Golden at the Broken Places

Bowl repaired by Kintsugi method by artist Ruthann Hurwitz
Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA-4.0

We all shudder at the sound of something breaking, don’t we? We can’t help but wince when we hear glass or crockery shattering into pieces on the floor.

Why do we have that involuntary reaction? Because we know that the object probably can’t be repaired: it’s likely to be damaged irreparably, and must be thrown away.

We’re wincing at the sound of loss.

But what if there were a way to not only put the pieces back together, but to make the object more beautiful than it was before, despite the breaks?

The Japanese long ago invented a way of doing just that, and have even made an art form of it. It’s called “Kintsugi,” which means “golden joinery.” The process involves mending the cracks in pottery with gold lacquer. Instead of trying to hide the damaged areas, they are instead highlighted with something precious. The end result is a restored piece of pottery that is beautiful at the broken places.

But what happens if it’s not a piece of pottery that is broken, but a life? How can a shattered heart be put back together?

Read more

Got Baggage? Jesus Understands

Image by Scott O’Donnell on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Do you ever feel like you have too much “baggage” to ever be accepted by people, let alone by God?

Do you need a sense of hope that you could be loved despite the burdens you’re carrying from your background? Then read on…

A few weeks ago, we explored the moving account of Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament. It’s a favourite of many people, because it’s one of the few outright love stories in the Bible. But we sometimes get so caught up in the romance of the story that we miss how startling their pairing actually was.

Boaz was a wealthy landowner living in ancient Israel. He was successful and respected, a descendent of Abraham himself. One would have expected him to marry a woman of his own people, someone from an equally illustrious family.

But Boaz ended up marrying Ruth, a woman with three strikes against her: she was poor, a widow and a foreigner. She had nothing and was a nobody in the eyes of the Israelites. In fact, she was worse than that: she was a Moabite, a group hated by the Israelites. No doubt Ruth was looked down on by many in the community.

So why would Boaz agree to marry her? We know that Boaz respected Ruth for how she’d cared for her mother-in-law. And certainly, God’s hand was on their meeting and their union. But why was Boaz so accepting of the idea of marrying someone like Ruth? Why was he not put off by her “baggage”?

I believe an answer lies in Boaz’ background. Turns out he had some baggage of his own.

Read more

This Is Who We Are

Canadian Flag Photo from PickPik

In a few days, Canada will be celebrating its birthday. July 1st is Canada Day, a holiday on which we have parties, set off fireworks, and wave the flag.

We’re all attached to our national flags, aren’t we? Each is beautiful in its own way. Some flags have blocks of colour, some feature significant symbols, others have patterns of stars and stripes. A handful of countries depict plants or trees on their flags, mine among them.

Canada’s flag has a maple leaf at its centre. In fact, the nickname for our flag is the Maple Leaf. As a nature lover, I’m proud to have a symbol of a plant on my national flag, and especially pleased that it’s a leaf from one of my favourite trees.

Growing up, I loved maple trees: I climbed them, enjoyed the sugar and fudge made from their sap, collected their red and orange leaves in autumn to press and even jumped into raked-up piles of them.

I’d venture to say that all Canadians love maple trees. The trees themselves are beautiful and stately; the wood harvested from them is so strong it can be used as the flooring for bowling alleys; we harvest precious sap from them to make sought-after products; and the leaves turn gorgeous colours in the autumn.

The maple leaf is the emblem of Canada. It symbolizes who we are as a people: hardy, strong, nature-loving northerners.

Just as the maple tree is important to Canadians, there’s another tree which is very important to a certain group of people:

It’s the tree Christ was crucified on.

Read more

What’s in a Name?

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

As a gardener, I must admit that I prefer using the common or folk names for flowers. These sometimes-ancient names are often whimsical and enchanting, like “Miss Willmott’s Ghost,” whose origins we explored last week.

Who wouldn’t love calling flowers by such names as cherry pie plant, lady’s slipper, love-in-a-mist, baby blue eyes, bachelor’s button, quaker ladies, whirling butterflies, johnny-jump-up, busy lizzie, or candytuft? It makes the heart sing to use endearing names like these.

The scientific or botanical names for flowers, on the other hand, can seem daunting. They’re usually derived from Latin, and while they can give a more accurate description of what a plant’s nature is, they can sound a bit intimidating to my ears.

