A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 351: Sunday God Quote – Jan Richardson

GabrielAndMary

Image: Gabriel and Mary © Jan Richardson

What was Gabriel’s experience of the Annunciation? This is the intriguing question posed by artist and poet Jan Richardson. We so often see angels as an ancient, bright and shiny version of sending someone a Tweet (however, a Divine Tweet) – A message often devoid of the flesh and blood person of the messenger. It is easy to forget that these beings clearly have personality, individuality and very distinct roles in scripture. The poem I share today by Richardson delves into the mindset of the angel called to deliver perhaps the most famous message of all time.

I would strongly encourage you to visit Jan Richardson’s blog, adventdoor.com, for more readings and artwork. Her work will greatly help anyone seeking to find the grounding of truth that gives meaning during the days leading up to Christmas.

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment
I hesitated
on the threshold.
For the space
of a breath
I paused,
unwilling to disturb
her last ordinary moment,
knowing that the next step
would cleave her life:
that this day
would slice her story
in two,
dividing all the days before
from all the ones
to come.

The artists would later
depict the scene:
Mary dazzled
by the archangel,
her head bowed
in humble assent,
awed by the messenger
who condescended
to leave paradise
to bestow such an honor
upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you
it was I who was dazzled,
I who found myself agape
when I came upon her—
reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,
I cannot now recall;
only that the woman before me—
blessed and full of grace
long before I called her so—
shimmered with how completely
she inhabited herself,
inhabited the space around her,
inhabited the moment
that hung between us.

I wanted to save her
from what I had been sent
to say.

Yet when the time came,
when I had stammered
the invitation
(history would not record
the sweat on my brow,
the pounding of my heart;
would not note
that I said
Do not be afraid
to myself as much as
to her)
it was she
who saved me—
her first deliverance—
her Let it be
not just declaration
to the Divine
but a word of solace,
of soothing,
of benediction

for the angel
in the doorway
who would hesitate
one last time—
just for the space
of a breath
torn from his chest—
before wrenching himself away
from her radiant consent,
her beautiful and
awful yes.

– Jan Richardson

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 350: Saturday Life Quotes – Christmas!

Our Christmas Stockings, 2014

Ronald Kok, Our Christmas Stockings 2014, Colored pencil drawing

“At Christmas
A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.”
― Edgar A. Guest

Christmas Day is creeping ever closer. Each of us, truth be told, is somewhere on the Scrooge-to-Will-Ferrell’s-Elf scale when it comes to our feelings about the holiday.  More than any other celebration in the Western world, it brings out the greatest melange of joy, sadness, nostalgia, regret, love, bitterness, peace and conflict. For some, it is indeed the most wonderful time of the year, for others – “Bah! Humbug!”

Today I share an assortment of quotes that include the sublime, the ridiculous, the spiritual, the carnal, the profound and the funny takes on Christmas. Some of these had me laughing out loud, others forced me to think about important things. That, perhaps, sums up my take on Christmas. Enjoy.

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” ― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.”
― George Carlin

CALVIN: “This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it?
And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?
HOBBES: “I dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?”
CALVIN: “Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.”
― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
― Steve MaraboliUnapologetically You

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!”
― Dave Barry

“The reality of loving God is loving him like he’s a Superhero who actually saved you from stuff rather than a Santa Claus who merely gave you some stuff.”
― Criss JamiKillosophy

“The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” ― Jay Leno

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
― Calvin Coolidge

“Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.” ― Philip Yancey

“Money’s scarce
Times are hard
Here’s your f#*king
Xmas card”
― Phyllis Diller

“What kind of Christmas present would Jesus ask Santa for?”
― Salman RushdieFury

“Christmas it seems to me is a necessary festival; we require a season when we can regret all the flaws in our human relationships: it is the feast of failure, sad but consoling.”
― Graham GreeneTravels With My Aunt

“Were I a philosopher, I should write a philosophy of toys, showing that nothing else in life need to be taken seriously, and that Christmas Day in the company of children is one of the few occasions on which men become entirely alive.”
― Robert Lynd

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”
― G.K. ChestertonBrave New Family

“Ever since the Christmas of ’53, I have felt that the yuletide is a special hell for those families who have suffered any loss or who must admit to any imperfection; the so-called spirit of giving can be as greedy as receiving–Christmas is our time to be aware of what we lack, of who’s not home.”
― John IrvingA Prayer for Owen Meany

