After Rumi

“You are song.”
Each of you – you are song.

Your breath: God

breathing you;

your stillness: God

stilling you;

your quest: God

filling you.

 
Your life is light birthed from earth
your sleep is snow blanketing the dark
your laughter lights stars and
your kiss caresses death to life.

You are song, sung
by God to joy the world.

Love’s Paean

Dear readers,

This week I’m posting an excerpt from a sermon I gave this week in Keffer Chapel. The text for the day was 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the Hymn of Love.

Allen

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Paul writes that if we do not have love we are a noisy gong, that we are nothing, that we gain nothing. And here he describes this love we are to have. This is quite a list describing this little four letter noun. But I must tell you that we have a problem with the English translation here. Most of the words describing love – patient, kind, envious, etc. – most of these are adjectives. They modify the noun love, but in Greek the language of the New Testament, absolutely all of these words are verbs.

Our translation has turned verbs into adjectives. In other words, in the Greek text love isn’t patient, but love bears and abides and undergoes. Love isn’t kind but love cares and cries and caresses. Love might be a noun here, but it is a busy noun. Love acts. It endures, it hopes, it believes, it suffers. Love in other words, sounds a lot like a person – after all these are verbs we normally associate with people, and so the apostle seems to invite us to think of a person when we hear of this love that we have, this love we possess: a person like Immanuel, like God with us, like Jesus.

The apostle John writes that God is love and the apostle Paul writes that if we do not have love we are a noisy gong: if we do not possess love we are nothing. John indicates that we have love in Jesus. But can we really talk about having love, about having Jesus, about having God? Is God willing to be possessed by us? Is God, is love willing to

Be sullied by our lust

To be marred by our mistakes

To be tainted by our far from sainted steely stares.

Does love really want to live in this heart?

 

What might happen to such a love? It will surely be betrayed. I will sell this love for 30 pieces of silver; I will crucify this love to show that I am in power; I will bury this love rather than be burdened by it.

I will be Judas Iscariot: I will be driven by a greed that colonizes.

I will be Pontius Pilate: I will exercise privilege in feigning power over

the indigenous, the immigrant, the poor

I will be the soldier at the tomb: frightened that people will see my vulnerability.

 

I will crucify love. I know I will, because I know that I have. I remember it all too well.

But the good news is that the love that we betray will not stay in the tomb. The hymn-writer sings us into hope

“In the grave they laid him, Love by hatred slain

Thinking that he would never wake again,

Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen

Love is come again, like wheat arising green.”

 

Love is come again, like wheat arising green. Love never ends.

No love never ends, but it bends its bearers

So that we who have love find that love finally has us

We who bear this holy possession find ourselves borne by it,

We start to see the world through the eyes of love,

instead of seeing love through the eyes of the world

We find that our desires are chiseled true

We become agents of truth and reconciliation

We, like God, begin to so love the world.

 

And so

we do justice by opening our minds, our hearts, our hands,

we love kindness by loving our bodies and the body politic,

and we walk humbly with God, treading ever so lightly on the earth, our Mother.

Amen. May it be so.

Pining for a Little Snow

I am hoping to change the background photograph on stillvoicing. I try to bring in a new image for each season, something I have shot recently. Often the photograph is from our neighbourhood, or an image from my walk home from work. I especially aim to reflect the season, which has been a bit vexing this year. Winter has been coming in fits and starts. There has been a bit of snow, but not enough has stuck around for long enough to get a decent photo. We have been slipping, too frequently, into that kind of weather one expects in March, my least favourite month. But during my walk to church this morning, the skies opened for a time, and down floated opulent feather like flakes. I was able to make out single snowflakes a few paces in front of me, and so in a strange sort of way, they drew attention to the space between them. For a time, I wasn’t walking down the street so much as through air punctuated with miniature clouds. It was nice to feel winter.

And even though the snow hasn’t consistently abetted my sense of the season, the sun has been of aid. We still have rather short days, although I am already able to note their gradual lengthening. All the same, it is dark enough after supper to light some candles around the house. I find this to be a ritual that reframes the evening, allowing it to proceed under that gentle illumination that speaks a particular kind of hope: soft, quiet, and calming. This, it seems to me, can be the gift of winter: an invitation to be away even while at home.

Last Friday, my wife and I went out for a movie, and upon returning our eldest and her friend popped by for coffee, wondering whether the power had been out earlier that evening in our part of town. We did not return to any flashing lights, so it seems that this was not the case. They reported that it went out where they were and it was dark long enough to break out the candles. They, too, noted something acutely beautiful about a time without power. A candled evening, rather like a snow day, unravels our overly calendared agendas; these forced sabbaticals settle our souls into the realization that we are not in charge.

