Wildflower Week

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.1

Several years ago I wrote about the onset of spring in words that still resonate in this corner of Northumberland County, Ontario.

A mad motorcyclist shattered the country quiet with the thunder of his exhaust. Oblivious to spring beauties blooming along his path, he thundered through the woodlands. Ar-h-h-roa-r-rs echoed through the waking valleys. Awakening himself from winter’s siesta, he threw himself at the steepest parts of the hill below us. I caught a glimpse of his red helmet as he rocketed over the crest scattering gravel to the four winds. Scars on the path and a flung beer can marked his passing.

We now had an answer to our spring ditty; “Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. I wonder where the motorcyclist is?”

Dirt bike jockeys were not alone in feeling the stir of hormones. Our phone and email account went berserk. After cruising through winter in low gear, semi-hibernating Canadians felt an adrenaline rush. Why? I wondered if it was the thought of the approaching summer. Perhaps they realized that in order to enjoy the lazy, hazy days of summer they had to race through a catch-up spring. But why couldn’t people schedule conventions in February and meetings in March? Didn’t they realize that spring is wildflower time?

She comes with gusts of laughter, –
The music as of rills;
With tenderness and sweetness,
The wisdom of the hills.2

Delicate brush strokes of spring green had begun to touch the dead fields and naked trees. Flowery pendants hung from aspens and soft maples. Rainbow trout fought their way up the Ganaraska to hurl themselves at the fish ladder. A rose-breasted grosbeak visited a feeder. Robin and Robinette ferried straw to their secret nest. All the signs pointed to wildflower week. The time had come to cancel appointments and head outdoors.

Wildflowers would soon peek through the warming humus in a race to flower before the forest canopy closed out the warming sun. Bloodroot was the first to unfold their white petals to the sun. Soon after, clusters of delicate spring beauties and then pink and white hepaticas fringed the forest pathways. Shortly, dog-toothed violets carpeted the rich soil below the maples with blades of spotted green before they gathered strength to unveil their shy saffron flowers.

But society seemed determined to distract us from this spring pageant. Marketing types turned up the pressure. Merchandising flyers littered our mailboxes. Malls planned massive sales. Real Estate agents moved into high gear.

The house needed spring cleaning. The lawn cried out for attention—rolling and aerating and fertilizing and cutting. The flower beds beckoned accusingly whenever I glanced out the window. [We now live in a condo where this is taken care of.] A flood of frantic activity engulfed us—just when we ought to have been taking a break to walk in our woodlands.

Every year we tell ourselves, “Next year we’ll make sure we take time for an unhurried stroll through a fairyland of nodding Trilliums.” And every year the demands make mincemeat of our firmest resolves.

The woodland wildflowers that carpet our hardwood forests in the spring bloom only during the narrow window of time after the warming sun brings them to life and before the overarching trees throw out a leafy curtain to shut out that selfsame sun. We have, perhaps, two weeks to enjoy one of God’s greatest displays. The timing will vary from year to year, depending on the weather. It could be really early, an El Nino spring in late April, or a delayed spring extending into mid-May.

Whenever it comes, we should call a halt to our madness and declare one whole week: “Wildflower Week”! Then everyone could take a holiday from work and shopping to walk the woodland trails. The experience might change our whole national psyche! Natural beauty might wean us from our consumer habits. We might regain perspective. Even marriages might be healed if husbands would walk hand in hand with their wives and children through a sylvan cathedral strewn with wildflowers. Children might be weaned away from cyber-fantasy to develop a taste for the glory of creation. Most important, the Creator might break through the defenses we have thrown up to shield us from pondering the great questions. Who? What? Why? How? How long?

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. After all, Mary Helen and I hadn’t done too well ourselves. But that year we were determined to take time to watch spring steal over the hillsides as we walked the trails. Timing would be crucial. When all the signs proclaimed, “Its wildflower time,” we’d ignore the phone. Allow the e-mail to pile up. Leave letters unanswered and bills unpaid. We’d ruthlessly cancel our commitments.

