Running Like a Fish

It has been an unusually mild winter in our parts – not much snow nor sun. These winters are utterly unlike those I remember as a child. This isn’t altogether surprising since I lived far west and north of my current location: now Southwestern Ontario, and then Central Alberta. I miss the sun but not the cold, although I find the weather feels warmer when there is snow on the ground.

While I haven’t been so fond of the weather, the upside is that it has made running outside quite easy. I have done a number of longer runs over the last little while, all around 10 km. My run starts with a bit of an uphill climb for the first 5 minutes or so. If you were to drive my pathway, you would have no idea that the path is uphill. In fact, when walking I would only attend to the grade for the last 100 metres or so of the first 500 metres. But running, like cycling, makes one intensely aware of grade, and wind, and temperature.

My pathway mostly involves a hiking/running path. It is well protected, which is nice when the predominantly northwest winds are blowing hard. The run is largely uphill on the way to my 5 km turn around. The trip home tends to be downhill, with the wind behind me most days. The trip home seems to be the part of the run where I manage to experience the “runner’s high.” This makes the run doubly rich.

The euphoria of these moments – not experienced with every run – are really quite remarkable, and give a kind of gravitas to the idea that the journey is the destination. The race itself is the prize, it seems. Many times, as I’ve run, I’ve thought about the marvel of being able to move, something I most often take for granted. When I’m in the right head and heart space, it strikes me as an utter marvel that I can slip across physical space like a fish through water. As I do so, I feel badly for people in cars, too often seemingly stressed and sometimes racing to make lights etc. When my lungs and legs are in harmony, my spirit soars and I have no desire to give up that feeling of being alive for the comfort of the car.

Last week I was speaking with a senior friend at church who ran regularly throughout his adult life. He spoke eloquently of the joy of the sport. He, unlike me, ran competitively. I have not run in a race proper since I was a youngster. One day I might try it again, but for now I revel in the experience of knowing that my knees can still sustain my joy, and my heart can yet propel a hope that humanity will find the collective will to ensure that the air for all is fresh.

My friend no longer runs but he remains an avid walker. One day my running days will be over, but as long as I’m able, I keep on the move, thankful for movement in whatever way I can manage – recalling all the while that it in God that we live and move and have our being.

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Another Epiphany

This place feels strange, but
still, when I touch the
earth I feel home: this
red soil God bleeding
Adam, this crisp air God
spiriting Eve. The primal
pair is everywhere with
their progeny in tow.
Here I crouch on
the backs of
elders.

Not far from where I trace
You in the dirt, ancestors
watch me, seeing
whether I will
pay respect or not.

I try by God I try to walk in a good way.

I breath, and You come to me:
clothed with hills that pleat round
your sacred sites; Your cheeks now
flush with generosity; Your
locks frame your strength.

I look up to the rocks and
see You seeing me now
through these eyes, now
through those.

And I breath again and then
remember this: we all share
Your breathing us and
that is Joy.

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Takk for Alt

Christmas is upon us, a time of great joy for some and of some darkness for others. While this person celebrates, that person mourns. Most of us, I suspect experience a bit of both, thinking on those whose presences have graced our tables in times past but do so no more. I find myself thinking of my parents at Christmas. They are now gone but still present in important ways. Strangely, this last little while I have found myself thinking about my father’s mother, my Norwegian farmor. I never knew her, her having died some years before my birth. But I have heard bits and pieces about her, too few.

She was raised in Norway and came to the USA for a marriage that produced one son. Her first husband died in an accident, I was told, and she came to Canada to take up a business opportunity at Milk River in Alberta, where she met my grandfather – my farfar – who was homesteading a piece of land. They went through hard times, raising a family of 8 through the depression of the mid-20th century, losing a child and scratching out a living with little luxury. She died in her early 70s, I’ve heard. When I was visiting a cousin in Newfoundland, I ate at her table and was glad for that experience. That cousin has memories of farmor. I have none.

And so, I wonder why she is on my mind these days. How can someone I never knew take up residence in the “kingdom of memory,” a phrase used by Elie Wiesel? How is it that farmor commands my attention? I really have no answer for this question but am glad for her presence in absence.

Christians speak sometimes of the experience of presence in absence, feeling God acutely in those moments when we feel most godforsaken. Many of us see that evidenced in the life of Jesus, especially on the cross, where he quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Scholars remind us that sometimes the first verse of a psalm was a kind of aide de memoire, invoking the whole of the psalm. In the case of Psalm 22, then, we are reminded that the same person who laments at the beginning of the psalm also said in verse 24: “For God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; God did not hide the divine face from me, but heard when I cried to God.”

