Saints of Old

It is no easy
task to be
invisible, unheard, on
the other side of
evident.

One first has to
hear a tree speak
see signs in the sky
touch the Braille of
the wind.

I’ve never been
invisible, and
although I’ve played
at hiding – I’ve
always been found
out.

The saints of old became fire.
Saints today may well be rocks.
And somewhere between

stone below and flame above

I wait on the Voice whose Ear
hears my silence.
I keep my eye on the Eye that
sees me through.

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This Lumen

These candles alit
outside on this fall
night usurp the sun for a time.
This trinity of soft
light plays well on my
eyes, weary of too
much clarity, too
much certainty, too
much of that kind
of faith that is
finally aloof.

These three wick a joy from
deep in heaven; a joy
hovering above the
window of my soul.

This, this lumen
settles me and I am
happy for this time
of grace, when the
aureole rays of these
three kings stay my
anxious heart
and illumine
You.

A Blue on White Delight

This last weekend was dedicated to orientation at the school where I work. For some years now, we have held it at the Crieff Conference Centre, a lovely locale run by the Presbyterians in our part of the world. The event is always inspiring in many ways, and although year to year admits a kind of litany of repeat questions, and worries, and excitements there is always something unique in the tone of each student speaking and in the collective voice that takes my breath away. I am grateful for this.

On the years when the weather is in our favour, my wife meets me on the last day, after chapel at Sunset Villa. This latter is just down the road from Crieff. It consists of a Danish restaurant and a holiday trailer park, where Danes from years past – and now their families – spent and spend their summers and weekends. We often park one of the cars there and scurry down to Lake Ontario to sail. This was the very thing we did this last Sunday, but there was a garage sale at the Villa, so we dropped in to see that.

This garage sale had many of the things one would expect to see at a garage sale: trinkets, clothing, curios, out of date electronics, record albums etc. As one would anticipate at a Danish garage sale, there were also the famous blue plates, some Royal Copenhagen and some Bing and Grøndahl. If you frequent Danish households in Canada you are sure to find some of these on the walls. They serve as aides de memoire of origins and special events. People will often buy a plate for special years: anniversaries, births, retirements and such. There was a rather handsome stack of such plates, but they didn’t catch my wife’s eyes, so much as a table set in the very middle of the garage sale “garage.”

Here a table was set as one might expect, with crystal for wine, schnapps and water, as well as a candelabra and dinner plates. But here too was the surprise. The dinner plates were white, with Danish blue plates laid on them. This was unfamiliar to us: using decorative plates for the first course. We didn’t know if people actually did this, or if it was for effect. The latter most certainly the case, and led me to thinking about our relationship to things.

Things are designed for a purpose, but rather like the words we write, or the poems we bleed, or the songs we breathe, once they leave us they take on a life of their own. It struck me anew that this is just as true for things as for words. There a piece of art becomes a use thing, and a use thing becomes a piece of art. And here a tool to make a sculpture is taken up into the sculpture itself. Designers’ intentions are thwarted by human imagination, and the sovereignty of the artist is usurped by some soul who imagines an instance of art commandeered to host a smørrebrød of herring on rye; and in so doing making a table setting to be a kind of art.

Theologians talk at length of the image of God, defining in sundry ways what this might be. I think I incline to a more fulsome than minimalist definition, and upon seeing those blue on white plates can well imagine that this imago Dei is also a way to say that people are finally just plain old interesting: both students with their heady questions and elderly Danish ladies upending my sense of what is what with the simplest and unexpected use of something beautiful.

The Bridge Called September

There is a view from
the bridge called September
by which one can see
a road, calling
wayfarers to
turn onto it and so into
themselves:
curious,
brave and
trembling on holy ground.

Many have stepped
onto this path –
some singing,
some swearing,
most sweating –
but all who enter there
never see the world
the same again.

Some of us are given
the grace to walk for a time with
those on this journey. Do
not think I take it
for granted.

