All posts by Shannon McMaster

Bitten by a Camel

Ok. Disclosure up front: I know this author. He’s Lead Teacher at the congregation I attend.

The things he questions could fill a bigger book than this. But they do not need to. Part memoir, part meditation. Dobson exposes his uncertainties, shares experiences we all have been though, and shows us places Christians dream of as places where the sacred, maybe–sometimes, shines through. “The sum total of our experiences, in all their messy glory, is where we live our spiritual lives.” If Spong is your guy, then here’s a young one to watch.

Prompt: Water

The Lump of Water

Built up from drips, sculpted by the thoughtless hands of temperature and wind, a small ice sculpture sits at the back corner of our home, squatting beneath the rain gutter drain pipe. It is the natural result of the combination of physics and human activity. Evaporation, condensation, freezing, melting, running, falling, separating, coming together, slushing, and oozing play out within a built environment where a hilltop was flattened, soil was paved, and a house—built to shelter against those processes—redirects water to a particular place. I come along, observe the gleaming, clear ice stalagmiting up in a smooth surfaced but jagged form, and think, “what a unique shape.”

The thing before me, towering from the ground to the side of my ankle, is one of thousands in my neighborhood. They rest beneath down spouts, exhaust pipes, spigots for garden hoses, garage eaves, and everywhere water drips. There is nothing special about this small lump of ice. No lump of ice is identical with it, though. The forces brought to bear on its creation, in their character and timing, cannot be recreated, and this lump is in constant flux as those forces continue to flow, eddying around this particular place. This lump exists, dynamically itself, as drip follows drip, and changes from itself into itself as the locus of energies flowing around and through it.

This lump sits, resting, attached to the poured concrete walk from our garage to our back door. I cannot lift it. The rough texture of the human compound is gripped by thousands of tiny coils of ice. Curls of ice clasp wherever an opening permitted the smallest traces of water to ooze. Each descending twist of ice tightens the clinch between lump and ground. Every curve of the lump, from the spires pointed toward the downspout lip (or slightly away, depending on how the wind blows), down to the subsurface grasp holding the lump in place is an expression of a particular drip of water, called into existence by the demands of place and time.

Every drip fallen from the final edge of the downspout vanishes when it touches the ice that formed before. Some, as they follow the surface ground-ward, leave traces I can see, looking like veins on the back of my hand. Most of these will smooth over time, covered over by later accretions, or worn and pressed into the slick surface by thaw/freeze cycles, wind, and gravity. Every drop of water exists when it must, and joins when it must. No drop ever returns.

An average snowflake contains one hundred ice crystals. An average ice crystal contains trillions of trillions of water molecules. The number is something like ten followed by eighteen more zeros worth of water molecules. The molecules come together, form a droplet, crystalize in the hexagon of snow, join other hex crystals in a snowflake, and fall. The snowflake lands on the roof of our home. Others land on it, next to it, a little bit away from it. A blanket.

These snowflakes merge into ice crystals and vanish in plain sight. They melt, some in the sun, some because I toss snowmelt pucks up there to keep icicles from forming. New drops form, roll down the roof, and vanish, again in plain sight, when they join the flow of water in the eavestrough. More freezing and thawing, and eventually running water flows down the pipe. Turbulence separates drops from the downward flux, and turbulence brings these drops back into the flow, and gravity pulls it all down. A rushing stream of braided water runs out the end of the downspout.

Then the run slows, and a trickle of water clinging to the inside of the aluminum pipe makes its way out. In liquid form, water molecules continuously trade their hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a slippery soup of electrons and nuclei. Water is water in its relationship to itself. Surface tension holds droplets in place for a time, they merge into drips, which reach the downspout mouth. New drips form from pools formed of past drips. When the surface tension can no longer hold, the potential drip escapes into the present, and falls.

Aunt Poldi and the Sicilian Lions: A fresh new series begins with a Bang!

If it’s murder, it’s Poldi getting in people’s faces. Sicilian people’s faces, which is to say her new neighbors. When Aunt Poldi moved to Sicily, it was with a plan to get old and die of misery in pretty short order. When a friend, a young man, is killed, Poldi finds a new path.

Uncovering secrets, dodging Dobermans, a sprinkle of looovee, and a narrator who can hardly believe what his Aunt is up to add up to a great into to a promising new mystery series.

Axis Mundi: Terra Discussion

Axis mundi, the center of the world, was the topic of discussion at C3 West Michigan’s Spiritual connection this past Sunday.

Kent Dobson touched on many notions, but one to which my thoughts returned several times over the day was the sacred|particular tension. I liked that Dobson used the word ‘particular’ when talking about sacred spaces, and objects which denote an axis mundi for a space or as a marker of significance for a people

It can be easy in our day-by-day lives to simply say everyone is special, or the whole world is sacred, and to feel like we mean it. I feel like I mean it when I say it, but when I live my life, there are certainly things which are much more likely than others to get treated, or regarded, as sacred.

When a special thing happens, a marker gets set, and a space where that thing happened takes on a sacred aspect. A birth, a wedding, a fatal car crash, a dire diagnosis. My wife and I almost always point to the hotel we were married in when we drive past it with our children; this is a sacred space for us, and an axis mundi.

Because the world is not a circular two-dimensional plane, but rather multi-dimensional, and constantly unfolding experiences great, small, describable, and ineffable, there is no one, true, center. The world turns, constantly changing, growing in some directions, contracting from others, and we return–as individuals and groups–to places where the world once opened to us. We return in fact, or we return in mind, but the world turns around that event in that particular place, to that axis mundi. We each, emplaced by our stories, experiences, and groups, have many centers of the world. No one of us is only one thing, but each of us is our own particular, incarnated thing distinguishable from, but inseparable from, all the rest.

For many years I worked in local government, and there is often an effort to brand a community as unique, but I often felt that was the less helpful word. So many communities have similar features–a quaint downtown, vibrant schools, neighbors helping neighbors–that it can seem they are all the same. If every town is unique, no town is unique; if every tree is sacred, no tree is sacred.

The particularity, of a town, of a place of sacred meaning, or a human being is what marks the value. Being unique does not stand out. Being particular does, the world goes round and round around a particular place, but it does not go around that place uniquely. Learning to see what is particular is how we learn to love, and how we expand what we see as sacred.

Axis mundi is part of The C3 year-long Terra teaching focus.

Frederik Sandwich and the Earthquake That Couldn’t Possibly Be

When the impossible happens, Frederik Sandwich leaps into the fray! No, actually not. He runs, hopes not to be noticed, but cannot help but tell the truth anyway, despite every adult insisting nothing happened and the dire punishments for talking about it. Drawn ever deeper into the mystery by the impulsive, full-of-bad-ideas Pernille, Frederik tries desperately to avoid having to save the day and be declared an Outerloper. Full of laughs and chilling encounters with unkind neighbors and underground passageways, this book is sure to please.


Aaaannnnnnd…. looking forward to the Feb. 2019 release of

Frederik Sandwich and the Mayor Who Lost Her Marbles…