Prudent in Rage

Some days
a menacing fog
slithers across streets,
slides over curbs, and
slipping between ankles trips
the best of intentions.

This serpentine specter
may have a mind of its own,
or not, but this much is sure:
this malice born
of jealousy and greed,
of folly and pretension
strikes without mercy.

But its surreptitious aims
are laid bare by
poem, smile, deep, deep breath:
cool, clear water for scratched and scored throats –
a Spirit-borne hope, pregnant with
potency and vulnerability,
and prudent in rage.

Whispering of Love

Today I stood on
an empty dock,
its splayed fingers gently
lifting me, lowering me, lulling me
into a vision, where the horizon
told me that woven into the
lake’s warp and woof is
the gift of space,
the giving of time.
And a wave pointed out
that even boats need to sleep,
while dock-hands lift
palms to God
caressing the sky
even while I
divine the lake
whispering of love.

Charmed Again

I send this missive from Copenhagen, where I am on route from a conference in southern Denmark. I arrived here yesterday and leave tomorrow, and so the day afforded me the opportunity to do a little looking about. This is not the first time I have been to Copenhagen, a city I find to be utterly charming. This morning I made my way to Marmorkirken, a dome marble church across from the Royal Palace. The music was beautiful, and the service meaningful even though my Danish is less than elemental. Today is All Saints Day, and taking communion at a half round altar rail (whose other half extends into eternity, where it is attended by those we remember today) is always a powerful experience. I then went to the Danish Jewish Museum, where I learned a bit more about the incredible (and successful) efforts of the Danish people to protect Jews during the Second World War. Late in the afternoon I took a train ride to the Swedish city of Malmö, not so very far from Denmark and had a lovely walk and meal before returning.

The conference that brought me to Denmark was entitled “Luther from the Subaltern –the Alternative Luther.” Scholars from around the world spoke to themes either neglected in Luther studies or to new challenges that emerge in studying Luther today. My modest contribution addressed the manner in which the earth and its well-being were especially important to Luther and provide us with a meeting place for him and our contemporaries as we consider ecological concerns. I thought of that as I returned from the railway station and passed an electric charging station for cars. Increasingly people are mindful of the need to tread the earth carefully, which is somewhat easier in a place like Copenhagen. Major parts of downtown are car free, and so you see a plethora of bicycles and many people on foot. The public transit is to die for and unsurprisingly people are generally more fit. Of course, to some degree, Copenhagen and like cities are beneficiaries of wise planning in the past and careful contemporary regulations. Rules about the height of new buildings in the city core, and a concerted effort to keep historic buildings beautiful and functional make for a very fetching city.

When I returned from my train trip, I was going to read in the hotel, but the siren call of the city had me out again. It is rather like an affectionate cat wrapping itself around your leg; begging you to pet it (cat haters please insert an appropriate dynamic equivalent here). The city is inviting, well-run and simply fun to be in. It strikes me that the success of the Danes in design might not be unrelated to their living in well-designed cities. Our environment shapes us, and we shape it as well, which brings me back to Luther. In the mid-20th century there was a school of Luther research in Scandinavia that spoke of Luther’s interest in creation and created matter, asserting that it held as much importance for him as redemption. If we read Luther as if all he offers us are insights into the soul then that is all we will get. But if we anticipate that he has interest in caring for the earth too, we might well find some fodder for future reflections. Luther can’t do our theological work for us, but he can give us tools to attend to our relationships with God, one another and the world as well – a world that includes not only natural beauty, but charming urban space too.

Prodigally Content

How many poems are in me?
Is it a host? Or legion?
Or only one more?
I was going to count, but
demurred, recalling their
surreptitious character.

But I do know that every
now and then, a poem
deigns to let go, and
then again like
an echo
comes back to haunt me,
about my ear –
foreign yet familiar and
prodigally content
to shadow me.

There’s More Here Than Meets The Ear

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Meet Chip. I realize it is not the most inventive name for a chipmunk, but my wife called him that one spring day when he popped his little nose around a rock to sniff us out. The name has stuck and he has stuck around. A few years back we lost our cat, and in the ensuing summers our backyard has become a bit more diverse. Chip is out and about. We regularly see robins, cardinals, rabbits, squirrels – the list goes on and on. We all loved Noel dearly, but it is nice to see some bio-diversity.

I especially like Chip. One day I was reading a book on a Muskoka chair and when I looked up, on the chair beside me was Chip eating a raspberry. He calmly ate half and then scooted off, leaving the other half for me or some other hungry creature. My wife has had the same experience. We will often see him pause in his jog across our patio, cheeks full to the brim with seeds or such, panting while he catches his breath. And then again after a brief repose, he sprints to the end of his race, a barely noticeable hole in our lawn, which serves as a portal to his storehouses.

