Family in the Rough

Today is family day in our neck of the woods. Family is variously received by folk, some having memories warm and inviting; others knowing little but rejection, suffering and such. My experience of family is rich, and for that I am grateful, but also mindful that finding a way to navigate hard experiences of family must be a lifetime task for those whose experiences have been so different from mine.

Beyond our positive and negative experiences of family, we have all seen different configurations of them – a point I remembered this weekend. Saturday afternoon we took some friends who were visiting out to St. Jacobs, and as we are wont to do, took them to the local Mennonite Visitor’s Centre. For those not in the know, the area in which I live is rich in Mennonite history, dating from the 1783 when these peaceable folk left territories south in order to escape what they feared might become warring expectations.

The Visitor’s Centre has a very well done short video introducing folk to Old Order Mennonites. There is a piece in the film pointing to the addition of Granny Suites on many Old Order homes, and an accompanying comment that children grow up with family all about them – including of course their grandparents. Often aunts and uncles would not be so very far away. The extended family was and is extensive and near. My children had a significantly different experience of family. Most of their family was and is some 4000 km west of where we live. Their experience of family has been radically different from mine, and mine from my Mother’s, for instance, who used to speak of her Grandmother living in their house. I used to see my Grandparents once a month or so, while my children saw theirs far less frequently, although their maternal grandparents most often spend a few weeks in our town in the fall and/or winter. So many families; so many configurations.

The Bible uses language of family to describe those who share in beliefs. Some theologians I deeply admire express reserve about the family motif in the bible, given the negative experiences some have had. They suggest that it is time to explore some new metaphors, or resurrect old and lost images. An important one discussed is that of friend. Christians assert that God in Christ calls us friends. Another popular motif is servant/slave: God has redeemed us from slavery to sin, death and the devil, not so that we might be footloose and fancy free, but that we might be bound to Love. So many metaphors; so many possibilities.

It seems that families, like metaphors, are diverse and wonderfully made. Let me invite you, on this family day, to think about who your family is and why God has put these people in your life and you in theirs. Think too about the gifts of friends and co-workers, and the different ways in which they, too, can be family for you.

Cracks that let…

Friends, late this afternoon there was an Art and Vespers Service at Keffer Chapel. The theme of the event was “The Crack That Lets the Light Get In.” I was asked to provide a short reflection on the theme, which follows. Blessings to you in the cracks in your days. Allen

Leonard Cohen invites us to think mystically about the crack, the lack, the imperfection that marks and mars our journey from cradle to grave:

“Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

These are beautiful words, words that sound the world round; words of hope that play especially well in these days; these days of cracks becoming chasms, and bridges being drawn, and barb-wired walls being scratched across continents and around the world. These words of the prophetic poet Cohen sing the promise of light, the light of God promised by the poetic prophet Paul who hymned

“For it is the God who said, ‘let light shine in the darkness’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

This light, says Paul, is the light of the knowledge of God; he tells us that Christians see this light in the face of Jesus, our brother; others speak of seeing this light in other faces, other places but all of us who long for light find it coming in through the cracks that the world hammers in our souls. Cohen invites us to see these cracks – as painful as they may be, as embarrassing as they are, as disturbing as they will be – he calls us to call these cracks differently, to call them portals of grace.

I love Cohen’s poem. I love the way it lets the light in, and I ache for light in these days that are altogether too dark. Into your apocalypse and mine the light comes:

Deep in our hearts, there is a common glowing
Deep in our hearts, God’s hope is burning bright
Deep in our hearts, shalom is surging, growing
Dispersing hatred with God’s sacred light.

Paul speaks of this treasured light lyrically saying “we have this treasure in clay jars,” this light abides in precarious, in precious, in fragile souls… The light that shines in our hearts is held in clay heart jars, jars that are

Afflicted, but not crushed
Perplexed but not despairing
Persecuted but not abandoned
Struck down but never knocked out.

Paul claims that we carry in this weak, in this broken, in this fundamentally flawed physical form the light of resurrecting love. The light that has come in through the cracks will also glow out through these same cracks as we walk into the darkness, into the confusion, into the abyss about us. Light shines out from our battered and broken bodies; hope shines out from our hearts, cleft and bereft; faith shines out from our sorrowing souls that swell and soar with love despite empirical orders to the contrary.

