Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Advent is a time when we look forward to the coming of salvation. We light candles that glimmer with a faint light as if we are seeing the "light of the world" from a far off distance. We recognize that before the coming of Jesus the world was truly in darkness. We must not too soon skip over the concept of darkness and immediately look forward to the coming of the Christ child. We must wait patiently in this darkness. The years prior to the coming of Jesus had been a dark and quiet period of waiting. Waiting for the Lord. God was not sending prophets and few miracles were occurring. It was the calm, quiet, darkness before the brilliant light that was about to flood the world.

In nature, in the northern hemisphere, trees and plants lie dormant through the bleak mid-winter awaiting the coming of light and spring. There is no fruit; there is an appearance of death. But look at the ends of the branches and you will see the new buds preparing to burst in spring. There is hope; there is life; spring will come again; but for now we must wait. We must wait in the darkness, accepting the dark night of the soul, the barrenness of winter, and the winter of our spiritual life. Only by hanging in the moment of this darkness will we appreciate the brilliance of the light. Advent is a season that cries out, "Wait, wait for it." Let the moment build to a heightened expectancy. We must wait so that we might truly appreciate light and life.

Dorothy L. Sayers, speaking of the "Word becoming flesh," says, ". . . from the beginning of time until now it is the only thing that has ever really happened . . . We may call this doctrine exhilarating or we may call it devastating, we may call it revelation or we may call it rubbish . . . but if we call it dull then what in heaven's name is worthy to be called exciting?"*

In this season of Advent we look with expectancy to this "only thing that has ever happened." He is near, but, at this very moment we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . in darkness and barrenness.

*Sayers, Dorothy L. Creed or Chaos? Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949, p. 5, 7.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Irish and Civilization

It is the thesis of Thomas Cahill's book, How The Irish Saved Civilization, that if Patricius (also known as Saint Patrick) had not boldly gone into Ireland, the course of the entire world would have been different.

Ireland, a little island at the edge of Europe that has known neither Renaissance nor Enlightenment - in some ways, a Third World country with, as John Betjeman claimed, a Stone Age culture - had one moment of unblemished glory. For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature - everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed. Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one - a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.*
What a remarkable thought. Imagine a world without the books and knowledge of the great western literature of Rome, Greece, and Israel. Imagine Europe without a knowledge of animal husbandry and breeding, agriculture, viniculture, military strategy, and law. Many of the books and parchments on the main continent of Europe which contained this knowledge were lost in battles, lootings, burnings, and disregard. Cahill makes a very good point. These humble monks who were far enough removed from the turmoil that was happening in the rest of Europe were able to preserve culture and then restart that culture from their little corner of the world. It is astonishing to think of the impact of the life of one person. Patrick, who was once a slave in Ireland, a herder of pigs and sheep, influenced the whole of Europe and the western world. It makes me believe that perhaps God may be calling many more of us to make sacrifices and take risks to make our world a better place. What might happen if we all began to listen to God in a manner similar to the way Patricius listened to God? What might happen if you and I lived a life that was more about our concern for others and less about our concern for our own well-being?

*Cahill, Thomas. How The Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. New York: Anchor Books, A Division of Random House, Inc., 1995. p. 4.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Piece of the Darkness

I am reading Street Crossers by Rick Shrout. Chapter two is about Jason Evans who started something called Church at Matthew's House (or simply Matthew's House). At the close of the chapter, Rick reflects on some of what Jason has to say:
I was blown away when Jason made the comment about being called to respond when he and his fellow brothers and sisters in arms see darkness at work in the city. He said they wanted "a piece of it" . . . a piece of the darkness. It's their call to action . . . reminding me of the expression, "a piece of the action." As individual followers of Christ and as members of local churches, what is your call to action? From where you live, can you see a specific piece of the darkness that threatens individuals and families in your local community? If so, can you identify the action needed in order to confront it? Just imagine if all of us went after a piece of it - a piece of the action - a piece of the darkness. Just how far reaching might our impact be in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities? But in order to get a piece of the action, it will require a trip across the street to see and understand the darkness at work in your city. This calls for people who are willing to go. Find those people and do all you can to help them in their crossing.

Darkness cannot be overcome and displaced by light until light enters into darkened areas. So that's why we need to be there - simply there - in the darkness. You might think you can stand on one side of the street and direct the beam of a high-powered flashlight into the darkness on the other side. But that's ineffective. For one thing, darkness hides around corners and can only be exposed up close, by venturing around those corners with light in hand and heart. Furthermore, confronting darkness is not easy. It's not as simple as identifying what's wrong with the world and broadcasting that they all have to come over to your side of the street and get fixed. Few will hear the broadcast, and even fewer will listen. Even more telling is that this approach is impersonal, void of relationship and human contact. Then why do we tend to prefer this approach? Because it's easy. The more difficult way requires following The Way - a way that leads to face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball relationships with people who might make us uncomfortable.