We’d search out that hushed valley where a meandering brook gurgled its way past wild ginger and jack-in-the-pulpits. We’d hunt for tiny stands of dutchman’s breeches or squirrel corn. We’d kneel down to smell the violets. We’d rest on a log while we feasted our eyes on a hillside covered with waving trilliums. We’d search for their red cousins. We’d try to find starflowers, toothwort, bellflowers and solomon’s seal.

But then, like every year before, the demands of society besieged our plans. We fought valiantly to break free—and we did manage to set aside several days to wander in the woodlands. We discovered a new flower and we tasted tranquility!
We would like to propose a new holiday—Wildflower Week. It would revolutionize western civilization!

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sear:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night–
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauties see,
And in short measures life may perfect be.3

[An excerpt from Through A Country Window, Eric E. Wright, chapter 24, p170ff. For more information or to buy a copy see http://www.countrywindow.ca. Print copies available in Northumberland County, Ontario, email your order to wrightee@eagle.ca  Ebooks available through Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Through-Country-Window-Inspiring-Stories/dp/1554528062 ]

1.Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon, 1865, st. 4

2. Bliss Carman, “Over the wintry threshold”, Smart set, April 1913

3. Ben Johnson, quoted in The Book of Virtues, p. 431

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How attitudes intensify or moderate suffering

We all face difficulties of one kind or another. Job loss. Accidents. Disease. Rejection. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). However, the attitudes with which we face troubles will profoundly affect our ability to cope victoriously; either intensifying or moderating our anguish.

Alice and Elsie and Marci, not their real names, routinely intensify their own pain. Alice wallows in unhappiness while blaming her employer and the government for the misfortunes in her life. A cheerful greeting to Elsie triggers a recitation of grievances that reflect her bitterness and anger. Marci not only looks sad and troubled, she is.

The attitudes of these three intensify their emotional distress. Consequently, they will endure greater pain than that of others who tackle life with an uplifting outlook. Their corrosive emotions may even affect their physical health. For our own wellbeing, as well as to glorify God, we need to get rid of dark and hurtful emotions such as: sadness, worry, doubt, discouragement, fear, envy, hopelessness, bitterness, wrath, discontent, wounded pride, hatred, and the like.

The New Testament uniformly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to his teaching, delivers us from bondage to these emotions. (I’m not denying that in some cases there are physical causes for depression.)

This does not mean we should cover up our anguish. The Psalms of lament show us the pattern of David. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord…all night long I flood my bed with weeping”(Ps 6:3,6). “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Ps. 13:1). But notice that David brought his pain to God and underlying that pain was faith. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

A huge part of the Christian process of sanctification involves replacing dark attitudes with those that are uplifting. This process doesn’t happen overnight. But the apostle Paul explained that through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the transformation is certain. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;” the very emotions that moderate suffering.

According to Jesus, happy are they who have the right attitudes. (See Matthew 5:3-12.) He taught his disciples, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:31); “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me”(John 14:1).

There isn’t room in this article to touch on the power of prayer, the transforming effect of thankfulness, and the uplifting outcome of worship and praise. And surely, I don’t need to mention that we engage in these activities not for therapeutic reasons, but because we have touched the hem of the Infinite. That touch makes us want to lift our hearts in praise. We have been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ and that change makes us want to express thankfulness. The positive effect of praise and thankfulness—joy—is incidental to the reality of salvation, but very real.

I have no doubt whatever that the Christian faith has contributed infinitely more than we can imagine to human health, social wellbeing, and international harmony. How do I know this? I know it from the teaching of the Bible, observation of others, my own experience, and the testimony of myriad Christians, some of whom suffer indescribable persecution.

Do you have doubts that Christian attitudes moderate suffering? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Or as Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

In a later blog, I’ll write about the role of encouragers in helping those who face trials.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

FOOLISH CHOICES AND SUFFERING – CAUSES OF SUFFERING #4

Have you ever wondered if your problems, or even your suffering, stem from foolish choices? We’re just coming out of two days of ice pellets and freezing rain. Life ground to a frozen halt. It would have been foolish to venture out and chance getting a broken leg.

Choices are important. I agonize over decisions, especially big decisions like whether to move to another house or what kind of car to buy. That’s not to say that I take long over the choice of what brand of toothpaste or shampoo to buy or whether to plant petunias or pansies in the garden.

