return. What a wild grace we’ve been given. What a kind Father we have.

Return.

A voice in the chaos cuts through

the rain and the tears

the insults and the jeers,

return.

Return,

you who have squandered

and wandered away,

hidden in caves

and turned your face

to hide the scraps and the pain.

Return

the voice calls,

because I see the bruises

that don’t bloom on the skin

but attack from within and

slither through veins

in ways you can’t begin to explain

the mental haze that has found you,

made you lose your ways.

Return

say the voice

because I have heard

coins clash together in scenes that feel blurred

as exchanges are made and

you smile as pleasures

are handed your way

but at the end of the night,

lonely, sad and frustrated

you just want

to take flight and escape

what you have created.

Return

though your clothes are dirty

and you feel unworthy.

Return

not as a thief in the night

slinks back and hopes to avoid being seen

come in the morning when the sky is blue

and the trees are green.

Return.

Return,

in the light

so that He can greet you

in the way that is right

for a Father

to embrace his Sons and Daughters.

Return,

to a love so reckless

that it kicks up its heels,

an outrageous love

that revels and reveals itself.

A love that does not hide,

loves fully and with pride

in it’s Beloved Creation.

Return.

Return,

urges the voice

and He will run calling out for all to hear

the one I love was far

but now they are near

Return,

the voice reverberates

through all the other noise.

Somewhere a man awakes

looks around at all he has destroyed

He rises and looks towards the door

Return

the voice whispers

with love the man

no longer feels he deserves

return

and you will learn

how the Father longs

for his children

and does not reserve

love for only those who are “worthy”.

Return,

all are welcome,

those broken and thirsty.

Return

from hard work in the field

or a wild life abroad

the voice calls them in

not caring where they have trod.

Return,

the voice

says

I have been waiting.

With love anticipating,

always hopeful,

never hating.

Watching the door for you.

Return,

now is the time,

the Father waits

to wash away any shame and crime.

Return

to Perfect Love

to Divine embracing

return to being fully known

instead of always chasing

more.

A King’s feast awaits,  not just the crumbs

Here is your home

where you can always come

So now,

without fear

or condemnation

come boldly

and be cherished

by the Maker of Creation

And the Father will smile and

with the same voice He will say

all I’ve wanted

for years has come true today.

For you, My Child

have returned.

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Not Painting the Sea

Being in British Columbia made me wish that I was a painter. Despite usually feeling like my words are sufficient to paint images in people’s minds, these views had me speechless which happens very rarely.

One day I went hiking with my family and left them to continue the trail while I climbed down to the rocky beach. Kicking off my sandals and walking out onto the rocks, I feel more like a foreigner than anything else. My feet are soft, from summers spent on sandy shores in Georgian Bay, years of running through Beausoleil Island and Killbear Provincial Park. This pebbled beach, rolling under my feet and pricking the soles when a bit of shell peaks through, it feels different. It’s hard to believe this is the same Canada I know and love.

I get to the edge of the water, breathe deeply through my nose, inhaling the salty smell. This too is new. Canada, from sea to sea to sea, for me has always been a land of lakes, where I can dive deep, look up and watch the sunlight filter through the marbled green and blue water. I will not even try to open my eyes in the ocean.

The waves lap against my toes and my feet remind me that they are hurting on the rocks; the sooner I go in, the sooner I can float and let them rest. But the water is cold and it is not a hot day. My favourite black bathing suit, which I’ve been carrying around for days hoping to get close to the ocean, has been left in the car. I didn’t expect this hiking trail to led me to the water. Still, my red jumpsuit will dry quickly I suspect and I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to swim this trip. Now or never.

I clumsily walk into the waves, trying not to fall. A little girl runs toward the water a few meters away from me; clearly she is BC grown because she doesn’t even flinch at the rocks splaying out from under her feet. Her grandma trails behind and we look at each, smiling. I remember that I now look more adult than girl.

“Is it cold?” She asks me.

I smile again and nod. “I’m trying to convince myself to do it, just to dunk and get it over with.”

“It’s not bad, come on!” the little girl is kicking and splashing between us.

