Swerves of Gratitude and Grace

My usual Saturday run yesterday involved an unexpected detour. I generally run along the Iron Horse Trail, aptly named because it follows the route of a former train track. At the point at which the trail crosses a local creek, a barrier was up. A former rail bridge is now removed, and a new bridge is not yet in place. So, a detour was in the offing.

Fortunately, there is a “Y” in the road at that point, and by following to the right I was able to enter Victoria Park, complete with a larger than life statue of its namesake. The park is replete with paths, some encircling a little lake that the local swans call home for the summer.

Yesterday, however, I didn’t see many swans but I did see a park full of people walking about with their faces in their devices. This, of course, is normal at the university where I work, but the number of people doing this on Saturday was astronomically high. Since this is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada, and we are right in the middle of Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, I surmise that what I saw was some sort of virtual scavenger hunt.

Running in the midst of this was a bit tenuous. I generally find that people walk without much thought to what, or who, is behind them. I suppose I do the same myself. But when you’re running – especially on a narrow path – a walker’s casual swerve to one side or the other can be a bit of a disaster to a runner trying to negotiate a safe path for a pass. This problem was simply racheted up by the fact that these walkers were deeply invested in their devices. I avoided crashes by giving them wide berth, which is reasonably easy in a park.

As I made my way out of the park I thought a bit about our walking patterns in particular and thought about how travel becomes a metaphor for our journey from cradle to gravel. John Malloy, one of our professors spoke a bit to that theme in chapel this last Wednesday. As we travel, he invited us to make gratitude a pattern for our journey from cradle to grave, noting its especially important place for Canadians in the midst of a national election. He noted that gratitude is a firm tonic against cynicism. It is no accident that one of the foci of Christian worship is the Eucharist, coming from the Greek word for “thanks,” which itself contains the Greek word for grace in its root. Cynicism is countered by gratitude, which is grounded in grace.

I was very grateful for my run today; to be able to enjoy the fresh air, the beautiful colouring of trees, the joy of movement and the surprise of detours. When the journey is the destination, however, it seems a bit odd to speak of detours. Perhaps my journey in the park wasn’t so much a detour as small, and so remarkable kind of adventure reminding me that a certain capacity to be fleet of foot is beneficial when you set out on a journey.

I wish such a journey for each of you, no matter your mode of transportation and regardless of your destination. Let yourself be carried away by gratitude, and I can assure you that you will travel far, wide, and deeply.

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Deceptively Pedestrian

My walk home from church was unexceptional; aside
from the fact that I can walk and the street-
side tress cannot; and aside
from the fact that the sky
opened for a time and showed
me the divine eye: and aside
from the fact that the wind
whispered my name and the
horizon smiled at me; and aside
from the fact that the blessed
dead watched my every step,
counting each one and writing
them in ‘The Book of Strides’; and aside
from the fact that I remember angels
rambled round King Street, dressed
incognito – although their wings
left tufts of down under
this tree and round that bush.

My walk home from church was
deceptively pedestrian.

More than Family

This last Saturday I went to the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre Pow Wow again. I say “again” because I’ve been there other years but also because I mistakenly made my way up to Waterloo Park for it last week. I had the wrong weekend for some reason, or another. The poster at Luther, the posts on Facebook and Twitter all had this weekend down as the due date, but still I erred.

When I got there last weekend, I noted a lack of signs, usually aplenty for this event, so I wondered if the pow wow was in a different part of the park. I wandered about it for a bit, and finally came back to the place I expected it to be. A medieval fest was taking place instead. That part of the park was awash with faux medieval tents and folk were sporting costumes fitting for the occasion, I suppose. It seemed that all were having fun, and some helpful people at a booth helped me to know that the pow wow was due the next week.

This week the same field was awash with folk in regalia: many Indigenous folk were wearing clothing vibrantly on display as they danced to the big drum. These clothes, of course, are not costumes but proper to Indigenous cultural identification. I walked about for an hour and a half, or so, enjoying visiting friends Indigenous and not, who were taking in this yearly event.

