Archive for July, 2011

Friday photos

Saw this oddly named back alley in Midland, ON. (right beside Proletariat Ave.)  The pedestrian in the sign has the smarts to know better than to head down that way.

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One square inch of …

Ever since reading Lewis Thomas’ Lives of a Cell, I’ve been thinking smaller, curious as to the life that teems unseen all around and in me.

In keeping with this blog’s mashed-up name (Squinch = square inch), I got to wondering what might fill one square inch of …

Soil – go plunge your hands into the dirt as you garden – do you know what you’re getting into?  In one square inch of soil live over 4 billion organisms, including one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods.

Night sky: looking from earth at a pin-prick sized dot of black night sky, the Hubble telescope found over 3,000 spinning, twinkling, colourfully dazzling objects; 4 of them were stars and the rest galaxies – yes, galaxies!  All in one tiny pin-head speck of night sky that appears like empty black space to the human eye.  Read Psalm 8 with an image of Hubble Deep Field in your hand to get a sense of your small and lofty nature.

Skin: 65 hairs, 9,500,000 cells, 4 meters of blood vessels, 95 sebaceous glands, 650 sweat glands, 5 meters of nerves, and over 1000 nerve endings to record pain.  No wonder you’re so touchy!

Tongue: sitting on one square inch of what is considered the strongest muscle in the body is anywhere from 11 – 1,100 taste buds, each a cluster of cells resembling a flower bud under the microscope.  That’s one mighty taster perched in your mouth.

Blood: a cubic inch of healthy blood has 75 million red blood cells, those lovely doughnut-like cells, 108,000 white blood cells, and 4.3 million platelets suspended in plasma fluid with various disolved proteins, mineral ions, and glucose.

Water – most of you is made up of water (60%, in fact, and 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water).  So what is it that makes most of you up and covers most of earth’s crust?  A graceful set of elements, oxygen and hydrogen, paired in a beautiful, simple v-shape of 104.5 degrees (exactly), which allows for the elegant hexagonal shape of snowflakes.  In one sip (a cubic inch) of water is approximately 5.48 x 1023 molecules of H2O.

Air – one square inch of air, the stuff you unthinkingly breathe, the environment you scarcely notice, weighs 14.7 lbs. at sea level.  Now this square inch column of air is 50 miles high, pretty much the outer limit of earth’s atmosphere.  Who would’ve imagined that air would weigh even that?

Kitchen sink dish cloth – yes, this is disgusting so change out that dirty rag already.  There are around 134,000 bacteria per square inch wriggling, swimming and clambering all over that dish cloth you keep using to wipe down counter-tops and kids faces.

Coffee – one cubic inch of coffee is simply not enough.

Silence – one square inch of silence is full of the voice of God and so much more – but you’ll never know until you gear down and actually find silent spaces.  Check out the fascinating “One Square Inch of Silence” project, dedicated to preserving natural soundscapes by locating the “quietest place in the United States” in the Olympic National Park, WA.

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The discipline of verse

After church on Sunday, I caught a bit of Michael Enright’s The Sunday Edition on CBC.  It was an encore presentation that included an extended piece on the resurgence of interest and acclaim in Emily Dickinson’s poetry (you can listen to it here).  Apparently, Emily Dickinson is having “a cultural moment.”  I listened with curiosity because earlier in the week I had picked up a volume of her poems we have at home and spent time with a few verses.  Apparently, I’m in touch with the zeitgeist of this cultural moment.

Poetry is one of those genres of literature I’m late in my love.  I pretty much had accepted the notion that poetry needed labourious analysis, was too highbrow or I just didn’t “get it.”  Yet I failed to realize how much poetry was already part of my life, in the daily reading of the Psalms and my love for music (essentially poetry set to music).  Now I’m finding regular reading of poetry keeps sharp an appropriate reverence for words and their power (watch a slam poet in action and you’ll feel the power of words).  In our world saturated with words that are spun or full of bluster, mangled and manipulated, savouring poetry is a healthy, not to mention enjoyable, discipline.

Eugene Peterson writes that “the first thing a poem does is to slow us down.  We cannot speed-read a poem.  A poem requires rereading.  Unlike prose, which fills the page with print, poems leave a lot of white space, which is to say that silence takes its place alongside sounds as significant, essential to the apprehension of these words.  We cannot be in a hurry reading a poem.  We notice connections, get a feel for rhythms, hear resonances.  All this takes time.  When we are reading prose we are often in control, but in a poem we feel like we are out of control.  Something is going on that we cannot pin down right away and so often we get impatient and go read Ann Landers instead … in poetry we take a different stance.  We are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen.  This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness.” (Take and Read, p. 55-56).

Back to Emily Dickinson, a prolific poet who had only four poems published during her life yet wrote 1,789.  Here’s a wise and lovely one I enjoyed last week.

Who has not found the heaven below

Will fail of it above.

God’s residence is next to mine,

His furniture is love.   (Life, XVII)

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Friday photos

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On birthdays

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was born on this day.  OK, not so long ago and not so far away – Sunday July 21 at 8:15 am. at the Humber Memorial Hospital in Toronto.  A birth like most others, welcomed into this world with a frantic race through traffic to the hospital, a whole lot of blood flowing, more than a few screams, tears all around and some of them for joy.  Which sounds like what happens in much of life.

