Saturday, April 30, 2005

i love spring

So does Dory at Wittenberg Gate. She takes us on a walk through her woods in "If You Weed and Feed You Don’t Have These."

Also check out these lovelies, photograhed by K. Wetterling.
(Hat tip: Wittenberg Gate, above)

Which brings me to the wild bleeding hearts our woods are full of right now, and the last poem of April, poetry month.






Writing

Beside the path that winds
through my waking and sleeping
grow, like wildflowers
scenes, insights, connection
Some days I am too rushed
or distracted to see
On others I am wiser
live with the perception
which gathers a bouquet
chooses one or two to press
between the covers of a book


(Or we could say...
chooses one or two to post
within the archives of a blog)

- V. Nesdoly © 2004.

Friday, April 29, 2005

gross me out!

This mischievous heads-up from hubby has to be the winner in the ‘gross me out’ department...

"Mystery of the exploding toads"

Visitors to Hamburg parks are being warned to watch out for exploding toads.

Several thousand toads in the city's parks have so far mysteriously spontaneously exploded, sending entrails and toad body parts over a wide area.

Vets and animal welfare workers said the mystery has decimated the city's toad population as well as the unpleasant problem of leaving toad parts scattered around parks and open spaces. [read more ...]


Speculation as to what’s causing it includes:
- "Hungry crows are pecking out their livers" - Berlin veterinarian Frank Mutschmann (posited in an Associated Press article, "Exploding German toads alarm onlookers"
- viral infection caught from horses on a nearby racetrack
- toads committing suicide from over-population

The Hamburg pond has been called ‘The Death Pool.’ Death too, to the myth of benevolent ‘Mother Nature.’

shortlisted for awards

I was thrilled to discover yesterday that two poems by colleagues have made the short list for the 2005 Word Guild Awards.

"In a Civilized Society An Adulteress Isn’t Stoned" by Jan Wood
and "I Chased My Healing" by Mary Lou Cornish.

Also on the short list are:

- by my friend Helen Grace Lescheid (a.k.a. Esther Manuel’s) Treasures of Darkness: Finding Hope Stronger Than Our Hurts in the Books - Life Story category. This is a compelling true story about dealing with mental illness (not her own).

- by Deborah Gyapong "The Thong" published by Infuze in the Short Story category. (Deborah also blogs at The Master's Artist)

Congratulations! Awards will be presented June 17th at Write Canada in Guelph, Ontario. I wish they could all win!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

a day of lists

I can hardly believe it, but this month of commemorating poetry is almost done. It went so fast...

Anyway, before it slips into history, I want to do something which poetry help books always advise - and that is, make some lists. (Besides, lots of poems are lists.)

Here is a list of some great poetry websites:

The Academy of American Poets
Canadian Contemporary Poets
Glossary of Poetic Terms
Poetry 180
Poetry 4 Kids
The Poem Tree (anthology of metered poetry)
Utmost Christian Writers
The Writer’s Almanac

Here are some sites for poetry prompts:

Poetry Poetry and more specifically The Vault and go to "Workshop Ideas")
Poets Online

And four of poems I like for one reason or another:

"e-poem" by Heather McHugh
"Being Boring" by Wendy Cope
"Tante Tina Puts the Gulf War in Perspective" by David Waltner Toews
"Where I'm From" by Waterfall
"Let Evening Come" by Jane Kenyon


And now this last list – a poem. Would anyone care to guess what it is a list of?


WELCOME

Welcome to the Country Airport,
also called the Loveless Hotel

Would you care for something to drink?
Ultramarine or Blue for their colors passing through us?
Fire aged by Rosicrucian in the basement?

Perhaps a light hors d’oeuvres on the funny side,
otherwise something more substantial –
unholy sonnets or serious concerns?

Our specials today are Nice Fish
caught just above water, down the winter road,
Septuagenarian Stew
and Night Picnic, which
given sugar, given salt will forever
spoil you for the idea of the ordinary.

Standard menu also includes
smorgasbord of Anthologies, fine array of
New and Selected or, if you like,
Selected and New, as well as 100 Selected
and the always popular Collected or Complete
in flavors from Angelou to Yeats.

Now that you are coming up for air
allow me to tempt you with the bare plum
of winter rain, picked
at the edge of the orchard country –
archaic smile guaranteed.
Will you end with coffee,
or do you hear a summons?

As to further questions of travel, you never know...
May I suggest the movie at the end of the world,
a stroll through the Impossible Toystore
or a sail on the Boat of Quiet Waters?
But beware the Black Riviera
with its bandsaw riots,
lords of misrule,
and the berrypicker who will bore you
with stories of what happened
when he went to the store for a loaf of bread.

–V. Nesdoly © 2003

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

a song

A Song Came Wearing Music Skin

Of times
a song came waltzing by
wearing warm smiling music-skin stretched o’er
bent white bones
sings itself so sweet seems crimson sinful
through some joy-filled scarlet heart thumps
blessed and blessing all
all alone on Somewhere’s stage
carving word-wings
from break-a-legs
notes flying as shook up frenzy-hair
colored-passions dance forth as angel’s souls
blessing Heaven’s breath
then bows lowwwly humble down and out on back-feet
as naked silence reverberates leaving all ears a-tremble aghast
stunned
dressed with open-mouth-impress
for years, for years trying to catch their breath
dreaming of times
a song came wearing warm smiling music skin
Singing! Singing!
causing angel’s pause with tears a-glow
and demon’s tremble
far below
turning itself inside out through God’s own lips

– James Beard (from Music Fusion: Arias to Zydecos, a music journal created by Jan Wood © 2004, used with permission). Read more poems by James here and here.

************

While we're on the topic of poetry (what other topic is there in April?) the Accidental Poet remembers and recites poems learned in childhood. Take a look--though she leaves out the politically incorrect bits -- bah, we want to see it all!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

tagged!

I’ve been tagged by the lovely Waterfall to answer some questions.

Here’s the scoop on how to play: I pick 5 occupations out of the list below and answer my questions. Then I tag 3 other people to post their answers on their blog. If I tag you, and you don’t want to be a part of this, then that’s okay. Just let me know and I’ll tag someone else.

The "questions": If I could be a scientist...If I could be a farmer...If I could be a musician... If I could be a doctor... If I could be a painter... If I could be a gardener... If I could be a missionary... If I could be a chef... If I could be an architect... If I could be a linguist... If I could be a psychologist... If I could be a librarian... If I could be an athlete... If I could be a lawyer... If I could be an inn-keeper... If I could be an athlete... If I could be a professor... If I could be a writer... If I could be a llama-rider... If I could be a bonnie pirate... If I could be an astronaut... If I could be a world famous blogger... If I could be a justice on any one court in the world... If I could be married to any current famous political figure...


If I could be a gardener ... I would have an ‘everlasting’ garden like the one I’ve ogled for years on a walk I take near here. No matter what time of the year it is (except for November through January), something is always blooming. And somehow the gardener lady has planned it so that the plants coming into their own drape over the finished stuff, and it never looks rangy.

But I would want to combine this knowledge of everlasting bloomability with the design of an English country garden I drive past. It graces a house which is mostly hidden by trees, but you can just make out a white picket fence, a verandah with wicker furniture and growing in front of the verandah this eye feast – tall spikes of delphinium, and lacy white heads (maybe Queen Anne’s lace) and in front of that something pink and more white and shades of mauve, so that you know if you drove into the driveway you would be transported to a place of elegance and tradition and tea on the verandah at 4:30 sharp!

If I could be an inn-keeper... my inn would be a bed and breakfast on the Gulf Islands between Vancouver and Victoria. Saltspring Island would be nice! I would offer bright rooms, furnished with old-fashioned furniture and with large windows that could be opened to let in the sea breeze. Our speciality (my hubby would do this with me) would be the breakfasts, sometimes continental with hot-baked scones, and muffins and buttery toast, served with a variety of cheeses and homemade jams. Other days we’d have the farmer’s breakfast - eggs, sausages, porridge, hash browns, hunks of grainy brown toast. Of course we’d have a goat and make goat cheese and offer goat milk.

In the common room there would be a fireplace, and piped in music, and a library, with books which would speak to people about God, so that when they looked back on their stay, they’d know this had been holy ground. And after the guests would leave, we’d crank up the music to something energizing, and hang out the duvets and pillows on the verandah to air, while we mopped and polished the rooms, and shined the porcelain in the bathroom.

