God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.
~John of the Cross
God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.
~John of the Cross
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
~ C.S. Lewis
I’ve been trying to capture the sun. It’s not easy.
Smoky haze filled the valley this week. A forest fire about 45 minutes drive away closed a major highway. Massive fires that have emptied towns in the central interior of British Columbia are hundreds of kilometers away, but winds carry the smoke here. Even people in the US Pacific Northwest are complaining about air quality because of the fires.
Forest fires are a seasonal hazard in this part of the world and, I suppose, like people who live in areas prone to hurricane, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, and earthquakes, we have learned to keep an eye on the situation and, for the most part, get on with life.
From our vantage point we see the sun turn an amazing neon orange red colour as it lowers in the evenings. I tried to capture it with the cameras I had available (a cell phone and my trusty Canon point and shoot) but neither could reproduce what I saw. I even tried shooting through sunglasses lens. No luck. Neither had the capacity to handle the wide contrast.
Amazingly, the image my camera registered was the opposite of what I saw. I saw a glowing orange/red ball against a pale grey/blue sky. It saw a white sun against a glowing orange/red sky. I could not see what either the phone and camera saw, nor could the man-made devices record what I saw.
Other people in the valley talked about how remarkable it was. Many posted photos on Facebook, taken from their locations between the Idaho border up to Radium Hot Springs. The pictures looked dramatic and lovely but none of them looked like what I saw.
I began to think about perspective and perception. To those in airplanes flying high above the smoke the sun appears to be the same as always. Down here in the forest by our home, it shone with a strange warm diffused glow even at midday.
I tried putting a sunglasses lens in front of my camera lens to see if it would change the way the camera saw the neon colours of the sun. It did, but not the way I hoped. Now the sky took on a muddy dark colour and the sun was still blown out white.Where we are positioned in time and space affects how much we see. This is perspective. How we interpret and remember what we see is perception. The lens of experience will alter one’s perception. My little camera did not perceive what my eyes perceived. It did not have the capacity.
I remember a time when experience handed me a dark lens. A group of musicians invited me to participate in informal monthly concerts. Some of these people were professionals working on new pieces they wanted to try on small audiences before they hit the road. Others were music teachers who needed motivation to hone their skills.
I had dropped out of the classical music scene about five years earlier. My babies slept poorly and I couldn’t find time or a place to practice that wouldn’t have the neighbours banging the walls.
Okay, the real truth is, I quit because I was discouraged. It wasn’t fun anymore.
Singers will tell you that three weeks without practice makes you feel like you have to start training all over again. Getting back up on a stage after a long absence felt like a daunting challenge. I was nervous.
I sang my first set of songs, nothing difficult, three simple Schubert lieder. Before I finished the last song, a man in the audience I recognized as the concert master of the city orchestra got up and walked out.
My heart sank. I knew I wasn’t good enough to be there.
I had another longer aria to sing later in the program. It was all I could do to force myself to go through with it, but I did, putting on a good theatrical face. I assumed the applause was because people were being politely generous. I took a bow, but all I wanted was to dash out the door for home and go throw myself on the bed for a good cry. On the way out the concert master blocked my way.
“There you are!” he said. “Listen, I was so excited when I heard you in the first half I couldn’t wait for intermission. I rushed out and called some friends and told them to get down here. I’ve got some people I want you to meet…”
I was shocked.
Later I realized that my experience up until that point had mostly been singing for teachers, examiners, critics, and judges, in tests, auditions or contest situations. As a matter of fact, my performance had once been torn to shreds before an audience by an adjudicator in a music festival (more aptly called “music court”) on that very same stage. I won the competition, but the trophy didn’t make up for a sense of humiliation that poured liked a sweaty flush of embarrassment over my head. Up until the concert that evening, I had rarely sung for an audience who were there simply to enjoy themselves at the end of the work week. My years of experience in competitive environments formed a lens of expectation of criticism.
The lens was like the sunglasses lens in front of my camera. It cast the shadow of darkness that felt like rejection across my perception. What I saw when the concert master walked out was a negative reaction that pointed to to my failure. I was unable to imagine that his action was actually a sign of approval.
Music is not the only area affected by negative expectations. Past experiences of feeling condemned and unable to measure up to religious standards caused me to see through a lens that didn’t provide a capacity to imagine God could possibly approve of me. It took a long time to change that lens. I know I’m not the only one. It’s a story I hear frequently.
The idea that God considers a close relationship with us to be the reward that Christ earned is one that doesn’t register for a lot of people. We all have different ideas about the nature of God depending on our perspective from whatever point in time and space we occupy on this road. That changes as new positions add new understanding. But when our ability to perceive has been darkened, it needs healing. It needs a new lens. We need increased capacity to handle the light God wants to pour into our hearts.
