On a Sling and a Prayer

This week Santa Maria made her way from slip to cradle, via a magical flight expedited by a crane. For long-time readers of stillvoicing, this has been described in earlier posts. In fact, I have likely written about it many years, as I do again this year! In part, this is because the sight of a boat floating through the air is quite unlike anything.

Since our marina is a not-for-profit club, members assist on lift-out day. This year I was part of the compound sling crew, a first for me. I have now cycled through all of the volunteer positions on the dock. This crew receives the boats and assists them as they land in the cradle, a metal structure holding the boat upright. Fittingly, my shift began with the arrival of Santa Maria. It was nice to see her settled for a long winter’s nap.

Owners of boats are asked to tie four lead lines to their boat, two at stern and two at bow, about 15 – 20 feet in length. As boats soars from lake to compound, these lead lines stream from the boat like strings from a balloon. My job was to grab one of the lead lines, along with three other sailors-come- dockhands. We would pull a boat this way and that as the crane operator and his helper communicated by radio. Often we would need to spin the boat 180 degrees to get stern straight and bow in place. I have to say that it is an incredible experience to grab a lead line and move a boat thousands of pounds, suspended in the air. It is as easy as a pushing a partly full wheelbarrow, even though I know that this boat would pulverize me were it to fall from its slings.

Once the boat is nearly in place, the cradle was fine-tuned left and right, back and forth. After the keel touches the base of the cradle, the cradle pads are raised to an inch from the hull of the boat. Then the crane operator lets the boat come down with all of its weight and the boat meets the four or more pads. One of us would then jump on the boat to release one side of each sling so it could come out from under the boat. Another would guide the slings as the operator raised them up to the sky to make their way over to the next boat.

A couple of time I remember staring at these slings slipping away into the cerulean sky speckled with spectacular clouds, and my breath simply left me. It was so beautiful, utterly transfixing.

Yesterday we returned to the boat to wrestle the motor off the stern of the boat. This was more of a Sisyphean effort. The gentle tugging at the lines of an airship on their way to their cradles on Wednesday seemed so far removed from Saturday’s cradling a motor close to my core as I pried it from its summer station and eased it into the wheelbarrow for its journey to my house, its winter home.

I am struck by how different these two labours were, and yet they were both labour – both blessing me with the gift of living into my body and being reminded that movement, and sweat, and satisfaction, and even momentary frustrations are gifts of the Spirit that sustains both the strenuous grunt and the bewildered gasp.

Sick with Love

So, You fell ill,
Master of the Universe,
coughing like a limping diesel engine,
sneezing like a volcano at war with the world,
shivering like aspen trees, like recital knees, like
skin about to freeze.

And I take a breath and say “Why not?”
Why would You eschew what pulses through our veins,
what weighs on our lungs, what itches our eyes,
what makes us human, carnis?

After all, being ill isn’t being less, but
it’s a foretaste of death, a reminder that
You are sick with love.

Some Straight Talk on Circles

Yesterday we stepped down the mast on Santa Maria, a sure sign that summer has passed on. The days shorten. The temperature drops. The grass grows more lethargic.

I am sad not to sail, but I have to admit that I really do love the turning of the year. I have never lived in a clime close to the equator, but I would miss the cycle of spring, summer, autumn, and winter – although I suppose they have their own cycles of the year with wet and dry season. This turning of the seasons suits me, but I am also mindful that time doesn’t only turn in circles but that it moves forward too.

Scholars sometimes mark the modern era as one with a linear view of time. The study of history in the early modern period, in particular, was one in which timelines sketched the progress of humankind. At an existential level, some might map this view on their own life journey, wherein accumulating wisdom, money, achieving goals, et cetera are viewed to be the point of life. Of course, we no longer read the march of history so optimistically, and we might now too wonder at an existential level whether the accrual of funds in our pension plans is all there is to life. Even the most jaded post-modern thinker might ponder whether there was something lost in the shift from a pre-modern worldview emphasizing a circular notion of time to a modern linear one. What might we learn from a return to the circle?