“It struck him that how you spent Christmas was a message to the world about where you were in life, some indication of how deep a hole you had managed to burrow for yourself.”  ― Nick HornbyAbout a Boy

“O Christmas Sun! What holy task is thine!
To fold a world in the embrace of God!”
― Guy Wetmore Carryl
“If your Birthday is on Christmas day and you’re not Jesus, you should start telling people your birthday is on June 9 or something. Just read up on the traits of a Gemini. Suddenly you’re a multitasker who loves the color yellow. Because not only do you get stuck with the combo gift, you get the combo song. “We wish you a merry Christmas – and happy birthday, Terry – we wish you a merry Christmas – happy birthday, Terry – we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Ye – Birthday, Terry!”
― Ellen DeGeneresSeriously… I’m Kidding
“I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.” ― Harlan Miller
“To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.”
― E.B. White
“Except the Christ be born again tonight
In dreams of all men, saints and sons of shame,
The world will never see his kingdom bright.”
― Vachel Lindsay

“There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries.”
― W.J. Cameron

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 348: Earth Discovered Heaven

eath-discovered-heaven

A poem I wrote for Christmas 2016…

Earth Discovered Heaven: a Christmas Psalm

 by Ronald Kok

 

The sun rises each and every day

It shines and daily gives its life light

Yet darkness dominates our way

We stumble, eyes bereft of sight

 

We think we know the road, the path

Yet we repeat the past, we fail

To grasp, living in gasps, in wrath

Despite light given, we rant, we wail

 

Climbing, striving, to reach the divine

Hoping our toil will bring us peace

Slipping, falling, aching for a sign

We see life as pain with no reprieve

 

We are alone, it can be easy to think

Around us is war, hunger, lies, abyss

Darkness drags us to the very brink

Life laughs at us, betrays with a kiss

 

But there is a Birth, a baby’s eyes

There is a song of vulnerable might

A silver note that splits dark skies

Revealing hope to drive out the night

 

A Grace that takes the hardest road

Down to dust, sin, heartache, death

A Grace lifting Pilgrim’s awful load

Giving all true Life and Peace, Breath

 

The Divine in human life, human sighs

Striving, aching, to reach each and all

Climbing, toiling, the Glory laying by

Lifting us all to glory in his fall

 

No expectation on us was there

To find a way to the Throne above

His plan, purpose, passion was here

In the Way called Grace, Peace, Love

 

The struggle to find truth supreme

Is no struggle, no task, no chore

Truth in person, Truth that beams

God’s Gift is given forever and more

 

This is the Life that laughs, that sings

The Life that death could not waste

Life whose Grace-dance around us rings

Giving us of dust heaven’s wondrous taste

 

It shines in darkness, shatters gloom

This Gift is precious and glows real

In our life’s pain and threat of doom

Nothing can dispel the Grace that heals

 

The Way we seek, the Truth we find

Is met in the Life of Glory given

Seekers lost have been found, in kind

And we on earth discovered heaven

A poem I wrote for Christmas 2016…

 

Earth Discovered Heaven: a Christmas Psalm

The sun rises each and every day

It shines and daily gives its life light

Yet darkness dominates our way

We stumble, eyes bereft of sight

 

We think we know the road, the path

Yet we repeat the past, we fail

To grasp, living in gasps, in wrath

Despite light given, we rant, we wail

 

Climbing, striving, to reach the divine

Hoping our toil will bring us peace

Slipping, falling, aching for a sign

We see life as pain with no reprieve

 

We are alone, it can be easy to think

Around us is war, hunger, lies, abyss

Darkness drags us to the very brink

Life laughs at us, betrays with a kiss

 

But there is a Birth, a baby’s eyes

There is a song of vulnerable might

A silver note that splits dark skies

Revealing hope to drive out the night

 

A Grace that takes the hardest road

Down to dust, sin, heartache, death

A Grace lifting Pilgrim’s awful load

Giving all true Life and Peace, Breath

 

The Divine in human life, human sighs

Striving, aching, to reach each and all

Climbing, toiling, the Glory laying by

Lifting us all to glory in his fall

 

No expectation on us was there

To find a way to the Throne above

His plan, purpose, passion was here

In the Way called Grace, Peace, Love

 

The struggle to find truth supreme

Is no struggle, no task, no chore

Truth in person, Truth that beams

God’s Gift is given forever and more

 

