Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Friday, October 2, 2020

Watching the winds make waves

In the Okanagan Valley, summer winds are predictable. The south wind blows up the valley. The north wind blows down the valley -- “up” and “down” depending on how you orient a map, because a lake surface has no up or down.

            In spring and fall, we also have west winds, which ride over the Coast Mountains and gather speed as they whoosh down the slopes to the lake.

            They hit the lake like a physical punch. The lake reels. Its surface darkens. Waves form, long lines of foaming combers, marching in formation across the lake.

            I’ve often wondered what’s happening at the front of the gust, at its intersection with the existing airflow.

            Does the gust drive under the still air, like an oceanic plate subducting beneath a continental plate, in tectonic geology? If so, does it cause air-quakes?

            Or does the active gust simply bulldoze the existing air mass ahead of it?  If so, why doesn’t the pushed air also stir up waves?


Turbulence within

            One clear cloudless day last spring, I learned that winds are even more complicated than I had assumed. From my vantage point on a trail high up the side of the valley, I could look down on some of these gusts.

            The gusts themselves were not uniform.

            The prevailing wind created those long lines of whitecapped waves. But within that pattern, I saw patches of extreme turbulence where winds whipped the whole surface into froth. And within those patches, there were whirlwinds -- on land, we might call them dust devils, but much stronger on the water. They were like mini-tornadoes, except that they didn’t connect to any storm clouds overhead.

            They lashed the surface with such ferocity that spray rose high into the air.

            The whirlwinds always started within the turbulent patches. But then they moved around on their own. Sometimes just within the patch. Sometimes beyond it, on their own, out into the more normal wind flow.

            All done by utterly invisible forces.


Unseen forces

            I can see the effect; I can’t see what’s doing it.

            It gives me a renewed appreciation for biblical metaphors about wind.

            Elijah hid in a cave while a mighty wind battered the mountain. A wind blew the waters of the Red Sea aside, so that the Israelites could cross to safety. A wind put flesh onto Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. A rushing wind struck the disciples at Pentecost.

            Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses. You can hear its sound, but you cannot know where it comes from or where it goes.”

            Ancient Hebrew used the same word for “wind” as for “breath” and for “spirit” -- ruach. So did first-century Greek -- pneuma. The mixed meanings drive home the metaphor. You can’t see wind, breath, or spirit; you can only see the effect.

            So some translations say that in the very beginning, a mighty wind moved on the waters of Creation. Others say that the Spirit of God moved on the waters. And the “breath of life” that God put into Adam and Eve could equally be God’s spirit.

            Watching the way something invisible can stir up the lake helps me sense the way something invisible can stir up a person.


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





“Sharp kitchen knives are, indeed, a delight,” wrote Isabel Gibson after reading last week’s column. But she warned, “Keep your eye on them when they're in motion . . .”

            In my kitchen, at least, I don’t have to fear a knife in anyone else’s hands. 

            On the larger topic, Isabel continued: “As for the mind, I see more and more articles suggesting that learning something new is pivotal - a language, a musical instrument, a skill, even an exercise that causes us to move in unfamiliar ways.”


Fran Ota embodies Isabel’s advice: “Here I am at 74, living in Reykjavik and doing a Masters in Medieval Norse Studies. Why? Because it just looked interesting....and it turns out much of the history of the medieval north ties to and stems from, the church. Particularly Iceland.  I have a small apartment in student housing. I live near the ocean and five minutes from class. I’m possibly the oldest person enrolled. 

            “My husband at 75 is still teaching full time. He says the students keep him young. Yes we are lucky to have good health and the means to do this... but keeping sharp in the mind, keeping interests alive, also keeps the rest of the body going too.”


“Thank you for making the obvious clearer,” Laurna Tallman wrote. Then she explained: “After realizing that having our bedroom on the second floor of this capacious farmhouse was costing me a lot of time and energy when those elements are dwindling, we finally moved downstairs. My husband prefers to keep his office on the second floor, where it removes him from some of the noise and traffic, which I welcome. The fact that the move entailed a lot of facing of facts about ourselves, our priorities, and our ‘stuff’ proved that we needed the ‘sharpening’ experience. The change within the house is truly refreshing during this time of limitations in every other direction beyond the doorstep.

            “Your column leads me to think about my kitchen knives and some other tools and storage issues that need to be dealt with. Accepting the status quo has felt ‘easier.’ In small ways as well as large, it’s time to sharpen up!”

Tom Watson recalled, “A man who lived up the road from our family farm when I was growing up used to talk about cutting two trees at a time with a double-bladed axe on a rope handle. I guess it would be doubly important to keep both axe edges sharp!”


Betty Robbins made a literary connection: “These lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Ulysses came to mind as I read your piece about keeping things sharp  - - our paring knives, our intellects, etc.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, 

to rust unburnished, not to shine in use! 

As tho' to breathe were life!




Psalm paraphrase


Psalm 19 shows up every year in the lectionary, and so it should. I think of it as one of the great psalms (perhaps because my parents made me memorize it as a ten-year-old!). This paraphrase attempts to put Psalm 19 into a modern context.


1 Quarks and electrons, crystals and cells;
stems and trunks and limbs and bodies--

2 on the land, in the water, in the air--
the elements of the universe wait to expand our understanding. 

3 Rocks have no words, nor do cells have syllables, 

4 yet their message can be read anywhere.
Even the fiery stars, 

5 racing at unimaginable speeds through space, 

6 yield their secrets to those willing to probe the limits of the universe. 

7 And what do they find?
An underlying harmony, a delicate equilibrium
built on the value of every thing,
living or inanimate, past, present, and future. 

8 There are no exceptions.
No one is above the law of interdependence. 

9 Life dies and becomes new life;
spirit and flesh are one.
My fate is inextricably linked to yours,
and our fate to the trees and insects.

10 This is the beginning of wisdom.
It is better than wealth, more valuable than possessions. 

11 Awareness of it will change us forever. 


12 But we are too often blind;
we close our ears to the voices of the winds and the waves, 
to the insights of the rocks and the plants.


13 Keep us from thinking we know it all;
human minds cannot encompass eternity;
an assembly of facts does not equal truth. 

14 Keep us open to wonder, to beauty, to mystery,
O greatest of mysteries. 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted some new poetic works there a few weeks ago. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Bible, Jesus, winds, Nicodemus, Okanagan



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