Home for Me

Friends, at a conference on the theme of the home at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN, our host Derek Nelson invited us to write a poem about our understanding of home at the start of our time together. I share mine – edited – with you here.

Home for me is near to a tree:
then a poplar I climbed with a friend
now a strong Norwegian maple speaking truth;
then a willow by water, flexible yet strong like a yogi
now a hemlock evergreen, with needles soft to the touch
and smelling like heaven;
then ein Apfelbaum in Omma and Oppa’s backyard
now, in ours, the wizened wood of blue beech, whose canopy preaches
welcome.
Home for me is between now and then.

On Mother’s Day

I remember my mom exasperated
at the way my glasses always
sat crooked on my face,
sliding down my nose,
my eyes on a book, wondering,
I’m sure, when I would look up.

Not that she wanted my head in the clouds.
She was practical to a fault, with her head
near to the earth, coaxing
carrots from ground,
kraut from cabbage,
roasters from chicks.

It is no wonder that I feel
her near when my hands are
in dough, in soil, in prayer.

It is a wonder that I see
her near in the mirror
when my glasses are square to my eyes,
riding nicely at the top of my nose.

People Look Easter

The earth is sacred in so many ways;
here lay our beloved and here
one day the earth will hold
me too, as it did You until
the cardinal sang and You sprang
from the grave where
yesterday underground
You preached to
roots and the fungi clinging to them symbiotically, and to
worm and the soil she so benevolently creates, and to
subterranean water streams and coal seams aching to stay put.
You preached to these and to my ancestors too
as I know You will do the day I make my way
into the earth from whence I came and
from which You shoot forth with
Yours in tow.

Crossing Paths

This last Friday, my wife and I made our way to Toronto at the invitation of some dear friends. They invited us to join them in viewing the outdoor installation entitled “Crossings: A Journey to Easter.” (https://www.crossingstoronto.com/) The installation draws upon the practice of praying at the stations of the cross, engaging the theme with contemporary art. Most of the pieces were found on the campus of the University of Toronto, installed on the colleges of the Toronto School of Theology. Another five were found at church sites in Deer Park.

The powerful and moving art was augmented with meaningful theological reflections and inspiring poems accompanying them in a guide. But for me, a rich part of the event was walking from spot to spot in the convivality of friends, especially poignant having met at TST some 25 years ago. I probably haven’t been to the school in over 15 years. The journey had that feeling of knowing where you are at, but then not – being undone by failing to see anticipated sights, or seeing unexpected sites.

The event was made still more poignant in that we made this pilgrimage a few days before Christians celebrate Palm Sunday, with the narrative of Jesus’s journey into Jerusalem. Setting this story along side of the stations of the cross, developed historically as a local alternative to pilgrimages to the locations of the events in Jerusalem, invites us to think of the power of movement with spiritual intentions. Walking serves as a metaphor for the spiritual journey which is a travel within at the same time as a journey without. In a way we were richly blessed by the strange weather of that day, which shifted from sun to mist to rain and the odd blast of sleet. The weather was changing in a changed location that was familiar and strange at the same time. The theme of change loomed large.

This theme of change was especially potent against the backdrop of this place where I dug deeper into theology in graduate studies – developing expertise in areas that have been both further developed and left behind. As I imagine my 25-year younger self wandering around that campus along my now 60 year old me, I see how we are both the same and different. In some ways life has made me more comfortable in my skin but less certain in my knowing – recognizing that the Mystery that is life and life eternal is both evasive and yet so near to me as to be one with the seeing me. My younger self was grasping after this truth that now more fully grasps me. I know that there is so much that I don’t know and I settle into my limits more easily.

Of course, doing this trip with dear friends made it so much more touching. What a gift to share memories, recall dear professors now gone, recollect project that were formative and fortunate, and simply eat together. We had not met since before the pandemic, and it was time to be together again. In the midst of such blessed change, it is also a blessing to find those red threads of love that tie our past events into the story that I am, that we are.

Blood Bonds

As I laid back
in a donor’s chair – reading
the obit of a mentor of a friend –
a needle slid into my arm just
as I read the invitation
to celebrate this mentor’s
life “… by giving blood.”