This is the Life that laughs, that sings

The Life that death could not waste

Life whose Grace-dance around us rings

Giving us of dust heaven’s wondrous taste

 

It shines in darkness, shatters gloom

This Gift is precious and glows real

In our life’s pain and threat of doom

Nothing can dispel the Grace that heals

 

The Way we seek, the Truth we find

Is met in the Life of Glory given

Seekers lost have been found, in kind

And we on earth discovered heaven

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 347: Christmas Bells

civil war

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Written with the backdrop of one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, the American Civil War, “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is far more than a seasonal carol. He published these words in 1863, just two years after his wife had died tragically in a fire, and just a month after he received the news that his son was severely wounded in the battle of New Hope Church in Virginia. It is a poem of hope under intense duress; a shaken belief of peace on earth when all around was devastation, both literal and figurative. But he emerges from that dark place brought on by the “thunder” from each “black accursed mouth” into the light of a trust in a God more powerful than hate or violence or anything else that would attempt to destroy what is good.

The world I look out on and experience internally is not so different from what confronted Longfellow. I am grateful for these words that he penned so long ago for their power in the here and now, for my Christmas season and yours that comes at the end of a bitter 2017.

Christmas Bells

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 346: A Coffee-less Christmas

 

 

Grief

Ronald Kok, Grief, 2013, painted paper mosaic

Christmas season is many things to many people. Regardless of the cheer and seeming goodwill that is as much a part of the lore of the season as carols and cranberry sauce, many people suffer deeply during the holidays. Those in pain, in grief, fighting an internal battle, or struggling through a life full of tremendous challenges have a much harder time when all around them is bouncy, jingly music and bright, twinkling lights.

My brother-in-law died of leukemia a little over a year ago.  My sister and their three 20-something children had to say good-bye to a much loved husband and father. His youngest child, my nephew Eric, composed a poem to express his feelings during this Advent season. I asked him if I could publish that poem here on this blog and he graciously said yes.

Below is his brief intro to the poem and then the poem itself…

Every year I try to do some writing around Christmas and share it, despite its quality…I have a lot of emotions attached to this time of year, most of them not terribly positive.

As in all things, there are many stories to be told, many alternatives to the “Christmas cheer” narrative. My friends in loss, in hardship, those with different stories I see you and hear you, you are not alone.

———–

The coffee maker stopped working
and we were left wondering
how you celebrate Christmas day without
coffee and baileys.

For us, coffee is a sacred ritual
a routine that binds us
with perfectly soaked grounds
and radiant ceramic that warms something
beneath your skin.

A coffee-less Christmas, then,
would mark a holiday apart,
missing something,
without.

Before the problem solving brain
had time to intervene,
one without, caffeinated the other
and the loss of one sacred ritual
highlighted another gained:
a funeral,
a celebration of life
a life lost to us –
missing something.

Watching your father wash away
in blood and saline
chemo and fentanyl
over eight months until
the man you knew,
who loved you well,
with whom you fought and cried,
is watered down like
oversaturated coffee…
kissing the tepid forehead
of this once-father
still father anew
fucks you up:

Like losing a two months
of memories
with the exception of
a broken coffee maker
a broken family
…broken.

Each year I find myself
deepening into advent
into messy, desperate longing
for hope
for home
for warmth that soothes something
beneath my skin
for living water that might
soothe my caffeine cravings for not yet.

Though it may seem that we are dwelling in grief
you’ve seen nothing but the foyer.
Grief made a home amongst us –
as tangible as the coarse branches of your PVC
Christmas tree on soft skin.

You are welcome here,
come in.
Just know that we are still learning
how to fit
the fragments of grief
between the trimmings,
finding room for it
at the table,
shifting storage
to stow away the boxes
still to be unpacked
contents unknown
or known too well.

There is now a new coffee maker –
one sacred ritual renewed,
under new management.
The taste is different
yet there we gather as a new family –
one with an empty chair
a lit candle,
and a now familiar weight.

And now I rest into advent
and the sounds of Julien Baker:
“Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right
And I know that it’s not,
but I have to believe that it is.”
desperate longing
stubborn hope
a joy beyond cheer
a visceral Immanuel declaration.
– Eric Van Giessen

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 345: O Holy Night

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

In 1847 a wine seller by trade was asked by his parish priest to compose a poem for Christmas. That wine seller was Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure and what he wrote is what the English-speaking world knows as “O Holy Night”.