If I could be a painter... I would be a painter like Kim Jacobs, whose jigsaw puzzles are on my walls, and who has made this gingerbread advent calendar. I’d make paintings which were full of detail and homespunness. I would get requests to illustrate children’s books, make calendars, and manufacture my own line of cards!




If I could be a writer... I would like to write two kinds of books. The first kind is talking animal books, of the Adventures of Reddy Fox, Thornton Burgess type, or the Wind In the Willows-type Kenneth Graham type. Can you imagine anything more fun than inventing and then letting loose delicious characters like Reddy Fox, Toad, Badger, Ratty and the Weasels?

Another kind of book I’d like to write is the kind that has impacted my life probably next most to the Bible, and that’s biographies. I have so often felt God’s Spirit reach right through the stories of others’ lives, and mess with my heart, I can think of no higher calling than to have words I’ve written do the same for others.


If I could be a world famous blogger... Don’t you know that I already am! HA!!! Not. But I would love it if someone thought: Her blog would appeal to a segment of our readers. And that day in my little hotmail ‘spam’ box, because that’s where all the emails from strangers come, there would be this offer: "We would like to syndicate your blog– and pay you for writing it! Please continue posting exactly the mix you now have. In fact, if you find Blogger too unreliable, we’ll sponsor a Typepad blog for you!" And forever after, I could blog to my heart’s content, without feeling guilty and that I was wasting time and dodging work that had real value.

Thank you, Waterfall... what fun!!

Now I would like to tag the whimsical Rebecca of Rebecca Writes , the lovely Paula of Listen In... who I think loves words as much as I do, and someone whom I’m sure will give us a fun read – h8s2clean of Accidental Poet.

restitution

There is no restitution for some things done wrong
but to lay them in disgrace
at the feet of Jesus

we crawl up out of muddied waters
with our hands scrambling for safety
and the taste of filth in our mouths

we flog ourselves with the world's opinion
and go down again, choking
gasping for air under the assault of accusing eyes

but there comes a time we realize
the deed is done
and we stand before Christ
mute with longing
helpless in our regret
broken in our sorrow

He draws us to himself
and showers us with radiance
Forgiven
Restored
He lifts each one to new and holy ground

There is no restitution for some things done wrong
but to leave them
abandoned
at the feet of Jesus

-Barbara Mitchell (from I Know You Lord © 1994 - used with permission)

a heart set on pilgrimage

Blessed are those whose strength is in you
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage
As they pass through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs:
the autumn rains also
cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength
till each appears before God in Zion.
Psalm 84:5-7 (NIV)

pil-grim-age (pil’ grem-mij) - a journey to a shrine or sacred place.

I paraphrase it this way: ‘Blessed (enjoying the happiness of heaven) are those who have set their hearts (who are determined) to make this life a journey from one sacred place to another; from one meeting with God to the next.'

What I like about this idea is how God’s presence pervades my life as a pilgrim; how as a pilgrim I expect God to come through, to be there, to show up and, on the flip side, how I am alert to God and sensitive to Him, because He is all around if I will acknowledge Him.

And so what happens? Shrines and altars are everywhere. Not only in the expected places – church, and happy family picnics and in my morning quiet time, but also in fetching the neighbor kid’s stray ball from my back yard, opening the mail, discussing life with a rebellious child, a hospital room...

Where I would normally expect to become dehydrated, woozy, lightheaded – the parched Valley of Baca – I find springs. The desert becomes an oasis not because it’s changed, but because "they"--the pilgrims (and I, the individual pilgrim)--make it so. For where my pilgrim heart seeks the Lord, He shows up with water to quench my thirst and bathe my feet, oil to soothe the blisters and perfume my skin, bread to nourish me, and wine to make me glad.

Monday, April 25, 2005

poetry of childhood

Today’s edition of Writer’s Almanac tells me it’s the birthday of Walter de la Mare. Immediately the words: "Slowly, silently, now the moon / Walks the night in her silver shoon..." come to mind. "Silver" is one of the first poems I memorized, along with "Under a toadstool crept a wee elf / Out of the rain to shelter himself..." ("The Elf and the Doormouse" - Oliver Herford). Another poem I remember from school (didn’t memorize it, though, except for the first few lines) is "Off the Ground,"also by Walter de la Mare.

***********

Silver

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

– Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

*********

What poems (first lines or entire) do you remember from childhood?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

the plowman

God is plowing my spirit
breaking with His Word
through turf of actions
churning it over
to deep motivations
bare and uncovered
furrows laid open
before my own eyes

Mine is a stony patch
lumpy with pebbles
life-habits of thinking
established reactions
plow clangs out warning
when stones hit the plowshare

Then God stops His plowing
takes out unrelenting
shovel of living
methodically patiently
loosens the dirt
proceeds to uncover
not pebbles but boulders
that must be removed

I’m bruised and disquieted
torn wide apart
a field He’s preparing
for purposes
higher than mine

– V. Nesdoly (from Calendar © 2004)


***********

Callmeteem posts a thoughtful poem for Sunday consideration: "I Stand by the Door: An Apologia for my Life" by Sam Shoemaker.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

mantle of motherhood

She cradles her infant
tears cascade unfelt
as she rocks
eyes closed, body swaying
‘Ma-ry Ma-ry"
every drop of mother’s blood sings

I am wordless immersed
in her pain
compassion shackles my arms
no gesture no word is appropriate
I am the thief today

a deep breath ripples her body
tender fingertip caresses downy cheek
she inhales memorizes this one
final kiss

she places the baby
in my arms settles
the mantle of motherhood
on my shoulders

–Sue Plett © 1997 (used with permission)

*************

Sue Plett writes from her home in Alberta, Canada. Read a brief explanation of the poem here. Read more of this often very funny lady: a.k.a. h8s2clean at Accidental Poet.

chocolate spoon factory

Well, my ‘mantle of motherhood’ today involves dipping 150 chocolate spoons. Because it so happens this is one of the jobs I’ve happily taken on to help prepare for the big day (daughter’s wedding May 27th).

Chocolate spoons really are a brilliant idea for wedding favors (seeing as how we’re dealing here with the surname ‘Spooner’). Thus I have in the last few days researched chocolate spoons on the internet, come away with several ideas of how to do it, and spent Wednesday afternoon in the kitchen, microwaving, melting and dipping (or not) practically all the plastic spoons I own, into chocolate of various kinds and consistencies.

I’ve discovered that though most of the instructions advise to use the microwave to melt the chocolate, for me that’s a bad idea as it yields an undippable and hot congealed mass with the consistency of flaky concrete. Melting chocolate chips on the stovetop at low heat works much better.

I also realized we needed a note of explanation here. Fortunately I had one chocolate spoon and its helpful little tag left from a Christmas basket which gave me an idea of what to say. So I’ve designed little tags to be attached to each spoon. The top of each tag says (in a sturdy font): "Dip chocolate-covered spoon in hot chocolate, coffee or cappuccino" and below that, (in a finer, more decorative font): "Thank you for sharing our special day..." - and the kids’ names.

I used my business card label template and cards for these, putting two columns in the format of the card, so that each business card makes two labels (and I only have to cut each card in half, as the remainder of the divisions are perforated – oh yes, and also punch a hole in the top of each little tag).

My thought was to have the official wedding spoons in gold, and slip them into little cellophane baggies instead of wrapping from scratch with a roll of cellophane. Thursday afternoon was devoted to getting those supplies. We found a party supply place near here (Turkey’s), which carries plastic spoons of every color imaginable. We found gold.

They sent us to Essential Packaging which had the little cellophane baggies (with gold dots no less) and we also picked up gold twist ties.

So with all that plus 2½ kg. of chocolate chips (and who knows, I may need more!) gathered, today my kitchen becomes a chocolate spoon factory. Which should be a lot of fun. (...if all goes well– and why won’t it? I’ve so slathered all this in prayer, I’m convinced God is making the way smooth before me, what with finding the exact supplies I had in mind, for starters). Plus my house will smell delicious!

Friday, April 22, 2005

rhyme time - poetry homework

Can you answer these in rhyme (in comments, or in the privacy of your own back-of-the-envelope)? Answers here.

E.g. a pup which has just fallen into a lake = wet pet

1. a sorrowing boy
2. a rude ill-tempered female youth
3. a tale of much bloodshed
4. a clown in class
5. a rose dipped in vinegar
6. well behaved rodents
7. extraordinary food at a banquet
8. a timid insect
9.a stupid horse
10. a fowl that has escaped its coop
11. a hobo in the rain

calendar

Essence of spring drifts from the sticky buds,
Robin’s lively lilt now wakes me early.
Under the clouds, crocuses clutch a tight bouquet.
Humming lawnmowers are summer’s elevator music.