Pow wows, like medieval fests, are not a part of my background. But I find myself more at home in the former than the latter. I’m not altogether certain why that is, but if I was to take a stab at it, it would be because I know that I attend a pow wow as a guest, and a welcomed guest at that. MCs at pow wows have always, in my experience, been quite intentional in honouring and welcoming all who are present: noting especially elders and veterans, and then the first peoples of this land and others of us. Yesterday’s MC, at the close, commented on how powerful it can be when Indigenous and non-Indigenous people join together to celebrate, and a pow wow is – from my perspective – profoundly celebratory and inclusive.

As a person of faith, I wonder whether the church might learn a little something from a pow wow. Here people are accepted as they are and are welcomed from time to time to join in the circular dance. The pow wow is a place where I receive warm hugs, as well as a good bit of wisdom from this person or that. Of course, many churches work hard at being welcoming, and often understand themselves to be a big happy family. But a pow wow is conceived as a meeting of peoples, of nations. It is more than a family.

Families are nice, but if you’ve ever been an outsider at a family gathering, your identity as an outsider is pretty marked. I don’t feel like an outsider at a pow wow. I feel like a member of another nation, invited into this circle for this time. I am accepted for who I am and not expected to be someone else. There is something attractive in this, something for the church to ponder.

A Travel Guide for One

What a gift it is to
feel blood stream from
heart to hand to pen, now
staining this page with
my very being

I can hardly help myself
and yet I must since
no-one else can and
so after bleeding ink
on paper I practice
the augury of
ancient days.

I wind my way into
the labyrinth I am and
so finally settle into myself;
where I write a travel guide
for one.

This Work We Do Together

This week was the beginning, again, of school. It is always such an exciting time, meeting new students, imagining how the first classes will unfold, and knowing all the while that anything is possible. But one thing is certain: I’ll blink my eyes and it will be Christmas.

Time continues to race on in life. I see our students and can’t help but remember my own foray into theology so many years ago. I never imagined that one day I would be a part of the team welcoming students into a new world. So much is the same: nervous excitement, wondering whether the right choice has been made, and trying to navigate the best ways through academic life. But much has changed. These days there are more women than men in our classes, which are increasingly diverse in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. This diversity makes the classroom an exciting place!

It is odd, but when I consider the differences, the time seems long, and when I ponder the similarities the time shrinks. Theologians and philosophers have thought long and hard about the nature of time, but it seems that all of us have responsibility to make our peace with time.

Students of history know well that the capacity to mark time with watches and such was an important step in the journey to the modern world. Time drives our way of being in the world; being ever watchful of the clock, pondering how to make the most of each day. I am not one to look longingly to the past, but on this issue, I exercise this right. Our overcommitment to projects; our constant checking of time whether by wrist watches or devices demonstrates the kind of difficulty so many of us have in getting settled into a place. We are hounded by the keeping of time.

I know from personal experience that this sometimes dangerous. I do my best work when I work sabbatical into my week. When I am rested, and wrested from the busyness of life new ideas and possibilities pop into my mind. This allows me to be more productive when I get back to work.

I hope our students learn this lesson sooner rather than later. People who burn both ends of the candle do not typically excel. I, too, need to be reminded of this truth. Down time makes on time more productive, imaginative and effective.

Of course this is not only a lesson for students. Their professors owe them the same so that we are better able to be creative, helpful and engaged in this work we do together.

Pet Dreams

They fall asleep so swiftly,
these animals closer to Genesis
than me and my kind. They
dream of the Lord God
walking their wood,
until then again they
flinch from the pain of
the primal couple stepping
out of the garden and into
their nightmare.

Is there any hope for Your
creatures? To surface from
sleep to discover a sliver
of sanity seeping into this
Homo Sapiens?

These pets sleep –
domesticated by our
regimes, our
treats, our
house training but
every now and then
the wild comes calling
and I sense some
hope for
us all.