Ignite the Poem

I/ A single word can
ignite the poem, a
signal word that
plays the tongue and
stays silencing.
The poem
echoes beat of heart
mimics batting of eyelid
reflects crimson of cheek.

Ii/ The poem’s got my tongue, it
pinched it so as to
gain voice –
flaunting my sovereignty
in its bid to be blood and flesh.

III/ There is no need
to bother the muse – let
her sleep and I will feed
on the beauty of the day.
Let the muse be. I can
see a cloud parting the sky
in tenderness and terror both.
I am ignited in the knowing that
thunder is only the beginning.

About Right

For those of us who live north of the Equator, in climes in which water freezes in winter months, now is the season of preparing boats on the hard. “On the hard” for those who may not know the language of sailors and such, is the antonym to “in the water.” It is, indeed, a sweet season.

Yesterday my wife and I were down doing a little work on Santa Maria. Last month I put in a new water tank since the last one was filling the bilge as fast as I could fill the tank. Water issues have shown up in other places as well, and so my wood-worker wife opted to rebuild a couple of walls that had been ruined. She works wonders, and her carpentry skills were put to task. Yesterday we put these walls in place. She also plans on varnishing the hatch boards, which we have been staining, and while she cut a temporary hatch (so we could take the regular boards home) I cleaned the hull.

I like cleaning the hull. It brings me a deep joy. When my mother (whose blessed memory I honour today!) had me clean anything as a child, I would never have described the experience with the word “joy.” But yesterday I found myself grinning as I wiped away a winter’s worth of grime. As I washed and polished, I wondered about this pleasure: why this joy? Perhaps it is because I do so much work that brings so few concrete results that I see. Perhaps it is because the action itself is a cypher signalling changes in the season. Perhaps it is because I simply enjoy being outside, or the gentle curve of the boat, or the back and forth with my wife. It is probably all of these and more. But as I worked I thought a little bit about the gift of physical labour: how it puts us in touch with our bodies, how it teaches the gift of patience and perseverance, and how it reminds us that those who preceded us knew nothing of the many luxuries we take for granted. There was no heat without wood being hewn, and no food without laboured fields and snare set trails and animal husbandry. Of course, food is still worked for but most of us are distant to the physicality of this truth.

But to return to the mystery of my smile, above all I think this task takes me back to my parents, who valued hard work and meant to teach their children that it is a gift. Of course, I do not want to sentimentalise labour – remembering that many ache from bodies broken by harsh conditions. But still, I am happy for the occasion to remember those who tried to teach me to find some pleasure in work, and so to know that sweat on the brow can be a blessing as well as a curse.

As I caressed Santa Maria with water I imagined the one, after whom the boat is named, caressing her own beloved child, and finding joy in her work. Then I thought on God too, who most certainly – from time to time – cleans this ship that we are, and so I imagined God with a gracious grin and wet hands and a deep joy, and that seems to me to be about right on Mother’s Day.

Divine Lips to Clay

What is this place that
calls me – arrests me – freezes me
in my frenzied,
in my harried
activity?

Something
inside of me knows
that this flurry of
importance:

starting this

building that

saving this

securing that

is simply not
enough; is simply
too much.

Deep
inside I want
this flesh to
know that it
lives in the sweep of

a pillar of fire

and under

a columned cloud.

I want my body to
sing or better yet to
whistle
as God
again puts divine lips
to clay and blows.

Tales from my Office

This week afforded me the opportunity to move into the office that I will call home for the next 14 months, or so, while our seminary building undergoes extensive renovation. I wrote of this a couple of weeks ago, and noted that we are moving into residences converted into offices. I have the happy accident of being assigned a former living room, which means that I am now in the largest office I have ever enjoyed, or ever will enjoy.

In my last space, I was able to make use of a large ledge under a generous window in order to create a stand up desk, and so wondered what I would do in my new space. I found it quite helpful to spend the mornings standing at my desk, and the afternoons seated, a happy combination which my then configuration afforded me.

While moving in, I had need to remove some excess chairs from office to one of the residence quads serving as storage for our pilgrimage. As I walked about the flotsam and jetsam of this and that about to spend 14 months in hiding, I came up the display case that used to house a rather old German missal. It can also serve as a lectern, with a glass front on an incline that you can look through to see whatever is on display. Fortuitously, the height of this magnificent piece of solid oak was exactly the height at which I type, and so I decided to migrate it to my office after chatting with my Principal Dean, who gave me the thumbs up. I built a small stand on the wall behind it, to hold my 2nd monitor, which, with a second keyboard, provides me opportunity to stand and type.

