Wordless

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“There are ideas in our hearts, there are wishes, there are aspirations, there are groanings, there are sighings that the world knows nothing about; but God knows them. So words are not always necessary. When we cannot express our feelings except in wordless groanings, God knows exactly what is happening.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

 

Wisdom Plays

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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~Heraclitus

I nestle into a warm form-fitting spot on a colourful beach towel and watch the children. This boy has a plan. He has a vision. He digs. He moves the earth, forming mounds and channels with shovels and pails and his own bare hands. Towers grow on foundations he creates. Monuments to industriousness spring up where only impressions of bare feet dented the wet sand before he arrived. He pats towers into temporary permanence.

No one tells him what to do. When he finished throwing stones into the water, a ritual  all boys must follow, he picked up his tools and got to work, as oblivious to the calls of his siblings as he is to the seagulls.

They both steal his potato chips. It doesn’t matter. He is creating. He creates because he was made to create. It’s who he is. He builds because he must build. It’s who he is becoming.

The Creator made him in His image. He carries the Creator’s purpose somewhere deep inside. He is a child of God and must be about his Father’s business. His play is his work.

I watch and remember the Spirit of Wisdom saying:

I was there, close to the Creator’s side as his master artist.
Daily he was filled with delight in me
as I playfully rejoiced before him.

I laughed and played,
so happy with what he had made,
while finding my delight in the children of men.

(Proverbs 8:30,31 TPT)

It is the nature of the Godhead to laugh, to play, to find delight in each other, to find delight in their creation.

I can see the source of their joy in this boy, on this beach, on this day.

I watch the children play on the beach under the warm summer sun. Cool water laps against the division of water and land. The afternoon breeze skims over the lake and rises to play with trembling aspen leaves and sing through fir tree branches. Ospreys soar in a blue sky too full of light to see with unshaded eyes.

The boy straightens up and stands like Colossus with sand-covered legs astride the harbour. His hands, like mighty David’s hands, still hold pail and shovel, his weapons of praise at rest.

“Look what I made!”

He smiles. He is proud. He knows.

I feel God’s pleasure.

Joy.

 

A Song in the Night: Hearing God’s Voice Through Music

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You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept. (Isaiah 30:29 Amp)

Years ago my Mom gave me a plaque with the meaning of my name and this verse printed underneath. I think names are important and I’m grateful that my parents chose “Song of Grace” as mine. I think the verse was also prophetic as I have learned to pay attention to songs in the night.

The first time I realized God could use this way of communicating was after I prayed asking for wisdom. Someone wanted me to support them by taking up their cause. To be honest, taking up a cause without knowing all sides of the story has landed me in more troublesome murky water than just about any other action. I cared about this person and her desperation, but something didn’t feel right. For two days I asked, “Lord, what should I do?” For two days I had no further information and nothing to indicate a direction. I just had an annoying song stuck in my head. Specifically one line of a song.

This song was from a list of approved selections for early grades Royal Conservatory voice exams. I’m pretty sure you would never hear it pumped through the speakers in the mall or playing on a top ten radio station anywhere. I taught it to young singers as an exercise in musical story-telling, but I hadn’t thought of it in ages. It told the sad tale of a boy named Gilbert who mistook a strange lump in the bog for a rock. The very strange green lump was actually an alligator. The story did not end well for Gilbert.

While my husband and I were driving in the country I starting singing the line out loud in the car. “If you should spot an alligator sleeping, let it be.”

“I don’t know why this silly song is stuck in my head. I keep hearing it,” I said to him. At that moment I heard, “So pay attention,” in my spirit.

Then it struck me. I had been repeatedly asking a question and repeatedly getting an answer, but I didn’t hear it because I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention because I wasn’t expecting to hear. I took the risk of saying no to involvement in the situation – which turned out to be dramatically more complicated than I had been led to believe. What I had received via that song was a word of wisdom.

music books ch IMG_8288I have music in my head all the time. My life has been about music and even after retirement, I can’t bear to part with music books that fill shelves and bins in my house. At this very moment, I can “hear” the background music of a humorous Youtube video I just watched. Obviously, this carries no profound meaning. Singers can tell you how music they are trying to memorize disrupts sleep when it plays over and over as they toss and turn. That’s not what I’m talking about, nor are the kids’ songs you play in the car so often you don’t have to hit any button to start them up.

The songs I’m talking about often come out of nowhere, songs I haven’t heard since the seventies, songs my mother used to sing, songs from hymnbooks now boxed and stored in the shed behind the church building. Sometimes I hear songs I swear I’ve never heard before and sometimes I know I have heard these insistent songs before, perhaps even recently, but they are in a language I am not familiar with and I have to do an internet search for a translation. Sometimes one line from a song I am familiar with will repeat in my dreams like the ground bass in Pachelbel’s Canon. It underscores an entire night’s sleep.