But why celebrate a birthday?  I think there’s many good reasons.  We’re space and time creatures and birthdays are milestones of the beginning of our story, markers along the journey that help us take stock of the story-arc of our lives, naming where we are and what we are becoming.  And they are healthy reminders that the story of our lives is brief; there is an ending to me and you.

I think birthdays are joy tutors.  I find most of us to be fairly joy-challenged people and a birthday teaches us the serious business of celebration.  I’m convinced you can’t get enough parties, cake, presents, candles, and singing in life.  If, as C.S. Lewis notes, “joy is the serious business of heaven,” then we better learn some of the rhythms of that way of being here and now.

And then they are ways of paying attention to the uniqueness of each life before us.  Each person you meet is nothing less than a one-of-a-kind handiwork of the Creator.  Think of the improbably unique wonder of each human life.  Imagine the millions of different genetic permutations and combinations you might have been, and yet it is you, me, who are here, the ones God elected to fashion into existence.  It seems obvious that such a unique creation is, at the very least, worth one day’s notice and attention.  Dare we believe that we are people worth a proper fête?

I like what Henri Nouwen has to say about birthdays: “Celebrating a birthday reminds us of the goodness of life, and in this spirit we really need to celebrate people’s birthdays every day, by showing gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and affection. These are ways of saying: ‘It’s good that you are alive; it’s good that you are walking with me on earth. Let’s be glad and rejoice. This is the day that God has made for us to be and to be together.’ “ (Here and Now: Living in the Spirit)

Mostly, birthdays are good reminders of the faithful love of God.  Their an annual card to me that I didn’t need to be, that this year was a gift, that I am here today by grace alone.

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Farewell Harry Potter

The curtains sway shut.  Exit stage left.  We’re going to miss you, Mr. Potter.

With the final Harry Potter film out, I’m resurrecting an editorial I wrote exactly 6 years ago for the Calgary Herald (then marking the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), which still echoes some of why I love the Potter series.  I haven’t yet seen part 2 of The Deathly Hallows but will soon enter the theatre with a mix of anticipation and melancholy.

Potter’s Magic: it widens our reality (Calgary Herald, July 20, 2005)

How do you explain all the hubbub over Harry?  Security guards keeping watch over caches of books, Supreme Court injunctions against leaked secrets, Potter parties marking the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, kids staying up past their bedtime to get their hands on a soon-to-be-sold-out copy, and sane adults aiding and abetting all of this.  What sort of spell has been cast to cause such Muggle madness?

The latest J.K. Rowling book chronicling the exploits of the wizard in training has touched off another hopped-up-on-Harry cultural frenzy.  Sure much of it is marketing savvy but I wonder if there’s something more to all this Potter mania?  Hasn’t Harry tapped into something missing in our culture, something profoundly spiritual?

And I don’t mean all the magic or sorcery of the book, which mostly is pretty mechanical stuff.  Mainly I’m thinking about the magic of story.  Basically, the Harry Potter series is a cracking good tale.  And story itself has a power that we’ve easily dismissed in our factoid world.  We live in a boiled-down, reduced world, where only what is material or measurable is considered true or real.  And so we end up living with a shriveled and shrunken sense of reality.

But a good imaginative story widens our sense of reality.  Invoke the words “Once upon a time …” and a spell is cast, a world is created, and our sense of reality expands.  A good story often helps reveal what we sense is real and true, but do not yet see.

Mostly, stories help us deal with life.  They’re a little like toys, which encourage children to explore the world without its dangers.  My son plays with his fire truck and doesn’t suffer burns or smoke inhalation.  In a similar way, stories help us enter and explore another world, experiencing its pain and joy, and so equip us to deal with the reality in which we find ourselves.

The Harry Potter series constructs a clear conflict of good versus evil where right overcomes wrong.  And in our post 9/11 world of war on terror and suicide bombers, who can’t understand the appeal of this Hogwarts fantasy world where Harry fights the powers of darkness, where right overcomes wrong?

Yet the magic of J.K. Rowling’s series points beyond the story to something more.  The Potter series is fantasy literature, a universe filled with wonder, mystery and the supernatural.  And it’s the little children lining up at the bookstores and leading us to admit, no matter how hard we might try to suppress it, that this world we inhabit is not enough.

There is a deep human longing – some call it a God-shaped hole in every human heart – for more than what this life offers.  The Harry Potter series touches at the secret within each of us, that somehow we’ve lost ourselves and yet know there’s more, a bigger world and a larger story we were meant to be a part of.

If you’ve ever felt despair when you read the news, if your heart has ever lurched at the sight of a starving child, then you know this world is not enough.  You’ve had a taste for what it is to long for more than this world’s got to offer.  Those desires, like the child’s fantasy world of Harry Potter, are signs pointing out that we were made for something more.

We can easily lose our reverence for story; mostly we dismiss it as child’s play or mere myth.  But perhaps it is the key to entering the story we were meant to live and meeting the Storyteller of our lives.

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Friday photos

Life at the cottage – sweet summer living.

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