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.

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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.”

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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.

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Jam The Signal!

The tiger moth Bertholdia trigona is the only animal in nature known to jam
the echolocation of its predator
Photo on Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Bats are crafty creatures.

Being nocturnal, bats search for food at night, but their night vision is fairly poor. So instead they use echolocation, or reflected sound, to home in on insects such as moths. Their built-in sonar directs them to the precise location of the tasty morsels; then it’s just a matter of swooping in and gobbling them up.

So the bats’ prey have to be crafty as well.

Certain species of tiger moth have the ability to emit sonar of their own. As a bat is closing in, the moth emits a fusillade of ultrasonic clicks. This barrage blurs and disrupts the bat’s echolocation: the signal is essentially jammed. The baffled hunter can no longer “see” the moth, and is tricked into thinking its target has vanished. Thwarted, the hungry predator flies away, and the prey is safe.

Our little tiger moth beats its enemy at its own game.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could “jam the signal” of the enemy of our soul? If we could disrupt and counter the lies the world tells us about ourselves?

In fact, there’s a way that we can.

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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?

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The Perfect Recipe for Bread

Photo by Momentmal on Pixabay

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread in your own home, is there?

More and more people are finding this out. One of the surprising consequences of the pandemic-associated lockdowns has been a resurgence of home baking. So many people have been baking bread at home in recent months that some stores have even run out of yeast and flour.

For beginners, it might take some time to get the knack of baking bread from scratch. Even for more experienced home bakers, baking the perfect loaf of bread will take numerous tries and repeated tweaks to the recipe.

The Bible has a few things to say about this life-giving substance. By tracing the story of bread through the Scriptures, we can see how the “recipe” improves over time, culminating in something we all desire:

The perfect bread.

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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.

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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.

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Season of Stillness

Empty cafe in Italy
Photo by Peter H. on Pixabay

The lockdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic have produced some unexpected results in the natural world.

With fewer vehicles and industrial machines operating, noise pollution has been reduced so dramatically that seismologists can hear sounds from inside the planet that they couldn’t detect previously.

In cities, reduced traffic noise is allowing people to hear birdsong, the chatter of squirrels, and the chirping of crickets like never before. People have been surprised to discover that they can now hear the flapping of birds’ wings as they pass overhead.

A quieter environment is probably also allowing animals to hear each other better. City birds usually have to sing more loudly than their country cousins to make themselves heard above the urban cacophony: perhaps their mates and rivals can hear them more easily now. With a reduction in ship traffic, marine mammals might also be finding that they can contact each other with greater ease now that there is less “acoustic smog” in the oceans.

If we can hear the creation better during the lockdowns, and creation can hear itself better, can we hear our Creator better?

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What Lions Guard Your Door?

New York City’s library lions, “Patience” and “Fortitude”
Photo by Dave and Margie Hill on flickr cc by-sa 2.0

For over a century, two marble lions have guarded the main branch of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. These majestic stone creatures flank the entrance to the building, keeping careful watch over all who enter.

During the 1930s the library lions were officially named “Patience” and “Fortitude” by then-mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He felt that those names embodied the qualities that New Yorkers would need to survive the Great Depression of that era.

If ever there was a time when New Yorkers (and indeed all of us) again need patience and fortitude, it’s during the COVID-19 crisis. New York has been struck particularly hard by this pandemic, but they are pulling through in large part thanks to the selfless health care workers who have done their utmost to guard the health and welfare of those under their care.

We still need guardians, don’t we? Particularly during times like these.

What “lions” guard your door?

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