With each step of each pilgrim

my heart races and

my soul soars and

my mind burns at a hint of a future.

The Oak is Declaring the Glory of God

Last month, the Office for Sustainability and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at the university where I work held a celebration. It was to honour the establishment of a small, but mighty, “forest” planted beside the Indigenous Student Centre: a small stand of trees that are in various stages of maturity, reflecting the diversity of trees in our area. As a part of the Canada 150 celebrations, “Tree Canada” provided a grant that funded this project. Part of the news release associated with the event noted that trees are symbols of “growth, strength, sustainability, hope, and peace.”.

I went to the dedication event, which involved some Indigenous prayers and rituals, speeches from Tree Canada and the relevant offices. Pictures where taken, food was offered, and at the end of it all, we were invited to go to a tent to choose a tree to take home. I texted my wife with the list of trees on offer, and she suggested that we go with a Bur Oak. So, I went and grabbed the tree slip, and brought it home at the end of the day. She seemed a little dismayed at seeing it. It was no more than 8 inches tall, but we both agreed that you cannot gainsay the joy of a tree, no matter its size. We sat down in our back yard with a cup of coffee in hand, deciding where it should go.

This is no easy decision. At the event, one of the speakers reminded us that these slips can grow to be huge trees: “Think about where you plant them!” was the watchword. We sized up our yard, imagining that one day, this little fellow would grow to be 15 to 30 metres tall. This would take some time, given the speed at which the Bur Oak grows. It is an interesting task, to hold a tree you the palm of your hand, imaging that one day it could well be the most significant feature in your back yard, likely long after you have passed on the property, and perhaps have passed on – period.

After much deliberation, we finally found a spot, and planted the tree with some wire around it. We have had an unusually active crop of rabbits in the area these days, and they indiscriminately eat everything we put in the ground, so we wanted to be safe. Shortly after our planting, we flew out west for some holidays and time visiting family. Upon returning, one of the first things we did was check on our little oak, but were devastated to discover it had disappeared! The wire was strewn on the ground, and coming up from the ground was nothing.

We lamented this loss, mindful that the ways of nature are not always light and joy. Yet, this too is a part of heavens declaring the glory of God. In the midst of life is death as surely as life is in the midst of death. We didn’t exactly shed tears, but it was a sad moment. In due course, the loss was left aside, and we prepared for a trip to Ireland.

Just yesterday, some weeks after the loss of the oak, I was poking around where it used to be, and was utterly astounded to see poking up through the soil a fresh shoot. I called my wife over, and we are most certain that this is the beginning of an oak. Could it be that the little tree set down a root that is shaking its fist at the rabbits and their indiscriminate foraging? Could it be that a tree truly is a symbol of “growth, strength, sustainability hope, and peace”? This may well be the case. At any rate, we are cheering on our little tree, and imagining our yard in a hundred years or so, with a mighty oak speaking peace to those who set their eyes on it.

Today the Eclipse

Today the eclipse:
sun undone by
the ellipsis moon
so that dark and light
might bleed into
each other; so that
a shadow may
open the door to love
and let dreaming
into day – wolf and lamb
at play; a world upside
down.

Perhaps we all need
a little more eclipse, a little
break in the day, in the
way we do things:
judging him using her bagging it.

They say that if you look at the sun
you might burn its image on your eye.
I say that if you look at love
you might burn with God.

Night in the afternoon. Chaos at tea time.
Did this day preach to you?
Can I get a witness?

Peace in the Pause

The North Atlantic
blew through me
one night, off
the Bay of Galway and
made of me a
tin whistle.

My air was
melancholic, with motifs
of homesickness,
of rootlessness,
an ache for an abiding city.

There was also
tones of ire, inspired by
men lost at sea,
fatherless children,
aching oceans, and
crosses, crosses,
cross.

Yet, you may have
heard, too, some
hope in the silence, some
peace in the pause.