Robin’s lively lilt now wakes me early,
The smell of sunscreen seeps through all my clothes.
Humming lawnmowers are summer’s elevator music.
Fruit stand has berries and apples by the box!

The smell of sunscreen seeps through all my clothes;
Your fun is over, mocks the drenching rain.
Fruit stand has pears and apples by the box:
Houses don sequins and tuxedos.

Your fun is over mocks the drenching rain.
We laugh and push each other’s cars through mounds of snow.
Houses doff sequins and tuxedos:
Naked trees stand pensive in the cold.

We laugh and push each other’s cars through mounds of snow.
Under the clouds, crocuses clutch a tight bouquet.
Naked trees stand pensive in the cold;
Essence of spring drifts from the sticky buds.

– V. Nesdoly © 2002


*****************
"Calendar" is my poem for ‘Earth Day.’

I am not an earth worshiper. But I do love my terrestrial home. I love the beauty of nature, the place I live (on the south-western edge of Canada) and am fascinated and reassured by the cycles – of the seasons and of life – not in a new-agey way, but in a "there is a time for..." Ecclesiastes 3 way.

I used the pantoum form in ‘Calendar’ to try to show those cycles, and the way they bleed into and circle back to each other.

rhyme time - poetry homework: answers

Okay kiddos, get your red pencils. Of course any rhymes which make sense are correct...

1. a sorrowing boy: SAD LAD
2. a rude ill-tempered female youth: SURLY GIRLY
3. a tale of much bloodshed: GORY STORY
4. a clown in class: SCHOOL FOOL
5. a rose dipped in vinegar: SOUR FLOWER
6. well behaved rodents: NICE MICE
7. extraordinary food at a banquet: IDEAL MEAL
8. a timid insect: SHY FLY
9.a stupid horse: SILLY FILLY
10. a fowl that has escaped its coop: LOOSE GOOSE
11. a hobo in the rain: DAMP TRAMP

You rate:
10-11 correct: you’re a lean, mean rhyming machine. (Someone – I don’t remember who – once said – I don’t remember where, so take my word for it – people who write rhyming poetry successfully need to have a large vocabulary. Now that’s not necessary for this little quiz, but it is probably a quality you possess if you tend to rhyme and do it well).

6-9 correct: your ability to rhyme is passable. After all, many rhyming forms only need rhymes in every other line anyway, so go for it!

0-5 correct: uh, maybe stick to unrhymed verses...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

poem in your pocket day

Apparently today is 'Poem in Your Pocket Day' (Hat tip: Wittingshire).

Thank you to Jim, who gave me permission to pull this one of his out of my pocket:

************

Pocket Poem

soiled by sweaty fingers
creased and creased again
opened up a thousand times
to view the words I'd penned

it records a life of hiding
with nothing grand to offer
just the words, "I trust you"
on this paper's humble altar

a crumpled composition by a
carefree crowd unseen,
thanksgiving penned in words...
and when you find it in your pocket,
it'll still be warm from me

here it is Lord.

- Jim Cox (Inspirational Poetry © 2004 - used with permission)

*************

Jim writes from his home in California. At the moment he's forsaken poetry and is working on writing stories.

promptings' potpourri

First, I must alert you to the newest Christian Carnival - up at Polypseudomath ....shhhh you’re entering a sanctuary...

Rebecca Writes continues to post Faith Stories. This one, "How the Lord Made Me Into A Christian" is told by her friend Scott, and is a gripping read (how great and loving and individual is our God!)

Teem at Callmeteem regularly posts "Operation World Today" – a focus on a specific place on our globe, and a prayer for that place. I love these!

I’ve heard it said a good writer can write about any topic and make it a memorable read. Waterfall (A Sort of Notebook) sure qualifies in that department. Spinning ideas off the current rage to discover your personality type, she writes about hers and the resultant housework shenanigans in "J-Hat Cleaning Frenzies for a P-Brain"

I’ve pointed you to Wittingshire, blog of Jonathan and Amanda Witt, before. Jonathan writes mostly about things scientific, and Amanda fills in the spaces with beautiful photos and an ability to discourse on almost anything! You’ve got to read this piece of hers, "On Boys and Bikinis" in the ‘kids say...’ department.

Thanks to Dory at Wittenberg Gate, for highlighting the poetry on my blog this April Poetry Month, with a trackback in her Monday's "Beyond the Gate" post!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

book review: the jordan tracks

Book: The Jordan Tracks
Author: Steven W. Wise
Genre: Young-adult to Adult Fiction
ISBN: 1-4208-1360-9

From the first sentence of the ‘Prologue’:

"Clarence Bates plopped down heavily in his chair and looked past lazy eyelids across the supper table at the twelve-year-old son who would kill him within two minutes."

I knew that in The Jordan Tracks, I was in the hands of a skilled storyteller.

This tale of Ernie and Christa Bates set in California, Missouri, takes place in 1968. It opens with Ernie and Christa eagerly awaiting the return of Aaron, their only and beloved son, from soldier duty Vietnam.

As the story progresses, we are introduced to a cast of characters you would find in any small town. Besides Ernie, Christa and Aaron, Harley and Fudd, Ernie’s buddies from the turkey plant play the most important roles.

Wise shows his characterization skills in numerous scenes where his people strut their stuff. Here, for example is a taste of his gritty and sometimes humorous style as we join Ernie, Fudd and the rest of the crew at their lunch break:

Ernie stepped out of the blood room, shook his head at Fudd. "How can anybody covered with turkey crap be that hungry?"

"Ain’t nothin’ ever slowed down my jaws in eatin’ or talkin,’ you know that, Ernie." He paused, swiped at a feather clinging to his eyebrow. "If my Margie packed another egg salad sandwich I’ll break down and bawl. Man’s got to have a sandwich his teeth can feel, by dang. Good cookie needs to be soft, but not a sandwich!

...After several gallons of hot water and two dizen paper towels were expended, the men pulled metal charis up to the long Formica-topped table and popped open their lunch pails.

"That’s more like it...spiced beef and onions," Fudd purred. "A man can make some energy with this kind of grub."

Dorsey shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "Why don’t you just breathe on the birds while they pass by, and I’ll turn off the shocker...they’ll be stunned worse than electricity."

Fudd swallowed a gigantic bite and slowly licked his lips as he grinned at Dorsey. "Didn’t know you were gettin’ so dainty in your old age, boss man."


That’s the tone of the story throughout. It’s real life. It’s common people, poking fun at, crying with and loving each other. The themes it tackles are the themes of real life: work, celebration, family, death, depression, living with a non-Christian husband, making peace with a dark murky past, recognizing the ways God brings people to Himself. If it were a play, one stage set would be the interior of a middle-class home, another the woods, a third the turkey plant where the job of the three main characters is to catch, clamp and behead the birds (all described in technicolor).

As I said at the outset, Steven Wise knows how to tell a story. He heightens suspense when he flashes to scenes of Aaron in Vietnam, using as a transitioning device, the fact that Ernie and Aaron’s thoughts are often with each other. In several places he hooks the reader even more obviously with outright premonitions experienced by Ernie, Christa, and Aaron’s best friend Pima.

The Christian angle of the book is delivered mainly through Christa and Ernie’s caring friend Harley. It is Harley’s name for his favorite spot to pray, the railroad tracks which run between the cemetery and the turkey plant (and which he dubs the Jordan Tracks), which gives the book its name. The ‘Jordan’ gains significance in another way as the story progresses. By the end of the book, the spiritual ‘plot’ usurps the story’s plot in importance.

One of the ways I judge the success of a book is by how conscious I am of the writer’s devices. For me, the least successful (1's) are books in which I’m aware of what the author is doing, and the most successful (5's) those in which I forget all about the teller and am gripped by the story. I’d rank this book a 4.75, with marks taken off for, in a very few places, boggy prose, wordiness and awkward sentence structure.

For anyone who enjoys a finely written, substantial tale, delivered through the lives of next-door-neighbor-type characters, with about as much of the unexplainable (read ‘miraclulous') as one finds in real life, and pervaded by the perfume of the Father’s love throughout, The Jordan Tracks is a book I’d highly recommend for young-adult to adult readers.

*************
Disclaimer: The book The Jordan Tracks was sent to me by Mind & Media as a gift from the publisher who donated the books for reviewers.

reason to self-publish?

