Dear Mom,

Dear Mom,

It’s been nearly six years since you left us, although you didn’t depart altogether. Every now and then, I find you in my shadow, banging pots about in the kitchen, flavouring this, tasting that. You carried me in your womb, your prayers, your heart and now I find myself bearing you, in divers ways. The other day, for instance, I found myself peeling a potato, and felt you hand guiding mine, sliding along the contours of this root of the earth, sensing that a potato was capable of bearing love, and that cooking for those I love is as holy as was my pious prayers at the altar today, where I sensed you yet again.

You have given me many things, Mom. But one of the best is a respect for women. I am surrounded by strong women: my wonderful wife who has imbibed deeply from her own Mother’s well of wisdom and has also found some wisdom of her own; my courageous daughters who continually redefine success for me; sisters and in-laws whose faith buoys me; friends and colleagues who leave me in awe with their talent, their dedication, their ability to know exactly what to say to me when it needs to be said.

You have given me the gift of eyes, Mom. What a precious gift that is! As yours faded so many years ago, in some small way I think they migrated to mine, and every now and then I think I see through you… well, only in part, dimly, through a glass darkly, as the good apostle says. I will never know what it means to be a woman, but from what I can see from where I sit, it is a marvel and a challenge, a contentment and a frustration; a holy calling.

Men sometimes stereotype women as emotional, but those leaky eyes I encounter here, and there; this turn of the head when cheeks become beds for rivered emotions; this weeping is pleading for justice and a burden for peace and healing. These tears often prophetically announce that things are not as they should be, and are begging for a world more just. I stand in awe of such tears and wish them for myself: to be able to cry peace and righteousness; to be fit to sob for the healing of creation. This I covet when I find myself paralyzed. But the women in my life, Mom, show me the way, just like you did for so many years: be not afraid; look for the opportunities to brighten someone’s world; invite people into relationship; knock at the door until someone opens; be of good courage; pray always and in many ways.

I miss you so, Mom, but I know that you are in a good place. I also know that you are never so very far away. That veil separating us is thinner than we imagine. And I thank God for your example: you were not perfect and you taught me that I don’t need to be either. You taught me that love takes many forms, and it needs to be embraced for its diversity. You taught me things that you did not know you taught me.

Today is Mother’s Day but I think on you every day and know that what made you a marvel was not so much that you are my mother, but that you were you, that you are you. Your being you, unapologetically, reminds me every day that the sacred slips into our lives askew: now in a potato peel, now in a tear, now in song, now silence, now.

Lovingly yours,

Allen

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Musings on a Monastery

The latter part of last week was spent at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre. This remarkable Carmelite Monastery was built in 1894 and sits near Niagara Falls. I was there for a meeting of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission (JALC), a group of people tasked with monitoring the full communion partnership of the Anglican Church of Canada of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

I have been a part of this commission for some 12 years, and for many of these years our biannual meetings have taken place Mount Carmel. I have also been at this locale for other retreats. It has a bit of a feeling of a spiritual home for me. The staff here are always warm and welcoming, the food is excellent, and I generally manage a number of trips to the waterfall with each stay. Many people complain about the commercialisation of Niagara Falls, but there is something about the power of the water here that allows me to rise above the kitsch of the streets, and to be drawn into the drama of millions of litres of water racing toward the ocean, like a bird after its prey.

The group that gathers constantly changes, like the waterfall itself, I suppose. Of the 12 people in the current iteration of JALC, only 3 of them journeyed with me to this point from my beginning. I come now to the end of my time, as do many. The commission has three-year mandates, and so it will be reconstituted next fall. Some people will return. Many will not, I think. There were tears in the good-byes, and that says something about the gift it has been to be a part of this JALC.

This goodbye was a bit odd in a way, for me. I opted to stay at the Monastery another night, since I was to lead a workshop in the area the next day, and a trip back home Friday night, only to return Saturday morning seemed a waste of time and a needless emission of carbon. But as the crew left, I felt a kind of homesickness, in reverse perhaps. Sick-at-homeness, might better name it. I mentioned in my goodbye that those who have sojourned with me for these years will “haunt” the halls at Mount Carmel upon my return to this place. Indeed, even as they left, memories from this most recent meeting arrived as precisely that: memories. There is something particularly poignant about recent recollections; their sharpness is a reminder that they will fade; their proximity comes with the realization that these days have left and will not return.

Of course, JALC will return to Mount Carmel, as will I, but we will not meet together. This is the way of the world and the church, and it is the way it should be. A healthy committee needs to be renewed, and committee members need to move on to something new. I have enjoyed my time with JALC, and have been formed in important ways by my fellow commissioners, these dear friends, brothers and sisters all.

Easter on Monday

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” John 20:16

You said my name today and
my heart exploded – not
strangely warmed not
merely melted – but it
became a raging
sky and with each
thunder-beat,
lightning arced
me through.

You said ‘I see you’ and my
name became my resurrection.
I wonder at the thought – ‘Allen’ now
hanging in the air and I rising to
meet it. My name embraces
me and now I am in the between –
where You are and where I was – the
heavens inhabit me and I them as
I surface from my mire,
clinging to the miracle of
You speaking me.