20170428_153424

But as l thought about using this glorious wooden work of art merely to hold my keyboard, I wondered if it might serve a dual purpose. I then came upon the idea of using the case to display, one by one, the various art books I have in my office. In addition to putting them, one by one, on my desk, they will now cycle their way into the display case. This will give me the occasion, from time to time, to glance down from my screen to see sights, sacred and not, looking up at my fingers dancing across keys.

Something seems right about this: pictures picturing me squirreling away with words, all the while knowing that our happy pilgrimage together will one day end when the display case returns to its former glory, and me to a new office. For now, it joins me in the peculiar glory that is at the crux of teaching, researching, administering and doing the odds and ends that lend a curious concreteness to my day, every day.

20170428_153437 Soli Deo Gloria!

A Blessing for Pilgrims for Indigenous Rights

Friends, I was asked to provide a blessing for some pilgrims walking from Kitchener to Ottawa in support of Bill C 262, which requests the implementation in Canada of the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for truth and reconciliation, as per the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report. This pilgrimage has been organized by the Mennonite Church Canada. My blessing followed upon a traditional sending by Myeengun Henry, an Ojibway elder in our city. The text for it follows:

God bless you in this journey of justice and peace.

May your feet feel each treaty
Holding you as you cross its reach,
Sustaining you as you walk in a good way.

May your ears be ready to hear
The stories sown in the territory you
Traverse step by step.

May your hearts beat in time with
Our Mother, the Earth
Who watches over you
In love, in delight.

May your minds be as one
In the community you are
On the way to truth and reconciliation.

And may you know

That your knowing is first being known.

And your loving is first being loved.

And your passion for justice and peace

Is first and finally God’s Reign in your midst.

God be above you, below you , behind you, beside you, before you and within you – as Holy Flame; as Sacred Word.

Easter in Mondays

I remember, some years ago reading a very fine book by Nicolas Lash entitled “Easter in Ordinary,” which referenced “heaven in ordinary” from a poem by George Herbert (entitled “Prayer (I)”). The point of the book and poem both was that Easter shaped experiences of grace sometimes surprise us in the seasons named “ordinary.” For those not conversant in church-speak, those are the times of the year not dedicated to seasons such as Christmas, Easter, Lent etc. Seasons ordinary are exactly that, and so the poet points to the surprising character of Easter insights in ordinary time.

I have always been a fan of ordinary time, but even more so a fan of ambiguous time. “Ambiguous time” is not a liturgical designation, and as far as I am aware, is a term I have invented. I will happily hear of evidence to the contrary. At any rate, ambiguous time points to those days not quite ordinary, but neither extra-ordinary. I think, in particular, of Boxing Day, or Easter Monday. These are days that live in the shadow of the big days, and so seem even less ordinary than ordinary time, which has taken some distance from High, Holy Days. In a way, Easter Monday, is exceptionally ordinary to the extent that it stands back so that Easter might have its full sway.

But for foragers of the divine in the rough, Mondays such as this – and in fact all Mondays as the day after Sundays, which are known liturgically as a little Easters – are rich in retrospect and relief. Retrospect because such days are days set aside to mull over what occurred the day before, and relief (as in rest but also in the artistic sense of the word, that is something cut away so that something else comes to the fore) because these are days that step back so that Sundays shine, and Easter Sunday in particular.

What was this Easter Monday for me? This Easter Sunday gave me the second opportunity in a two years to spend the Easter weekend with one of my daughters in their towns: last year in Halifax and this year in Ottawa. Easter was doubly out of the ordinary, then, giving me occasion to experience worship in a different church, meals at different tables, and yet a familiar joy at the narrative of new life and the hymnody of deep and abiding hope.

Easter Monday, by contrast, was spent back at home and doubly ordinary – allowing me to recall that the gift of being outside my familiar surroundings long enough to appreciate them, and short enough to pine for these days away to return. Easter Monday was not quite sorrowful, yet wistful in a good way; that is, it announced a longing for such days to return in times ordinary as well. Easter Monday, it seems, gave me and gives us just enough distance from Easter Sunday to remember that it was gift, and yet there is an equally profound gift in Mondays themselves, in that they serve as a bridge to the week by providing a little distance, a little space, a little bit of ordinary mixed in with their holy to make it possible to be in awe that the Word made flesh can be heard well in the vernacular and in ambiguous times.

Without Pause

It is best, I
think, to write
without pause; to
push pen to paper and
spill its ink before
this wand betrays
its sacred task and
mine too.

Pens cannot
sin – exactly – but
they can be lazy and
so it is mine to call
it to its task:
to summon it to its joy
to raise it up for its occasion
to rid it of its insufficiencies,
which are finally naught
but lies it
tells itself and
sometimes me
as well.