Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow pictures

Well, it looks like the manna will be sticking around for a while. At least a week! What a gift. AND we had a snow day today - no school at UBC, because the power was out! Danice said that never happened during her five years of undergrad at UBC. Too bad I didn't have any classes today in the first place! I seriously can't remember ever in my life having school cancelled because of snow in Saskatoon - any other Saskatonians remember having snow days? My roommates and I have been thoroughly enjoying the weather. We went on a two-hour walk last night and another two-hour walk this morning, during which I took 180 pictures. Wow. Mostly I'm writing to tell you to check some of them out on my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethmalena . Here's a sample for you:

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Meteorological-theological free associations

When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was. And Moses told them, “It is the food Yahweh has given you to eat” (Exodus 16:14-15).

The Israelites had been complaining to God… I had been, too. But I had good reason. In Vancouver, in November, the rain was a constant, a given, a mathematical probability. My life was perpetual wet pant cuffs. Perpetual wiping off the droplets on my glasses that blurred my vision. Grey skies, leaves soaked to the point of disintegration, the musty smell of overcrowded buses full of dripping people. It was starting to dilute me; it was washing me down the drain. I, who thought myself immune to seasonal affective disorder, was melancholy.

I heard rumors of Saturday snow. I did not believe them, but when I woke up Saturday morning, I put on my long underwear. Just in case.

Chris and I disagree. She is for rain, and I am for snow. She enjoys rain on car windows. I long for a blanket of fresh snow on the tree-branches. I tell her snow is more beautiful. She says yes, but it comes with a prerequisite of chill. I’ll give her some grace, because she’s had to wait for the bus outside in snowy Saskatoon this week, in -30 degree cold. I told her to crochet herself a scarf. She said perhaps she’d crochet herself a bus shelter.

I saw them float down – those first few flakes. I was sitting, lonely, in the Regent library, working on Exegesis, and I happened to be glancing out the window. A smile crept from one side of my mouth to the other, and soon I was doing spinning dances on the inside. I watched it fall, spellbound. Exegesis was a million miles away.

I wonder if you could have made a ball out of manna. I wonder if, on that first morning, the Israelite kids looked at it in delight, if they sprinkled it in their hair and let it melt on their tongues. I wonder if they let it run through their fingers, if they piled it up and sat on it. Did any of them wake up early just to see it appear? I wonder if even the kids tired of it after a couple years. After forty years.

Vancouverians use umbrellas in snow. This is logical, I suppose. Snow is wet and falling from the sky, like rain. I’ve just never associated umbrellas and snow. I’ve definitely never seen umbrellas used that way in Saskatoon. Vancouverians also freak out slightly when it snows, not wanting to drive and such, but this is understandable, because it only happens one or two days a year. I must not be too critical… I admit that I’m going to stay inside tonight instead of going out to New West. I’ll be doing what all good Saskatchewanites do when it’s cold: playing card games. Dutch Blitz.

I walked home from the bus stop last night tongue-out. The snow came in wet clusters, catching in my hair and melting down inside my jacket. I didn’t care. It drifted lazily through the glow of the streetlights. It lighted on green hedges, unaware of the incongruity.

The people of Israel began to complain. “Oh, for some meat” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

It’s hard to love snow in Saskatchewan. It’s all you see for at least half the year. The first snow is always too soon; there is never enough autumn there. The first snow is the herald of deep cold. It marks the beginning of six months of shoveling, plugging in cars, icy ruts in roads, freezing ear-tips and pinky toes. A few prairie people can still find a place in their hearts for it (as I’m sure there were some Israelites who didn’t mind eating manna for so long). At best, the first snow is met by shaking heads and a chuckle, at worst, it is met by a serious reconsideration of why one has chosen this winter-heavy part of the world as a home. But in Vancouver, it’s much easier to love, because it only lasts a few days. It’s a clash, a wonder, a luxury. Hearts leap instead of sinking. At least from what I can tell. I’m sure some are frustrated. But many have their cameras out. Many have impromptu snowball fights. Many snowmen smiled at me today.