Riveted to the Sky

We said Your name again today,
and suddenly You arrived – You
slipping into our speech, our song, our silence;
You like seal sliding into sea, but no
– that’s not quite right – because
You are seal and sea both,
both speaking and hearing,
tongue and cochlea.

At the hearing of Your name
I’m riveted to the sky,
I’m nailed to the earth.
Mention of You and
my skin’s a horizon
with the setting sun
now You piercing me.

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Let those with ears…

I’ve been trying to listen these days.

Not to listen for something, or someone – not even a still, small voice. I’ve been trying to listen – full stop. I’ve purposed to listen, every now and then, without deciding in advance what I’ll hear. It is an interesting exercise, and one I would readily commend to all. I can assure you, however, that it is harder than it first appears, and in truth my success in this venture is frighteningly fraught with failure.

It is a bit like the meditative exercise of sitting still and attending to your breathing. Soon, you find yourself thinking about what’s up at work, or how will I resolve this issue, or that. The only difference is that I do this while walking, or standing, or sitting. My eyes are not closed. I have no desire to empty my anything. Instead I aim simply to listen. And I have been a bit surprised in this.

The other day for instance, I listened while I walked across campus. I had just spent some time at the gym, and was making my way back to my office. The first thing I noticed was the tap of my feet on the sidewalk below me. And then, to my utter amazement, I noticed that I heard the footsteps of two young men 50 metres or so, in front of me. I didn’t hear their voices. I’m not sure if they weren’t speaking, or my ears were differently attuned. But the cadence of my steps, and theirs, served as a kind of Grundton for music of my journey.

On Saturday, my wife and I were down prepping the deck of our sailboat, Santa Maria, for fresh paint before she moves from the hard to her summer slip. As the day ebbed away, I took a break while Gwenanne did some last-minute touch-ups with Bondo, I stood still and listened to hear: the lilt of chickadee, red wing black bird’s trill, wind strumming branches and water settling into shore. It was a miracle of sorts.

It is now deep in the night and as I sit the clock walks its circular path, ticking each step as purposeful as any step I have ever taken. Softly, but noticeably, in the back the gas fireplace makes sound: now a click, now a whoosh of gas, and then later the fan kicks in a blaze of sound. All the while a I perceive a low, but steady ring in my ears. I can imagine how painful this latter would be if it were louder and persistent.

I’ve heard of rooms where all the sound is shut out, and all you can hear, in them, is your body’s sounds. Perhaps, finally, there is no silence in our lives. There is always the beat of heart, the swoosh of blood through veins and arteries. There is always sound, it seems: ever an acoustic horizon for the play of our pathway from cradle to grave. But then, again, I wonder about the experience of those deaf

The bible talks of sheer silence, when Elija meets God. I can only imagine its sound, or not…

At the Edge of Eternity

These days our tree
weeps joy,
bleeds peace,
sweats sweet spring …

I gasp and she
replies, but I do
not yet speak her
tongue. All the same,
I can see her buds brave
frosty mornings and,
at midday, her branches
shimmer, like locks, with
warm sun on glistening wood.

Pregnant with promise, she
preaches resurrection, she
hymns creation, she
lauds God.

With my hand on her trunk,
at the edge of eternity,
I wonder about her roots: are they
sated with humus, or do they
pine after the sky, which
her crown so delicately nibbles?

Running the Faith

Yesterday I entertained a luxuriously long run. I’ve been slowly working up to longer distances after 6 weeks away from jogging while on my most recent jaunt to Switzerland, and then India. I am happy to be working my way back up to my pre-travel fitness level. I walked as much as I could while away, and did a few exercises – a push-up here, a sit-up there – but now is the time to do a little catch-up.

I find running to be relaxing. I know that not everyone has this experience. But I find that I sometimes enter a Zen-like zone on the trail, something I’ve written about elsewhere. Jogging is pretty much meditation for me. I have a profound sense of God’s presence when I am running. I’m not at all surprised that the apostle uses a running metaphor to describe the spiritual life in 1 Cor. 9, although the idea of running to gain a prize isn’t altogether intriguing for me. Running is the prize, in my experience.

While on my most recent run I started thinking about running a marathon. Once upon a time, I was asked if I would ever do this, and I said no. At that time, I think the idea of the physical and time demand was a bit overwhelming. But now I find that I crave this time on the trail. I get lost in my thoughts, or perhaps my lack of thoughts. The idea of a marathon intrigues me because it will demand of me the sweet discipline of clocking in a significant number of kilometres each week in preparation. And so the idea of running a marathon marries the discipline of training and the experience of spiritual communion. I suppose it becomes, then, a spiritual discipline.

Spiritual disciplines are notoriously hard to define. It is easy to point to prayer, scripture, worship attendance etc. But I like an expansive definition, and readily include art, and conversation with friends, and walking, and baking, and running, etc. A spiritual discipline is an activity that promises a more intense awareness of God’s presence, although sometimes in the modality of a delayed gratification. There are so many ways in which I experience a more acute sense of the presence of God. To think that running has this benefit, as well as the joy of increasing one’s physical, emotion, and mental health too, is an amazing thing. But that is true, too, for other spiritual disciplines.

I am not absolutely certain that I will run a marathon this summer, but a seed has been planted. Perhaps the plant will be a surprise, but that’s the nature of grace, ever giving me joy in new and wonderous ways.