The Long Cold Stare of January

JANUARY

A captive to granite gray stare,

I shiver and hunker there.

Clouds shudder also and

shake loose frozen crystals

flashing slivered light.

Now silver gleam the gazing eyes.

I rise unblinking, captivated.

As I awoke from sleep one morning, these words came distinctly to my mind: The long, cold stare of January.

I don’t know where those words came from. But they came clear and definite and stayed with me. I wrote that phrase in my journal, thought about it a while, looked outside at the wintry landscape, then composed the (above) poem.

I live in northern Colorado. January is our coldest month. And it is a long month, 31 days. The cold, short days and long nights can make one feel captive. It is a season when people, those who can afford it, like to travel to places like Mexico, Florida, or Spain. Other people may dream of warm beaches during January. But the weather often keeps us indoors and isolated. One can feel captive.

One can also feel captive in an uncomfortable way when people stare at them. Cold stares are especially disconcerting.

Feeling trapped, fearful, impatient with your situation can make your outlook seem hard and gray. But, truly, there is beauty in every season. Opening our hearts to “see” that beauty can turn those cold, gray eyes to a silver gaze.

Contemplatives speak of the “gaze” of the face of Christ that holds, sees deeply, and can draw out the inner radiance of one’s true self.

Recently I was reading a story that described the “silver” eyes of some Scottish Highland folk. I had never heard eye color described as silver before. Polished silver is not necessarily a cold-looking metal. A warmth seems to gleam from deep inside.

Hidden in every hard place is hope. If we look for it with eyes to see, it will eventually gleam forth; and then, rather than be captives we may become captivated by the presence of love and even joy.

~Catherine Lawton


Photo by Kacper Szczechla on Unsplash

This post was first published at Godspacelight 1/18/22, here slightly edited.

Bobo, Ouyang, and Susan: Experiencing Community

Beauty, comfort, and caring community can come to us in surprising ways.

Ouyang is a Chinese friend of our author Susan Elaine Jenkins. They became acquainted while she lived and taught school in China for many years. Ouyang appears in Susan’s memoir SCANDALON: Running From Shame and Finding God’s Scandalous Love. If you read Scandalon, then you know how Ouyang helped Susan adjust to life in China and how Susan helped Ouyang better understand Christianity. Their conversations shared in the book are deep and moving and show God’s hand at work across cultures.

So I was delighted when Susan and Ouyang contributed a story, “Bobo the Hedgehog,” to our most-recent release, The Animals In Our Lives: Stories of Companionship and Awe.

“Bobo the Hedgehog” relates a moving childhood experience of Ouyang during the dreary days of the Communist Revolution in China—a period of time with very little beauty, comfort, or caring community. Seemingly by accident Ouyang found all those things—beauty, comfort, and caring community—when he happened upon a rare thing, a rose garden, one of the few gardens sanctioned by the government. And inside that “secret,” gated garden was a kind old gardener who befriended Ouyang. When the old man found a hedgehog by the river, he kept it hidden and let it be Ouyang’s “pet” for a while until the risk became too great and the hedgehog was released back into the wild. But the comfort and joy a pet hedgehog brought to the boy never left him and became a part of who he is today.

The kind gardener (however clandestinely) sharing the creature with him, at a time when families were not allowed to own pets, a terrible time when starving people were eating whatever animals, including pets, they could find … is the type of experience that can give needed hope to a child in a bleak environment.

Ouyang’s childhood memory, written for him by Susan, provides a rare glimpse into what life was like in those difficult times. It also gives a glimpse into the life and character of the boy who became the man, Ouyang.

Soon after The Animals In Our Lives was published, Ouyang found this little hedgehog (pictured above with him) on a river bank. Happy, formative, hope-giving memories again flooded back to his heart and mind.

Ouyang’s story of “Bobo the Hedgehog” is one of many included in The Animals In Our Lives, that demonstrate how animals of all kinds can give us companionship, the experience of awe, and a sense of God’s presence.

 

 

“Go and be amongst them as my very self.”

Jesus came to show us what God the Father is like.

I was reminded of this truth today while listening to an audio book of sermons by George MacDonald, the 19th-Century Scottish author, poet and Christian minister whose writings deeply influenced C.S. Lewis.

In his strong belief in God’s relentless, fatherly love for all He has created, MacDonald proclaimed beautifully:

What more could the living God do than to send…this Lord Jesus Christ, His own eternal bosom friend, being His very Son, saying:

Let them see what I am like. Go, and be Myself amongst them. You can do it because you are my son.… They are my sons; but they cannot understand the Father until they get some idea of what the real son of my heart is. Go to them and dwell with them. And suffer them. And let them do anything to you they like so that they may see what I am, who from morning to night am serving them and doing all that I can do for them. And they won’t believe me. Go and be amongst them as my very self.’