In fact, some botanical names actually sound like a disease:

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got Scabiosa again.”

“That’s nothing! You should see my sister’s Myosotis: it’s rampant.”

“You don’t say! But did you hear about Kelly? She’s got Nepeta nervosa.”

“No! Is she seeing a psychiatrist for that?”

(In case you’re wondering, Scabiosa is the botanical name for the pincushion flower; you might know Myosotis better as the little blue forget-me-not; and Nepeta nervosa is a type of catmint.)

I’m so glad that we have the opportunity to use informal names for the flowers we cherish.

In the same way, believers have been given the great privilege of using a remarkably intimate name for God: “Abba Father.”

Read more

Miss Willmott’s Ghost

Giant Sea Holly: Photo by Matthew Richardson on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

I saw Miss Willmott’s Ghost this week.

No, I don’t know anyone by that name, and I haven’t seen any actual ghosts lately.

I’m referring to the giant sea holly, a plant whose nickname is “Miss Willmott’s Ghost.” I happened to see it on a visit to my city’s botanical gardens recently.

The giant sea holly was given this whimsical moniker in honour of the equally eccentric Ellen Willmott, an English gardener who lived in Victorian times.

Apparently, Miss Willmott so loved this plant that she carried its seeds with her at all times in hopes of helping it proliferate. On a regular basis, she would secretly scatter the seeds in other people’s gardens when visiting them. Later, this silvery thistle-like plant would mysteriously appear, no doubt causing the garden’s owners to do a double-take and wonder how it got there.

Perhaps we as believers in God should take a page from Miss Willmott’s book. Not to engage in any guerrilla gardening necessarily, but to follow her example of planting “seeds” wherever we go.

Read more

Prayers Live On, Like Lilacs

Lilac shrub in full bloom. Photo by Holger Schué on Pixabay

This is a special time of year in my part of Canada: the lilacs are speaking!

Lilac flowers don’t use words, of course. They announce their presence through their beautiful fragrance and delicate purple colour.

But there’s another way lilac shrubs can talk to us. Their very location can give us clues to the history of a place.

“…the story of early Canada can be read in the lilacs clustered where log cabins once stood, at the edge of abandoned fields—flowers marking time in centuries.” (from “A New Leaf,” by Merilyn Simonds)

Settlers to the northern parts of North America would often plant lilac shrubs on either side of the front door to their farmhouse. Generations or even centuries later, the building has long since been torn down, but the lilacs live on. If you see a pair of lilac bushes in a field or empty lot, you can be pretty sure they used to flank someone’s front door. The house is gone, the family has moved away, but the fragrance of the lilacs they planted still fills the air.

This reminds me a bit of how prayers can live on, long after the person who prayed them is gone.

Read more

The Sweetest Perfume Can’t Be Bought

Vintage perfume bottles
Photo by domeckopol on Pixabay

We humans can’t help but react instinctively to a beautiful smell, can we?

In my last post, The Perfect Recipe for Bread, I mentioned how wonderful the smell of freshly baked bread is in your own home. The same is true when you bake a cake, cook a roast, light a scented candle, or when you bring a bouquet of flowers inside: the aroma fills the whole house and gives you a deep sense of pleasure.

You get the same pleasing effect when you take a walk in your neighbourhood and can detect cooking smells emanating from houses as you pass by: here someone’s making a rich stew, over there a spicy curry. Even better is strolling by someone’s garden and being enveloped by the scent of the lilacs or roses growing there.

But what if a beautiful aroma could permeate an even bigger area?

Read more

Good Fear Vs. Bad Fear

A tarantula, one of the most feared spiders
Photo by WikiImages on Pixabay

Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?

For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!

There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.

Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)

There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?

No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.

But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.

Read more

An Invisible Crisis

Empty streets of Milan, Italy during the pandemic
Photo by Alberto Trentanni on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.

If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.

The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.

It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.

When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.

Read more

Some Things Never Change

Photo by mabi2000 on Flickr CC BY-SA-2.0

During this worldwide crisis, many of us are concerned about the changes that are being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wonder what the world will look like once we emerge from the lockdowns.

Will life truly return to the way it was before? Will there be thousands of small businesses that will never reopen? Will we ever be able to gather in large crowds like we did in the past? Will the way we “do life” have changed permanently because of this pandemic?

It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.

God’s character is like that, too.

Read more