Yesterday my family and I attended a Christmas music and carol sing event at the Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Ottawa. The church itself was founded three years before “O Holy Night” was composed (1844) back when Ottawa was a small lumber outpost known as Bytown. The church building we sang in, a beautiful space meant to replicate English Gothic and Norman architecture, was built in 1932. The event featured organ music and a small choir plus a five-piece brass band. In that wonderful acoustic space, with excellent musicians leading us, we sang and heard some of the season’s most classic carols. I had tears in my eyes more than once.

But the above lyric really hit me hardest, sung by a soloist with a lovely soprano voice. In that space, with the voice and emotion behind it, those words hit home for me like they haven’t in a long time. “O Holy Night” has become one of those carols that has been really and truly overdone in our culture. When I Googled the lyrics just now I was given Mariah Carey’s version on Google play… Sigh. Frankly, it is hard to go shopping at ths time of year without tripping over some version of “O Holy Night” sung by someone. It is a shame that some of the songs of this season have lost their punch due to their overuse and misuse.

There was something about the authenticity of this performance, the genuine sense of faith and the context of goodwill in that church, that made these lyrics come alive again for me. It is moments like those that renew my hope in the power of art to transcend the banality we’ve attached to it. I am sure that when this poem was composed, then set to music, it was done in a sense of devotion and never, ever with an eye toward it becoming a Christmas/pop cultural staple for the next 160 years, piped in to accompany the orgy of spending and stress in our local mall.

I felt, in a way, that I was hearing it for the first time yesterday, and that was part of why it was so moving. It reminded me of the fact that Christmas isn’t about all the stuff we’ve made it about over the years; Christmas is about believing that God loved the world so much he would send his Son to teach love, spread peace, break chains and bring oppression to an end.

Hopefully in the midst of all the shopping, spending and stress this season you will be able to hear something as over-recorded as “O Holy Night”, even a version done by Mariah Carey, and come away with that feeling of what is true embedded forever in the lyrics and music. That is my Christmas wish for you.

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 344: Sunday God Quote – Isaiah & Jesus

ChristPreachNaz

In the Gospel of Luke it is described how Jesus began his public ministry. He was in his hometown of Nazareth, in the synagogue, when he was invited up to read from some scripture and say a few words. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and we are told he read these words:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

This Christmastime, perhaps more than any other in my lifetime, I find myself seeking solace in the mission and purpose of Jesus. I have grown so disenchanted with what Christianity has become and come to represent to the world. Rather than lose all hope I choose to cling to the hope of what Jesus represents and how that challenges me to live. If the passage above was what he chose to clarify who he was and what he was charged to do, I also choose it to clarify for me my own sense of purpose moving forward from a desperately challenging 2017 into 2018.

Luke tells us the crowd in that synagogue, after hearing Jesus say that he was the fulfillment of that passage, tried to throw him from a cliff. Religion seems to be leading so many to acts of violence and words of hatred, mostly because of fear. Jesus reminds me that I do not follow a religion and therefore am not defined by fear. I follow him, who is defined by love, justice, truth, mercy and forgiveness.

As we get closer to Christmas, it is the thought of Jesus that lightens my heart and brings me peace. Not so much the Jesus in the manger, but the Jesus standing up and saying boldly what he is about and acting and living that out to a world in fear.

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, 343: Saturday Life Quote (and Gallery)

20150724_124308 - Copy

“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

To accompany these words from Emerson today is a small gallery of some of the smaller beautiful creatures I’ve photographed in the last few years.

God’s handwriting is so often overlooked because of its finer details.

DSC_0211.JPG

DSC_005520160930_135543-1DSC_0071DSC_0078DSC_0053DSCF5450 - Copy

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 342: Transient

transient

“Transient” – Adjective. not lasting, enduring, or permanent; lasting only a short time; existing briefly.

Last week I posted a video of the ethereal Northern Lights in time lapse photography. Today, it is the art of the skies once again, this time in lightning and storms in a short film shot in 1,000 frames per second. This incredible video is the work of Dustin Farrell who traveled 20,000 miles this past summer to record this footage.

Do yourself a big favor and take the 3+ minutes to watch this video. Do yourself and even bigger favor and watch it on a big screen. Absolutely awesome in the truest sense of the word.