She’s right. My legs and feet have adjusted and I know the rest of me will too as soon as I convince myself to get in. I turn around to face the shore, count to three and fall backwards into the shadowy, rolling water. It’s a trick that always works but my breath still catches for a minute as the cold water engulfs me.

And then I let myself breath deeply. Lake or sea, water is water and I always feel at home when I’m floating. My clothes billow out around me but for some reason, it doesn’t feel scary, like swimming in clothes sometimes can. My lips taste the salt and my hair, loose and long, fans out around me, bits of it sticking around my neck and chest. The grandma has taken the plunge too and she and the girl are pretending to be dolphins; I can’t help but grin, remembering all the hours I spent kicking and spinning in the lake back home, sunlight dancing in patches on my skin, as I pretended to be a mermaid. To see me now, in the sea itself, long hair and bright eyes, I can almost fall back into the fantasy.

I start paddling out, awe struck by the mountains on the horizon. It’s this moment that leaves me feeling without adequate words, this moment where I curse my “lack of creativity” and wish my fingers knew the secrets of replicating the Artist’s greatest works. It’s a view all made of blue, the sea the sky and mountains layered in the distance. As if someone started at the bottom and ran out of ink as they shaded skyward, the mountains rise in groups of bluish gray, getting lighter as they dance towards the sky. Mountains always seem to me to be to be vibrating with their own rhythm and life, despite their strongly grounded roots.  The trees here look different too. Like Christmas trees in fairytale giants’ homes, they cluster around the base of the jagged hill. From far away, they don’t look green, but rather almost black, a contrasting border to the mountain shades. How wondrous it is that this fairytale view too is the country I call home.

I’m not sure how long I floated there, thinking about how small I was. Just floating in the sea and wondering at the mountains. Eventually my family comes into view over the ridge high above the beach and I know it’s time to go. My uncle is coming down for a minute; I think he wants to touch the sea before we leave. As I climb out of the water, my hair and clothes suctioned to my body, my uncle and the little girl’s mother on the beach are staring at something just behind me. My uncle points and I turn around.
“Orcas” someone shouts.

I stare at the horizon, straining without my glasses to see something far away. To my surprise, I see a fin rise up much closer than anticipated, maybe 100 feet or less from where I had floated minutes before. I watch, mouthing “wow” to myself again and again, unable to come up with anything else, as the rolling waves reveal three orca whales passing by close to the beach. I can hardly believe how lucky I feel; I shared water with these creatures. Their smooth black and white bodies are clear to see, despite my lack of distance vision. My uncle is trying to get a picture or a video but I feel rooted to the rocks, my tender feet forgotten. I want to be present in this moment with Creation. The rollercoaster movement of the orcas, up and down, coming into view further left each time, feels like a gift, handed specifically to me by the Creator. Lord, if you wanted me to fall in love with B.C., you’re doing a really good job of it.

Eventually, we can’t see them anymore as they round the corner of the island. The women tells us that despite coming here, to this beach, every summer of her life, she has never seen whales here, not ever before. I can’t keep the smile off my face; what a gift God has given me today. My feet could dance, even on the rocky shore.

I grab my shoes. I take one more deep breath of ocean air. Nature has so many smells and I’ve grown to love each one. From the mossy dampness of the forest, when you crawl out of your tent in the quiet morning after a storm, to the sprigs of lavender that dot the path in the meadow in late August, to now this salty, brisk, wild smell of sea in British Colombia, a new puzzle piece in my Canadian mosaic. I take one last look at the view. Even though the whale friends have disappeared, this view can hold it’s own for awe and wonder. The mountains in their magnitude, crashing into the bluer sky and melting into the untamed waves evokes in me gratitude, hope and a sense of adventure that fills my soul and reminds me, the way something beautiful does everyday, how glad I am to be alive.

I feel a moment of sadness, knowing that I am not a painter; I will never be able to replicate with misty edges and smudged colours, this picture that my mind will slowly let fade. But it’s ok. this feeling of foreignness and home, of wonder and of awe, of being small and one with Creation. This feeling will come again. I serve the Greatest Painter and He is always sharing with me His favourite pieces of art.

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