Of March and Mirth

These days seem weighty.
March’s time does not march at all,
but shuffles along, sometimes even losing ground.
In fact just this last week
Tuesday followed Wednesday, which
meant I had to do Wednesday twice
and Tuesday too.

Spring came but just now announced a
reversal of course. Time
it seems, is not always on our side.

Thank goodness for space. Today,
walking home, a lane announced
that hope is in order – shouting out
a colorful mural like a street preacher. And
earlier in the day
an empty parking lot said
“Take a look!” and so I
did and the heavens wrapped me round
like a quilt,
like a mother,
like life.

This is Gift

Robert Frost noted that a poem begins as a “lump in the throat” or a “homesickness” and never as a thought. Poetry is born in the body, and the accompanying sense of displacement that is a part of our experience from cradle to grave. We are ever trying to negotiate both where we are along the way along with the sense that “where we are” is a way station. And this awareness of our constant dislocation is born in our bodies. Each and every experience that we have is imprinted on our bodies. In this instance I sweat my panic and in that I smile my joy; here I shiver my pleasure and there loss wets my cheek. My jaw clenches this memory into place and my cheek flushes an intimacy revealed. My body inscribes that I live both in and beyond each experience. But for some reason, some of us are not content to leave it at that.

A poem may begin as a lump in the throat, but it seems that many of us want to memorialize our experience, or perhaps exorcise it, by putting it to print. I suspect that this need to memorialize is true, as well, for authors who are not poets. In the end, authors have their own reasons for putting pen to page, and as I think through my experience of writing, I realize that it is as varied as the genres I employ in my writing life. When I write a report I inform. When I write an essay I try out an idea. When I write a sermon I bear witness. But when I write a poem, I turn flesh to word. I see something; perhaps a person piquing my curiosity with theirs, or perhaps a sky that is so large as to fill my eye. But that experience of seeing is not yet enough; it demands an accounting, not in the sense that it needs to be fit into a budget of sensibilities, but in the sense that a convincing exploration of the experience is pleading for the light of day. The riches of the experience preclude a simplistic cause and effect narrative. Poetry redeems the day by pointing beyond the author and her words. Good poetry launches us and leaves us in a strange place where we see the world in a new way.

In a way, poetry takes us from body to word to body again. A poem is a boomerang. It takes leave from the flesh and straddles the heavens only to return again to the earth that we stride and the earth that we are. A poem is a storm, flashing across the orb of my eye; raining song on a scorched earth; winding questions into the cracks of armored certainties that shut people out and pain in. Poetry de-calcifies us. It doesn’t scratch an itch so much as it itches a numbed world. Poetry truly begins as a lump in the throat, but that lump is there because a wider world is in the wings and aching to be explored.

My path into poetry has been, in the end, the surreptitious path of poetry into me. Here an author unsettled a satisfied me; there a hymn not only named a yearning but birthed another. Over and over again I find myself indebted to that lump in my throat that announces that I am alive and this is gift.

Sirocco of Life

Breathing, You animate me, Holy Breath
with nothing less than wind wed to fire – a
sirocco of life – You
expand and collapse
Your lungs into mine.

I live for Your breath. Breathe me
a breadth of love, Holy Dove as
I gaze upon Your face. Erase my
disgrace as You whisper me a
shiver. I quiver at my
hair’s raising, my
resurrection.

Ridiculously Rich

Dear Readers, the following was written late last night:

Today was an oddly busy day. It began with a funeral for a colleagues’ mother, which was, as they are wont to be, a polygamy of memory, re-connection, rejoicing, mourning and more. The afternoon found me at a three hour “Bridging Communities through Song” concert held at a local church, but brought to us by the Indigenous singing group Mino Ode Kwewak N’gamowak (Good Hearted Women) Singers and the Waterloo Regional Male Chorus along with friends. This event is in its third year, and aims to build bridges across divisions – of hostility and indifference; of race and class; of host and settler cultures. The event ended in a giant round-dance, with strangers and friends making their way around the church in increasing complicated circles of joy. It was followed up by a feast in which I had occasion to visit with a dear colleague, her daughter, and god-mother over a marvellous meal. Our table guests also included four other people previously unknown to me who were delightful dinner companions.

It is hard to process days like this and the ridiculous richness of emotions attending them. It was all there: from the pain of grief to the hope of reconciliation; from the horror at recollections of residential schools and the devastation following in their wake to the beauty of meeting new friends over good food and the warmth peculiar to a post-concert sigh; from the rush of running from A to B to the invitation to settle into a pew. What is one to do with so much – both old and new – in one day?

