My Proper Fear

I have no fear of
those who wield worlds of
war, wealth and stealth.  It’s
the robins I fear, who
sing the world silly guarding
their nests; who
drop egg-blue bombs that
leak a beauty so
pregnant with praise that
the trees bow in obeisance.

 

I fear the dandelions, those dents-de-lion whose
teeth steel the sun as their
eyes track my every pilfering of
their lair.  I fear for
my presence on this fierce earth,
which marks my ways and will
demand of me an accounting
for what I have done with
cardinal’s cues.

 

But I do not fear you, dear reader, nor
do I fear my
breath portending death – that
distillation of life and perfect love,
casting out every fear.

Penned Again

No sleep in this pen so
it calls me again,
late in the night.
I cannot but do its
bidding as it scratches
me across this page.  No
sleep now – with me
strewn blue across white – not
quite bruised but certainly
bent into shape
of poetry.

 

I am ink.
I am lettered.
I am poem,
the page now my home
until I am virtually
transfigured and
become the
sighting of your eye, the
curving of your tongue,
an echo
in your ear.

A Little Empathy

It has been a hard week in the news for Canadians, Albertans and especially residents of Fort McMurray. The forest fire in this northern Alberta town of 90, 000+ has brought untold devastation to a community already suffering a downturn in the economy. The fire is reminiscent of that experienced in Slave Lake five years back and unsurprisingly comparisons are made.

I lived in both cities some years ago: Fort McMurray in the early eighties and Slave Lake in the early nineties. Both were youthful cities, with young and somewhat transient populations. People from across Canada, and indeed the world, came to both centres looking to make a start in their careers. That was certainly the case for me, and so I know a little of their context.

Canadians are looking at Fort McMurray in a new light. It has long been loved and hated for its economy based on the tar sands and bitumen extraction. But even those who have loathed the city for its ties to what has been called “dirty oil” have newly found sympathy, and perhaps even empathy for its residents. I have been thinking about empathy as of late, mindful that many think that the condition for its possibility is a willingness to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and so in the present case to imagine fleeing house and home with a carful, or less, of hastily grabbed items. But I cannot imagine what this horror is. It simply is beyond the pale of my experience, but I don’t think that this precludes my being empathetic.

Empathy, it seems to me, is not so much about putting myself in the shoes of others, as recognizing that I cannot do this. I cannot pretend to know what others go through and so when I am truly empathetic my first job is to listen: to quiet my need to know, and to let my not-knowing still my tongue and open my ears. A friend from my Slave Lake days wrote a blog of what not to say to the people awaiting news of the state of their property and life in Fort McMurray (you can read it here, just scroll down a little). It holds wise counsel, and invites us all to remember that ours is a tenuous existence.

We are called to walk lightly on this earth and to pray strenuously, seeking from the Creator wisdom for each day, peace among peoples, and healing for the earth. Empathy pours forth in such prayer, I think, and demands from us first a presence that does not pretend to know the answers before we are even aware of the questions.

In the news reports from Fort McMurray and the locales its residents now inhabit, they express anxiety and fear, but also a resilience that envisions their community rising Phoenix-like in the future. I have no doubt that it will, as Slave Lake has done and continues to do. We are all more than we first imagine, and we are a deep gift to each other as we open ourselves to receiving the experiences of others empathetically.

Morning’s Call

These wake up calls –
robin to spring
cardinal to day –
are as angels in my ear.

These songs catch
me unaware.
While deep in sleep
they play my soul
like dough in hand.

These choristers are
to me angelic bread makers.
These late night early morning
fowl yeast and knead me
for dawn’s baking.

They have been heard
and now I rise.

Sacred You

The world is scarred, and
its people bleed; their
tears stain oceans. Earth’s
skin is torn; hope
evaporates. Dreaming
reverts again to nightmared
sleep that leaves, that left
both Mother and child bereft.

 

And yet You come, You
Healer of our Every Ill, You
Balm in Gilead, in Syria, in Ecuador, in Attawapiskat –
rippling across globe like
pebbled waves – as dogged as
spring’s march, sap’s flow, universe’s expanse.

 

You kiss this scar we are
and etch beauty across pain.
You come to us again.
You come.
You.

Room is Needed

“Do you need room?”

This is a question the barista asks me most days. Do you want your coffee up short, so that you can whiten it with a bit of cream, or milk, or a mixture thereof? I say no, but I mean yes, not that I want my coffee whiter but I want a bit more room in my life.

Life gets busy. Days are too short. The things I crave are sacrificed to the things that shout loudest. I am not complaining but stating facts on the ground. I make poor choices and in the making of them I breed yet more. It is hard to stake out a healthy vantage point when you are hard pressed.

Making room is not so very hard, though. It means saying “no” more often. Some of us are better at it than others. I’m not great at it because I don’t want to pass up opportunities. I don’t want to let down friends, acquaintances and those I admire. I don’t want to think through the options. But sometimes I need to say “no” because I need room.

Without room, I cannot turn. Without room, I cannot stretch. Without room, I cannot step backwards. These verbs all matter. These are verbs of faith, they describe wagering another way of being in the world – one bound by neither pettiness of spirit nor brag of pride.

But having room means having less. A roomy life is less cluttered. The roomiest of all lives are lived en route with nothing save what is near at hand. A roomy life is not only a life with less but a life that gives with less, which is not the same as giving less. The one with room gives with less because they give out of emptiness and may paradoxically give what is needed most: a little room.

We neither bear nor hear paradoxes without room. There is no place for paradox in an inn full to the brim, nor in a boat battened down with fear. But love casts out our fear. Love is paradox made flesh, as are faith and hope: love in the April sun as sharp as a razor, hope in fresh buds pushing up against cynicism, and faith in friends taking time simply to be together. These three together give us voice to play the barista, offering room to thirsty pilgrims.

Bottoms up.

Slip into Life

Write please write.
Push the pen until it bursts
solar flares on white;
bend it
until it leaks God
until it bleeds sky and soil.

Do not be content with
anything less than what
blinds you. Gaze
beyond your reach
waiting on shades to teach
your eyes your soul your fingertips
to feel for what is needed.

Sit
for a time
in the dark
and breath
rhythmically. In
your breath is
an echo of
death and
on hearing it
you slip
into
life.