And so he came.

Formed in the womb of Mary, birthed in an animal stall, hailed by dusty shepherds and star-gazing magi.

Jesus’ coming is what we both celebrate and look forward to during these days (that Christians call “Advent”) leading up to Christmas.

Jesus came to show us that God is with us and God loves us.

We writers seek to express this beautiful, life-giving truth in beautiful compositions of words. Lyrics of worship songs and verses of Psalms touch our hearts. And a beautifully crafted poem lifts our hearts in expectation, realization, and celebration of “the present and the presence” of God’s Love in Christ. The creative imagery in poetry reminds me that something very solid, very immediate, very physical yet very eternal and spiritual has happened!… Is happening!… Will happen!

During Advent, each day we post a new poem, in print and audio, to help us experience this immediacy of the meaning of Christ with us. Click HERE for A Poem A Day during Advent.

In addition, a video featuring five poems from the week is posted weekly on our YouTube channel.

For God so loved the world!

 

 

Living Creation

Stepping into the garden

We plant gardens, come what may.

In my Garden

Every morning we look out the window of our home office and see our vegetable/flower garden, and on most days we see the Rocky Mountains rising in a solid, constant backdrop to the view.

Last fall the mountains were hidden by wildfire smoke that settled over our Northern Colorado area (and much of the western states, too). We were reminded that, though nature is given to bless us and for us to steward, we cannot control it.

We’re thankful for those who manage well the wild forests, rivers, and grasslands. And here at our home place we continue to care for the piece of earth entrusted to us, and we seek to persevere with the hope and patience we learn from Creator God who brings sunshine and harvest, cycles of seasons and rains, maintains the stars in their places, and every spring calls forth new life out of burns, decay and dormancy.

Life will winlove will win … as we commune with, cooperate with, work with our living, loving God who is actively creating and re-creating.

This is a theme I feel called to share through writing and publishing, featuring …

 

Holy Stillness

Treasures of Darkness : Holy Stillness

I have found that spiritual, emotional, and physical healing can begin even in times that are darkened, cold, alone, silent … when I still my heart and contemplate the “treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). One of the sweetest treasures of darkness is the realization that we are not alone. This realization encouraged me anew this winter as I contemplated that nature also experiences the waiting that has become more acute for us during a pandemic winter.

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, at least, we have been waiting for lighter, warmer days of nature’s renewal. And during these days of Lent we also recall, again, Jesus’ crucified body waiting in a dark, cold cave of death. When Jesus “woke up” in that cave of a tomb, did he open his eyes to darkness? Or did his open eyes, his very breath and resurrection-life energy, shine light into the darkness even before the stone rolled away? John wrote that Jesus is the light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

We can experience moments during periods of waiting that are holy, even healing. One morning this past winter I sat in meditative prayer in a corner room of our basement. That room has two windows with below-ground-level window wells. During the summer, toads and tiger salamanders dwell in the window wells. My grandchildren like to look for them. During winter, these denizens of the deeps dig into the earth and wait in darkness, finally emerging again in late spring. On that cold, sequestered pandemic morning I was thinking about these creatures—and my own sense of waiting—when this poem came to me:

Holy Stillness
There is no heartbeat
in a seed
Yet life waits
in that brittle encasement
as surely as in the stilled
breathing and slowed
beating heart of
toads and salamanders
in winter deeps and
sleeping bears in caves
Waiting, waiting, we wait
in lengthened nights and
chilled soil and cloistered suns
for warmer, lighter, moister days
to dawn
From on high—and pulsing
in the depths—we hear
“Wait… Wait… Be still…”
and “Coming—
I did, I am, I will.”

~Catherine Lawton


(This post was first published at GodSpace on 3-27-21.)
Photo: Ehud Neuhaus / Unsplash

We Don’t Know How To Pray As We Ought

“Prayer is like breathing.” “Prayer is asking.” “Prayer is relationship.”….A myriad of beliefs, teachings, and books about prayer….A lifetime of experiences of prayer….And we are still learning what prayer is and can be. Do you have questions about prayer? I’m sure we all do. This poem I wrote (below), which is included in my book, Glimpsing Glory, expresses many of those experiences, questions and what prayer has come to mean to me. Do these words resonate with you and your experience in some way?

WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO PRAY AS WE OUGHT

If I say ‘please,’
will my waiting heavenly Father give what I ask?
If we all hold hands in a circle,
will others’ faith make up for my lack?
Will it help if I tell God
every minute detail of what I need and want?
Will adding the words ‘In Jesus’ name’
make Sovereign God less resistant?
If we pray on our knees,
will the Almighty see and honor our humility?
If we acknowledge God’s feminine side,
will Our Mother have mercy?