Many Indigenous voices speak to the power of the circle – concretely as a way to organize a conversation or pattern a gathering and metaphorically as a way to understand the universe. The circle speaks to equality, balance, and harmony, among other things. In the church, too, we map out the times of our worship in a circular pattern moving from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to Advent again. We sing “Jesus Christ is risen today!” every year. Our church year is cyclical because our year is cyclical. Nature is cyclical. And yet the circle is not all there is. I appreciate that I can move from cradle to grave in a way wherein my life can have a meaningful end in both senses of the word: in completion and purpose. Both make their way in my day to day life.

The beginnings of the academic years come and go and come again, but I know that one day I will not be involved in them. The earth makes its way around the sun even while I slowly make my way back to the earth from whence I came. Santa Maria comes out of the water and goes back in to come out yet again. But I know that one day it will not be me caring for this beatific boat. For now, however, I am a part of her circle and very glad for that as we say goodbye to the 2021 sailing season and look forward to 2022.

Breathe. Breath.

Breathe, breath – together
these bespeak my being
life and death,
hope and despair,
comfort and trouble.

At the bottom and top of
each breath I breathe, in
cradling my death, I
receive and see whom
I am: neither
hero nor coward, neither
genius nor fool, neither
saintly nor diabolic but
both – in my between
inspiration and expiration.

Breathe. Breath. The ‘e’ is me.

A Garment Called Joy

Beauty bests me as
it vests me with eyes
seen by robin, whose
cocked head whips
mine round. It
unsettles me as it
wrestles me into
a garment called joy:
a toddler twists
a stalk explodes a bloom
and a preacher weeps the good news:
“finger to ear;
spit to tongue” among these
words, water, wonder.

Walk around the Docks

This last Saturday I spend my day at the marina, in the august role of “Officer of the Day.” Our boat club requires 20 hours of volunteer service each summer, and being OOD is one way to fulfill this obligation.  Basically, you serve as ambassador should any transient boaters come in to stay overnight, or if reciprocal members from other clubs come for a time.  In addition to this, you are to walk the docks, looking for hazards and such, and answer questions people might have.  In my walk-about I generally end up helping people dock their boats, or help send some out on their adventures.

In my experience there are rarely visitors, but I spend a good bit of time chatting with this person and that.  It is a nice way to get to know people a bit more.  Folk often have a skewed idea of a “Yacht Club.”  In my experience, there are very few big expensive boats, but a lot of people sporting modest, 30 year plus sailboats 25 to 30 foot in length. 

On Saturday I chatted with a couple who down-sized in retirement, buying a smaller condo and a sailboat.  The also provide foster care, and currently attend to a six year old who has had brain cancer.  When the weather is right, they bring her aboard the stern of their backed in boat in her wheelchair, where she happily greets all walking by.  Another boat hosts a young man with down’s syndrome who greets me with measured enthusiasm.  Some folk here are chatty, some are taciturn, some are anxious to help and other are heavily pre-occupied.  In a way, the marina is the world.

I think that this OOD program outperforms its purported outcomes.  It allows us to get to know one another.  This is a gift of the first order. The practice of volunteering grants us the grace of encountering others to the end that we get to know our own selves.

Oddly enough, most of us would not serve as OOD aside from our need to volunteer 20 hours at the club.  Of course, some might say that these hours are not voluntary. But you can forgo the 20 hours and pay a bit more in your membership fees.  I am always amazed at how a small incentive to do what you should do results in a exponentially larger pay-back.  This is the economy of grace, the logic of service, one of the ways in which God works wonders in the world.

The sailing season is on the brink of winding down. I have dutifully finished by volunteer hours.  One might say that there is a carrot and a stick to my experience.  But more importantly, I note that both carrot and stick disappear when my experience illumines that other people aren’t hell (as per Sartre) so much as other people are health.