Rick's reflection makes me think of Bruce Cockburn's unforgettable words: "But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight; Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."*

*"Lovers In A Dangerous Time," Bruce Cockburn; September 1983. Toronto, Canada.

Follow-up to "Imagination"

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. - Thomas A. Edison.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Many of us spend very little time cultivating our imagination. The early twenty-first century was expected to give us more leisure time as automated devices freed us up from household chores. But instead the pace of life has robbed us of quiet times to dream and create. Add to this the fact that we have so much information and entertainment available to us and one soon sees why most of us are quite content to absorb someone else's imagination as we settle in for a night of television, movies, or video games. Most are content to listen to music rather than compose; read books rather than write; view movies rather than produce; and critique art rather than create. Perhaps you are one who has thought about using your imagination and becoming more creative. Can we cultivate an imagination? The good news is that we can. Think of imagination as an ability to play. When I was young I had no problem imagining that my bicycle was a space-ship on which I cruised through the solar system. I could use it to visit interesting planets and lost civilizations. When I was bored with another afternoon on the farm I could readily invent something that was far more interesting than dirt roads and fields of grain. My mind could transform these into other places, other times, and other creatures. Trees became jungles, barn-cats became fierce carnivorous beasts, and a granary roof the look-out for a castle. How could I be bored when I was capable of seeing all of these things in a single day?

Dorothy L. Sayers, in an interview, once explained how, at a certain point, she was discontented with her life and so she created a character in one of her novels that had all of the things she wished for. 

Lord Peter's large income... I deliberately gave him... After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.[1]
What an amazing way to explain her process. I think I would have enjoyed spending an afternoon learning from Sayers. That too is another way to spark imagination: spend time with those who are creative. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and other writers were known to spend time together at a public house known as "The Eagle and Child" in Oxford. The group was known as "The Inklings" and they read each other's works and inspired each other's imaginations. If you want to write books it certainly can't hurt to hang out with those who already write. Spending time with authors and song writers is a great way to stimulate your own creative gifts. Perhaps imagination and creativity are not expressed in every person. That is likely what makes them such precious gifts. Yet, I am convinced that more of us are capable of imagination than the ones who actually go on to express their creativity. What projects lie dormant in your heart? What might come of dusting off your imagination?

[1] Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, p. 230.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


"I always have a quotation for everything - it saves original thinking."
- Lord Peter Wimsey (a character in Dorothy L. Sayers' detective novels)

Friday, November 4, 2011


Darkness is not as easy to come by as it once was. At least not the literal kind. When I grew up on a small farm in central Alberta the nights were truly dark. Most people turned off all lights on their farm when they went to bed. There were very few sodium or mercury vapour lights in the area. The cities were smaller and did not give off as much light pollution. The night skies were spectacular. I remember standing in the yard and being awestruck by the immensity of the Milky Way. In one swath across the sky I could see thousands of distant stars all at once. I imagined what it would be like to travel to a distant star or some exotic planet. I learned the names of a few constellations and stars and loved to watch for them in the sky: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion, Cassiopeia, Polaris. Each had wonderful names that rolled off the tongue and allowed me to dream of places far, far away. I soon learned that the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) and the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) could help me find direction. As long as I could see these stars, and the North Star (Polaris) to which they pointed, I could always know north, and by inference, south, east, and west. With this knowledge I would surely be able to find my way home.

Orion was a favourite constellation. Noticing this collection of stars but not knowing it by name, I had given it my own moniker: "The Scotty Dog." Years later in high school a science teacher brought in his photos of his favourite constellations and I discovered that my little scotch terrier in the sky was actually Orion The Hunter, with bow, arrow, and a belt of three stars. I would stare out the window of the car at Orion as our family drove home from town. I would try to imagine how long it had taken the light of those stars to reach my eyes. By the time I was fifteen I knew that light from even the closest stars had to travel many years to reach earth. Light that I was seeing shining from the centre star of Orion's belt had left that star over 1300 years before I sat in my parents' car watching it twinkle in the night sky. It was almost impossible to understand this and it filled me with awe and pointed me to God. As I gazed out the window my mind was filled with questions. Why was there so much space out there? What were those distant stars and planets like? Was there life on any of those planets? Could there be intelligent life that was looking back at me and wondering if there was life "out there?" What was the significance to how people gave names to collections of stars? I must confess, today, when I look up at Orion it still looks like "The Scotty Dog" to me.

Today, most of us see stars very infrequently. Even at a distance of many miles from the nearest city, the light pollution from urban centres destroys our ability to see all but the brightest stars which makes constellations very difficult to discern. For hundreds and thousands of years humans have looked up at these stars and wondered what they meant. Ours is one of the first generations to actually know the composition of a star and where it is in the universe. We are also one of the first generations to live most of the time not seeing the stars. Many go along without contemplating the immensity of space because they so rarely see the stars. Whole generations of children have grown up in cities in which they can only see one or two stars at a time. They may never know the awe of the Milky Way or the beauty of the aurora borealis or think about the vast distances of space. Could this be one of the reasons why faith in a creator God is waning?