To Be in this Poem

This poem is not penned for you.
It serves but one purpose: it
stays my soul, purging it of
clutter clanging about
and wearying
me with

This poem is
for my calm
my balm
but I will share it
with you if you need
a distraction, a subtraction
of all musts that
foment in your life, like


Now. Time to breathe,
just to breathe, to be
in this poem

An Echo to be Seen and Heard




This last weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada.  For many this is a time to gather together around a roast turkey and pumpkin pie.  As we planned our Thanksgiving this time year, we realized that two of our three girls would be unable to join us, and so my wife Gwenanne pondered the possibility of meeting our middle daughter N for a camping weekend.  Gwenanne and I have never camped in the fall, and thought it might be fun.  N agreed and so we asked her where we might meet.  Algonquin Park is a favoured spot but was found to be full and so N suggested Bon Echo Park.

Bon Echo Provincial Park was unknown to me, but rather important for a couple of reasons, perhaps the most important being that the massive cliffs found at the narrows found in the middle of Mazinaw Lake served as the canvas for a massive number of pictographs, created by First Nations.  It is not overly surprising that these massive cliffs became the site of these ancient and mystical works of art: the cliffs are potent and the water pounding these rocks offers both access to them and protection for them.

The park was once the site of an inn, built first for retreat for the wealthy of Methodist persuasion until the Inn was purchased by Flora McDonald Denison, whose vision was to replicate in a Canadian context a place where the philosophy of Walt Witman could find a home.  Members of the Group of Seven also found a home here, who along with others, visited this site in their quest for Canadian artistic expression in the early 20th century.  The family ran the inn until the Great Depression, at which point it was leased until fire destroyed it in 1936.   Bon Echo was made a provincial park and opened in 1965, and still today park visitors come to be inspired, moved and quieted in much the same way that those First Nation and Group of Seven artists did.

On our last day there, we rented a canoe and paddled along the cliffs, taking in the many pictographs.  Knowing their provenance, and the fact that these pictographs were often painted in places deemed spiritually potent, I attended them with a sense of expectation, which was not disappointed.  I was also deeply moved as I looked up to see cliffs formed by massive geological events encoded in the diagonal press of rock from the horizontal of water splashing in song against these same cliffs.  Here and there, cragged trees pushed out of these cliffs, marbled with tales to be read by geologists with their long game wisdom.

I took a few photos of the park in our brief sojourn there.  As is usual, these woefully underrepresent the power of the place.  Yet, I hope to explore some of these paltry photos in painting on canvas in service of my soul as I discern how to echo the heavens “declaring the glory of the Lord and the firmament proclaiming his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It was, in fact, a most fitting way to spend a thanksgiving weekend, even if the turkey we ate was soup (lovingly prepared by my wife) and the pie we ate was forfeited for a pumpkin loaf (a first time attempt on my part).  The sun illumined trees iconically.  The wind spoke to my soul.  The ground opened up, here and there, and showed divine fingerprints on our walks while bonfires at night reminded us that life is gift, pure gift indeed, and we have every reason to be thankful people.



I’m Turning a Phrase

My pen tends
this word and that as
seed in need of
field – aching for a
place to land and
fertilizer to lavish it
with a just-so adverb or
participle or preposition, as the
case may be.

I’m turn a phrase like
soil in spring; I’m upending a potato
hill in autumn, pregnant with pause, as
my hoe, my pen leads my hand
away from knowing and into
Dirt: life’s cradle, death’s bed.

No Fait Accompli

Last Friday I made my annual pilgrimage to OUF, the Ontario University Fair.  It is the largest university fair in our area with thousands of students descending on the Toronto Convention Centre to scope out options for universities, or more often, to make decisions regarding which Open Houses to attend.  It is a bit of a chaotic affair, with most students generally uncertain as to which program they want, while a very few know exactly what they want.  Not too many are hunting for theology programs (although it does happen!). Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, where I work, is a federated school of Wilfrid Laurier University and I am there representing both institutions.   I mostly ferry students from the edge of the Laurier carpet to another professor or student ambassador after discerning specific or general areas of interest.  I rather enjoy the day.  I get to meet excited and nervous students, connect with colleagues from the campus that I do not normally see, and bookend the event with a train ride.


Every year, the event sets my mind to the topic of education.  Universities are funny places, where most of the people who teach have little to no formal education in education.  Our university works hard to provide opportunity to sharpen skills, with special sessions, regular workshops, and staff who meet with faculties to develop their pedagogy.  At the same time, there is a recurring perceived conflict between research and education in upper education.  Some see teaching as a distraction from pure research, some see the two to be mutually informative, and some are really rather happy to have a career where the focus is on curriculum.