On reading Steven Wise’s The Jordan Tracks (review here), I wondered why he decided to use Author House instead of going with a CBA royalty publisher. He’s a master storyteller and his writing style and character portrayal is not unlike Dale Cramer’s.

After reading the last few days’offerings at faith*in*fiction (especially this post) I think I’m beginning to understand. Instead of subjecting his novel (which refuses to shy away from reality but at the same time, isn’t offensive in a gratuitous way) to the red pen of someone who serves three or four masters, he has become his own publisher.

The more I think of it, the more it seems like not a bad idea. He gets to tell the story he’s passionate about in the way he wants to tell it, and in the process I’m sure he’s growing his own following. Admittedly he does have to do his own marketing – one prong of which is using blogs to spread the word. In the end, though, he keeps his integrity--and all the profits, if there are any.

birthing a comet

How We Chose the Album Title Birthing a Comet

It was a spring shindig
and we were jammin’
in the town hall one night
when stardust fell
on Jerome’s accordion
and exploded

A song was born
right there
all wet and new
We danced around it
exuberant
clapped time to its heartbeat

The moon dried and caressed it
We harmonized
until Johnny’s violin
coaxed and whispered it
through the windows
to a space in the sky

Its shimmering tail spread
for light years
we walked home at dawn
still mesmerized
by the blue light
of burning ice.

–Jan Wood (from Music Fusion: Arias to Zydecos © 2004 - used with permission)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

computer haiku

Haiku. Who of us hasn’t tried writing one, several, a whole suite? This wonderful Japanese form has been on the curriculum of teachers and a requirement of students for decades. A little article, "How to Haiku" from the October 2003 issue of ByLine Magazine by Naomi Beth Wakan helps me understand the form as it has developed for writers of English:

"If you were a Japanese person, writing a haiku in Japanese, you would have lots of rules. There should be three lines, the syllable count should be 5,7,5 and there should always be a seasonal word present indicating the time of year when the haiku was written....

"Then there are the specific qualities Japanese look for in a haiku –sabi (beauty with a touch of loneliness), wabi (the appreciation of simple everyday things), aware (the sadness from the awareness that everything must pass), and yugen (the ability to glimpse the eternal in a world that is constantly changing)...

The article goes on to say how modern English writers can and have taken liberties with the traditional Japanese form:

"We, however, are writing haiku in English. While some haijin (haiku writers) stick rigidly to the 5-7-5 syllables, feeling, perhaps a link to a long line of haijin, I prefer to write three lines of approximately two beats, three beats, two beats...

and concludes by summing up what, in essence, is a haiku:

"So in considering haiku, what do we have? We have a strong image of a single event, happening in the present. It pictures an ordinary occasion that somehow expands upon reading to become extraordinary. A haiku is Blake’s "whole world in a grain of sand."

For us moderns, what could better signify the ‘whole world’ than our computers? And so the collection of fifteen Japanese haiku error messages below (replacing the terse and often unhelpful Microsoft type) is, I would say, haiku at its most relevant. (This was one of those ubiquitous emails, which I got three year ago and couldn't bear to delete.)


Your file was so big.
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

------------------------
The Web site you seek
Cannot be located, but
Countless more exist.

------------------------
Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.

----------------------------
Program aborting:
Close all that you have worked on.
You ask far too much.

----------------------------------
Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

------------------------------
Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.

------------------------
First snow, then silence.
This thousand-dollar screen dies
So beautifully.

--------------------------------
With searching comes loss
And the presence of absence:
"My Novel" not found.

----------------------------
The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao - until
You bring fresh toner.

----------------------------
Stay the patient course.
Of little worth is your ire.
The network is down.

----------------------------
A crash reduces
Your expensive computer
To a simple stone.

-----------------------
Three things are certain:
Death, taxes and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

---------------------------
You step in the stream,
But the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

---------------------------
Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.

---------------------------
Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

Monday, April 18, 2005

in his shop

In his shop Daddy improvised
like a jazz musician.
Virtuoso of rivets, solder, screws
he repaired hinges with leather
lengthened a steering shaft
for the tractor-drawn binder
braced wobbly chairs with welding rods
reincarnated metal seats
into lawn furniture.

Lightning from his welder
like brain synapses
crackled creations into being.
Pounding hammer
tapping chisel
whining file perfected
riffs of leather, metal, wood.

–V. Nesdoly (from Calendar © 2004)

************

On this day 94 years ago, my dad was born. He died in 1975 of complications from bone cancer. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t get to know him better. He was quiet and introverted. I don’t remember him telling me he loved me in words, until he was sick unto death. It was wonderful to hear it, but I always knew it in my heart.

There was a building on our Saskatchewan farmyard where he worked – his shop. I remember flashes of light coming through the windows of it as he welded things.

Another thing which reminds me of him is the smell of diesel fumes. I remember clearly the day a few years ago a city bus swept by me. I registered the smell with a note of familiarity combined with a sense of feeling secure, and realized I was remembering the smell of the old diesel tractor on the farm, and his presence.

********

Oh my goodness. Just after posting this, I see Mr. Standfast has put up a post:"A Tragic Nostalgia, Robert Frost and the Longing to Return" . Isn't that just too serendipitous! (I hope my nostalgia isn't 'tragic.' I think remembering the sights and sounds and smells of yesterday can be a healthy thing. But, no, that isn't the place we go for life-giving sustenance.)

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -part 6

(Conclusion of Chapter 8: "Into the Pit of My Stomach" from the book Christ’s Witchdoctor by Homer Dowdy © 1963).

[Introduction] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4] [part 5]

part 6

On Thursday of that week Elka went fishing with Kirifaka. They followed the stream that bounded Kanashen under the sunset and emptied into the Essequibo at one side of the village landing. Threading their way up the creek, they shot many fish with their arrows.

"Why have we caught so much meant, Little Brother?" Elka asked Kirifaka. "Who is giving us so much food?"

"God," Elka continued, answering his own question. Kirifaka looked bewildered. And then Elka bewildered him even more: "I think I’d kind of like to receive Jesus.

"Why do you want to receive Jesus?" Kirifaka said with some scorn.

"Be quiet, Little Brother," commanded Elka. "Bow your head and close your eyes. I’m going to pray."

Kirifaka did as he was told, partly in obedience and partly in fear of the strange things that Elka was saying.

"Father in the Sky, this is Old Elka. You are good, Father. Look, You have given us our meat. We didn’t have any before and we haven’t had to go far to get it. You showed it to us. You are good Father."

He had meant to ask Jesus to enter his life. Somehow this was the prayer that came out. That night he dreamed he was teaching God’s Paper to the people at Yaka Yaka. The next day he told his wife about it.

"Kofi! How scary!" exclaimed Ahmuri. "Why are you like this? Why don’t you work your charms any more? You’re a witchdoctor, but you don’t sing your songs. How do you suppose Kworokyam likes that?"

Elka said nothing, but he noted Ahmmuri’s deep frown. He had noticed that she often frowned. He hair might string down from the knot in back, but it didn’t have the happy snap as when she used to swing her head about so saucily. He didn’t think of her long, though, for other thoughts fillede his mind.

The night before lesson time, Elka again dreamed that one like Bahm appeared before him and said,

"Let go of your sins. Say to Jesus, ‘Come in.’ If you do, He will come in."

Elka got up early on Sunday. He told his dream to his wife.

"Maybe that was God’s spirit," she commented, not knowing what else to say.

It was time for Elka to come to a decision.

Here he was, a chief, a witchdoctor, a handsome young man, his body and limbs well filled out, his features clean-cut and pleasing. He was one to whom not only his own villagers were looking for leadership but others as well; one ripe in the ways of forest and field, in weaving hammocks, in many other skills.

And he was torn by indecision.

Before others began to stir in their hammocks he left the big house. He strode across the clearing and entered an abandoned field which was being rapidly overtaken by jungle growth again.

"Father in the Sky," he said aloud on reaching the middle of the field and looking up as if he saw God sitting in His heaven, "Father, I want to know You. So make Yourself known to me forever. What do You think about that? Old Elka wants You to come into the pit of his stomach, Father and make his spirit strong."

He sat on a charred log, still intact after the burning so many seasons before. He no longer looked up. He spoke as if the One he talked to sat next to him on the log.

"Here I am Father. I’m a witchdoctor. This is what I am. I’m a bad person, too. I get angry. I scold my wife. And I’m sad about those things. But this is the way I don’t want to be. So my old being, take it out, Father. You can because your Son died for my badness, in order to take it away. Fix me to be another kind of person. I want to be like You."