If we pray in angelic languages,
will the Spirit understand us better?
Will loud and preacherly, or whispered prayers,
bend God’s ear closer?
Will candles or incense lift the sense
of my prayers to God’s holy nostrils?
Will my tears of regret, sorrow and repentance
make God’s heart thrill?
If we listen long enough to find and pray God’s will,
will it have to be done?
If I breathe my devotion all day long,
will I be favored to approach God’s throne?

Yes … maybe … and no.

Does the Spirit, Who searches hearts intimately
and knows the mysterious
mind of the Father,
intercede for us in groanings
both kind and efficacious,
all because of Jesus’ self-giving,
others-empowering love most gracious?

Can my will be transformed by God’s will,
my hands and feet join God’s actions,
my heart be energized by Father’s love,
my desires unite with Spirit’s intercessions,
my labors yoke with Jesus’ work,
and my prayers find fruition in co-creation?

Yes … yes … and yes!

~Catherine Lawton

from Glimpsing Glory: Poems of Living & Dying, Praying & Playing, Belonging & Longing

Watching For God In Season and Out

We have never experienced a Christmas like this one. No children’s programs at church, school, or community. No concerts to attend. Not much “window shopping.” No caroling door-to-door, no dinner parties, few gatherings or family reunions. I do think I see more people putting lights on their houses and trees outside.

In this season, as during this whole pandemic year, my husband and I have found great comfort in nature, even right in our backyard, especially the many birds that visit our feeders, birdbath, and trees and shrubs.

On a more normal Christmas a few years ago, our young grandchildren came to visit. We enjoyed playing in the snow and other activities, such as making pine cone suet feeders for the birds. Later I wrote these verses (below) and even illustrated them in a little Advent / Christmas book for the grandchildren. Two years ago I published this story-in-verse, entitled Something Is Coming To Our World.

These verses tell something of my own hopeful vision for the world, how our loving God is present to all creation, and has come into our world in the form of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, whose coming again we await with anticipation, and with whom we can now be “partners,” co-laborers, caring for creation and loving people. (May God’s reign soon fully come!)

• • • • •

What Is Coming To Our World?
(How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas)

Seasons have passed of warm, wiggly worms,
bountiful gardens and bright wildflowers,
plentiful insects on leaf and wing,
sun traveling high across the sky,
and all good things that make us sing.

The days grow shorter. The air grows colder.
We search now for meals and warm roost.
When the hawk and fox come hunting,
I will quickly hide in a bush.
The chill in the air tells me high on the peaks
snowflakes are drifting in piles white and deep;
soon, in this place that’s home to me
frost will sparkle and snow will fall.
Creator God, who gives sunshine and seeds,
berries and water, spring, summer, fall—
surely wants us to thrive all year long!

Bells are ringing. I hear singing.
Good aromas are increasing.
What should we anticipate?
What story does the music relate?
When the people open their doors,
I smell something warm, spicy and sweet,
and the seeds they bring us are nice.
Nippier days turn their noses pink,
but something good is coming, I think.
Anticipation fills the air.

Nights are cold, but lights are bright
and they twinkle everywhere.
It looks like stars are coming down
on trees and houses from the air.

It looks to me—all around—
like Heaven’s surely coming down!

Children come bounding out in the snow,
all rosy and bundled for winter play.
They gather greenery, seedpods, and cones—
much like we do sometimes in spring.
I wonder what they’re going to make?
A blue-eyed girl and boy look my way.

I start to fly; then I hear the girl say,
‘Hello, little bird. Here’s a present for you.
Do you know that tomorrow is Christmas Day?’
The boy says, ‘Merry Christmas to you, little bird,
and happy celebrations with your friends, too.’
I like the peanut butter and seeds they’ve pressed
into the pine cones they hang in the tree.

I’ll fly to the highest branch and sing
a song of Heaven coming down,
light in the darkness, warmth in the cold,
provision and plenty, promises of old.
As seeds wait patiently within the earth,
there’s hope for us all—even little birds.
All feathered friends, all four-legged creatures,
all living things, now hear my song.
All who Creator God called ‘good’:
God cares—and comes—for all.

I will sing the song God gives me.
I will wing the flight that lifts me.
I will listen to the glorious sounds,
for Heaven’s love is all around.

