Saturday, July 23, 2011

Landscapes of love

Landscapes of love

Road trips and landscapes:
Road trips and summer vacation are synonymous for many families. Over the years, our family has made many road trips. We derived numerous benefits from our road trips. We made lifetime memories, found creative solutions to unexpected problems, rediscovered the joys of simple pleasures, experienced new places, and learned new things about the people, and world around us.

Longer road trips exposed us to a variety of unfamiliar landscapes. Recalling some of our road trips, I see in my mind’s eye a diversity of Canadian landscapes.

Lake Louise
Coast off Tofino BC
Louise McEwan photo

A full moon over the snow capped mountains surrounding Lake Louise, the brilliant yellow fields of flowering rapeseed in eastern Saskatchewan, the tide crashing into the craggy coastline off Botanical Beach on Vancouver Island are just three of the memorable landscapes etched in my mind. Each of these landscapes had a unique beauty that touched my heart.

What we see in a landscape is only a fraction of the diversity and life that abounds there. We catch a glimpse of the promise of the landscape. Snow capped mountains hold the promise of life giving waters that will eventually tumble to the sea, and return to the land in the form of the rain that nourishes. The crops in the fields speak of the cooperation between human hands and nature, and hold the promise of grains and oils for food preparation. The diverse life of the ocean lies invisible beneath the waves.

Landscapes reveal something about God:
Landscapes can be spiritually charged environments that provide a glimpse into the nature of God. To the receptive individual, these environments reveal something of the divine personality.

Love is the chief trait of this personality. The evangelist, John, repeatedly defines God as love. Over and over, John reiterates, “God is love,” and reminds us that “whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 John 4:16).

Landscapes can be symbolic of God’s abundant and sustaining love for humanity. As we view a landscape, we know rather than see, that it supports an amazing array of plants, animals and insects, and that all of these are interconnected. We glimpse God’s sustaining love in the landscape’s ability to sustain its diverse life forms.

We encounter God’s abundant love in our lives, through those things we refer to as blessings. In times when we do not feel blessed, God’s love sustains us through the barrenness of our personal landscape. We know this through faith, even though we may not perceive it at the time.

The variety of landscapes throughout the world speaks of God’s creativity. Mountain peaks, plains, beaches, rain forests, and deserts speak of God’s imagination and artistry. God’s creativity is reflected in human endeavors as successive generations conceive new ideas and bring them to fruition. Human settlements, architecture, the arts, and technology are some of the ways we share in God’s creative imagination.

Landscapes as metaphor for relationship:
Our appreciation of landscapes can be a metaphor for our relationship to God.

 Old Glory - Rossland Range
Photo by Louise McEwan
We might treat this relationship like a landscape on the road trip, viewing it as a source of inspiration for our life, or simply glancing at it as we zoom by. We might stop at the viewpoint, look around, and say “Ah, how beautiful,” snap a photo and then drive off. In these cases, we have briefly seen, but not experienced the landscape. Our encounter with the landscape has been superficial. Or, we might become more engaged with the landscape. We pitch our tent, remain awhile, and experience the promise of the place.

We zoom by God, glancing briefly, when we let the busyness of life take precedence over the activation of our spirituality. God is in the background of our personal landscape; we believe but we do not engage.

Clipart from

When we think about God only on Sunday, it is like stopping at the viewpoint to enjoy a stretch and the scenery. We go to church. We emerge feeling good. We have stretched our souls. But then we fall back into the rhythm of the week, and God is once again in the background of our personal landscape. We have taken the photo, but some time passes before we look at it again.

Photo by Louise McEwan 

Our relationship with God is a landscape full of promise. God invites us to pitch our tent and to put our self in the photo. We can drive by or become part of God’s landscape of love.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer reading selections

Visiting the local library at the start of summer holidays was a ritual when our children were little. We’d scour the shelves, make our selections, and sign out armfuls of books. A few days later, we’d be off to the lake, books in tow.

If the summer was a scorcher, we could retreat to the coolness of the cottage to read. If it rained, books helped to wait out the bad weather.

Those years are long past, but I still look forward to summer as a time to indulge in reading. Even if I'm not at the cottage, sitting under the gazebo with a good book makes an ordinary day into a holiday.

If you are heading off to your equivalent of cottage country, and are looking for something to read, I offer a few suggestions.


Lydia Davis’s new translation of Madame Bovary brings Gustave Flaubert’s classic to life. On the book's dust jacket, Emma Bovary is described as “the original desperate housewife.” Smart and pretty with refined sensibilities, Emma struggles to accept her situation as a married woman with limited opportunities for self-actualization. Married to a mediocre doctor, and living in a small provincial town, Emma gradually loses touch with reality. She inhabits a delusional world of romance, indulging her senses with expensive goods and her sexuality with a series of doomed affairs.

Originally published in 1856 in six installments in a periodical, the story quickly became notorious. Flaubert and his editors were tried and acquitted for offenses against public immorality and religion.

A family chronicle:

My favorite read this year, without a doubt, was Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor. Rain of Gold walks the line between fiction and non-fiction. Villasenor masterfully incorporates elements of myth, magical realism, Catholicism, indigenous Mexican spirituality, and history in the retelling of his family history. There are scenes in this chronicle that will have you laughing, crying or cringing. In an amusing scene, Villasenor describes his grandmother sitting in the outhouse with her cigar and whiskey, “gossiping with the Virgin.”

Non-fiction, spirituality:

If you are looking for something to nourish your soul, you might enjoy one of the following.

Maria Boulding’s translation of Saint Augustine’s The Confessions, published by New City Press is very readable. I have tried to read other translations of The Confessions in the past without a great deal of success. Translated from Latin, the language always seemed stilted and inaccessible. 

Boulding’s translation captures Augustine’s voice, including his sense of humor. The edition includes an informative introduction, useful notes and a comprehensive index. Parts of The Confessions are so beautiful; they will make your heart ache with the desire to know God as Augustine came to know God.

In one of his essays, Francis Bacon, a literary figure of the 17th century, divided books into three types. One type of book is to be tasted or read only in parts. Another type is to be swallowed or read superficially. These types of books are common. The third type of book is rare. It is to be chewed and digested, read “wholly and with diligence and attention.” The Confessions is one of those rare books that deserves to be chewed slowly and ruminated over.

The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller is easy to read and challenges the reader on a personal level. This in-depth look at the parable of the prodigal son, found in The Gospel of Luke 15:11-32, provides new insight into the parable. Keller focuses on the limitations that the sons place on their love for their father and on the father’s loving response to each. Keller challenges readers to evaluate their actions and motivations, to make changes, and to accept the father’s invitation to the banquet.

The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, edited by Wendy Wilson Greer, is a compilation of some of the writings of Henri Nouwen

Although noted as a man who was faithful to prayer, Nouwen was no stranger to the demands of a busy schedule or the intrusions that an active mind have on solitude and time with God. His humanness gives authenticity to his writings. The compilation is not an academic treatment of prayer, but a resource for nourishing a prayerful life.

The Only Necessary Thing is a series of short passages on a variety of topics, all relating to prayer in some way. The passages average around a page each, making this little book perfect for daily reflection.

Whether you prefer to taste, swallow, or chew and digest your summer reading, your local library or bookseller is certain to have something to please your palate.

Happy reading!