In contrition the young Indian bowed his black-crowned head which even at this early hour was decorated with the downy white feather of an eagle. One by one he named his sins: hatred, lust, envy, foolish pride.

"This is the way I am Father," he prayed quietly and sincerely. "Fix me to be like Jesus. That’s all I have to say this time, Father."

That afternoon Elka went with his family to the lesson at Kanashen. As he sat in the main room of Kron’s house he drank in the teaching of God’s Paper.

"I’m really beginning to hear it with good ears," he said to himself, smiling at the happy thought. Things were beginning to fit together. He saw now why the missionaries could live as they did. It wasn’t they who were good. It was Jesus living in them. He understood, at least a little bit, the peace they possessed. If they let God into them, they were good and had peace. If they didn’t let Him in they weren’t good and were miserable. This was the way it fitted together for him.

A few days later, Elka faced the issue at an onhariheh. The eat-and-drink session took place in a hut at the edge of the clearing at Kanashen. A sick child was there, and a number of villagers had congregated in the shelter to find out how he was doing. Someone had brought a pot of fish broth. They were about to dip their cassava bread when Elka told them to wait.

"I’m a companion of Jesus now," he said. "I want to tell you that. So let us talk to God. Let us all be telling him it is He who gives us our food. Bow your heads and close your eyes."

Mawasha would not bend that towering head of his. Neither would others bow their heads or close their eyes. Alone, Elka closed his eyes. He did not see Achi approach the little circle with a hypodermic in her hand for the child.

"We will now talk to God," Elka said.

Achi, believe he had called for prayer because she had come, started to pray.
"Dear Father..."

It was as far as she got. Another voice was addressing the God of heaven. She opened her eyes to look, though she knew the voice. Elka was leading a group of people in prayer!

"Father in the Sky," he prayed, "You give us our food. You are good to us. Jesus is the good one. Fix the ones here to know You. That’s all I’m saying now."

He was slow in opening his eyes so did not see Achi run from the hut toward Kron’s house.

"Claude!" she cried, running up the stairs to the gallery of the kitchen. "I just heard Elka pray. Do you suppose it can mean he has received the Lord?"


Kron learned of Elka’s faith in a talk they had about a forthcoming dance.

"The people want to lift up drink," Elka reported to Kron. "They told me, ‘We’d like to make strong drink and catch women We want you to call a dance.’"

"What did you say?"

"I said, ‘Hnnn. I don’t know about that. I have received Jesus.’ But they just said, ‘Gicha! You received Jesus. That’s bad to us. We like strong drink. That’s the way we are.’"

Elka related how he had told them then that if they made strong drink he would not drink it. If they asked him to dance and take women, he would refuse.

"Hnnn," they had said, "why are you like that? We’re surprised at you."

Only Kirifaka, Elka went on, had said that maybe Elka was a good one.

In talking about the people’s desire to have a yamo dance, Kron and Elka decided that a time of games, with sweet drink and much meat, would be a good substitute. Elka left Kron to talk about it to his people. Kron went to the radio to report to Bahm in Georgetown that Elka had become a Christian.

Elka, witchdoctor without equal and witchdoctor still, but now Christ’s witchdoctor!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

earth dance

Psalm 114:7

The aged ladies with rounded
Appalachian shoulders pull up their skirts
and "Skip to my Lou" and follow this up with
a sprightly "Virginia Reel".

The younger gents, spike-haired
punk Rockies shout and Twist
flinging carelessly their cloaks
of white, down on flat-topped mesas.

Sierra Nevadas and Cascades
join hands in the West and Jitterbug
in the Pacific spray, squeezing sand
between their granite toes.

Not to be outdone the Himalayas,
towering above everyone
turn cartwheels while Mount Everest
warms up, knees bent for an
amazing spectacular double back flip.

The Alps and Pyrenees whisper furiously
behind their fans, proper ladies they
in perfect form, mince a minuet
on tiptoed slippered feet.

South of the Equator,
the Andes with a Latin beat,
clap hands in a hat dance,
roses clenched between their teeth.

The Lord of the Dance, smiles
stretches down with the music of heaven;
the oceans sing, "Dance, Earth, Dance!
You are in the presence of your King!"

Copyright©2003 by Darlene Moore Berg

***********

Darlene Moore Berg writes from her home in Missouri. She is a wife, a mother, and a pediatrician. Read more of her work at Utmost and Amarillo Bay

a midsummer night's dream

Last night we went to see "A Mid Summer Night’s Dream" put on by a local high school. I’ve never read this play, the plot sounded confusing when I read a summary of it on-line, but my niece (Jacquie) was the stage manager, and aside from the fact there isn’t too much live theater I don’t enjoy, going to support her was reason enough to be there.

Well, what a treat!

For starters, the set was amazing. The Wheelhouse Theater at Earl Marriott School had been turned into a forest.

Then the play began, and the plot turned out to be not hard to follow at all. But now that I’ve seen the play, I realize, it’s not really about the plot line , but about characters, ideas (of love and how irrational it can be), and a night of ribald fun.

The whole thing is played out in the forest, so there was no need for curtains and scene changes. (day, night and mood nuances were signified with music and lighting -- the latter which, the program told us, our Jacquie helped design). The cast used the whole theater, with lovers chasing each other around on the stairways and characters frequently making entrances from the back of the house.

The cast here was sensational. Standouts were Puck who was played by an impish fuzzy-haired girl named Marina, and Nick Bottom whose name in real life is Russell – and who, my sister told me, is student body co-president with Jacquie, and is in real life as much of a cut-up as he was on stage.

The costuming was also fabulous – a visual feast with the human characters dressed in period clothes, and the fairies wearing tights, over which strips of multi-colored gauzy fabric trailed like boa stoles.

I hope I get to see this fun play again – although after this high school performance, I wonder how any other could surpass it in color, energy, excellence and fun.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

solo

I tried to heal myself

I tried to keep the pain inside
sewn up tight behind hasty sutures
but it had a will of its own
and wouldn’t be held
oozing out instead
through puckers in the stitching
spilling to the ground around me
until someone dared to stop
dared to question
why closed wounds bleed
and looked a little closer

I tried to heal myself
and found it couldn’t be done

alone

–Barbara Mitchell (from I Know You Lord © 1994 - used with permission)

**************

Paula at Listen In... has joined in the poetry-month celebration by posting a beautiful poem by her mother – "Not Concealed."

Also, drop by Mr. Standfast, the bard of bloggers, to read "Finish Me" - a poem-prayer I can certainly pray with honesty!

If you’d like to join in, post a poem (preferably by little-known poet), and let me know either by comments or email, and I’ll post a link to your blog!

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -part 5

(Part 5 of Chapter 8: "Into the Pit of My Stomach" from the book Christ’s Witchdoctor by Homer Dowdy © 1963).

[Introduction] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4]

part 5...

Not long after Malu’s drowing, Bahm and Ferochi left the land of the Wai Wai for a short rest. Before going, Ferochi taught the Sunday lesson. She said God had created all things. Elka was to think of this many times in the coming cycle of the moon.

In this and other lessons he had learned of the nature of God–of His holiness, justice, mercy, love. He heard the stories of Adam, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah. The Gospel accounts of Christ’s ministry, His life, death and resurrection, and the Acts of the Apostles–these, too, were materials for his thought.

In the continuing work of the translating God’s Paper, Elka still was the key informant. He continued to receive an insight into scriptural truths as his keen mind dug deeply into them. The first epistle of John was one of the books opened to him.

"...Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God...."

Thus began the fourth chapter. It was something to think about in this world of spirits.

"Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world."

Maybe this explained why God’s children did not fear the spirits of the forest.

"He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him."

They could learn something about love. Was there not a better love than that which the Wai Wai knew?

"Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God."

Hnnn. So that’s the way to become a child of God, a companion of Jesus.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear....We love him, because he first loved us."

No fear. This seemed to fit his need, a need that Kworokyam with all his frightening power had never met. Maybe this gave meaning and hope to life. There was badness and fear, yes; but there was a release from this trap after all.

It was Elka’s decision to make. Which should it be?

Kworokyam, the world of spirits, mostly evilly disposed toward man, who, without appeasement, rained fear, hate, pain, and death?

Or Christ, who came so far to bring love, peace, and life?

Kworokyam, whose power for evil would someday be destroyed by Christ?

Or Christ, eternal God?