But too often I allow price to determine my choices rather than quality. I once bought a pair of attractive loafers because they were half price. They were a bit tight, but so desirable. That purchase doomed me to pinched toes until I gave up. I could give other illustrations but they would be too embarrassing.

Even when I determine to balance quality against price, it’s not always easy to make a good choice in our media-saturated world. One report lists butter as harmful to our arteries. Another labels margarine as a dangerous culprit. Or take coffee, or chocolate. How do we navigate through all the shoals that we’re told can shipwreck our lifeboat?

Doubtless, bad choices can lead to great harm. And some of those bad choices are clear. Smoking. Overeating. Taking addictive drugs. Avoiding exercise. A steady diet of high calorie fast-foods. Too much sugar. Pornography. Sleeping with prostitutes. Drunkenness. The list is long; the effects devastating in terms of ill health, lost jobs and broken relationships.

Many of our bad choices lead to long-term suffering, or at least, suffering that catches up with us as we age. Why do we choose things we know will be harmful? Often, it’s to find immediate pleasure through gratifying a craving. Dare I say it, lust banishes reason? Donuts and cookies and mega-burgers taste so good! Indulge. Enjoy right now. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with an occasional indulgence but the danger occurs when indulgence becomes a habit.

The danger is magnified when the indulgence breaks one of God’s commandments. Outbursts of anger can not only shatter relationships, but, as Jesus said, even lead to murder. One pilfered item from a warehouse or an act of cheating can encourage a lifestyle of dishonesty that ultimately ends in incarceration. Envy or jealousy indulged can foster lifelong discontent. One act of adultery might ruin a marriage or promote a careless approach to marital fidelity or lead to catching a sexually transmitted disease.

So why is there suffering in the world? Much of it is caused by human foolishness, indulgence, sinfulness and ignorance. We would be wise to re-read the book of Proverbs often. “He who speaks rashly will come to ruin. The sluggard craves and gets nothing…Dishonest money dwindles away…”(Prov. 13:3b, 4a, 11a).

Fortunately, God is a forgiving God. There is no sin, no matter how grave, that He will not forgive if one but bows in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. “His blood can make the foulest clean.” Forgiveness, however, does not necessarily deliver us from the practical consequences of our sins. The forgiven smoker will still have damaged lungs. The forgiven murderer will still have to finish out his jail sentence. The indulgent eater who is forgiven may still have clogged arteries.

Let’s not blame God for the suffering we cause. Instead let’s make wise and godly choices. Let me know what you think about this issue.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

A Strange Tale of Mystery

There is a great mystery which is far beyond the understanding of mere men. Why we are here? Where did it all came from? Well, yes, that too, but I’m talking now about the DSCN5069mystery of a woman’s purse.

In its mysterious depths such a purse contains whatever it is that lesser mortals such as men or children are looking for. Chewing gum? Why yes. An extra pen. Of course, 10 or 11 reside there. What about paper to make a note? No problem. Kleenex? Indisputably. A little bottle of stuff to clean your hands before a meal. No need to ask. Sunglasses, lipstick, rouge, comb, brush, wallet? Of course. Keys? Just a minute, which one, the lady asks, for she has assorted keys from several previous incarnations.

“I’m peckish.” To which, the lady of the house responds, “No problem, just a minute, I have a candy bar in here somewhere or at least some throat lozenges.”

I’ve just scratched the surface of what is in the mysterious depths of a woman’s purse. I could go on describing the contents of this enchanted piece of leather, but you get the idea.

However, there is a great danger here as well. Things get lost in there. It’s as if the purse has a mDSCN4962 (2)agnetic field that attracts assorted flotsam.

At an appointment a few months ago, I lost my watch. Strange. Did I leave it behind? Two or three weeks later when I was about to buy a new one, presto, out it popped from my better half’s purse. Wow. Magic.

Then more recently, I lost my bifocal glasses. Oh, no! Expensive to replace. But the other day they just appeared from the depths of this mysterious hold-all. This could be positively scary, but I’m determined not to be anxious but just accept the mystery of the handbag. And make my needs known.

