Sabbath of Sabbaths

My wife and I don’t often miss church.  Most Sundays find us at St. Matthews, where we find nourishment in the familiar rhythms of word and sacrament, and the comradery of friends old and new engaging.  In the main, we like the hymns and songs, choir and bells, the sense of being in a historically grounded space, the grace and quirkiness of this person and that; but most especially Gary, whom some might call challenged but I see as especially gifted.  Perhaps gifting might be the better word.  He reminds me each Sunday that God is sharply located among the weak, wounded and dependent ones.

 

Like I said, we don’t often miss church and on holidays we like to visit other congregations if travel is serendipitous in that way.  Last weekend, we sailed to Port Credit, and hunkered down in the Credit Valley Marina for the night.  Our plan was to get away fairly early Sunday morning, so to be back in time to get ready for another week.  This meant no church and I knew I would miss my routine.

 

One of the spiritual disciplines of my Sunday is the walk to and from church.  There was to be none of that this Sunday last, but a short walk was in the offing all the same.  I walked along the Mississauga lake front trail, enjoying the view and the people enjoying the view.  I was especially struck by a man sitting on a bench with a coffee, cigar, and crossword puzzle who was utterly transfixed by his tasks.  He didn’t seem to notice his pristine view of the lake, which was emitting some of the diamonds it harbours in waves and wakes.  Others were chatting as they jogged, walked, and cycled about.  None looked like they were on their way to church, and it struck me that a change in their plans was not too likely.

 

Of course, many in the Greater Toronto Area would know nothing of church, coming to Canada with other faiths in their pasts, but I was reminded again how many in Canada would know nothing of church, being born with little or no knowledge of what the practice of church could mean.  I looked at the people biking in their little groups, and asked myself how many of them might give up their free Sunday morning at lake’s side for the weekly discipline of worship.  My forehead furrowed.

 

My father, of blessed memory, used to say that a revival was needed in our day and age.  He had in mind a revival of the heart of both the individual and the church, and I think he was right.  But as I made my way yesterday upon that pathway leading not to church but along the lake, I surmised that re-vivification will involve neither finger waving nor bland religious platitudes, but more time spent with folk like Gary.  He gleefully shouts “Time for church!” as one of us hold open the door for him who, in turn, opens a few doors for us unawares.  His faith is contagion as he revives the heart of the institution and the individuals who still find in it a home for their faith.

And then I breathe…

What am I to do with this
sharp this hard gift this lack
of time – edge of knife limning
me as I strain to discern
which pressing possibility
decidedly speaks
my name.

Some days, I
step back and ponder my
choices, my being chosen. I see me,
for a time, as a haggard, ragged man
– not always so aware
of my surroundings
as I wish
I were.

But then and now, robin
sings me awake his
head cocked his
fluttered wings wetting in bath and
I see my life, I see my eyes
and then I breathe…

What is this Dough?

What is this dough? This
melange of broken wheat,
salted water and yeast gone
wild? This rogue lump will not yield to
my will, yet still it calls me into
its rising.

I cannot knead this
dough without attending to
its soul: it will not be
bread unless I
heed its call,
listening to its song,
its laments, its lauds.

This mystery – growth
under hand
under time
under fire
– sustains as
dough mysteriously
rehearses again the
coming Reign:
bread for the hungry.

What is this Dough?

What is this dough? This
melange of broken wheat,
salted water and yeast gone
wild? This rogue lump will not yield to
my will, yet still it calls me into
its rising.

I cannot knead this
dough without attending to
its soul: it will not be
bread unless I
heed its call,
listening to its song,
its laments, its lauds.

This mystery – growth
under hand
under time
under fire
– sustains as
dough mysteriously
rehearses again the
coming Reign:
bread for the hungry.

This is Not Manna

I just came back yesterday from a church convention. It was all that a church convention can be – a mix of inspiration and tedium, passion and boredom, renewal and rehashing.

Ours was held near the airport in Toronto, and I recall another such convention in a like location some years ago. The convention chaplain at that meeting spoke about the experience of the children of Israel in the wilderness in a sermon. The weariness of eating manna day in and out brought to his mind his experience of receiving rhubarb as a parish pastor on the prairies years ago. For those not in the know, rhubarb is described as an herb. It grows as a stalk, which is eaten. It has a lovely flavour, but is very crisp, sour and utterly devoid of sugar. My memories of it as a child were of its marriage to strawberries at this time of year – in a sauce poured over ice cream, or eaten on its own by dipping in a bowl of sugar.

The convention chaplain derided it a bit, which made me rather unhappy. In those days, I had two huge rhubarb plants, from which I made both rhubarb juice and wine. The former was a refreshing alternate to fruit juice for breakfast with a raspberry like tartness, and especially lovely in the winter. The latter was a simple but satisfying fruit wine for a Friday movie night in the basement, in the days when a movie meant a trip to the local video rental location. I loved rhubarb and given its relatively short season in my world did not find it a fitting parallel to the tedium of manna in Moses story.