Last night, as roommates, we decided we should bundle up and make the most of the anomaly. We put on many layers. I think Lindsey had seven. I finally got to use the snow accessories that languish in the dark of my closet. “I’ve seen those in books!” said Danielle, pointing to my neck-warmer. We went to the ocean, because that’s where you go around here when you go outside. As we stood there, I realized the ocean doesn’t actually change when it’s snowing. But the beach looks like something out of a dream, as though someone turned a knob and increased the whiteness of the sand. I made a snow-and-sand angel. I ate some snow, thinking to myself that it was probably safer than Vancouver tap water. We sat on the cold beach and Danice told me that snow is actually alien sweat, which starts out orange in the orange sky and turns white as it falls, just like blood turning from blue to red when it mixes with oxygen.

Familiar pools of water under dripping snow clothes. Forgotten leg muscles coaxed into action again in the delicate process of walking without slipping. Tires spinning. Large clumps falling from the eaves and startling passers-by. The mischievous smile of a young snow-suited boy, aiming a carefully glove-crafted ball at his father’s back.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The snow of the last 24 hours has been divine sustenance to this displaced prairie girl. He provided the same thing for me last year in Vancouver, and five years ago in Belgium, with my insuppressible joy and delight as a predictable result each time. But if rain is to be my every-morning manna, I guess I should also learn to see His provision there and respond with gratitude. Matthew Kelly describes rain as God’s loving attention to his earth, a communication of life, a sign that all is well. I wish I could become a container and let it fill me instead of being washed out. Still, I will enjoy the peaceful white while it’s here. Kelly also says, “Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…”

As we walked back to the house last night, my roommates and I slid through the snow singing Christmas carols. We sang them loudly and out-of-key, dancing like people who don't care what they look like. Then we sang songs from the Sound of Music, which don’t have much to do with snow…except “Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes…” and “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

…a song which, by means of an association deeply ingrained in me (and logical to very few of you), brings the following words to mind:

Blessed art Thou
O Lord Our God
King of the Universe
Who brings forth bread from the earth…

Who brings forth bread from the heavens.
Who brings forth snow to feed me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

Interestingness top 10

Paper: done.
Health: much better, thank you.
Rubber boots: still lacking.
Photoshop guilt: assuaged.

Now I will tell you some interesting (and not-so-interesting) things I’ve experienced this past week, in no particular order…what a wonderfully vague word, “experien

1. A concert by a band called Over The Rhine. This husband-and-wife duo from Ohio write the most seductive songs I’ve ever heard sung by Christians. Karin, who does most of the singing, is one of the most talented vocal line-crafters I’ve heard, very jazzy and gospelly. But they’re allowed, because they’re married. Anyway, they’re unique and relaxing – check them out at http://www.overtherhine.com.

2. An impromptu lesson on the World Wars around the supper table at the Williams’ residence. This was sparked by the Anne of Green Gables sequel, where Anne is married and goes to find Gilbert at the war. As Hannah and Emilia and I watched it, Sarah would pipe in with, “Girls, don’t watch this part; it’s not historically accurate!” Man, I’d love to have a historian in the family.

3. Skating with my Regent breakfast-prayer friends! Ho
w can this be, you Saskatonians may ask, considering the lack of cold here? The answer is : Indoor arena! I showed off my skating prowess, especially my backwards skating. They were very impressed. Actually, they were almost as good as me. Almost.

4. Body Worlds 3. Approximately 200 real human specimens on display, preserved, eyes and all, using a strange “plastination” technique. Some are full bodies, with the skin removed so you can see all the muscles and ligaments, and some are opened even more so you can see organs. I thought it was amazing. Granted, I’m a biology geek. Check it out at

5. Having to boil my drinking water. You may or may not have heard that since Thursday, we’re not supposed to drink tap water in Vancouver because the rain caused a mudslide into the lake that serves as our reservoir. The water is kind of murky. I heard rumors of police being called to break up a fight at Costco over the last bottle of water. Yesterday I saw a boy on the street selling not lemonade, but water. Yes, the situation is dire here in the Couv.

6. A fruit fly infestation of massive proportions, in my house. We are taking steps to eradicate them. Step one was taking the compost out. Step two was getting a new compost container that had a closable lid. Step three was searching the internet for fruit fly trap-making ideas. Step four was building a saran-wrapped-jar-with-holes-in-it-and-a-banana-piece trap. Step five was watching them crawl back out the holes. We are now trying a new trap with a paper funnel, and we shall see if we ou
tsmart them at last. Geez, with the water ban and the fruit flies, this place is starting to seem like a real war zone.