The Cruelty of Oppressors – Why Suffering, #3

Oppressors cause much of our world’s suffering. Our televisions daily project stories of suffering inflicted by the oppression of powerful and cruel men. Two years of warfare in Syria has claimed 60,000 lives due largely to the intransigence of President Assad. Meanwhile, the Taliban in the border regions of Pakistan continue to spread fear by targeting innocent villagers on both sides of the border along with coalition soldiers and Pakistani troops. As long as genuine participatory democracy fails to take root in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the future looks bleak—unless God should step in.

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;…defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more” (Psalm 10:17,18).

But let’s think closer to home. In 2008 powerful institutions in the US manipulated the mortgage market and precipitated the worst recession since the thirties. The suffering of hard-working Americans who lost their homes was incalculable. Indeed, the whole world felt the fallout. Or consider North American tobacco companies who promote their cancer sticks wherever laws are lax. Then there are criminal gangs who promote drugs, prostitution, and gambling. 

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker” (Prov. 14:31).

Powerful multi-nationals run rough-shod over the rights of aboriginals in many parts of the world. Greedy industrialists pay workers a pittance to labor in terrible conditions producing consumer goods. Landlords keep tenant farmers in perpetual debt in Pakistan.

James warns the oppressive rich. “Weep and wail…your gold and silver are corroded…Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you…have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:1,3,4).

Religious groups are not immune. When religious men gain unbridled power, they often abuse. Consider the crusades, the Inquisition, oppression in reformation Geneva, abuses in Puritan New England and in first nations’ residential schools. Islamists today use suicide bombers and threat of terror to intimidate whole populations. Muslim villagers in Nigeria murder 500 Christians. Villagers in Pakistan try to coerce a young Christian boy to recite the Muslim creed.

Oppressors have bloodied history with their atrocities. Think Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 18:13ff), Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 25:8,9), Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Idi Amin—the list is endless.

Power corrupts, whether it is in the hands of an abusive husband, a king, or an industrialist. In the west we are very fortunate to have democratic governments, subject to an independent judiciary and a system of checks and balances. [Unfortunately, our western democracies are weakening.] The development of democracy can be traced to the Protestant Reformation with its acknowledgement of God as the Judge of all the earth, not some priest or pope. It revived a sense of individual freedom under God and responsibility to God. In France where the Reformation was weak, their revolution resulted in a period of terror. In England where the Reformation was strong, a constitutional government of checks and balances developed.

Instead of blaming God for suffering, let’s lay much of the blame at the feet of oppressors. And let’s determine to personally fight for justice and abhor all forms of intimidation and coercion. “Redeem me from the oppression of men” (Psalm 119:134).

Only in coming to know Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour can we find the spiritual resources necessary to prosper in an unjust world. And the hope of His return creates within the expectation of a future reign of righteousness.

Let me know your thoughts

Where Did All This Evil and Suffering Come From?

#2 in a series.
The universe displays breath-taking beauty. Sunsets and starry skies. Soaring mountains and spiral galaxies. Lilies and roses and frangipani. But! Every leaf that fell from the naked deciduous trees proclaims an unpalatable reality; everything has been marred by some malevolent influence. Each leaf bears evidence of the depredations of either insects or disease.

Not only in the leaves, but everywhere we look we discoverr evidence of defects. Weeds continue to choke the iris and day lilies I planted around the edge of our front lawn. Mosquitoes and black flies pester us in summer. Mice and ants may invade our homes. Birch trees die from the top down. Cankers attack beech trees. Our world often seems like a dangerous place. Floods and drought, typhoons and earthquakes, volcanoes and storms threaten populations. Human beings provoke wars, distribute poison in the form of drugs, abuse children, oppress the poor, and enslave the powerless. And too often an atrocity like the deranged gunman who took 17 lives in a Florida school occurs.

Microbes and bacteria infect our immune systems. We come down with colds and flu, hepatitis and clogged arteries, diminished memories and arthritic knees. Despite the claims of the beauty industry, an aging clock relentlessly ticks away within all of us. Whenever we honestly look in the mirror, we see its effect. Let’s face it, we will all die. One hundred per cent of us.