Elka began to speak to the people in his house about God.

"Hnnn. Maybe Jesus Christ is the one we should believe in," he said.

"Huh!" they said to one another. "Old Elka is just talking talk."

One Monday, with Ferochi’s lesson fresh in his mind, Elka went hunting with his brother Yakuta. The trail gave onto a big rock.

"Who made this?" Elka asked suddenly, his question catching Yakuta by surprise.

"Who made that rock?" repeated Yakuta. "Why, I don’t know who made it." He was more interested in bringing down a fat-bellied spider monkey than in discussing who made what.

"It was Jesus," Elka said, ignoring his brother’s lack of interest. He climbed the rock and sat down. "This is of God’s making."

"Is that so?" Yakuta grunted with a toss of his bronzed shoulders. Yakuta went on hunting while Elka sat and thought. Jesus, not Kworokyam, was the one he wanted to serve, Elka thought to himself. Maybe he should ask Jesus to come into the pit of his stomach right now. "But," came the challenge of doubt, "maybe I’m not a true one. If I do receive Jesus, I will receive Him forever."

No, he was not ready yet.

to conclusion - part 6 ...

Friday, April 15, 2005

intruder

Pain never knocks,
Nor does it ask permission.
It barges in life’s door,
Uninvited and unwanted.

While we ask "Why?"
Pain steals away our strength
And saps joy dry.

But soon we find
That pain leaves gifts behind.
The theft of what we cherish
Clears away the clutter,
So we discover:

Faith–that tangled problems
Will unravel and smooth out someday.
Hope–that healing will allow us
To help others as we are being helped today.
Love–that sees the beauty of committed caring
Through tough times,
And finds that "whole"
Is not a quality
Of body,
But of soul.

Written for a friend who lost part of his hand in an accident.

–Linda Neff (from love, laughter and tears © 2003 – used with permission)

*********

I met Linda at the Write Canada Conference last year and bought her volume of poems, above. As I read them I found her wisdom and caring heart were always breaking through. Many of her poems were written to celebrate special occasions, or are dedicated to special people – like the one above. She illustrates how meaningful is the gift of a poem! Read another poem by Linda here.

**************

Just in case you're wondering - 'what's with all the poetry on here?' - just a reminder: April is poetry month in Canada (at least according to the 'League of Canadian Poets') and on my blog!

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -part 4

(Part 4 of Chapter 8: "Into the Pit of My Stomach" from the book Christ’s Witchdoctor by Homer Dowdy © 1963).

[Introduction] [part 1] [part 2] [part 3]

part 4 ...

In the shurifana Elka sang to the bush hogs. But it was not his pets he thought of. Instead, he remembered what God’s Paper said about the time when the evil spirits obeyed Jesus’ masterful command and forsook the tortured man who lived where the dead were buried. Elka had been impressed by the story while helping Bahm to translate the Gospel according to Mark.

Where did the spirits go? Into a pack of wild pigs feeding in the mountains. The pigs became violent and ran down a steep bank and drowned in the water. How scary it was! Were they like his pets, these wild pigs to whom the spirits fled?

Elka went on singing his old familiar songs. But when he sang to the hummingbird it did not come down to carry him to the region of the spirits.

From inside the big house, where they had taken to their hammocks, the people called into the shurifana. They supposed that the spirits had come down to occupy Elka’s body. In their usual manner they started chatting with them while Elka, they thought, was sojourning in the sky.

"Where is Malu?" they asked.

"We don’t know," answered Elka, imitating the falsetto he had heard the spirits speak in when they used a witchdoctor’s voice.

Did Kworokyam carry him away?" asked one in the big house.

"No," Elka replied. "We don’t know where he is."

"Do you think he sank?"

"He probably sank."

Elka tried again and again to contact the spirits. But Bahm’s words kept coming back. He could not concentrate on Kworokyam. All the while he felt as if Bahm–or maybe it was God– were there in the dark hut with him. Maybe for this reason the spirits refused to come down.

Greatly disturbed by his failure to lure the spirit of his pets, Elka left the Shurifana in dejection. Yukuma was there waiting.

"What did the spirits tell you in the sky?" he asked anxiously.

Elka thought it best to say nothing of his failure, or that his thoughts had been of God. Turning away from Yukuma’s pleading eyes, he said,

"I did not hear them clearly."

Yukuma started to turn away, hope nearly lost. Then thinking suddenly of one last resource, he turned back to Elka to suggest,

"Maybe you can go to sleep and dream." There was no bravado now. Yukuma was entirely servile toward his cousin. "Maybe Kworokyam will reveal to you in a dream where my son is."

Elka tried, though it was no use. Elka did not dream that night. He hardly slept.

Malu was found three days later, his body floating in a backwater of the river. If Elka needed proof, here it was, in the sad sight of Yukuma’s third dead son: while thinking thoughts of God, Elka could never exercise Kworokyam’s power.

That was it. That explained his failures. Stuck fully onto Kworokyam, Elka could call and Kworokyam would answer. Stuck just a little and wavering toward God, Kworokyam held him in disdain.

God’s paper said he could not serve both God and Kworokyam. Well, Kworokyam felt that way too.
He was surely going to have to choose between the two.

on to part 5...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

happy birthday sonia!

Master Gardener's Touch

You blossom
a rose of dark beauty
and haunting fragrance.

I was the anxious gardener
fretting when life’s squalls
toil, loneliness, misunderstandings
buffeted you.
Too protective I neglected to prune
suckers of self-indulgence
pinch off messiness, self-pity
redirect a tendency to sulk.

The Master Gardener must have taken
His secateurs to you
for your petals that lately unfurl
are not the fruit of my
tentative touch.


–V.Nesdoly © 2004

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -part 3

(Part 3 of Chapter 8: "Into the Pit of My Stomach" from the book Christ’s Witchdoctor by Homer Dowdy © 1963).

[Introduction] [part 1] [part 2]

part 3...

Bahm came by one day as Elka was helping build an addition to Achi’s house. He asked Bahm about healing.

"The spirits used to honor my blowing," he said. "Why don’t they now?"

"The evil spirits heal sometimes," Bahm said, "but just to fool us. Kworokyam is the Devil’s servant. It is his way of getting us to worship him instead of God."

"Hnnn. Is that the way it is?" he observed, reluctantly. Again it was God against the spirits. Why did it have to be? Why couldn’t a man both blow and pray if he wanted to? Couldn’t he give his worship to God and his service to Kworokyam?

"God’s Paper tells us we can’t be followers of Jesus if we serve another," Bahm said.

In his usual thoughtful way, Elka called Bahm’s words to mind again and again. He knew that to serve Jesus Christ instead of the spirits would bring changes in his life. He did not want to face changes now. They could wait. He would consider them and decide about them at another time. For the present he would sweep aside Christ, God’s Paper, his puzzlement over Kworokyam. He was turning to his old love, dancing.

He asked everyone from the villages around to come to his house to dance. More than a hundred came. They were the ones who on Sundays assembled at Kanashen to learn the ways of Jesus. But their thoughts were not of Jesus this evening. Much drink had been prepared. Their costumes were ready, and the people were anxious to start the dance. Elka had installed a door to keep them out until he was ready.

Inside the house, he lay in his hammock. Ahmuri also relaxed. How calm they were, and soon they would be hosts to a hundred painted, feathered, and thirsting Indians who clamored outside to get in! It might have been the calm before a storm. Elka lay there until he was rested. Then he said to his wife,

"I’d kind of like to have them come in now."

The party got underway noisily. The sour drink spawned drunkenness. Hilarity gave way to violence. With no malice toward the door, but simply because it was in the way, the revelers tore it from the house.

Intoxication continued in some of the villages to which the guests returned the next day. But for those who lived at Yaka Yaka there was a quick sobering, and for Elka a return to the soul-searching that neither drink nor revelry could suspend for very long.

Malu, the third son of Yukuma and Tochi, was missing.

At dusk Tochi became aware that the toddler was neither in the house nor in the village clearing. She stepped to the doorway and called. There was no answer. She called again, loud and shrilly, with the anger of a jay. Still no answer. She remembered where she had seen him last. Quickly, with a clutch of fear in her throat, she ran to the river. She called again, this time rather weakly. She went back to the village, and continued calling.

Yukuma, away for the day, sensed something wrong on his return.

"Where is my son?" he demanded.

"I don’t know," Tochi said, in a meekness unnatural to her.,

"Why didn’t you look after him?"