God speaks in many creative ways. Because he is the creator of creativity he awakens creativity he placed in us. When our eyes and ears are opened we perceive his communication via his people in art, music, poetry, calligraphy, photography, dance, gardening, decorating, clothing design, food preparation, architecture and many other ways. Not all people hear the same way. Concrete practical thinkers need direct black and white communication with pre-connected dots. Artsy types float in metaphor. God smiles at your unique make-up.

Sometimes artists don’t even realize they are conduits. They don’t know why they used that word, or painted that colour, or added that variation. It just felt right.

For some time now I’ve had a song playing in that insistent way that I can’t shut off. I don’t recall hearing it anywhere recently. Certain lines kept playing on repeat, especially at night.

Love. Love will keep us together.
When those guys start hanging around talking me down
Hear with your heart and you won’t hear a sound.

Just stop! Stop!
‘Cause I really love you. Better stop! Stop!
I’ll be thinking of you
Look in my heart and let love keep us together – whatever.

I wondered why this song. Then I found out. I thought I was finished with a year of treatments and surgery dealing with health issues, but I’ve just received more discouraging news. More to investigate. More treatment modalities to explore.

I began to let my imagination be distracted by the voices of dismal forebodings clamouring in the back of my brain, those carriers of worry, shame and despair that taunt with, “Did God really say…? Where is he now? Does he really love you or has he abandoned you in the dark with pain that will only get worse? Where are your ‘God is good’ stories now?”

I don’t think Neil Sedaka had this interpretation in mind when he wrote the song, nor did the Captain and Tenille (or the guy with five ukeleles) intend it to carry a message of hope, but God used it.

ive got thisHe says, “Stop! Stop letting your thoughts run away with you. Take those thoughts captive and counter them with who I really am. I want to show you an aspect of myself you can only see in the middle of these circumstances. Stop it, because I really do love you. Look in my heart and let my love for you keep us together, whatever happens, wherever this part of the journey leads. I’ve got this.”

The next day lines from another song started playing in my head. A Stevie Wonder song:

For once, unafraid, I can go where life leads me
Somehow I know I’ll be strong.
For once I can say, ‘This is mine! You can’t take it!
As long as I know I have love I can make it!’”

He’s got this. Therefore, I’ve got this.

Sunday night I heard another song in an orchestral arrangement. I knew it was a Stuart Townend composition but I couldn’t recall a single word. It took me all morning to find it because all I had was the tune and how do you google a tune? But I did find it. It’s about hope. And for some reason one of the first photos in the Youtube version I clicked on was one of mine! I don’t mind my work being used this way (although it is polite to ask). When I saw it I exclaimed, “What? Are you kidding me? This is mine!”

 

 

And in my heart, where I was listening and paying attention, God said, “Yes. Hope. This is yours.”

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Voiceless No More

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In the way that texting while driving is a bad idea, blogging while wrestling with anger is also a bad idea. Both are dangerous distractions with the potential to put serious dents into bystanders.

I’ve not been posting as frequently lately because anger has been flashing like a check engine light on my car’s dashboard. Something needs tending to. I submitted to self-imposed silence and listened instead (well, mostly.) With the Lord’s help, I’ve needed, again, to examine what was going on under the hood before going any further.

I think it started with reading an innocent hashtag on Twitter: #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. What followed was an unexpected mass chorus of voices expressing the pain of living in a religious system that kept -or still keeps- women voiceless. I may have added a few tweets myself. A lot of dashboard lights flashed on the internet last week. Not everyone was comfortable with the spontaneous outpouring that exposed more misogyny than they realized was a normal part of many women’s lives. Exposure is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone. Push-back from onlookers called for cover-up or, sadly, invalidation.

Here’s the thing, you can’t forgive what you don’t acknowledge and you can’t clean up corruption when it remains covered up. (We learned that lesson when our son-in-law almost died from undiagnosed flesh-eating disease.) Sometimes healing involves mess or pain first.

I discovered I still had more forgiving to do because listening to other women’s (and men’s) painful memories triggered some of my own. There were still some lingering lies I accepted about God liking men more than women. They were planted in my soul as a result of observing the way women of my mother’s generation were treated, and their resignation to silence and subservience to men as the norm. The seeds grew as I was taught to interpret scripture in a way which ignored the character and practice of both Jesus and Paul. (Paul wrote the words to Timothy I was told imposed a gag order on all females for all time in all places, but he also praised women like Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla who were obviously not silent.) There was still some toxic residue in the unseen corners of my heart that kept me from saying with all honesty, “I thank God he made me a woman!”

The Lord and I have been working on that together. He is the one who establishes my identity. And he likes me.