There is something right-headed about the fact that the psalmist both laments and praises God’s absence and presence in the same psalm, I think. From one psalm comes both praise and lament. In like fashion, from one heart comes both lament and praise, both doubt and faith. And from all of us comes an ache for a wholeness that is all-inclusive. Maybe that is why I’ve been thinking on farmor these days. Deep in my bones is the desire to be whole, and whole includes holding the hands of all who have suffered for my well-being, for my little successes, and for my great joys. My blood pulses with a desire to say thank-you, and this desire has taken shape in a thought, a thinking on a woman I never knew but whom I know to be a part of me. And so, on this Christmas time, I say to farmor “Takk, farmor, takk for alt.” And to all of my readers, I say thanks for journeying with me in 2018. You will hear from me again in the month of Janus, the wolf who stands at the door of the New Year.

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But a flicker

Yesterday our tree got a
a trim, only it isn’t really
our tree. It is actually our
elder, deeply rooted in
earth. Being closer to sun,
it beams. Scooping up wind,
it sings. Stretching across our lot,
it draws us in, only it really
isn’t our lot, our plot, our earth.
We belong to it, or so said
Chief Seattle, and I suspect
we would all do well to
trade “seize” for “see” and
be a bit more circumspect
at the prospect that we
own anything. We are
but a flicker across the
spectral vision of the divine
whose seeing us is the only reason
we have not yet slipped back into
the dust from whence tree imbibes life.

Yesterday, our tree got a trim.
Today, I touched its trunk and breathed.

Come Sit with Me a Bit

Not so very far from
the door You stand, You,
source of my life, my strife both.
You stand between here and there,
and yet ‘stand’ is not quite right:
You whom I chance to meet with
the breath of a child, in
the wrinkle of the aged, on
the hard, smooth surface of
a rock – grandfather, grandmother.

I do not know You and yet I know You knowing me.

Come, sit with me a bit.
Let our breath be as one, so when mine
ceases, death is bested by love.
Let our seeing be as one, so that hope
finds a fallowed field seeded with tears.
Let our hearing be as one, so I finally
hear the trees, the stars, singing You,
in my hearing, seeing, breathing
You.

Our Bodies are not Stupid

Last week at curling I had a most interesting interchange with a fellow in the locker room. He mentioned in passing that the lock on his locker was one he had in high school. He is a bit younger than me, but not so very much, and so I knew that his combination lock is about the same age as my eldest adult daughter. “You must have that number burned in your brain,” I commented, and he replied “Actually, I have no idea what three numbers open up this lock. My fingers just make the motions needed.” He said he would need to watch his fingers do the motions to find out what the numbers are. But I suspect that this wouldn’t work, because when I think about a repetitive task, I find that thinking about it gets in the way of doing it. He would probably have to have someone look over his shoulder while his fingers opened the combination. Every now and then I have a similar kind of experience when working with a bolt, or such, in a tight spot where I cannot see. It is almost as if I have to stop thinking, or think about something else while my hands go to work. It seems that our fingers sometimes know things that our heads do not.

There are philosophers who have noted that one of the conditions of the peculiar kind of thought that comes with being human has been a snuffing out our instinctual capacities. We have lost what other species retain: an ability to intuit when storms come, where danger lay, etc. Of course, these capacities are not entirely lost, and may be more lost for some people than others, for some eras more than others, etc. Some would argue that the age of enlightenment that ushered in the modern era, with scientific developments and the prizing of reason over faith, has caused an estrangement with flesh. Some might say that the enlightenment has cost us our body: we are no longer so comfortable or familiar with the skin we are in. That is probably overstating the matter. It is, I suspect, a question of degree. Our bodies are not stupid, we just have forgotten how to listen to them, or don’t take the time needed to do so.

There are, I suspect, ways to learn anew from our bodies. Spending time with children, with animals, and with trees, for instance, might help, or perhaps rolling dirt between our fingers as we bring it to our nose and smell again the whence of our existence. Spending time in quiet most certainly sharpens our hearing. Exercise can’t be bad. But above all, we need to learn to love our bodies. So many voices command us to despise our bodies. The religions get a bad rap for this, but there are resources in religions for reclaiming the body. It is important to note, for example, that in Christianity one of the favoured metaphors for the church is the body of Christ. If bodies were bad, this would not be the case. Other religions have other ways to affirm the body even while all religions have problematic practices. But I suspect that most of us will find that religion is not our biggest problem in making peace with our bodies. We need to turn away from advertisements. We need to refuse narratives that standardize what a good body is, and so the try to sell us products purported to make us in the image of the model we aren’t. Clever marketers tell us that beauty and worth have to manufactured and purchased. But as we look at the natural world around us, complete with the marvel of birth and the mystery of death, we are reminded that worth and beauty are created, not manufactured, and the fingertips of the creator are imprinted on us, on our body. And so, we can come to accept the body we have so that we can be the body we are.

Limping toward You

And then You come to me
again, and again, and again,
slipping Your words into the silence
of my speech. You right and write
my wrongs in strophes of
reconciliation, allowing
my ears to be hallowed
by Your cries; my
eyes to be sanctified by
the sight of Your tears
now made mine.

You are not
content to see
me face to face
but embrace me
from the inside out:
Your presence now my joy,
Your absence now my hope,
my words now my tongue
limping toward
You.