~Catherine Lawton

Illustrations from the book, Something Is Coming To Our World: How A Backyard Bird Sees Christmas

 

Creative Author and Creative Readers Reflect on our Creator God

Sample pages from BIBLE POEMS (with reader doodles)

The creativity of Donna Marie Merritt, poet and author of Bible Poems for Reflection and Response extends even beyond her poetic word pictures. She had the idea of giving her readers the opportunity to not only reflect on her poems (which themselves are reflections on the Bible) but to allow space on the pages, including 17 blank pages, for readers to respond with their own poems, thoughts, prayers, drawings and doodles. The book released this month (September 1, 2020). What we’ve already heard from readers tells us this book is encouraging reflection:

  • “These jewels, these pearls each carry a small glimmer of truth, wisdom, stern instruction, and unconditional love.”
  • “I am delighted to take away thoughtful pieces … to meditate on further.”
  • “The questions raised throughout the book help me evaluate, repent, and respond with worship.”

One reader sent us photos of the reflective/responsive art she created on the book pages. You can view those colorful doodles in this short video:

As a publisher I love to bring authors and readers together, and especially I love it when they are reflecting together on God’s truth, creation, and the life of faith. In this way, writing—and reading—a book of poetry can lead to worship expressed in words, art and action.

BRAVE WHIMSY and VULNERABILITY

The unique style of author Janyne McConnaughey—interweaving literary whimsy, informative narrative, and raw vulnerability—is reaching into the hearts and minds of readers. For instance, in A BRAVE LIFE we find Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz interacting with Janyne’s three adult selves and many child selves.

We love the way Janyne weaves delightful, fictional characters into her narratives. In Janyne’s previous book, JEANNIE’S BRAVE CHILDHOOD, Alice of Wonderland appears throughout (and rumors are she may return in a future book). But Dorothy of Oz and her Yellow-Brick-Road companions, even Oz himself, fit perfectly in A BRAVE LIFE.

Janyne McConnaughey PhD

In this new book, Janyne shares the story of how she lived her adult life with the effects of childhood trauma and attachment issues. Janyne describes her “Yellow Brick Road” journey that taught her about the abundant life and the many ways it had been stolen from her by childhood trauma. A BRAVE LIFE offers hope and insight to all who have persevered and silently suffered without knowing why…. and it provides a handbook to help Christians in the church minister to those who, as children, were victims of the unspeakable.

Janyne bravely paints a word picture of how a childhood-trauma survivor experienced adulthood—including multiple moves and transitions, marriage and parenting, and a college teaching career—all the time coping through dissociative “split” personalities.

It was a confusing life fraught with “emotional landmines,” but Janyne’s healing journey led to her “Emerald City” as all the parts of Janyne learned to trust each other and work together—which they do beautifully in this book.

Jesus shows up in A BRAVE LIFE also. The scenes where Jesus talks with Janyne’s various selves are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what Janyne heard the Spirit of Jesus say to her heart, true words that helped heal the effects of what trusted adults had wrongly said to her way back when she was 10.

Just as pushing back the curtain revealed the “real” wizard of Oz, Janyne had the courage to push back the curtain and reveal her feelings of being an “imposter,” of dissociative pain and struggles and their root causes. We agree with Pathway to Hope director, Kiersten Adkins, who says of Janyne, “May her courage inspire us to find safe spaces for ourselves and be those safe spaces for others.”

If you long to find your own safe spaces in which to heal, and to help (not hinder) others’ healing, you may want to join the many readers being encouraged, informed, and helped by the BRAVE series.

(Note: The three graphics above created by Janyne McConnaughey and posted on Facebook. Used here with permission.)

Moments Morph into Poems

Our lives are built of moments in time and space. And just as one moment of your life doesn’t define you, so one poem doesn’t define a poet.

Some moments of my life I wouldn’t want anyone to remember. Some moments beg interpretation. But not every moment of life warrants being grappled with or immortalized in a poem.

Some of my poems come out of my humanness / humanity; some come from the living workings out of faith; some come out of my searching, listening, and questioning; some poems come out of the sensations of a moment.

Some moments that inspire poems are microcosms of creation’s cosmic array, snapshots of life’s bigger pictures. Some poetic moments are unique flashes or epiphanies that I wish could be repeated but will likely never come again, at least not quite the same. These moments have transformative power if we open our hearts to receive what they have to give. I think that is true, to some extent, of poetry as well.

I don’t sit down to make lines and rhymes, but to use words, rhythms, and metaphors to paint pictures of life’s moments of observing, noticing, being present to someone or something in a new way … of seeing a sometimes-startling new depth or aspect or facet of a fleeting, evocative, life-giving moment.

John Wesley is quoted as saying, “Learn the importance of every moment, which just appears, and is gone for ever!”

Poems come to the poet out of living moments that, penciled on paper, morph into verses of word art that can bring meaning to the reader’s own moments.

~Catherine Lawton