Then Christianity Today published an article which asked the question, “Who is in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” The author suggested that female bloggers who write about spiritual matters should be under the supervision of denominational or institutional authorities who are credentialed and better educated in matters of proper doctrine. (Which proper doctrine the author doesn’t say.) The article, and responses to it, triggered another memory.

One of the most difficult times in my life was when a physician who specialized in voice problems prescribed a season of silence. I was less talkative then, but people who know me will understand the enormity of the challenge.

I had finished studying, rehearsing and performing the role of Amina in Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula, a few weeks before. I caught the flu before ensemble rehearsals began. It morphed into a long-lasting nasty cough monster that barked in a register much lower than my usual coloratura soprano range.

The role of Amina is a kind of vocal high-wire act involving agility, stamina and a lot of very high notes. I was onstage most of the opera singing not only solos but duets, trios and other ensembles. A run-through of my music took nearly 90 minutes. You can imagine how much time was involved in practice to learn the role.

My voice was not recovering fast enough. It sounded okay in short sessions, but it didn’t feel right, and I was worried about stamina. Reluctantly, I spoke to the producer and director about my doubts in my ability to perform. The response was not what I expected. The director said, “I believed in you. You disappoint me! If you don’t sing I stand to lose $10,000 of my own money I invested in this production.” I felt the pressure and forged on.

Nerves were a bigger problem than usual on opening night. I knew I was forcing at times. Except for one embarrassing note on the final night, I made it through the performances though. The standing ovation and bravas from the audience almost made up for the burning pain in my throat.

Two weeks later I sang with another orchestra and choir. I had only two solos in a Bach cantata which should have been easy, but I struggled. My voice was not responding as it should. I made an appointment with the laryngologist.

He said I had the beginning of nodules. That statement feels like a death sentence to a classical singer. I was scared. He told me to rest it completely for several weeks – no talking and definitely no singing. I followed his advice and my vocal folds did heal. I didn’t need surgery, but I learned some things in that time. 1) I yelled at my kids more than I thought I did. 2) People don’t talk to you if you don’t talk to them. 3) I didn’t appreciate submitting to authorities who were more concerned about their own project than my long-term well-being. 4) Being voiceless made me feel powerless.

You may express yourself in other ways, but perhaps you can still relate. My voice was my strength because it made me relatively unique. I could sing over a full orchestra and eighty voice choir without a microphone. My voice allowed me to comfort others and bring the joy of music into their lives. My voice was my vehicle for creativity and emotional expression. I was wrong, but at the time I felt like my voice justified my existence. People listened. They asked advice. Musicians I admired included me, gave me a place among them on the stage, and treated me as though I had value. Without a voice, I had no place in that world.

About ten years later chronic health problems meant I had to give up singing almost completely. I grieved deeply. I hated being voiceless. But my heavenly Father can use all circumstances and I grew because I learned instead to lean on the Lord as my source of justification for existence. Eventually, he led me to fill the void with other creative expressions. One of them is writing and blogging. I had a voice again, but this time it served a larger purpose.

When I read the CT article it felt like the people who were willing to sacrifice my voice to serve their own agenda had shown up again. I believe in the wisdom of an abundance of counselors. I believe in mutual submission, and yes, my husband does read and approve of my blog, not because he is my master, but because I respect his perspective. I have deleted and revised and parked articles in the draft file indefinitely on the advice of people I trust. But that’s the operative word – trust.

I wonder if the strong backlash to the article could be coming from people who have also lost their innocence when it comes to the lack of transparency of “experts” in positions of power. Yes, we need to forgive, but forgiveness does not mean trust is automatically restored. The type of servant leadership Jesus demonstrated is something we still need to strive to attain when it appears the response to error is more silencing control instead of more healing grace and better communication of love. We need more of the kind of discipleship training that encourages believers to have their own senses trained to discern right from wrong through practice.

The point of leadership is to produce competent graduates, not more dependent children in pews.

The point of the exposure of corruption in the body and submission to the kind of correction the One who loves us perfectly brings is to purify and build up this Church of living stones.

I almost posted two previous versions of this blog article. In them, I gave more evidence for the reasons for my distrust of some ecclesiastical hierarchical authorities (not all!) and defended my educational qualifications. Twice I felt the Lord saying to let it go, deal with my own heart issues, and start again. Learning to hear God for ourselves means responding in obedience. Sometimes submission to his advice means speaking up and sometimes it means hitting delete. Holy Spirit provides the fruit of self-governance in his gift basket for a reason.

The internet is like the printing press that triggered the Reformation. Blogs provide more people with the freedom to speak up. I believe we are on the brink of another Reformation in which greater numbers of the priesthood of believers will rise and raise their voices in praise to the God of our salvation who sets all the captives free.

