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

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Published on Sunday, November 14, 2021

What might peace taste like?

Thursday December 11, 2021


I don’t feel qualified to write about Remembrance Day. I’ve never served in any war. 

            Two uncles did serve. My uncle Andy was chief surgeon with the British Army’s retreat from Burma – a 1000-mile retreat that makes Dunkirk look like child’s play in a bathtub. But I won’t go into details. 

            Joan’s uncle Frank died in Italy during WWII. Joan was about five. What she remembers, most, was the smell of his rough wool serge uniform, when he picked her up for a goodbye hug.

            She never saw him again.

            And she could never stand the smell of serge or the colour khaki.

            Funny, ain’t it, the things that trigger memory? Joan had a huge stockpile of fabrics, for different purposes. Still, anytime she picked up a piece of serge, she had to tell me what it reminded her of. 

            It didn’t matter that she had told me before. It didn’t matter that she knew she had told me before. The smell of serge almost forced her to comment. 

            I tried to think of any smells that have similar power for me. The only thing that came to mind was fresh-baked bread. It smells/spells H.O.M.E. 

            Bacon may have had a similar effect for my mother. Her father, my Irish grandfather, was a martinet, a taskmaster who made demands of his family. While my mother was still a child, she asked for some bacon with her egg and toast. 

            “Only if you can spell ‘bacon’,” her father decreed. 

            She took a guess: “Bee…ah… hmmm-hmmm-hmmm.”

            It must have been close enough, because she told us that story frequently. 


A different way of thinking about peace

            In the context of today, Remembrance Day 2021, I wonder how our senses would recognize peace. 

            On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918, peace probably came as the absence of certain sensory inputs. No explosions. No cannons. No bombs.  

            It would be an unfamiliar, possibly unnerving, hush. 

            But the smell of cordite would still hang in the air. Mud would still squish under boots. Serge uniforms would still sop up rainfall. 

            Several years ago, for Remembrance Day, I read up on a dozen or more Peace Institutes. Only one of them actually studied peace. The rest studied how wars ended. Which is not the same thing. 

            Peace is more than the absence of war, just as health is more than the absence of illness. 

            I don’t think peace is silence. I’ve heard utter silence, a mile underground. Also utter darkness. That’s more like death.

            Peace, I think, feels like water flowing. Not Niagara, thundering. Nor a stagnant marsh, rotting. But somewhere between those two, just burbling gently.

            Or like flowers blooming. Not like weeds, growing rampant. Nor like rigidly disciplined ranks of coddled roses. More like cosmos dancing in the sun. 

            And wind. Not hurricane force gales, lashing the seas to fury, ripping trees apart, driving desert sand like buckshot. Nor no wind at all, when heat or cold crushes you. Just gentle breezes caressing my skin. 

            Peace, I think, must be an elusive quantity – Goldilocks’ “just-right” moment between extremes. 

            And maybe there’s so little peace, because we keep missing those moments, always wanting more. 


Copyright © 2021 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





There weren’t a lot of letters about last week’s column, on the difference that just a little bit extra can make. Perhaps the point was so obvious that not many of you felt impelled to write about it. 


The first letter came from Mirza Yawar Baig. He suggested my column was a reminder of how one degree can make a huge difference. He quoted an anonymous someone as noting, "At 99° water is hot. At 100° it boils. Boiling water produces steam. Steam can power an engine. A matter of just 1° more."

            Then he sent along a link to a talk he had given in Nigeria. It turns out the anonymous “someone” was Yawar himself!


Cliff Boldt admitted to having “a dickens of a time with dates and appointments recently. But I liked the memories that talking about going the extra mile brings to mind. That bus driver also had some time to consider and plan his next move. Helping someone pick up fallen packages gives me a warm feeling. The eyes of the one helped tell all.”

            On the subject of provenance, Cliff says, “I am now looking at stuff around the house with different eyes.” 


Judy Lochhead “loves the idea that ‘just a little extra’ goes a long way to loving our neighbours.”


Sue Moshier: “I like to think of your ‘bus’ symbolically as we are all in this together -- as you so exquisitely write. We are all sojourners on this earth taking this trip together. We, myself included, all need to be reminded from time to time, of the importance of taking a moment to ‘regard’ the other.” 


Isabel Gibson shared her own experience: “After 13 years, I'm still hanging in with a local drugstore with crabby pharmacists, because the checkout clerks are super friendly. They give that little bit extra and it's kept me from going a long way away.

            “And what a great pairing with this week's paraphrase.”

            JT: I didn’t pick the psalm because it went well with the column. This time of the year, the Revised Common Lectionary, followed by most denominations, gives alternates for the psalm reading (that is, for those churches that still use a psalm in their worship services). I’m highly subjective – I choose the one I like better.


Jan Edwards picked up on my Martin Buber comment:  “I try to act in a ‘we’ mode, and [your column] encourages me to keep trying. I always feel a bit embarrassed when a store employee leads me to the aisle and the place where I can find what I'm looking for, and usually say, ‘Just point me in the right direction.’ Now I'll just be thankful, and say so.”




Psalm paraphrase


This paraphrase of Psalm 16 was inspired by two deaths occurred among our relatives in a week. And in case you’re wondering, this is the alternate reading for this Sunday.


1          Life is short, Lord.
Like a breath in the night, it disappears into silence. 

2          Human relationships all pass away;
we cannot depend on them for comfort in old age.
Only you, God, are forever.
Why should I put anything else first in my life?

3          Some people hold you as their closest companion.
They are the saints.
I would like to be like them. 

4          Many people claim to put you first,
but they chase riches and popularity, privilege and power. 

5          I say that there is nothing in life but God.
God is all anyone needs. 


7          In the silence of the night, I listen for the breath of God:
In the bedlam of a business day, I watch for a whisper of wisdom.

8          I keep my mind on God.
God surrounds me like the air I breathe;
God buoys me up like water. 

9          Even in a time of loss, I raise my arms to God's embrace;
My heart rests easy. 

10        For you are a loving God.
Though our lives end, we do not vanish into the lifeless void.

11        No, you gather us into your warmth;
there we will enjoy the endless sunshine of your smile. 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable 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

            If you’re interested in the poems I occasionally wrte, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry And 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 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: Senses, Remembrance Day, peace

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