Friends, I close with a poem…

A light from the crack slips
Across my eye, so that now I
See sideways – Now I view the
World askew; now I hear the world anew.
Trees converse with me, and I with them as
They teach me to listen, train me to see:
Ears to bark, eyes on crown, my
Being breathing in their
Breathing out – and the world
Bursts open. It receives me as
I fall into holy palms, as I slide
Into God’s weeping wounds, the
Cracks that let the light shine in; the
Cracks that let God’s love shine out.

Steeling for Snow

I shoveled the walk
yesterday, leaving my snow
blower to rest, warming
up to its summer
hibernation. I settled
on the old fashioned scrape
of metal against concrete –
content with the push and pull
of these two, their force
felt in the vibration of
the wooden handle,
occupying my hands.

This steel shovel, so much heavier than its burden,
is a solid reminder of the days before plastic
when we lived a little closer to the earth.

The snow blower was
bought to hedge my
bets against heart attacks
and such. It is much
appreciated and yet some
days the nearly silent to and fro
of shovel sits well with
the serene snow about to go –
even though it only just arrived,
from far too far for me to
put it back from whence
it came.

Well-tailored Time

I can hardly wait
for the next moment
and yet the present
demands its due;
to listen to the house sigh,
to see the floor’s peace,
to feel soap – warm on pots,
to smell wine’s fruit,
to taste labour.

Now beckons.

And when I
slip now on
like the well-tailored
time it is, You
settle my past, You
unsettle my future.

Now beckons.

Each breath in

I am

Each breath out

still here

Between each

now.

I the Wick

No fire can replace You –

Warmth

Light

Glow.

But still I enjoy

fireplace

candle and

lamp.

They dance me

red, orange, and azure too.

They draw me

in inviting me

out of dark pettiness

and so they echo You.

But fires also rage and raze

forest,

homes,

hearts, and I

swear that when I
shake my first at You,
You play the

Flame and I the

wick.

Slow TV

I remember calling my Mom in the winter months, in the later days of her life. I would often ask her what she had been doing when I called and she would say “Watching TV,” to which I would respond by asking what was on the television. She would tell me she had the fireplace channel on. I never did quite get that but as of late I have found myself watching “Slow TV” from Norway. I am now halfway through the 7 hour Bergen to Oslo trip. When I tell people, they generally think I am a few cars short a freight. I think differently.

First, I like trains. This semester, for the introduction section of the first day in class, I invited folk to speak about their favourite mode of transport. A good number spoke of trains, and their invitation to relax and see the scenery without worry about traffic etc. Trains are also (for now) low key modes of public travel without the security check etc. There is a kind of a comfort on a train that I do not experience with other modes of transport – aside from ferries.

But it isn’t only the “train” piece of the show that intrigues me. I am also reminded of my own trip from Oslo to Bergen and back by train some 30 years ago. I recall seeing people ski up to a stop, and take off their skis in order to get on, for a time, until the next stop. There is a kind of nostalgia in the show, I think.

Further to this, I like Slow TV as a push back against “reality TV,” which is so far removed from reality as to make a mockery of the real struggles that folk face in a real world not about an amazing race, or voting people off of an island, or some such inane theme. Reality TV seems, in significant ways, to contribute to a juvenile public and a dose of “real reality” seems fitting in these days – even in the mode of the mundane, the daily. It is good to see what people see who travel the lovely Norwegian country side – with sky touching fjord and mountain, and so inviting us to connect what is seen on television with what is seen during our own travels.

I also enjoy this show because it reminds me of my own pilgrimage in Norway some years ago. In some small way the show is an aide de memoire of that delightful journey that gave me occasion to be with dear friends, and make new ones. The paternal side of my family comes from Norway, and I find myself regularly drawn to things Norwegian in particular and Scandinavian in general. I can’t quite say it feels like home, to see the Norwegian country side fly by but it reminds me that I am from away.

I sometimes like watching television that does not aim to resolve a plot line, or mindlessly entertain, or sell a soft drink surreptitiously. The simplicity of the show is refreshing and reminds me of those twice weekly phone conversations with my mom. At the end of her days, life was slowing down and a fireplace was all she needed for entertainment. I am not there, but still, it is nice to watch the country side of my father that gives me occasion to remember my mother as well.

Thank you, Slow TV.

Poetry of Naught

Some poems say no:
No I will not be ignored;
No I will not be understood;
No I will not be written;
No.

we need to listen
to such poems
through such poems

Hard silences speak
You, You the
Pause, You the
Comma, You the
Full Stop.

You may or may not be
captured by earthly languages or
heavenly tongues, but You
shape shift
that, this
poetry of naught into me
where it now
resides as
seed.