Why is it like this? For the origin of all imperfection and suffering, we must go back to origins; back to the historic, space-time fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. (Read Genesis 3) As the progenitors of all people, they chose to disobey God and as a result fell from original goodness into sin. Their fall not only set in motion their own deterioration and death but fractured the harmony of the cosmos. And all their progeny have inherited a sinful nature with a twisted bent to selfishness and evil. Women inherited great pain in childbirth. Painful toil in tilling the ground became man’s lot. Thorns and thistles arose along with a myriad other malevolent influences. As someone has said, “All nature is red in tooth and claw”.

Since that historic fall, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”(Rom. 8: 22). This is why the incarnation is so central to history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into our world to begin the restoration process. He calls all men and women to allow him to inject the antidote into our hearts, the antidote that will conquer our bent to selfishness and sin. He earned the right to call us to faith and repentance by dying for our sins upon the cross. Everyone who heeds His gospel call finds himself beginning to be changed from the inside out. (The new birth.) Ultimately, Christ will return to right all wrongs and to restore  the earth to a state of goodness and grace.

So, why do apparently good people, even God’s children suffer? It’s inevitable. We live in an imperfect, fallen world where bad things happen indiscriminately. Fortunately, in the lives of His children God is able to squeeze good from evil. So in spite of evil, let’s celebrate Jesus coming and look forward with hope to His return. Jesus is the promise of the ultimate extinguishment of evil and suffering.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject.

Dealing With Suffering

Among the seasonal letters we’ve received and in the weekly church prayer list we read a litany of troubles and trials. Several struggle to lovingly care for partners with Alzheimer’s. Some face operations or long periods of recuperation. A number struggle with the grief brought on by the death of life partners. Both Mary Helen and I seem to be in a period of physical challenge.

The reality faced by so many dredges up perennial questions. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do those who serve God seem to suffer as much or more than others? Why not just give up and wallow in misery?

Can the cause of personal suffering be found in the sufferer? The catastrophes that burst on Job led his friends to search in Job’s life for some root of rebellion against God, some sin that would cause God to judge him. They were wrong in thinking that Job brought it on himself. The reasons for Job’s trials were not to be found in him but in a clash between God and Satan. Ultimately, God vindicated Job but did not explain why he lost his sons and his wealth. Instead he called upon him to trust in the infinite and inscrutable wisdom of God.

The story of Job tells us that we will rarely understand why suffering occurs. The cause may be rooted in the rage of Satan in the heavenly places. (Read Job 1) The devil knows that his time is short. He hates God. He hates God’s beautiful creation. And he especially hates all God’s redeemed children. Living as we do in a conflict zone, we must learn to trust in God and put on his full armor. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Eph. 6:12).

Asaph had a similar quandary in Psalm 73. He was astonished at the arrogance and prosperity of the wicked in the light of the sufferings of the righteous. Why do they have so few struggles? Why are they so healthy? While, “all day long I have been plagued”(Psalm 73:14). It was only when Asaph took the long view that he saw the doom toward which the wicked were racing—the judgment of God.

In the midst of suffering let’s remember that if we believe in Christ as our savior, we “are aliens and strangers on earth”(Heb. 11:13). Like Abel, Enoch, Abraham and Noah along with the whole catalogue of the faithful in Hebrews eleven may God help us to live by faith, “longing for a better country—a heavenly one”(Heb. 11:16). Jesus has promised to prepare that heavenly place for us. (See John 14:1) And what about our aching, failing bodies? Jesus rose from the dead to be the first-fruits of all those who will inherit an imperishable, immortal, glorious body free from pain, a body like unto His. (See 1 Cor. 15:50-57.)

While faith and hope give us glimpses of a glorious future, let’s not forget to look back to the beginning for the real cause of suffering. Remember, “the sting of death is sin”(1 Cor.15:56). And where did sin come from? I’ll tackle that ultimate question in a subsequent blog.

Meanwhile, as Mary Helen and I struggle with physical ailments, we need to remind ourselves that spiritual health is more important than anything. “Be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise…understand what the Lord’s will is…be filled with the Spirit…always giving thanks to God the Father…put on the full armor of God”(Eph. 5:15,17,18,20; 6:11).

Let me know your thoughts about these issues.