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Stars, Whales, and Ecclesiastes

Blue true dream of sky. Trees in italics. Water like a bed sheet rippling in the wind. Clouds like wispy baby hair. Lazy adolescent sun dragging its feet across the kitchen floor.

 I felt as though I was in a Group of Seven painting as I observed Georgian Bay from my canoe. Wholly distracted by the beauty around me I was a perfectly useless canoeing partner – forgetting to paddle most of the time, and when I did remember, paddling on the wrong side of the boat. Yet it was the kind of morning that distracts canoers, inspires poets, and makes awaking at ungodly hours worthwhile.

It’s easy to pray in a place like this, I thought. It’s easy to be good.

On the other hand, the bedlam of the city teems with temptations and promotes shameless self-centeredness. Along with the perpetual clamor of construction and bustling traffic is the echoes of the thousands of voices shouting about how important they are.  They are terrified of being nothing, and so they shout until their voices grow hoarse, or they run out of business cards.

Become something. Get more followers. Put out an EP. Don’t forget me. Start a business. Only work a job you love. Brand yourself. Don’t forget me. Be happy.

Make a website named after yourself…?

We do our best to convince ourselves again and again that this hiccup of a life is important, and that our existence matters greatly. Prideful to the very core, we are ever so reluctant to believe that we are less consequential than we think we are.

 But as I floated on the still waters of Georgian Bay I had a slightly bleak but perfectly relieving thought: the city did not miss me, and was not lacking anything by my absence. I am small.

I adore both whales and starry night skies because they remind me of this fact. I was told as a child that the blue whale is larger than three school buses placed end to end, and I remember feeling short for breath and acutely aware of my tiny frame.

Beneath the dome of the night sky I dare you to utter a whisper about your importance, let alone shout about it.

I wonder if the writer of Ecclesiastes scribed the book under a starry sky. For when I stand beneath a canopy of black velvet marked with a million pinholes letting out heavenly light, I understand the author’s pronouncement of this world being “meaningless”, or better translated “a vapour”.

We pour our heart and soul into this short blip of an existence on earth, not realizing that like the mist that comes with the dawn, it also will soon be gone and not remembered. Perhaps humanity’s greatest fault is a disorganization of priorities; attributing greatness to that which should not be great, and deeming insignificance to that which is anything but.

In the end, God is great and we are small. Life is short, and eternity is long. Indeed, we may draw the same conclusion drawn at the end of the Ecclesiastes:

“The end of the matter, all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” –Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

You Are Here Part 2

As humans, we are within time. Our freedom and power in all its glory cannot lengthen the day beyond twenty four hours.  We are slaves to the turning of the calendar; handcuffed to the bridle of a runaway stallion racing across setting suns and greying beards.

There is but two aspects of time in which God commands us to concentrate our concern: the Present and Eternity. Scripture constantly encourages – nay, rather, demands – believers to attend to these two things.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18

“Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil” Ephesians 5:15

On the other hand, scripture warns against the devil’s schemes to distract our energies from the Present and Eternity to focus instead of the Past and Future. Observe:

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not in wisdom that you ask this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not see it? I will make a pathway in the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

“Now listen you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

So why the emphasis on Now and Eternity? Why does the devil scheme tirelessly to fixate our minds upon the Past and Future? The answer is simple: in both we are utterly useless.

The Past, I would argue, is the lesser of two evils being that it is determinate. It is stagnant and frozen and no longer flows with possibility or prospect. Nevertheless, scripture says that it is not wise to look upon the Past too fondly for discipleship loses all effectiveness if one is looking at “the way things were”, as opposed to the way they are currently.

On the other hand, the Future is dangerous in that it sparks both dreams and dread. The Future’s mysterious nature draws our prying fingers to the unmovable veil, and causes us to wonder, anticipate, and expect. As we do so however, we slip briskly away from Now.

The result is terrifying yet familiar. We become blinking, stone-faced subway-riders. We shift our eyes in discourse; we do not remember what colour the walls are in our office. We are not here, we are 6 months hence, or five minutes. We who are both capable and commissioned are Now empty, useless, shells-of-a-being floating from moment to moment. It is truly the devil’s delight to see us this way, for he does not have to worry about us being of any use to God.

Yet alas, the devil trembles when Eternity and Present are on the forefront of our minds. As believers, to dwell upon thoughts of Eternity is to dwell upon thoughts of the God and in doing so we naturally acquire aspects of His character. If not dwelling on Eternity, we must consider the Present for only in the Present do we dwell in actuality and power.

Now is the moment He has granted us. He has given it to us so that we may see the needs of our community now, the opportunities before us now, the crosses we must bear now, the grace He offers now. The Present is, as CS Lewis so eloquently puts it, is “the point at which time touches eternity” and is “all lit up with eternal rays”. Consider for a moment just how beautiful that is! This Now, this very moment you are experiencing is reticulated so closely with Eternity that whatever you do or think (or don’t) will bleed into Eternity.

“’At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” 2 Corinthians 6:2

Not in the Mood for God

Beware, complete honesty zone.

Not too long ago I went through a phase where I thought the whole Christianity thing utterly ridiculous. I was at church and utterly overcome by weary cynicism; it all seemed so…silly. It felt like a performance which I was both observing and acting in. The uninterrupted call to holiness was exhausting and impossible; my walk with God was one step forward and two steps back. Contrary to David, I did not “desire His precepts”, rather I desired to be swallowed up by the status quo and the pleasant mundanity of life. A radical life seemed enticing in theory but the actual steps of action it required infringed on my comfort and acutely established reputation.

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But a Shadow

Innate in every human being is a desire to experience the great things the world has to offer. Indeed, I have met very few people who do not have a gnawing appetite for the vast and colourful buffet that life has spread before them. Whether it is through travel, art, finery, or love, humanity yearns to experience it all.

We think, “I am human. I am on this earth for about 80 years, I must make the most of this time. I must see as much of this planet as possible, fall in love, perhaps have children. I must become the best, and acquire the best. I must, I must, I must.”

Is it a sense of obligation or entitlement? I cannot decide.

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