The people of the village were now disturbed over Malu’s disappearance. Some hurried along the path to Kanashen to see if he were there. Yukuma ran to the river. He jumped and skipped down the slipper banks to the rocks below and dived into the water. A mighty swimmer, he was everywhere–in and out among the rocks, on the bottom of the river. But he did not find the boy.

Yukuma approached Elka. Angry, frightened, and saddened all at once he said,

"Kworokyam has carried away my boy. Two of my children are dead. I want this one to live. I would kind of like to have you go to the sky and look for him."

In times past, Elka would have been quick to comply. Now he wished he could tell Yukuma that he would talk to God. He was feeling that God, not Kworokyam, would be their help. He said nothing, merely looked at the distraught Yukuma. Elka seemed unable to talk. He couldn’t open his jaws. It was like the time when the young man who had wounded himself needed his help, and he could do nothing.

The villagers were now gathered around the two. They wondered why Elka said nothing, why he stood and stared at Yukuma.

"You are a witchdoctor, aren’t you?" Yukuma shot back at him, with some of his old arrogance. "You do have a basket of charms?"

"Um-hum," said Elka weakly. The spell was broken. "I am a witchdoctor."

"Go to the sky," the people demanded, almost in a single voice.

Elka had no choice. A shurifana was quickly built. Elka put on his animal chestbands and feathered headpiece. Clutching his basket of charms he entered the little hut alone. Just afterward Bahm came by, for Kanashen had been alerted to the boy’s disappearance.

"Elka, where are you?" Bahm called.

"I’m in here Bahm," Elka answered. "I’m going off to see Kworokyam." Bahm went away to look for Malu. Elka began his singing, but he merely mouthed the words. For Bahm’s voice had started a different train of thought. His mind dwelt not on going to the sky but on his talk with Bahm that recent day at Achi’s house.

"Jesus came to do away with the evil spirits," Bahm had said. "He came to release us from their power. If you receive Jesus, He will set you free from the spirits’ binding cord. But you must choose either Jesus or Kworokyam."

"I’m a witchdoctor," Elka had replied, raising an issue he felt was worth special consideration. "I talk to the spirits for my people. What am I to do?"

Bahm thought that his position as a witchdoctor made no difference. But he said that Elka himself would have to make the choice; he would not urge him to throw over his charms before receiving Christ. When Jesus comes in, Bahm had said, Kworokyam must go.

on to part 4...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

recycle

Her children arise and call her blessed...Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. (Proverbs 31:28,29)

Mother reaches into the box again
and proffers another baby blanket,
soft flannelette
with hours of love
crocheted around the border,
good shower gifts for family and beyond.
"These are the last I can sell for five dollars
with the cost of flannelette rising again,"
she says wistfully.
My wife buys several.
There follow T shirts of recycled material,
scraps of material fashioned into doll blankets
and more.

Hands still busy after eight-five years.
She, who learned reduce, reuse, recycle
in subsistence prairie farming
long before ecological correctness,
conserves, reuses, creates and recreates.
Herself recycled from schoolgirl
to farmer’s wife to merchant to retiree.
She has shaped and reshaped love
to four generations.
Hands slower now and more deliberate.

Mother, it’s okay
to reduce your locus of activity,
to recycle to other hands,
to rest from labour,
to reuse memories,
reshaped into blankets of love and prayer
covering your family and beyond,
as God, the great recycler,
continues to recreate you.

–Alvin Ens (from Musing on the Sermon © 2002 - used with permission)

*********

Alvin Ens writes from his home in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Now retired from teaching in the public school system, he himself is recycled as a volunteer teacher in the prison system. He also ably presides over the Fraser Valley Christian Writers Group, a dandy little group of which I am a member.

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -part 2

(Part 2 of Chapter 8: "Into the Pit of My Stomach" from the book Christ’s Witchdoctor by Homer Dowdy © 1963).

[introduction] [part 1]

part 2 ...

No sooner had the horror of the multiple murders slipped a little from memory than the people were stirred by events that set God in direct opposition to the world of spirits. And the pit of Elka’s stomach was the place of battle.

Ekufa, a tiny baby, was brought by his parents to Elka for treatment. He suffered from convulsive fits. Achi had said that God and her medicine could cure them. But Elka’s ability to manipulate the spirits drew the parents to him.

"Will you blow on this little thing?" the father asked Elka, bringing his son into Elka’s house at Yaka Yaka. Elka sat in his hammock silent. Now and then he turned a parrot roasting on a spit over the fire. The father held the baby toward Elka as if to plead for his intervention.

"Why doesn’t your wife’s father blow on him?" Elka asked, referring to Chiriminoso, the child’s grandfather, who had once more come across the mountains.

"The old father of my wife cannot find a cure," said the young man. "He told us to take the boy to one who is more of a witchdoctor than he is."

"Why don’t you take him to Muyuwa," Elka asked. He did not want to accept responsibility for the child’s life. He gave no explanation for his reluctance; to himself he repeated the name, "Little Crab...Little Crab." Why couldn’t he forget the girl? Why couldn’t he think of all his successes?

He still could see no difference in her case from the others. He’d used those same songs to advantage before. New songs were not what he needed. Was his relationship to Kworokyam at fault? Or was it Kworokyam himself?
The sun was in the middle of the sky. Light streamed through the doorway into the dark house. Then without a warning, a cloud covered the sun. The shadow nearly blotted the youngster from Elka’s sight. Death was a shadow. It was moving in on this sad family. In pity for the young pair, he took the baby from the father’s arms.

"I will blow. Ask the men if they’d kind of like to help you build a shurifana."

He laid the baby in his hammock and bent over him to blow. He kept on blowing and sucking at the hurt. After the witchdoctor’s house was finished, he took the child there to continue working his charms. He blew and sang. With the coming of night he called all the spirits he knew to come. He especially appealed to his favorite pets, the wild pegs. Mafolio had said to work all night, and this he was doing. He went to the sky, not once but many times. He communed with the spirits on this high plane. The dawn came. Elka squeezed out through the leafy sides of the hut. He handed the hot, nearly lifeless package of bones and skin to the distraught parents.

He would blow again later in the day, he promised.

He did that day and the next and the next. Deep down in the pit of his stomach he knew it was no use. The child would not live. He knew because the smoke he had blown on the fevered brow did not stick as it did when Kworokyam was to grant relief. It left the child’s head the instant it touched his skin.

The boy died the morning after Elka’s third day of blowing. The mother wept; the father sat silent and staring; the villagers began their wailing. None was more disturbed then Elka.

Why don’t my charms work?

on to part 3 ...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -introduction

The faith stories I’ve been reading here sent me to my bookshelf to find more. The book Christ’s Witchdoctor caught my eye. It is one of most gripping faith stories I’ve ever read.

The story of Elka, a respected witchdoctor of the Wai Wai tribe of British Guiana is told by Homer Dowdy, a Wheaton College grad and Michigan journalist. In order to write it Mr. Dowdy spent an extended period in intensive research in the jungles of British Guiana, becoming intimately acquainted with the tribespeople and recording long interviews on tape.

Unfortunately, the book is out of print (Harper and Rowe, ©1963) and doesn’t look to be widely available. For that reason and because a big part of the story’s impact and charm is in the way it’s told (this is creative non-fiction at its best), I’m going to quote Chapter 8 of this book in its entirety – but it’s long, so I'll break it into seven installments.

(I’m sure this sample of Mr. Dowdy’s writing will whet your appetite for more so if the book ever becomes available again, you’ll want to read the whole volume. I picked up my copy when our church library was getting rid of old, rarely circulated books.)

Here is a paragraph from the dust jacket notes, which describes the setting and briefly tells the story to this point:

"Elka shares the Wai Wais’ debaucheries and fears. He tells the reader of the ways of jungle witchcraft– how a witchdoctor can cure his patient by blowing over hot pebbles onto the sick person, how he is transported into a world of eerie spirits by swallowing smoke and chanting spirit songs, how he can kill by blowing on the belongings of another person and "eating his spirit." Elka’s belief in his powers of witchcraft are shaken, however, when a young child (Little Crab) dies despite his treatment."

Influenced by the missionaries’ teachings about God’s power, Elka begins to both blow and pray...

part 1 ...

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -part 1

(Part 1 of Chapter 8: "Into the Pit of My Stomach" - from Christ’s Witchdoctor - by Homer E. Dowdy ©1963)

[introduction]

part 1 ...

The conflict between Christ and Kworokyam worried Elka constantly. He was puzzled, too, that the teaching of God’s Paper, so disturbing in his life, had little effect on his people.