I came home and my wife and I decided upon a movie – a film set in the 1970’s called Remembrance. In this movie, a woman discovers that the man she loved – and thought dead – from her days in a WWII concentration camp is still alive. More emotions still! But with this movie, perhaps a lesson as well. As we debriefed the show we thought about how WWII survivors (from so many different kinds of prisons) spent the rest of their lives either unpacking their experiences or constantly packing them away. So much comes at us at times in life that it sometimes seems impossible to give our many experiences the deep, patient, reflective moments they need and deserve. Sometimes it seems we are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to ask what is going on in these moments. Where is God? Who have I become? What did this moment teach me about me, about life? Such moments, so very rich in possibility, call us to the discipline of reflection.

It is the season of Lent, and my discipline for this year is to write a little each day in my Moleskin with a new fountain pen. It is meant to be a practice of process; of intentionally looking at a day with an eye open for traces of divine tracks; looking for pathways that pattern how my life is being intercepted, and to what end. Today is one of those days that is going to result in a paucity, or perhaps plethora, of words in my daily record and oddly enough, either one of the two options seems fitting.

These Nave Walls

Words evaporate, not
exactly disappearing but
dissipating, they’re
aired in near ubiquity.

Drawn to their limit, they
penetrate these nave walls, where
they wait
until we wait
upon them.

If you are still;
if you but listen,
you can hear echoes
of chorale and converse.

We might join in, or
perhaps not, but
we dare not forget that
there is more to be
heard than said.

All in Good Rhyme

My pencil sings, though oft off tune;
Of flesh, of sweat, of work. Too soon
the graphite dulls and edges blur.
Each passing line, I feel less sure.
I write, I draw against the grain,
while still I can, and then again,
an end arrives of poem, of line,
of light, of love of life, my wine.
I’m sated now: enough this time;
but in due course, I’ll raise a rhyme.

I am not given to writing poems in rhyme, or with such a meter, but this one just fell in my lap. So here it is. Perhaps I’ll throw it back. Happy Sunday All.

Do You Feel the Love?

I just started following the very wise and quotable author, Eugene Peterson, on Twitter. When I was a parish pastor, I found his words to be balm for my soul. He reminded me regularly to say no to distractions that kept the main thing from being the main thing. He spoke eloquently of the pastoral arts as arts – not sciences demanding fool-proof methods. Ministry means instinct and intuition formed by prayer more than data and its distractions. He called me again and again into community. I am happy to make his acquaintance, again.

I look forward to seeing how he makes use of Twitter. I use Twitter in a course I teach this semester. I have my students share experiences and information gleaned from a community service learning module that is a core component of the course. (If you are interested in finding out a bit about their experience, check out #gc102csl). Consequently, I have been observing the perils and possibilities of this mode of communication. Many scoff at the 140 character restriction, preferring the endless ream of characters available on other social media. But I think Twitter has possibility if you work with the idea that it serves to communicate aphorisms and such, or links for further reading. I tell my students that this assigned use of Twitter serves two purposes; first, it challenges them to think about how they might communicate for the sake of the agency where they work. Second, it charges them with the responsibility of intentionally communicating themselves into the social-media-sphere. Many people – especially young people – are unaware that potential employers search your social media self before considering you as an employee. In sum, those who turn to social media develop a public persona. We need to take responsibility for that. This brings me back to Peterson.

When I checked out Peterson’s home page on Twitter, I noticed that he has something like 10.4 K followers, and follows no one. I imagine the Pope and other notable figures have comparable statistics. But this leaves me asking: is this the real purpose of social media? To launch ideas in one direction alone? Of course, for all I know, Peterson may well have another handle wherein he engages others online, but the optics are odd, all the same. It is problematic to have “followers” while following no-one.

Having said that, I am also well aware of the burden of following people who tweet their every thought, meeting, encounter, and scratch. I find myself buried in posts that burden my brain. But I still feel some degree of responsibility for reciprocity. If you follow me, I need to think seriously about following you. Of course, that need not equate to a requirement to do this; but at least the thought should cross my mind – or, to but it differently, my mind should be crossed by thought of following you. I need to live into the yoke that is both a burden and a buoy by attending to concrete relationships. People mock social media, and I can appreciate that, but at the end of the day it is another way to communicate, and modes of communication always enable both love and its obverse possibility. I’m hoping you feel the love.