Some winter mornings, I wake up to a view of Vancouver Island’s mountains. Their stunning silhouettes, both the Vancouver Island Range and Beaufort Range, are lit up on snowy peaks by light from the east. Below them the Morrison Plateau shows off every little hill and clear cut. The water between the coast and the Island is never all one blue but shifting cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine even viridian. Very calm patches might be yellow ochre and a cloud, magenta.
I live in a neighbourhood where most of the structures were constructed sixty years ago. The various roofs of the modest houses further below my window are softened by that morning light. The lanes and streets below are quiet, some dogwalkers, some keeners running or cycling up or down the steepish hill. Did I mention the trees? So many old ornamental maples and plums, so glorious in the Autumn and now twigs and branches, called “horticultural architecture.” Ferries on the water: The Salish Orca or the Salish Heron going between the coast and Comox. The little ferry from Powell River to si’ yi yen (Texada Island) waits patiently wait for the big ferries to arrive and depart.
Deep visual delights.
Then there are the winter days when all I can see is grey and grey and greyish. If you are familiar with Toni Onley’s water colours of the BC coast, you will know there is no end to grey hues. Fog on the Malaspina Strait and the Salish Sea can be so thick that houses across the street cannot be seen. The storms here make our little house rattle.
Will you make resolutions for the upcoming January one? How will those work for you? Maybe intentions is a more soul-friendly word. I intend to take on a new discipline. Easier to do in Spring but also possible in storms, delight is both a gift and an intention. Delight as a “city of refuge”.
If you have sat under very good Old Testament teaching, you may remember something about the “cities of refuge”. Six cities set apart by Moses as places of safe asylum. Originally for those who were in danger of violent vengeance, no one knows to what extent or how long they were used. The principle is mercy. Metaphorically, it can also speak of refuge for those who follow the Way of Christ, beset as we are by idol-addicted cultural norms, doomsayers and misguided authorities. A place of rest for the over-stimulated and the wary and weary, a respite for those who seek delight. Not to hide from the challenge of being Christ in the world but a breather for the purpose of refreshment.
As a disciple of delight, how and where can I find one of those cities?
Right here by my morning window.
The Vancouver Island poet, Stephen Berg, writes everyone can access this even in “slim light, the gift of place, the blessing of belonging”, “… now the snow is thinning, as it does when the temperature-droop of dawn arrives and stars drive blind behind clouds. The bursting ordinary clouds. The bountiful raggedy snow.”
When weary Jesus went by himself to the hills to pray, did the Maker delight in morning light and evening shadows?
We don’t need to make difficult journeys or seek out stimulating entertainment. How often those can be exhausting. Where is your place of refuge? It may be deep in some absorbing hobby. Not a hobby where you must produce something but an activity that stills the mind and lets it exercise wonder. Exercise wonder? Can’t it come to me easy as it does to a bright-eyed child? Yes and no; you may have to exercise some discipline in order to come to a place of wonder and delight as a regular habit. How easily we are distracted from that by enticements that really have no lasting value.
Open your sketchbook or journal and put down a first line. Savour the reading of a Book you have once loved. I knew a cancer nurse who would go on her breaks and sit below the Tabernacle that holds the reserved sacrament in the hospital chapel. No longer mobile? Embroider a labyrinth on a pillow and just quietly walk it with your fingers. Learn a non-doctrinal chant and keep it singing in your heart all day. Arrive at prayer without rushing. On the door of the meditation room place a sign that reads, “Knock only if the house is on fire or if Jesus has returned”.
We tend to hear the word “discipline” with a negative connotation but are we not disciples on a Way? Some disciples report that they can stay with delight even in traffic jams or hectic households. Hmmm, I intend to learn that.
Whatever you may thing about the BC Ferries, (let’s not go there) to see them glide in the velvety dark night on their last runs, all lit up like moving Christmas ornaments, the child in me goes clap clap.
Delight is both a gift and an intention. Yes, I am inordinately privileged to live in this diocese and with a view of water. But I have also lived in dank basement suites and one-star hippy hotels. If there is a window, there is sky, if there is sky there are clouds. There is no end to the study of clouds.
Berg writes in If I Were to do it All Over Again, “I will be a disciple of gratitude, an acolyte of contentment”. About a grey Burnaby day, “… some soul by the window who smiles… at the glory of this thin space, with a street address and a postal code that is like anywhere in the world open to the deep mists and the holy grey rain of a winter day.”
My little home on a hill is “a refuge from the stormy blast” and delight is “my eternal home”.
The epigraph in Berg’s book is by Jack Gilbert:
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of the world.
View facing northwest from a Powell River beach
iStock 1328889531 Credit: Chris Babcock