I am not voiceless anymore. I don’t need the approval of people I don’t trust. I do need the approval of my Lord.

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart
meet with Your gracious approval,
O Eternal, my Rock,
O Eternal, my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19:14 The Voice)

To my fellow Christ-centered female bloggers, and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ no matter the form your expression takes, I urge you to use your voices! May your sound go out into all lands and your words unto the ends of the world.

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Addicted to Potential

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Creativity can be messy. The hardest part about the kids growing up and moving away was that I had no one to blame for the mess anymore. (Although one of them makes serious historically authentic bows and arrows and swords and even the most amazing costumes for his little boy, and I’ve seen the aftermath on his kitchen table. The other two are perpetual home renovators. Now that’s messy.) I have ideas for refinishing furniture, sewing, painting (in several media) cooking, writing, photography, song-writing. I pick up materials when they are on sale or available at the thrift shop. I’m kind of addicted to potential.

I really want to make leggings for the grandbaby out of recycled sweaters – wait, the baby is talking in full sentences now. Oh dear.

I finally finished a quilt this week that has been awaiting binding for several months. I took one square apart and reassembled it more than once, but now it’s done.

I’ve got a pretty good song jotted down on manuscript paper sitting on the piano – well, except for the harmony in the bridge for the accompaniment. I wrote the lyrics for that one four years ago. When the notes are all penciled in I need to enter it into the computer. I hope I can remember how. Every updated version of the music program seems to require a complete brain overhaul.

There’s a pile of potential in a trunk under my sewing table, and unframed canvases leaning on the wall. I really should entitle my recipe collection on Pinterest, “As If.”

My friend asked if I intend to live long enough to finish all these projects. Yes. As a matter of fact I do. I figure if you stop planning for the future you might as well not have one. Besides, I’ve made investments in all this raw material.

Some projects take a long time. Some of my favourite things have remained in an unfinished state for longer than I care to admit, but eventually, like the quilt, they are ready to throw on the bed in the guest room or hang on a wall. Sometimes I set things aside when I don’t like the way they are going. I’m not giving up on them, just taking time to re-think them. If you were to look in the storage bin in my closet at something under ponderment it might look like a confused mess. But in my mind I see a dozen different ways it could go. I just need to find the right one for those materials and colours. It’s a process.

Sometimes we look at people who are in process and wonder why they are taking up room in our lives. Nothing ever seems to change. They’re a mess. OK, truth is, so am I. But God sees our potential and he’s not giving up on us. He’s invested too much – and he has all the time in the world.

The Squeeze

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Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.

(Romans 12:2 -J.B. Phillips version)

I’m weird.

I’m weird and finally okay with it.

Some people are just meant to be on the edge of the crowd, not really out there, but not really fitting in either.

If something is trending you’ll find me wending down some other path. I figure the trendies have got that one covered.

When the tourists are snapping photos of each other in front of  iced mountain peaks, I’m focusing on lichen blanketed rocks in the ditch. I weep for the clown, rejoice for the beggar, fast at the feast,  and arise to do battle at night. When the clan gathers for a celebration in the heat of a summer’s eve, I slip out in the moonlight to breathe the cool falling cedar and pine air as it settles along the creek bed.

My poor, dear mother never knew what to do with me. I was hopelessly out of step.

I tried. I really did. I wore the uncomfortable fashionable clothes and the crippling high heels. I endured the horrid chemical smells of perms and hair dyes and nail polish. I spent far too much of my income and far too many years of my life obsessively following diet and exercise programs that, in the long run, always left me in worse shape than when I started. I listened to hours of pop music trying to understand the allure of a limited assortment of repetitive chords, rhythms and lyrics. I read the best-sellers and watched the Oscared pondering the pay-off of fear and pessimism. I paid attention to political pundits who knew what was wrong with everyone else’s ideas and I faithfully endured more sermons and devotional talks than I dare to recall. I tried to participate in the church ladies’ games (which usually involved rolls of toilet paper and or unscrambling baby and cooking related words.) The only spiritual maturity I gained from those exercises was learning how to doze with my eyes open and with an is-every-body-happy-smile on my face.

Then I realized one day I was spending a lot of effort trying to win the approval of people who didn’t really have mine -not that they were doing anything wrong, it’s just that I had no passion for the things that seemed to move them.

There is only one person whose approval I really need, and that is God’s. He likes weird. He can work with weird. When I look at the weird folk he loved in the Bible I realize I am in good company. Jesus didn’t exactly fit in either.

The crowd can move on without me. I’ll catch up later. Right now I am just enjoying watching the osprey flying a pas de deux, the daisies growing in cracks of asphalt, and working on becoming who God intended me to be in the first place.