I thought of Chip the other day while reading some theology. Luther wrote a treatise in 1525 entitled “How Christians Should Regard Moses.” It was written in response to an emerging idea that Christians in the German lands should be freed of the pre-Christian laws, which formed the basis for current laws, and embrace instead the mosaic laws. Luther disagreed, claiming that the mosaic laws were written for mosaic times, and while we might employ some of them (he mentioned, in particular, the Jubilee Laws), he rejected their wholesale engagement. He wrote that some of what we hear God say in the bible is said by God to others, not to us and so we ought not to hear them as addressed to us. Of course, this invites a broad conversation concerning which bits are intended for us, a matter taken up in earnest throughout the document. At any rate, he used a most interesting example to illustrate his point concerning directed speech. He mentioned that God speaks to angels, trees, fish, birds, animals etc but we do not hear it because what God says to them was not meant for us. And then I thought of Chip.

I like the idea of Chip – and Noel for that matter – holding converse with God (I can’t imagine it being a monologue). Nature, like “civilization,” is both messy and beautiful, and I would anticipate praise and lament from Chip and his fellows. Of course, I do get to hear one side of the conversation from time to time. The local cardinals let me in on their side of the song, for instance, even though I do not know what they say. But I hear them “saying,” that’s for sure! Of course, there are other – biological – ways to interpret their song, and I will happily hear of other interpretations. I will probably agree with them, but rescind from thinking scientific and theological explanations as mutually exclusive. But in the meantime, I will listen hard for what God has to say to me in this verse and not that, and in the play of Chip and friends, gracing my lawn with their presence.

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Treasure in Heaven

Wet leaf, framed by pavement

bleeding blue;

Chipmunk, startled by human eyeing

its surreptitious caching;

Sky so clear that it waters

eyes with beauty;

Child smiling at seeing me

seeing her;

Paddle in still water, and

the soft sweep of canoe;

Laughter around table, sweet

breath upon cheek;

Words that work soul as soil;

Bread and wine taken and taking in;

Water washing;


These – all – treasure in heaven and so earth.

People behind People

Just last night I joined my wife and her parents in Stratford, ON to see the play “The Last Wife” by Kate Hennig. We had occasion to bump into the playwright, whose parents are friends of ours. She spoke of the surreal experience of hearing words that she had written come to life by actors. I’ve had that experience to a lesser extent in hearing liturgical pieces I have written enlivened by others. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her, but I can tell you a little of what the play was like for me.

The play was really quite incredible; a riff on the life of Kateryn Parr, the last wife of Henry the Eighth. In the production notes Ms. Hennig describes her interest in imagining the character of the too often suppressed voices of women. The play does a nice job of inviting its viewers to envisage history differently. The director nicely signals this in a couple of ways on a sparse but powerful stage. Hanging at centre stage from the ceiling is an upside down castle, and we see the back of a throne, letting us imagine life behind this seat of power, whose front is presented to the kingdom but not the audience, save at the end. These are effective signals which are further funded by images of bedroom exchanges between Hal and Parr, the everyday handles for the royal couple. We witness their day to day struggles as well as historic junctures. Ms. Hennig has done her historical homework but also advertises “viewer beware.” Poetic license is at the heart of art, which aims at something bigger than “just the facts.” So, we were invited into an alternate view of some hard historical data; we were invited to imagine history from the other side of the throne. What did this accomplish?

I was entranced. The use of colloquial language allowed me into the history in a different way; reminding me that bigger-than-life boats float in everyday waters. It invited me to think about events behind “The Event.” It reminded me that historians cannot catch it all, and there are a constellation of forgotten and little known factors that are as important as the known facts. But this decentering experience is also more broadly supported by the experience of being a patron of the theatre. The room darkens, lights ebb and flow, you see stage “hands,” people really who subtly manage the matter that sets the scene. Music comes and goes. It is hard to be “objective” in the sense intended by historians of the 19th century. Your feelings are at the fore as you consider the characters Kateryn and Henry. You begin to think about how you read all texts (the Bible, the paper, the news, emails etc) and the role of the many stage hands play in our everyday world. Someone translates texts; someone delivers the paper; someone secures a connection; someone references a source and writes an introduction. I am dependent on these many, and beholden to their choices.

Of course, Ms. Hennig made choices and we are glad for that. She chose to investigate the life of Katelyn, and she has been working on the lives of the two other Tudor Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I. I look forward to her take on these characters and the experience of entering again the magic of the theatre. This is completely not my world, but it is a world that completes a part of me that is otherwise left undone. So, to her I offer my gratitude, as well as to all the thespians who venture the drama of it all.