It seemed to have no impact; actually that was not quite true. Some who heard had their own version of the teaching. The sorcerer who had succeeded when Elka failed had come down from his home on the high mountain trail to one of the Sunday lessons and heard that a man should be the head of his house. He went back home and beat his wife; said he had God’s Paper to justify him.

Yukuma knew what to do with the teaching: talk much about Jesus to impress others. He talked but he did not waver from belief in the evil spirits. His second son, born of Tochi, was a child he wanted to have grow up. He carefully observed the taboos in order to preserve the boy’s spirit. He refused to eat with Elka, because Elka had once sat high up in a toucan hunter’s blind and Yukuma did not want the child’s spirit to be carried up into the tree only to fall to the ground and be crushed. He would not dig a posthole for fear his child’s spirit would fall into the hole and be covered with earth.

But one day Yukuma’s son became hot; he seemed about to die. Frantically Yukuma asked what he had done to make the child sick. Tochi reminded him that he had exerted himself in the child’s first days by helping to carry a heavy box for the missionaries. To make amends, Yukuma took a heated axhead into the shed where the box, containing a small generator, had been placed. Pouring cold water on the ax, he bathed the generator in a cloud of steam. Then to offer further apologies for breaking the taboos of foi he went to the airstrip, where he had done the carrying, and there steamed the field with cold water and hot rocks.

While he was gone his son died. Embittered on his return, Yukuma found no comfort in his old tribal beliefs, except to talk ill of Muyuwa, whose black magic he believed had killed his son. He found no comfort either in the Jesus whose name he so glibly spoke.

Others attended the lessons at which God’s Paper was taught. They also learned to read the portions already translated. Yet what they encountered seemed merely to entertain. There was no reflection in their lives of the Paper’s message. Maybe Elka was not wrong when he said the teaching seemed to have no effect on them.

His friend Kirifaka, an orphan, had sampled Christian doctrine and practice by living with the missionaries. One day he peeled off the clothes they gave him, put on his loincloth again, and went back to Deep Eddy, apparently willing to turn his back on all that they had taught him.

Elka’s brother Yakuta, now handsome as a copper statue, was given a girl his own age for a wife. She failed to satisfy him; older women attracted Yakuta. He took first one man’s wife, then another’s; he believed in sharing. In payment for meat from a hunter, he once loaned his current woman.

Yakuta and Kirifaka were among the quickest readers. They sang songs about Jesus. They knew many stories from God’s Paper. But what did it all mean to them?

Yoshwi was a one-eyed woman whose sight Tochi boasted she had nearly destroyed by a spell. Yoshwi’s tongue was as biting as her foe’s. She heard that God said not to kill. But she vowed if her next child was a boy–she had many boys–she would kill him.

A number of others now threatened killings and violence. Men said they would kill to get wives. Among them was Mawasha, Elka’s friend of many years. He was muscular and taller now than any in the tribe, yet shy and gentle. His thick hair was like a black halo. Likeable, quiet, unemotional Mawasha refused to let God’s Paper deter him in announcing that he would kill, if necessary, to take another man’s wife.

(Next, is a longish account of a late-teens youth, Rikaru, who works for the missionaries, Achi [a lady missionary nurse], Bahm and his wife Ferochi. When a young woman refuses to give Rikaru a string of beads, he follows her, her daughter-in-law and the DIL’s three children into the forest, and bludgeons all five of them to death in their sleep. Then he comes back to the Kanashen, where he steals another man’s wife.

When the bodies of the people he’d murdered are found, he escapes. It’s only through the efforts of missionary wife Ferochi that he is captured and flown to a Georgetown jail.)

Rikaru was the first Wai Wai killer to face the white man’s judgement. Elka was more concerned with God’s judgement of badness; not just murder, but greed and gluttony, malice and hate, including his own. He had tried to be a good witchdoctor. But what had he done for his people? Were they better off than they had been before the spirits of the forest were blown into his nostrils? They were better off, he reasoned. But were they better off for his blowing or, as Bahm and Kron had said, for God’s breath of blessing?

Christ or Kworokyam? He wondered...

on to part 2...

Monday, April 11, 2005

nothing new--just a reminder

On Thursday I put up part of John Bunyan’s faith story. I love the little vignette he paints of how he overhears three or four women conversing about spiritual things. Their talk convinces him they have something he doesn’t have. He comes away with the conviction there is more of his human nature to spurn, more of the Bible to apply, more joy to be found. Their demeanor and conversation make him hungry for a life he has not yet known.

I think God often works this way. Though He uses us when we teach a class or hand out tracts, or sing on the worship team, more often our usefulness (or disqualification) comes in the way we live out life’s mundane events.

But this kind of testimony can’t be contrived. Unless we are completely His, and under His control through and through, our carnality will ooze through the fissures when we crack under the pressure of such ordinary occurrences as being bypassed for deserved praise, being presented with the bait of gossip, being kept waiting for our order at lunch, and a hundred other temptations and tramples on our ‘rights.’

However, if in our daily round we live in Holy Spirit power, with every breath consecrated to Him, our lives and words will communicate to the seeking bystander. What a challenge to me when I am behind the wheel of a car, involved in interactions with clerks, waitresses and telemarketers, chatting with friends over coffee...

reality

Grasp my mind
Reality
Honest, truthful, kind
Of God alive within my realm

Yet
Unseen by humankind

Where dance two realms
Realities, of Spirit and of flesh
So stub my toe and curse
Or pray
To walk in one or other's way
And pray to find my footprints where
Live abides, and Love is there
Yes, Love is there.

--James Beard (from Musings of Grace © 2004 - used with permission)

**************
The most prolific poet I know, James Beard writes from his home in Follett Texas. His poem "Dead Word Walking" won 2nd prize in the 2004 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

testing

this is just a test
I think this is success!

happy birthday mom!



Today is Mom's 91st birthday!

A year ago, on her 90th, we did it up right. We reserved the party room in her condo and had two parties (afternoon for family and friends, evening for her condo friends)! All of her nine kids and their spouses and many grandkids made the trek to Abbotsford. What a weekend!

Part of the party entertainment was a program. Each family was responsible for one item. I took on that job for my family. This poem was our contribution.

SHE GIVES HERSELF AWAY
(On the occasion of Mom’s 90th birthday - April 10, 2004)

I know it’s customary to give birthday girls a gift.
I beg your kind indulgence now as I propose a rift
with what is usually done, instead of gifting make a fuss
of Mom, and in her 90 years name gifts she’s given to us.

Mom loved the country mansion where she raised her family.
Made wood floors shine, scraped calsomine, fixed cracks so never seen.
Requested daddy build and fix, was never unemployed.
This shining homesite legacy has been passed on to Loyd.

Each spring she’d plant, west of the house, in plot that seemed like acres
long rows of beans and peas and corn, tomatoes, cukes and flowers
then send us out to weed and hoe the rows and in between.
This love of playing in the dirt’s been given to Julene.

We never had a lot of cash to buy life’s pricey pleasures
but Mom saw wealth in field and wood - the world of natural treasures -
saw dolls in corn husk, birds in rock, fireworks in dandelion.
This gift of recognizing art she has passed on to Brian.

She had a great affinity for grasses, oats and wheat
Her knowledge of wild flow’rs and plants was pretty hard to beat
Collections of a prairie roadside she would never scorn
This close relationship with natural things is given to Lorne

On special days a picnic she’d be packing for us all.
We’d take off to go fishing or to celebrate the fall.
She still honors Dominion Day with trivia and a brunch.
Who got this celebrative gift? Ken’s got it, that’s my hunch.

Besides her home, Mom served her church, for Jesus had her heart.
Taught crafts in club, and Sunday School, eagerly did her part.
Gave back to her community through garden club and class.
Who serves like that in church and town? Gilbert would be my guess.

After her brood had flown the nest, Mom went to learn some more
of pottery and making cards, preserving nature’s store.
She learned to quill, embroider, arrange flowers dried and new.
This penchant to keep learning more is seen in Doris too.

Her mind’s still always busy, has ideas by the score
She stays up long past bedtime just to do a little more.
When projects have her fancy, they are all her eyes can see.
Who best takes after her in this, but my sweet sister Bea.

And now you’re probably asking, what is left for Violet E.?
I sure would like her crafting skill, her creativity.
But I don’t want to spend the time it takes to learn just how...
She’s giv’n me her impatience - I’d like these good things right now!

V. Nesdoly © 2004

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