7. Having my hair cut by an apprentice. Someone recommended this to me as a way of going to the expensive Aveda salon but paying only $15. What I didn’t realize was that the girl was getting judged on how well she did my hair. In order to please her very unforgiving instructor, she took two and a half hours. I was pulling for her. Needless to say, this is the most thorough haircut I have ever had – if you want to inspect it, let me know.

8. Two great movies– one old and one new. “In America” and “The Prestige”. Both highly recommended to me by my sister Rachel, who has excellent taste in movies.

9. Apple crisp with sunflower seeds in it. Eaten at… you guessed it… the Naam. Where I take all of my friends from home. The lucky prairie visitors to accompany me this time were
Scott Fitzsimmons (McGimmel), Jordan Kurtz and Lisa Nazarenko.

10. My first celebrity sighting in Vancouver. I went to Sophie’s Cosmic CafĂ© today (which is interesting in its own right) and this lovely man was leaving the restaurant:

I never was a huge Joshua Jackson fan (I didn’t watch Dawson’s Creek), but Danice and Lindsey and I agreed that he was better looking in real life anyway. The best part was that I was seated in the EXACT SAME SEAT that he had been sitting in. As he got up to give me his seat, he winked at me and pointed and said, “Hey hot stuff, is that a new haircut?” I think I’m remembering that correctly…

Today is the 24th birthday of marvelous inimitable Danice…she was still carded at the liquor store. Tonight we shall drink and trim the Christmas post to the sweet sounds of Michael W. Smith singing Christmas songs.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Photoshop guilt and kenosis

It sure is raining. It rains a lot here. I think I’ve accepted that. At least I get to wear my bright blue jacket. (It matches my eyes.) There were rivers flowing down the street by my bus stop. Leaves were getting caught in it and tumbling around in the rapids. It reminded me briefly of the toothpick races of my childhood, but you’d have to run to keep up with toothpicks in that current. There were also rivers flowing into my shoes. I do need some rubber boots. There are no Canadian Tires or Walmarts or Zellers in Vancouver – you have to go to the suburbs to find anything big-boxy, which is a good thing unless you’re in the market for some cheap rubber boots and you don’t want to take a skytrain to find them.

I am lying on my bed with the stomach flu. I’d really like to be at Rock Garden with my roommates. But even being home has been good today. I got to talk to Mom, Dad, Rachel, Daniel, Chris, Jordan and Arwen! I am very popular when I’m sick. Plus I’ve had plenty of time to become a genuine addict of Flickr.

If you haven’t heard of Flickr, no, it’s not a new stomach flu drug, it’s a website where you can post photos and see other people’s photos. Rachel started her own Flickr site, so I thought I’d give it a try, since one of my favorite parts of this blog is posting photos on it. So here’s my site:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethmalena .

But here’s the addicting part… checking out other people’s pictures. And commenting on them. And then adding them as your favorites. And checking what other people’s favorite pictures are, then discovering whole new photographers with really beautiful stuff. And searching for good photos by people who live near you. And looking at photos rated high on the “interestingness” scale (yes, that’s the word they actually use on the site). The fun never ends. There are so many good photos out there! So many people with great cameras who are adept at using Photoshop. It’s enough to make me want a great camera and Photoshop. And adeptness. I showed Danice some photos I found that use a technique called “light painting” (check my favorites on Flickr if you want to see them), where the photographers left the shutter open for a long time and ran around with an LED light, making streaks across the photo. Before you know it, we’re in the dark in the bathroom with my camera and a lighter. This is me trying to write my name. Not
quite as satisfactory as the professionals…we need practice.

