Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Song of the Bells

Childhood memories tend to come to me in vignettes, often with very little context in which to interpret them.  They are like small ice chunks that have broken away from a glacier, bobbing along on the surface of a spring thaw river.

Sometimes when I catch sight of them, I pluck them out and have a look-see. The Christmas bits are particularly compelling. Nostalgia gives them a crystalline sparkle and I enjoy caressing the smooth, time-eroded surfaces. I catch a glimpse of my siblings and me decorating the tree with miniature carousel ornaments that twirl round at the slightest breath of air. Snow ball-shaped lights frame the picture window and crackling wood radiates warmth from the fireplace.

I remember the thrill of anticipation over the special gift “Santa” would bring and the soft, buttery taste of Mom’s shortbread. And there was the excitement of staying up very late to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I loved being in the children’s chorus, singing carols from our perch up in the choir loft. We had a grandstand view of the magical, life-size manger scene at the front of the sanctuary.

 When I was ten years old, we moved to the other side of town. There was no midnight service in the church there, so we stayed home. How we spent the evening is not part of my memory flow, but one vignette from that Christmas Eve has stayed with me all my life. 

It was quite late and I was lying snugly in bed, my little sister sleeping peacefully nearby. All was quiet in the house and my mind, over-stimulated by holiday activity, was trying to process everything. All the anxieties and excitements of the day clamoured for attention and I was trying to tuck them away so I could settle down and fall sleep.

And then I heard the church bells.  A waterfall of notes cascaded through the darkness and settled into a tune I recognized.
Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright….
 I sang the words quietly to myself as carol after carol pealed out and something hidden way down inside me started to let go and relax.
Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth...

I don’t think that my ten-year old self had any astounding theological revelations that night. But I do believe that God rejoiced and sang over me in the music of the bells. And, as the carol proclaims, my “soul felt its worth”. 

Isn't that what we all need? May the Lord sing over you as you celebrate the advent of His Son into our world.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. ~ Romans 15:13
Photo credits
Icy river:
Nativity scene:

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I love the word “glory”. I appreciate the sound it makes as it rolls across my tongue and it brings to mind images of dancing light beams and Jesus transfigured, face shining like the sun. I think of what happened when Moses went up the mountain and spent time in God’s presence. His face glowed with the reflected glory of the Lord.

Despite the lovely images, I have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept of glory. Bible dictionaries define it as abundance, treasure, honour, splendour, brightness and majesty. It is something intrinsic to God’s character and being – a quality so wondrous and powerful that it altered Moses’ appearance.    

The Bible makes it clear that human beings are to give glory to God. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name.” (Ps. 29:2)  Does this mean we tell Him how wonderful He is, over and over again? The Westminster Catechism implies that there is more to it than that: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

When I think about glorifying God, I imagine retreating into the shadows so God can be the one that shines. How can that be enjoyable? I don’t know about you, but there’s something in me – pride, perhaps – that would rather keep a little glory for myself. But God says: “I am the Lord, that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else …” (Isaiah 42:8)

It’s clear that pride must be put aside in any quest to recognize God’s greatness and worship him appropriately, but getting rid of it isn’t easy. In fact, it feels a bit like dying. I’ve been discovering, though, that when I let go of my rights and desires, give up my futile attempts to gain the world’s esteem and cease trying to claw my way up the ladder to heaven, something surprising occurs.

 As the inner noise quietens down, I feel a little scared and alone.But if I cling to God and refuse to give into the temptation to fill that emptiness with the usual second-rate stuff, my spirit begins to awaken to God’s presence. It dawns on me that I’m not some spiritual orphan, scrabbling in the dust for a crumb of food, but the beloved child of a Father who can meet all my needs. A finger of joy dances into my heart and I get up and walk with a lighter step, praising and thanking my Maker. And in my spirit, I sense that He is pleased.

This God of ours, who created galaxies and pulsates with energy and light, cares deeply for me.  And you.  Glorious indeed.

“To please God … to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.” ~ C.S. Lewis


Photo credits
Sun rays through trees -
Lonely bird -
Joyful girl -

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Sparrow Of Galilee

Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day...

I sing to the sun as it rises over the distant mountains, bathing the treetops with light. On mornings like this, I sense clearly the grand and loving Presence, the One who weaves life and breath into everything. Joy rises in my breast and I hop from branch to branch, singing my finest song. The leaves on my tree quiver as The Presence draws near and I know that my music is pleasing to Him. A heavy covering of water droplets has settled on the ground during the dark hours and I can see breakfast worms poking through the damp soil. Mmmm… 

Tummy full, I flap my wings and soar down into the valley, where the rest of my flock sits chattering in a grove of olive trees. Some humans have gathered nearby. We keep well away from them, for they are leaders in the land and their taste for bird flesh makes them a danger to us.

A man walks up the hillside a little way and sits down. There is something familiar in his eyes and, when he starts to speak, The Presence vibrates in his words and demeanor. I flap my wings with excitement and trill a sweet melody of greeting. My friends in the trees and hills all around respond in kind. 

The mountains and the hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands! ~ Isaiah 55:12

I watch the humans. Will they sing? Dance about? Surely they sense The Presence in their midst! It is hard to tell with humans, but they do look as if they are listening intently. Some shift and fidget and others nod their heads and murmur; some wipe tears from their cheeks and others gaze at the speaker with hungry eyes.

The man talks for a very long time and the crowd swells as more people come to listen. Despite the multitude of humans, we birds rest in peace among the olive branches. For the man has a rare and gentle authority.

At last the man rises to his feet and many of the humans clap and cheer. As they follow him down the mountainside, they chatter amongst themselves and I wonder if this how they express their joy in The Presence. 

The sun has travelled across the sky and is on its descent toward the night hours. My throat is dry, so I head for a quiet spring close to my home. Landing near the water’s edge, I wade in a bit and dip my head right under the water, flinging water droplets up so they sparkle in the afternoon sun. Other birds join me and then we flit from one tree to another, drying our feathers in the air currents.

The sun slips behind the distant mountains and it’s time to head to our resting places. I settle in my cozy nook, high amongst the branches of a tree. As I tuck my head under one wing, I’m startled by the screech of an owl. The large bird glides past my tree and the “whoosh” of his wings ruffles my feathers. My heart races, but then The Presence is there with me. "Be still, little sparrow, be still." And so I am.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest 
and raises her young at a place near your altar... ~ Psalm 84:3