Being Between

There is power between
these two trees, where
I sit and ponder
Adam and Eve,
Earth and Life.

In this yard, cicadas sing the day
and crickets night
while quiet holds the between
that both settles and sends.

But now I sit – tree crowns intersect overhead
and under my feet roots intertwine.
I am held by these two friends:
sheltered above, buoyed below with
the earth beneath being Adam of another kind,
and I – a kind of earth, a child of life – am
grateful today to be between
earth to earth,
ashes to ashes,
dust to dust.

Lake of Sparkling Waters

You are well named, Lake Ontario.
Diamonds grace your waves,
taking my breath away and
filling me with Spirit.

Your surface sports no
diamonds in the rough, but
diamonds enough for all.
And these glories are free –
not bought or sold or stolen.

These diamonds are magical, mystical, mysteria,
flying from wave to wave
they ground me on the water.

This lake is a font of Spirit,
a fountain of light, a sight which
will never leave me even while
leaving me transfixed.

Drive-by Derision

I was winding my way down the Iron Horse Trail, on a Friday afternoon jog, when a gentleman on a bicycle encountered me while I rejoined the trail after a brief shortcut. I was deep in thought, as I am wont to do in the middle of a run, when I heard him say to me “I don’t care much for Laurier, a snotty school.” It took me a few steps to process what had just transpired, then I remembered that I was wearing my “Laurier – 1911” t-shirt. It was a shirt celebrating the 100th anniversary of the school, which began as The Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, which after various iterations, became provincialized as Wilfrid Laurier University in 1973. I now work at Martin Luther University College, the inheritor of the mantle of the original school, now a federated college of Laurier.

I hadn’t given any thought to which t-shirt I was wearing until this drive-by derisive comment. As I continued my run, I wondered about this anonymous aside. Would this fellow had said this to me if we had encountered one another walking on the street, or on the bus? And what precipitated this comment? Had he been refused entrance to a program? Did he have a boss whom he despised, who had graduated from Laurier?

I was intrigued by his interest in telling me his opinion. There was, of course, no time for a response of any kind. We were travelling in opposite directions and he was moving quite quickly on a bicycle. I wondered: How many people out there are looking for an opportunity to anonymously set someone straight on what’s what? Does he have a wrath-reaction every time he sees “Laurier”? So many questions, with no answers…

One of the wise, and recurring, bits of wisdom I have heard during Covid has been a reminder that none of us knows what kind of trials people are burdened with – bubbling below the surface. We usually don’t know the contexts of peoples’ comments. People can be a bit like icebergs, it seems, with a grimace on their face being but a sliver of a sore festering below the surface. And all it takes is the right trigger in the right context.

Of course, this person’s experience of Laurier is as a valid as those who claim that Laurier is warm and welcoming, as are that of people who have experienced the school in both ways. The interaction was a curious experience, and my lament is that it provided no opportunity to speak to the person about his experience. That would be helpful, for him and me both I think. Authentic relationships emerge when we share our stories with one another. Tales tie us together and that is why sacred scriptures are awash with narrative. Narrative draw us into one another’s lives, including the life of God.

In a way, the interaction was a missed opportunity. But then again, it afforded me the occasion to think about how I might trigger people’s feelings with something as a simple as a t-shirt. Of course, that same t-shirt might evoke the comment: “I love Laurier, the people there really care!” I have heard this said of both Laurier and Luther. I just haven’t heard them as drive-by accolades. But I live in hope.

At the Edge of Devil’s Lake

This lake is called “Devil’s” but
at this moment it is a gateway to heaven.
Its sentinels are a stalwart frog,
a water snake who has perfected s’s,
guppies nibbling at my toes, and
a butterfly in buttery yellow so
stunning that it melts my heart.

I spent a good bit of time tonight
taking in this lake by light of fireflies.

My hope is that it has settled in
my soul so that when the time
comes to step through the
pearly gates, I’ll find them within.