But it’s got me thinking about the ethics of photo editing. I definitely disagree with photojournalists adding things into their photos – but what about regular amateur photographers, like me? I’ve been using Picasa (poor man’s Photoshop) to touch up my pictures, and I suddenly realized that I was feeling slightly guilty every time I changed something. And I also remember feeling guilty for thinking, as we drove through the badlands near Drumheller this summer, “Gee, I could really make those foothills look even better if I took a picture and turned up the contrast a little…” Turning up the contrast on the already amazing view God gave me…

I think the source of my guilt is really my understanding of photography. I had been seeing it as a direct reproduction of the beauty of creation as seen through my eyes, which is why altering it purposely in post-production bugged me. But really, unless you’re standing there with me, I need to put the scene through a camera to show it to you. And as soon as I use a camera, I make artistic choices, and I’m not representing exactly what I experienced. So I’ve definitely come to see photography as being more about creating beauty than straight-up capturing it. Like any art form, it’s a combination of the raw materials in nature and the creative choices you make, both before and after taking the photo – what lens you use, if you go black and white or color, how much you zoom in, what branches you push to the side, what red-eye you fix, what highlights and shadows you bring out, even turning up the contrast. (And the fact that it really is “art” makes me feel good, because I haven’t considered myself a visual artist until now…) Any thoughts on Photoshop guilt, fellow photo-nuts?

This week, I must finish a paper for my Christianity and Science class. It’s funny how many other things I want to do when I have to write a paper… like photography…I’ve also been teaching myself Greek, and how to play the drums, using chopsticks. But my paper isn't about photos or Greek or drums or even chopsticks - it's about miracles. “It will be a miracle if you get it done in time.” (Chris) Ha ha. It will get done.

It’s actually more about the way God works in the world. I’ve been really interested in the ideas of this theologian/theoretical physicist named John Polkinghorne, who has a “kenotic” worldview… he (and a few other theologians – Moltmann, Vanstone) thinks that God has willingly limited his own power and knowledge for the sake of our free will. Not just our free will to choose whether or not to follow God, but our free will to influence the course of history. So instead of God being the director of a scripted cosmic play, standing outside time and watching it unfold, he’s the director of an improvised cosmic play, and doesn’t interfere with where the actors take it. He has an ending planned but hasn’t set in stone exactly how the play will get there – that depends on the actors. Polkinghorne calls it an “intertwining of creaturely and providential causality”. I call it freaky and intriguing. While I’m uncomfortable with the idea of God not being completely omniscient and omnipotent, especially God not knowing exactly what the future holds but somehow working out redemption of creation, I can’t stop thinking about what it would mean. It makes a lot more sense of prayer, and of evil, but it’s a fine line to walk. I’d like to read more. Any thoughts on God's self-limitation, fellow theology-nuts?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sunday Sunday... someday

Sundays have always been wonderful days, but they’re really making a name for themselves this year. Sundays are my Sabbath days. I’ve been doing the whole Sabbath thing for four or five years now. Before you tell me you're impressed at my depth of spiritual discipline, I must confess that it’s more of a sanity-preserver than a spiritual discipline for me. I can seriously picture God saying, (to himself, in plural, because of the whole Trinity thing) “We’d better include some verses in the Bible about taking a day of rest, because Beth’s going to come along, and unless she has a day when she knows she can’t do any work, she’s going to drive herself mad with guilt every time she’s not working.” Yep, that’s just the way I am. Danice and I balance each other out well because she’s always trying to get herself to do work and I’m always trying to make myself stop. All of this to say… taking a day of rest has kept me marginally sane through college.

Except, actually, now that I think of it, I did do some work today. I washed half the dishes. They finally got to me. My roommates and I have become overly skilled at stacking dirty dishe
s on our 2-foot square counter space, compacting them and permitting many days to pass before washing becomes an absolute necessity. I know, it’s disgusting. But I feel that it is an entirely expected part of a basement-suite-dwelling- full-time-student’s life to let dishes pile up, and this is one expectation I will live up to.

But I’m off topic already. Sunday. Well, obviously, I go to church in the morning. Church is great. But my favorite part about church the last two Sundays has been walking home from it. This is a new tradition I’ve started, and it will be hopefully be regular, but most likely weather-dependent. It’s about an hour and fifteen minute walk. (See, any other day, I wouldn’t walk that far, because taking the bus would be faster, giving me more time to get homework and reading done, but because I’m not allowed to do that stuff on Sunday, I can walk. Get it?) My only rule when walking is that I have to say hi to everyone I pass on
the street, even the awkward ones who try so hard to avoid making eye contact - this practice is inspired in part by a post on Tall Jordan’s blog. I take a different route home each time, and mostly what I do is pick up leaves. I might actually start calling it “leafing”. Lindsey Fox is another distinguished leafer. I pick up leaves whose shape and/or color I like. My Bible ends up doubling as a temporary leaf press, which I think is a very good second use for a Bible. You know… bringing together the two Books, the World and the Word. (A little bit of dorky Regent humor for you there.) I have no idea what I’ll do with all of these leaves. Any ideas?