At our recent convention, I bumped into Kathryn S., who most recently gave me some pounds of fresh cut rhubarb, which I turned into canned rhubarb, seen below. I thanked her again, showing her the photo, and saying I would think on her when mixing a bit with my home-made granola in the middle of the winter. She wondered whether this said rhubarb might end up in a blog post, demonstrating both her prescience and my eagerness to find fit material for a rumination, now on rhubarb, which brings me back to my earlier observation about the rhubarb sermon.

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It could well be that the good pastor received more rhubarb than he knew what to do with. But times have changed and the comparison does not hold, in my estimation. Rhubarb is gold in the local grocery store, and I have tried growing it in our back yard but to nearly no avail. Our back yard is too shadowed. I do not at all associate rhubarb with tedium, but rather delight and so I thank Kathryn, doubly, for this fine food which also serves me as an aide de memoire of grace.

I should mention that I have never canned rhubarb before. I didn’t exactly have a recipe. I found a few on-line recipes, but they seemed to be more complicating than necessary. I simply did with rhubarb as I have done with canned peaches although upping the sugar to water ratio a bit. In due course I will find out whether I succeeded, or not, and now look about for other manna (or not) like miracles for use in canning, fruit juice, or perhaps even that most private of pleasures: fruit wine aged in the cellar.

Maybe Naught

Maybe this poetry thing is
not for me. Maybe
I’m more
prose or
plaint or plain
old crossword.

Maybe I should just
take this sorry note-
book and tear out
this page to
start a fire and
that to
role a smoke or simply turn the lot
of them into airplanes, or go
artisanal with origami.

But no, no, not
yet. Still I
scratch, still I
abide this agony, this
being borne by
Word, whose
way is
sheer silence, too.

En route and off

Last week we went to Ottawa to celebrate the convocation of my middle daughter, who has completed a degree in mechanical engineering. We were exceedingly glad to celebrate the day with her and her friends. This was most interesting in that we have heard stories about many of them, and met a few along the way. The convocation, of course, also gave us occasion to meet some of their proud parents. Afterward, my wife made the observation that the convocation ceremony was notable in that, aside from siblings and grandparents, the audience was in the range of our age. It is rare that we gather in mass with people from our generation, that is the end of the baby boomers.

I thought about that a bit on our trip home. We travelled from Ottawa via a more northernly route, camping one night at Canisbay Lake in Algonquin Park. Along the way, we stopped to grab some food for supper, and my wife suggested we buy some bread, cheese, and veggies for a picnic along the way. An hour or so later, we managed to find a pull-in station along the highway, where there were picnic tables alongside a lake. We had a leisurely lunch, enjoying the sights before we continued on our way. As we travelled, we chatted of our memories of doing this quite often as kids, and with our children when they were young. At one point, in Alberta where we lived at that time, road side camp shelters were quite common. These were not over-night camp sites, but spots where folk could stop for a bit of a rest along the way. People would often take a break, and allow kids to run. I distinctly recall their demise. A would be premier, promising more services for less taxes, promptly shut them down upon his election. It was a sad day in my then province. I do not know if they have been returned with a recent turn in government. We have been happy to find a few here in Ontario, but I do not know if the current state of affairs represents a decline, or not. I suspect , in part, that they are probably less used if even still in place. This is sad since they are a pre-eminently civilized diversion in the increased rat race of our travel habits, now complete with hands-free phones, food on the go, and road rage. I recall, as a child, travel as decidedly more leisurely. Perhaps these days can be resurrected. If so, it will take some of us with a little bit different memory of the past to call attention to a different way to be, which brings me to my first observation.

In a way, a convocation is a profoundly important inter-generational experience. It isn’t exactly a passing of batons, but there is something of that to this important event. As a new graduating class makes their way into the world, they will make and influence choices for good and for ill, just as have those who sit in the audience. It is given to both to work together, in both dreaming and recollection. The past is not pristine, but neither is it obsolescent and progress is not the purview of the future alone. Theology, amongst other disciplines, knows these treasured truths and forgets them to its peril. The path forward is sometimes behind us and the future might well be where we finally meet our past. Memories are the repository of dreams and the obverse obtains, and no place is as replete with memories as a convocation hall.

The convocation hall, in a way, is a great symbol as a meeting place of both past and future, of many generations. It is a location of being together, which is surely the condition for the possibility of true community. Perhaps this, in a way, is the most important commencement address. We are community in being together, across generations for the task of celebrating these achievements and perhaps we ought to make this being together a habit, so that we might learn from both past mistakes and successes as we dream a world whole and well.