I remember hearing , some years ago, a professor make the observation that his vision of teaching changed as he realized that he was not teaching a subject matter but students. This seems sound, so long as the subject matter isn’t lost in the mix.  Our university, with its “inspiring lives” tagline invites me and my peers to imagine that inspiration is purported to be at the core of our mission, whether our focus is on research, or teaching, or both.


Of course, theologians know this word well in relation to scripture, and the claims that the Bible is somehow “inspired” or God-breathed.  In light of that, it might be a bit ambitious for us to imagine that we can inspire anyone.  Still, I think the word appropriate when pronounced with the proviso that inspiration is something that happens unawares.  As both professor and writer, I generally have no idea what will take off among my various audiences.  The best laid plans for a lecture run astray and seemingly unsatisfactory prose sings unexpectedly. Inspiration happens even though – or perhaps because – we do not have God at our beck and call.  The Spirit works in strange ways that sometimes and somehow echoes through what we do, bouncing back to teachers and authors who have ears to hear and eyes to see.


At the end of the day, education is sketched in mystery.  It seems like the stars have to align for those “magic” moments to occur.  And yet, they happen.  I ache for those moments, and so gladly travel to OUF, to look for the face of this student or that, who is passionate about learning and is joyfully curious about the allure of trails unknown; places where we discover whom we are, and that we will never be a fait accompli.

Pictographs at Superior


No, these images cannot be
described – neither
poetry nor prose can
circumscribe these etchings
on stone, cyphers of tenacity
sketched on rock, scars of strength
anchored across
cheeks.  My cheeks
now moistened as I feel
this place dripping divine: mine
the gain as  I lay down any sense
of superiority,
of expertise,
of being high priest.

No, none of these
obtain because here I am
a drop of water crashing against rock;
a tear salting skin-on-fire;
a dropping of the guard into the
truth that being a drop is more
than enough.

Fish Bowl Theology

Yesterday afternoon I returned from our annual orientation retreat for the school where I work. It is an especially rich affair, with the opportunity to put face to the names we have seen on application forms.  Everyone is appropriately nervous and a particular kind of energy hangs in the air.  And as people get to know people you can feel bridges being built.  It is a kind of engineering of the personal and communal, I think.


One of the things we did for the retreat last year on the Saturday night, and replicated this year, was an event called the fish bowl.  I first encountered it some years ago at a clergy retreat.  In sum, it involves a group of three or four – or more, I suppose but would not recommend it – folks sitting in a circle discussing a topic.  The larger group sits around the smaller group, and listens in on the chat, rather like many of us look in on a fishbowl – without intervening but observing carefully what transpires.  Last year it was suggested by one of our newer faculty members.  She brought it forward as a way to allow student to catch faculty in motion in response to some fairly common questions around the role of theology in the curriculum of students aiming to be psychotherapists.  It involved a group of four of us, two biblical scholars, a professor in the area of spiritual care and psychotherapy, and myself – a systematic and historical theologian.


My experience this year was a little nerve wracking, rather like last year’s.  I entered the circle feeling like I was, well, a fish in a bowl.  The moderator got the questions going.  As we talked in response, I found myself glancing at fish bowl observers, wondering how this comment landed or if that quotation flew.  I found myself distracted – in a fashion – by the context but soon enough the content took over.  One of my colleagues posed a point I disagreed with, and so I intervened in service of clarification.  Another raised an issue I was inspired to riff on for a bit.  I got drawn into the conversation, and soon I discovered that I was utterly unaware of those observing us.  I was in the moment, and if felt glorious.


Eventually, though, the timer called us out of the bubble-bowl that had established itself and we began to entertain queries from the curious cats looking at and listening in on us.  These included both requests for clarification about challenging ideas as well as expansions on ideas expressed.  It was all rather invigorating and one of the students mentioned to a faculty member that she came to the event weary but found herself energized.


In retrospect, we noted that the students had an opportunity to catch a snapshot of a film, a sliver of a long conversation that has been going on between faculty in manner that I would describe as healthy, good-natured and yet marvellously taxing.  We have been at this for a time, and all of us have changed in varying ways, as is wont for those who listen and speak with a measure of charity and a double measure of self-critique.  A kind of grace attended the event – a grace that left us strangely invigorated and yet exhausted at the same time.  I can only hope and pray that those looking on experienced something of this, taking from the fish bowl what they needed.