Today I learned two new trees, whilst I was leafing. I asked a lady what they were - a poor innocent bystander, subjected to my nerdy curiosity. Catalpa and Liriodendron. The Indian Bean Tree and the Tulip Tree. It’s crazy, because I dissected the flower of the Tulip Tree in my Botany class. That’s the third species dissected in the U of S biology program that’s turned up here. Here I thought they were bringing us strange specimens from all corners of the globe, but no, it seems they had a Vancouver distributor. I can’t say I’m disappointed. If you’re going to get species from somewhere, you might as well get them from Vanco
uver. There’s a lot of them just sort of lying around the place.

I keep getting distracted. Back to Sunday. Sunday has long been the day to phone home to the family, a tradition started way back in Belgium in 2001. It’s a highlight of Sunday, because I get to catch up and talk to whichever family members happen to be lazing around. And sometimes I get advice, like today when my dad told me that maybe I’d be able to find a boyfriend (or at least a date) if I told boys I was interested in going to a Canucks game… I also got to talk on the phone with my best friend not once, but twice today. Sunday Sunday.

For the rest of Sunday, I usually do whatever I feel like doing. I try to not watch TV…but today I discovered a nature documentary that comes on at 2:00, so that might become a new tra
dition. I listen to music. I put pieces of dark chocolate in my mouth and let my tea wash over and melt them into my tastebuds, like the Belgians taught me. I read books that I actually WANT to read. I read people’s blogs and write my own. Sometimes I pull out my guitar and fool around. I become my most introverted self, completely enjoying being alone in my room. I’m in the Sabbath zone.

(Oh, and every second Sunday night, I take the SkyTrain to New West to go to a service called Rock Garden (yeah, weird name) where a great band plays, and a great Regent prof, Rikk Watts, basically gives a free hour-long lecture. If you'd like to spend an hour listening to him, visit http://the-rockgarden.com/?Audio:Living_Against_the_Grain.)

Well, that’s all I have to say about that. And I hear there is occasion for a little bit of Rider Pride tonight. Yeah Saskatchewan! Don’t you love when people like me who don’t follow sports or cheer anyone on suddenly get all excited at playoff time? So, Dad, maybe I’ll have to invite some boys out to BC Place for some football, instead of hockey. Except that I’ll be cheering for the “wrong” team…
(This last pic is Rachel's, included in memory of very different, snow-filled, Saskatoon Sundays, with Wesley the funny-shaped guitar and the Blue Lagoon... I miss them both... I mean all three - rachel too)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I feel most strongly what I write about least

Last night a warmth crept through the wire
and we, the once-frozen, softened at its ends
melting in this fire
that we did not kindle

My eyes, long held closed by frosted eyelashes
opened just in time to see
the fire folding in, rolling into a piercing
point, and sharp
boring into that great and immovable stone
with a terrible roar!
split by light into shards
And behind it, now revealed...
a cobwebbed door.

I saw us walk through.
I do not know where it will lead.

But dripping images, hazy, in strands
seem to suggest
that we will return to the place where we were born
we will wander lazily back to the place where we were born
walking, we will be unwrapped
layers will fall away
and we will laugh,
laugh long,
in the face of the one who would forever suspend
that which was meant to dance

We will dance on our graves.

(Now don't be surprised if
I say something to the effect that
to see your beauty surface from the deepest places
up through the shadows of murky, surreal seas
is to me as the delight of a thousand jellyfish)

Here my blessed task will be
to find the shining in you - I will name it
as you will do for me
And as I lay back, basking in new-found freedom
fallen like dew on a mountain,
you will sing the song
the waiting song
the one
that sits curled up in your corners...

And we will both say that yes,
we were worth the fight


Did I mention that it's raining?
You always loved it more than me
But today every drop is redemption
and I'm not nearly as cold.