In the midst of a course I co-taught with a Jewish scholar last semester, on the book of Exodus, we spoke about the Sabbath. While he referenced his regular observance of a day at rest, I relayed my utter failure. He noted that keeping Sabbath is difficult without communal support. It is hard work not to work without spiritual and cultural infrastructures. That struck me as true, and one of our students spoke of her commitment to 24 hours without home-work, etc. over the last few years, noting what I knew to be true: working less sometimes allows us to get more done. So Sabbath is something I have been working toward over the last little while. It is challenging – especially when deadlines loom and I am tempted to do just a little more – but every now and then the power’s failure shuts down computers, or the snow slows the commute, and I am reminded that I need to slow down, we all need to slow down: for the good of our bodies and souls, our planet, and simply to make some time for joy.

I am well aware that many people are quite happy with our relatively snow-free winter. Some would rather be rid of winter altogether, but I am reminded of how my parents and their generation used to speak of winter in terms that brought hibernation to mind. And while we cannot recreate their culture, which made possible something of a Sabbath season, perhaps there is another way into the best of that that mindset. It just might be that a weekly 24 hour break is a good start. Wish me luck.

More Flesh, Please

Ideas alone will not suffice.

We need to work our jaws on wheat
as well as words. Notions knock
at the door of touch and
propositions plead
for a taste of oven’s bread.

Light not only enlightens but also
illumines truth bare: it declares
this sag, that scar, each war waged
on the flesh and by it too.

My body will not bear
embarrassingly barren platitudes.
It wants to push against flesh,
to delight in dill’s delicacy and lime’s tang.

I cannot live in a cloud.
I ache to awaken with
skin singing and taste buds weeping –
my body knowing pleasure,
knowing God, in the
flesh.

Coveting Joy

As the twelve days of Christmas draw to a close, our family slowly but surely makes its way back out into the world.  For a week and a bit, my two youngest daughters have been home from universities afar, and with their arrival my eldest, who lives not so very far away, has been frequenting home.  Of course, offspring often bring friends in tow, and so Friday three extra mouths were at table giving us eight instead of our usual two, and yesterday we had seven at table.  It is fun to have more feet around the house, more eating at the table and more laughter in the living room.  It is always a delight to have our children home again.

 

Yesterday our youngest asked for one of my watercolour paintings to take back to her apartment.  We pulled out an art file with paintings spanning our years as a family.  It was fun to reminisce as we looked again upon images I made in Northern Alberta, Toronto, here in Kitchener and while on holidays.  We were transported briefly back to earlier times.  It was also interesting to see my painting style shift and change, with an innovation tried for a bit and then discarded, as well as constant themes that interested and interest me still: skies, water, horizons.  The two girls who were here each grabbed what struck them and that made me glad.  It is nice to imagine a piece of me in their apartments.

 

I am a little sad knowing that they will soon be winging their way back to their lives, but this too is how it should be.  Leaving is a part of life: we leave the womb, we leave the safety of our parent’s laps, we leave grade school and on and on.  This is the cycle of life and while we sometimes want to hold some moments hard we also know that other moments are hell and the cycle serves us well in giving us distance from these.

 

It is a New Year, and so I am not altogether surprised that I am a little wistful.  While 2015 was a good year, it also held some disappointments and even tragedies for those near us.  Tragedies, of course, are contagions and  spread their darkness.  But joy too is infectious, and so it is good at year’s end to recall moments of rejoicing: delicious laughter and poignant peace, the gifts of reunions, and sharp prairie skies as well as sheets to the wind with water spraying over the deck and washing a kind of timelessness over “busy-wounds.”  It is good to remember those holy moments when we recall how small we are and yet find ourselves cradled in a palm of compassion knowing that we are, as Pastor Anne so gladly shares at work, “more than enough, so much more than enough.”  There is peace in cracks and joy in shadows; there is hope in losses and love in misses.   2016 will be what it will be and hold what it holds, but we are invited to enter the year with eyes wide open and hands to the plough.  There will be opportunities to create memories to reflect upon joyously a year from now – as tonic for griefs that come without our bidding.  I covet a year of great joys for each of you, and pray God’s winding way into your paths.

Word in utero

Foot on bladder;
fist at rib;
each twist arrests
her breath that now attests
the movement of Word to womb to world.

What did her womb know
of the Love it cradled? Did the
placenta cheer to hear the first utterance of
the divine Word in water? Did her
spine divine the Spirit wafting hope
over primordial waters?

Word in utero;
God so loving world,
God so loving womb;
God so loving the mother of God – Theotokos – first
to know that to hear the word is to bear Love.