The timing was
exquisite, and I
imagined my friend
and her mentor both
at peace in the
gift of each for the
other. And as the
blood dripped
out of my arm,
life and love
slipped in.

A Pinch of Tobacco

I stepped into a wood
yesterday under the tutelage
of a son of this land, who
gave me a pinch of tobacco to
lay at the base of a
sentry maple tree; and it
struck me that this
is grace… being given
what we need to give
so that giving itself is
gift.

At the end of the time of
teaching, my wife and I
walked deeper into the wood,
in this time of its wonder: with
trees walking from sleep;
blankets melting away; and
Jefferson salamanders
making their way to
places of procreation.
I felt hope birthed in me,
holy hope tasting of
maple.

A Holy Knead

I found myself in a
batch of dough
yesterday… welcomed
by flour, embraced
by honey, settled
by salt, and
buoyed by yeast.

The dough was so very
warm as it enfolded me,
massaging away my worries,
kneading out my anxieties, and
raising my hopes.

I have to admit that I was a little
worried that I couldn’t take the heat so
it released me into the kitchen
before it ended in the oven.

I sensed its metamorphosis from
a distance and wafted a word of
gratitude to the Creator and the earth
who makes such a wonder possible.
And as I sat at table I prayed a word of thanks;
taking in the bread that took me in
at its origin.

Subtle Hope

My running life is now on hold for a week or so. Some sort of a tear, or perhaps gordian knot, in my right leg muscle has sidelined me, although I am able to walk without pain. So yesterday instead of going for my Saturday ritual run of 10 km, I opted to walk to the market in downtown Kitchener. I go to the market irregularly but am always glad for it. In the winter local businesses and farmers have a place to sell in a warm place and in the summer the market grows and spills out on a parking lot. I grabbed some goose pate, chicken rouladen, Oktoberfest sausages, and Icelandic cod along with about 10 lbs of beets for making beet pickles. I was delighted by my purchases and the journey to and from downtown.

I do have to say that the trip home was more enjoyable than the trip to the market, even though my backpack was a bit heavier on return. I walked to the market down Weber Street, which is the same route I use when I drive to work. It is a street that approximates a highway – four lanes wide with people generally travelling far faster than the posted 50 km/h limit. It is always interesting to walk where I generally drive. I was reminded again that a good number of the homes on this route are under duress, and the racing of cars was sometimes a bit much. For the trip home, by contrast, I walked back on King Street. It is a two-lane street with lots of lights that slow down traffic. It feels a bit more humane, and it was interesting again to see a number of apartments being built: developers clearly imagine that this part of town – once a bit rough, has more of a future.

The only downside of the walk home was the Ottawa Street stretch, where a number of businesses had not cleared walkways, reminding me again that the world is not friendly to those in wheelchairs, or with walking challenges. Sidewalks that were cleared were stained white with salt – a trace of winter’s slow recession, in this month of March that takes up a liminal place between winter and spring. Dirty snow sits aside whitened asphalt while the lengthening sun wrestles with still artic air. Some days winter wins; some days spring succeeds.

I made it home in time to have my goose pate on rye bread, with Akvavit and a nice cold pilsener alongside of it while my wife and I chatted online with our daughter imbibing her breakfast in Vancouver. Her world is well into spring, while we wind our way through this month named after the Roman god of war. While winter and spring wrestle, I nestle into anything that affords me a little comfort – especially in light of the hard and dark news from Ukraine this week. Hope seems to be in short supply but does lift its head here and there in little acts of kindness, in subtle seasonal signs in this month that reminds me that transitions are not always easy: whether they be the birth of spring or the death of winter or the death and birth of a people.

At Ski

My skis scratch the snow
like my fountain pen
this paper – a writing
I hear in the wood. These
pen-skis tell me tales
from my blood: of
ships at sea, of
runes in song, of
sheep shape shifting, of
herring, rye bread, akvavit, and more.

My skis move me as
they sing these sagas.
These parallel lines remind
me that I am two:
here and there; my soul looks
backwards to find
my way forward.

These skis inspire me as the
Spirit of the snow swoops
in and I find myself
at loss for words,
breathless.