There you sit

There You sit,

poised and praising
my vulnerability, as if
it were something
other than what
it is: my being
drawn to
You, who
lets me poke
You in the side. I
am no longer divided
by doubt but at peace with
it as You open Your self to me
and allow entrance into Your Holy
Body: bloody in a way, but more so
beautiful, as bodies are meant
to be – ruddy and ready for
this sacred pleasure.

All Across Turtle Island

A year ago I was in Shillong, India, teaching some marvelous students, seeing some remarkable sight, and learning so very much. This year I’m not in Shillong, but warmed by memories of my time there. My not being there, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing the aforementioned activities. It seems that life is rich and sure to bless as we open our eyes. Of course, I know that people go through unbearably difficult days, days that deserve lament. This, too, is a part of life but hopefully not the whole of it.

Some days are gift. Yesterday was such a day. I made my way to the Conestoga Pow Wow held at the Conestoga College complex. I go most years, although I missed last year because I was away. When I entered I was told I could go left or right, which was a bit disorienting because in the past there was only one direction to go. But this year, the Pow Wow had grown so large that they had a separate arena for vendors aside from the arena dedicated to the drums and dancing. I quickly scouted out the vendors before going into the drumming and dancing arena.

As I entered the sound of the big drums just electrified me. The drumbeat has sometimes been described as the heartbeat of mother earth. It certainly felt as though I was close to the heart of the earth: strong, warm, enlivening, inspiring, justice-demanding: the list of words to describe this sound cannot be exhausted. Drums are considered to be animate for many folk who are Indigenous to North America, sometimes called Turtle Island. I can understand why. The sound was life. The dancers were, I think, carried by the energy, by the soul of the drums.

I had occasion to catch up with some friends at the Pow Wow, wise people who I deeply admire. I am always warmed by their willingness to spend some time with me, sharing their insights and helping me to understand just a little bit more of the way of Turtle Island. And I had opportunity to visit with some young folk who I know from my life at the university, strong Indigenous voices who paint the world right, who converse with the earth and lead us into right relations with our mother, who study and teach, dance and sing, fight and write for the good of all creation. My afternoon just filled me with so much hope. Canada is a long way from where we need to be in our nation to nations conversations. But the conversation partners are ready to talk, passionate about a future lived out in a good way.

I came away from my afternoon at the Pow Wow so very thankful to the Creator for making this possible for me. I do not take these interactions for granted. Life itself bids us come and learn how to be, how to listen, how to smile. I saw so many smiles yesterday. I can only hope that one day we will see more smiles on the faces of people all across Turtle Island, faces glowing in their knowing that everything is related, and all life matters because it comes from the Source of life. We are but a speck in the universe, and knowing that sets us free to be humble and hopeful.

Glass in Hand

I’ve been thinking
about how my hand’s
ability to turn might
be a parable for
repentance,
until it turns into
a fist, and then I’m set
to wondering whether it
might be akin to a comet
plunging toward the
earth – about to level
the playing field – setting
the anthropocene on its head.
And then one finger pokes out and
my hand is making me to be John the
Baptist, even though I’m loath to eat
locusts. When the middle finger
pops out, my hand can stand
in for scissors until the
third finger is made
to measure how
much Scotch is
to fill the
glass in
my hand.

Dystopia Times Two

I am currently in the midst of two dystopian TV series: The Walking Dead (TWD) and The Handmaid’s Tale (THT). Both are located in a future setting, where life as we know it is but a distant memory, and the future exists as a thin hope oscillating between obliteration and being at the threshold of the shades. I am rather far into TWD, and have just started the screen rendition of Atwood’s tale. Both are utterly fascinating, not only for their differences, but their similarities.

Both deal with a contagion: in the TWD it is a death that will not die; and in THT it is the inability in to give birth. Other comparisons are apt. TWD is punctuated with violence. There is violence in THT, but it is measured, and horrific in its calculation. While watching TWD, you can anticipate a zombie around every corner, every crook, every shadow – surprising, but not. In THT, violence is really more insidious, terrifying in its being cloaked in the guise of religion, and the supposed good. In THT, women are at the very centre of the plot, inviting the viewer to think about how women have been, and are marginalized and given a tightly scripted role in the narrative of life. I shut off the television, and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my daughters do not have to live in that world, but then I remember that the real world that they live in is rife with patriarchy and parochialism, and I know that the gains that have been made for women are ever at risk of being eroded. The women in the TWD are profoundly strong – but differently. They slaughter zombies and enemies with the same ferocity as the men and are found to be leaders of some communities. Women in THT are ever needing to make their way by speaking two languages, as it were: that of patriarchy and that of the circles in which they move at a level invisible to men.