Analogies break down at some point and my singing performance story runs aground here. This is not about performance. This is about seeing ourselves as God sees us and seeing who he really is and how he feels toward us without negative expectations. He loves us because he loves us and there is nothing we can do that can change that fact.
Part of Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesians was that they would be strengthened to have an enlarged capacity to comprehend this brilliant love, to see it as it truly is – glorious.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-17 NASB)
Last night the sun peeked under a cloud on the horizon before it set and I snapped one last photo. The colour of the sun I saw was reflected on the deck railing. Around 11 p.m. we stepped outside to say goodbye to our guests. In spite of a forecast that said there was a 0% chance, it was raining. Showers of blessing in fire season. Thank you, Lord!
Therefore the Lord waits [expectantly] and longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
Blessed (happy, fortunate) are all those who long for Him [since He will never fail them].
(Isaiah 30:18 Amp)
“Where the eye is focused, there the imagination finds its raw material. The right focus must be won at immense cost and discipline. Train the eye to see the good, and the imagination will follow suit.”
It’s runoff season in the mountains. This time of year pretty little streams can turn into aggressive torrents churning up mud and rock as they rush down to the valley on their way to the sea. If heavy rains coincide with melting snow this season can be messy, and even destructive and dangerous. I am tempted to complain. Loudly.
I went for a walk along the creek that flows near our house. I could actually hear rocks tumbling in two giant culverts that directed rushing water under the bicycle path. The banks of the creek are unstable and some trees no longer grip enough soil with their tangled roots to stay upright. Even in places that looked dry, my feet sank ankle deep in the soft saturated lawn in the park.
We are reading reports of massive flooding all over the southern portion of the province of British Columbia well as many other places in Canada. In some areas, homes, and shops are inundated. Hillsides slip slide away and roads and bridges are washed out. Traffic is chaotic. Our own home is still drying out from the last messy melt and repairs may take months.
Yesterday, as I walked beside the muddy pounding waters flowing from the high mountains, I heard the word “abundance.” I saw the creek overflowing its banks and spill out into the playing field where kids’ soccer lessons should be starting soon. They will be disappointed. How can this be abundance when it feels like loss?
I remembered that the first European settlers who came to this area followed the stories of the discovery of gold in Wildhorse Creek. It was the violent spring run-off currents that washed the precious metal down from the treacherous terrain above. After prospectors and entrepreneurs filled their pockets with gold dust and nuggets they sent for their wives and children. Along with families came the merchants and services that families need. Roads and train rails reached the area. Towns sprang up – then churches and schools and eventually arenas and shopping malls and an airport with a runway big enough to accommodate international flights.
I thought about some of the large successful ranches in the interior of B.C. Arable land is a valuable and relatively sparse in this province of massive rocks reaching to the sky. Many rich valleys which produce abundant harvests and feed sheep and cattle were, at one time, flood plains. Like the people who live along the lower Nile River, we have come to depend on soil nutrients carried by occasional flood water and the rain and melted snow that refills lakes, aquifers, and reservoirs.
The bigger picture I think the Lord is showing me is that we may pray for prosperity, but we don’t always recognize it when it comes because our concept of prosperity is all about current comfort. It seldom includes the well-being of generations we probably won’t meet let alone planning for decades ahead. Perhaps abundance includes more people than we think.
I wonder if the same thing happens when we are tempted to complain loud and long about uncomfortable circumstances in our lives. We don’t always see them as gifts that can benefit our great- great- grandchildren. We tend to be short-sighted and don’t enjoy setting aside our convenience for a greater purpose – especially one that is not obvious. We don’t realize that traits like steadfast courage, resilience, diligence, unashamed hope and trust in God’s goodness developed in times of “just too much” can be the greatest inheritance we can pass on to future generations.
Yes, there are disasters orchestrated by the evil one who intends to harm us, but God can still turn plans meant for our harm into better plans meant for our benefit. It’s his specialty. He’s done it many times. He will do it again. Just watch.
Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!
– John Greenleaf Whittier
Happiness held is the seed; happiness shared is the flower.
A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.
Happiness is a direction, not a place.
-Sydney J. Harris
I wasn’t expecting to see my favourite wild flowers blooming so early. It’s been a harsh winter in the eastern part of the province. We all feel a bit traumatized. Spring flowers, understandably, are also reluctant to poke their heads out.
I found myself in the Okanagan this week on a bit of a detour from the usual routine. There, beside the pioneer’s cemetery on a hill overlooking the city, happiness turned its face to the sun and bloomed its heart out.
I share it with you.
Our sense of wonder is a blessing from God, given so that we would be continually amazed at His beauty and creation.
– Ravi Zacharias