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.

Pilgrim Moves

Earlier this week my Dean popped by and asked if I might like to join him and another colleague for a little stroll, to our new digs for the next 14 months. At the end of April we empty our building, and the insides of this 55 year old building will get a major overhaul. It is badly in need of the same, with asbestos here and there, and everywhere a dearth of electrical outlets. Other issues abound and we look forward to a rejuvenated building. The plans for the renovation look stellar, and while we look forward to the move back in, we also know we are about to begin a bit of an institutional pilgrimage.

Our interim offices are on the top floor of an early 70s residence – repurposed in the manner of converting bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms into offices. I have the happy pleasure of inheriting a living room that is larger than my current office, and so have been allotted the kind of space that admits the dangerous temptation of adding bookshelves, and so more books. Pray for me since I will return to a smaller office.

Our chapel will be an “L” shaped room that eats up the better part of a former quad, and will do quite well for our weekday prayer services and our weekly Communion. For special services, the just off campus Roman Catholic parish, St. Michael’s, has agreed to make space for us and Inshallah, the seminary and community global music choir conducted by our Dean of Chapel Debbie Lou Ludolph, which will meet there late Tuesday afternoons. Classes will be spread out across campus by the fiat of the university allotment system, but the powers that be hope to keep us in common corridors.

All in all, things seem to be coming together.

Still, by all accounts, a pilgrimage remains a pilgrimage. It involves a wager that the journey is worthy of the costs. The costs, in this instance, are not insignificant and risks are clear: how will we keep the community connected without the our building playing host; how will worship work without the familiar spaces that facilitate our experience of the holy; how will we be in a new location since we both shape and are shaped by the places we go; will all the fund fall in place?

Scholars of pilgrimage speak of the role of narrative in the ritual of pilgrimage. Holy journeys draw upon stories of travel and trial – stories of manna and water from a rock, and they create stories that feed the future. I have no doubt that when the history of our school is told to subsequent generations, this will not be an insignificant marker in the history that we are becoming. Pilgrimages hold great possibility: dislocation allows a fresh appraisal of identity and provides opportunity for both the retrieval of lost or forgotten resources and the arrival of possibilities that cannot be imagined in the comfort of well-trod trails.

Only time will tell what will be told about the years 2017-18, but I am sure of one thing: grains of sand will reckon in the accounting, and these will be reminders of both irritants to pilgrim feet and the accounting of Abraham’s blessing.

Suffering March

March. How will I
ever make peace
with this
month well named:
raging and pillaging?

Not so many
days ago a tyrant, a
broadside wind
flipped over a
tractor trailer while
side swiping a few
days of spring seduction:
green pushing against the snow.

Does this
month
plot, and
scheme, sharpening
its talons and assessing
the holes in our armour.

Amore, it seems, is not
on this month’s mind,
and yet, and yet –
we hold this to be the month
when Word was fleshed in womb and so
was made to suffer misery, and beauty too.

Leaning In

Over the last couple of months I have attended two art installations attending to the topic of tornados. The first took place in The Museum in downtown Waterloo, and the second was nested in a exhibition by the Belgian artist Francis Alÿs at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I first saw the former. This exhibit involved a 360 degree film that was shot by a multi-camera device on the ground. The film proper was displayed in a fashion whereby you stood in the middle of a screen that wrapped you round while you assumed the position of the cameras. From this spot you could see, in every direction, the storm approach and pass over. What I most remember about this piece was the manner in which I could see the grass at eye level, and the increasing fury with which the blades and other greenery flailed under the wind, until a kind a brown and gray Pollock-like canvas in motion raged for a time in every direction. Once the storm passed, all that was to be seen was fields, trees, and a landscape stripped bare.

The second installation was Francis Alÿs’s “A Story of Negotiation” at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It included a number of pieces, one of which was “Tornado (2000-110).” This was shot south of Mexico City and records his encounter with these forces of nature, of varying size. In a way this work was like the former in the “what” of the subject matter but utterly unlike it in the “how.” The artist carried a camera on his body and walked into the storm. Here, the perspective was not one of the storm approaching, but one of approaching the storm. What made this especially potent was a handful of shots where the viewer had opportunity to see the artist walking toward the tornado from afar: leaning in, and pressing against his own fear, and the fury of nature. This presentation was further intensified in that it sat alongside of other works of Alÿs addressing themes of immigration and war. The artist’s refusal to give in to the utterly natural and soundly reasonable propensity to turn and run spoke to me, expressively, of the kind of tenacity that under-girds the human condition in certain iterations. How is it that some find a kind of spirit that pushes them against the chaos, while other run from it, or negotiate it with political expediency, or perhaps fail to notice the approaching darkness? And when is which the right thing to do?

Great art, it seems, raises more questions than it answers about the human condition. In this way it echoes the work of theology, which – at its best – enables us to see how our seeing is ever conditioned and always incomplete: fractured and yet oftentimes beautiful in certain ways. Of course, the subject matter is differently explored, but in both theology and art the very act of exploration can be experienced as a grace. And the project’s “completion” is perfected in its birthing a curiosity that commences yet another immersion in the Mystery enfolding the mystery of creation and creativity both.

No Truck with Deception

The sky holds no
truck with deception – nor
does it countenance
circumvention. It is
the soul of the earth:
soul, and skin.

The sky’s shudders
announce that You
are nigh and it
drips at
Your caress.

We wait below, as
dermal cells,
to and fro:
Now – shaking under shiver
Now – languishing under sigh.
Now – weeping at such beauty.