Religion plays a big role in each: in the TWD there are believers who struggle with their faith, and admittedly agnostic characters who have a kind of tenacity that seems super-human. Religion in THT is the antagonist it seems (at this point), with images of ruined mainline churches setting the backdrop against which a state-sponsored dystopian religion reigns, supporting the patriarchy, which quotes scripture in support of the rape of handmaids, and the torture of deviants.

I am finding it so very informative to watch these two shows together. Both of them serve as a kind of lens for looking at the present. In TWD a kind of oscillation of utter chaos and brief but tenuous calm advances the plotline. I am too early into THT to weigh in on this, but I can say that its use of flashbacks is haunting, since they take me to my present time – and my own geography since much of THT is shot in Cambridge and Toronto, both close to where I live. Both series are externally supported by the regular and disorienting clips concerning climate change in my various news feeds. Of course, these dystopian tales have their provenance in apocalyptic literature – found in the bible and elsewhere. In the bible, this genre serves to tell those in utter chaos that God will bring about a just end. The hand of God is not so clear in these dystopian tales.

Both, in their own way, raise important theological queries: from the THT, I am constantly invited to ponder how religion can be a tool for hegemonic purposes. In TWD, religion takes on such a chameleon character – now seen in a tenuous hold on faith, now seen in people who betray their religion for survival, and now seen in hard existential questions about the purpose of life – played against an apocalyptic back drop that here and there peppers the viewer with biblical phrases. If I was a pastor who preached regularly, I would be watching both shows with a note pad at hand. As it is, I am ever watching, wondering how these fundamental questions of life, caught on screen might inform my classrooms, my church, my world.

This Nose Hunts

Not quite awake, my
body drags behind
my foggy mind.
I am dull,
here in the
dungeon of
night: my sight
is off, and a muffled
ring shrouds my hearing.
The silence of the house is
deafening – even the clock
is at sea.

But the grape on my
tongue tastes like the
troth of life and my
noses scouts about:

here, morning’s toast
there, yesterday’s curry

racing round the house, like
a cat on the loose, not to
be caught. But this nose hunts,
and now, now, I smell God:

first like baby’s skin
then like the air of a storm

taut, and sharp, like cheese blue.

The Joy in Writing

Another year of writing this blog comes to an end. A colleague at work the other day commented on this practice, wondering whether I have found it to be a good discipline. I think that to be true. I don’t quite write something every week, although most weeks I do – generally alternating poetry and prose. I sort of wind my way through each week, looking for a muse in some form or the other to generate a thought, or spark an insight. It doesn’t always happen, and when that it is the case, I sit downstairs in the basement on a Saturday night and start pondering the first thing that comes to mind. Generally something comes together. Writing is funny that way: sometimes it just clicks and other times, not.

I mentioned this to another colleague the other day; we were talking about academic writing in this instance. She was asking me about a paper I gave at a conference, and I could tell her that the paper under discussion nearly wrote itself. An idea fell in my lap, and I did some research around it, but the basic form of the essay was in place and I researched to span gaps and to strengthen pillars. But at other times, I do copious research; reading and reading with a view to finding some idea to chase after. For such a paper, every paragraph is pure effort.

I think, to some degree, I have been well served by another colleague of mine, who speaks of the classroom as a workshop, inviting students to test out ideas and play around a bit – not being too anxious about piety, or fidelity, or orthodoxy in his space. They can take on those concerns when they leave his class, or not. In a way, I find this space to be something like that. Here, I sit down and write and refuse to worry about my writing passing the muster of an editor, or a publishing gate keeper of some sort. I just write for the joy in writing.

But this joy, like so many other joys, is fueled by facilities empowered by practice. I write more easily when I write often, I think. And so, when it is time to write an academic piece, I think that the time I have spent in this workshop, or gym, or studio called “stillvoicing” has prepared me to get to work. Or at least that’s what I’m imagining today. The freedom this space affords, allows me to stretch in new ways, and develop new skills that make their way into a different kind of public.

And so I write: sometimes prose and sometimes poetry. I remember hearing Leonard Cohen in a CBC interview some years ago, where he said that being a poet is a verdict not a decision, or self-declaration. I suppose that is true for writers of other genres as well. Many people write; but I’m not sure how many writers there are, or poets, or artists. But then again, I don’t know that this much matters. If writing brings some joy, or meaning, or relief, that is reason enough to write. And perhaps, from time to time, that reason translates into something worth reading.