Stork-eyed

A stork eyed me
by the ferry for Coronado
Island, wondering whether
the new birth in its beak
was intended for me.

I cried out:
I’ll take that please!
She cocked her head, not
altogether convinced by my
enthusiasm, my eagerness
to leave everything behind
and be made new.

The stork retorted:
Did you count the cost?
In truth, I had to say that
I had only counted the
sailboats near the pier, and
the shekels in my pocket, to
see if I had fee for ferry.

The stork said “satis est.” My
pining was sated; my worries
abated and I fell
into tomorrow.

Advent Between

This last Wednesday I led the weekly Eucharist at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. At this service, we look to the coming Sunday for texts etc. That meant that this last Wednesday was the celebration of Advent One. But during the year, we also are attentive to other significant temporal markers, and so noted that November 29 is the annual UN International Day of Solidarity with Palestinians. Our worship team decided to attend to both of these, which was no easy task.

I have never been to the Holy Land, and cannot pretend to know what is happening on the ground in that conflicted and troubled land, but I do know that there are two irreducibly painful truths that cannot be denied as we look east: the Shoah and the Nakba. The first references the attempted genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime, resulting in the deaths of some six million Jews. The second references the uprooting of 700, 000 Palestinians during the 1948 conflict following the UN partition of Palestine in 1947, resulting in some seven million Palestinian refugees today.

We choose to frame our service with the song “Between Darkness and Light,” which was composed by Palestinian Manal Hreib and Israeli Daphna Rosenberg, two musicians committed to the pathway to peace in the Holy Land. This song sings into the ambiguity of hard truths. It speaks to hope in light of the many forms of brokenness we endure. Our preacher, Preston Parsons, spoke to this brokenness in the land of promise, even while reminding us that the land in our own context cries out at the history of dispossession and abuse of its first peoples. And so, he invited us to pray for peace in our own context as well, and to be attentive to the Prince of Peace who transforms us so that we might abandon our warring ways.

We framed the service with the lighting of the first Advent candle at the start of the service while singing “Between Darkness and Light,” and extinguishing this candle while singing the song again at the end of the service. We wanted the service to flow between these two realities of a lit and unlit Advent wreath: worship between darkness and light. During the last singing of the song, after Sarah, one of our undergraduate students, extinguished the candle, I looked up at it and noticed that the candle’s flame was very luxurious in its dying. A slow persistent stream of silver slid up from the wick. This was marked in that it was set against a blue curtain at the end of our worship space in the basement of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church. This sliver of smoke swayed now to the left, and then to the right, and slowly accumulated in a little cloud above the candle. When the candle finally died, it was as if the last of the smoke was a rope being pulled up into the cloud, which then mystically dissipated. I am not sure what meaning to make of this image, or if a meaning is need. It was simply beauty, and set against the music it reminded me of the ambiguity and transience of life, even while persistent and enduring in its beauty. I don’t think that I will ever forget that image. So ordinary, but profound in the moment. Advent, for me, this year began four days early when Sarah put out a candle, but lit a flame.

Advent Vent

Not far from the
cup that I favour,
lies a pencil that
sketches nothing
save images of
the end of
time.  I tried
the other day to
draw a daisy with it,
but no, the flower flamed like
the very purpose of hell.
And so, I set it down
for a time.  And in
its place I took
this pen that
would not
poem but
this.

 

Advent Won

This last week we lit a candle in church.  Most weeks we light candles, but for those in certain Christian traditions, this last week saw the lighting of the first candle in the Advent wreath of four.  Each candle lit marks one more week of our path to Christmas.  Advent has been variously described in the church, but I like those descriptions pointing to it as a time of deep yearning: for peace, for love, for hope, for joy, and above all for the arrival of God in our lives.  In the season of advent we note that our will for what is well points us to that deepest of desires – God’s desire to be with us in even our darkest moments.

I like it that Advent occurs before the winter solstice in northern climes.  As the sun makes its way further and further down the horizon, we begin to mark these days of yearning.  In my walk home these days, I start in the light, but by the time I make it to downtown Kitchener the streetlights are on.  What I find most intriguing, however, is the number of businesses that “arrive” for my observation.  In the summer, when I walk home, many of the windows of the businesses do nothing more than reflect my image.  When I look in the windows, I see me.  But in this season of Advent, in this time of darkness, the lights in the shops flick on and when I look in the window I no longer see me, but the inner workings of this storefront or that.  I suddenly discover that there are apartments above shops; there are people busy in businesses some 5 metres from my path.  A world is at work on the other side of that mirror come window.

I suppose, in a way, this pilgrimage is a parable for faith’s journey.  It starts in the light where I see me in the mirror, and ends in the dark where I see the other as my focus becomes outward-focused.  We meander towards home, and along the way the darkness comes – but not the kind of darkness that extinguishes the light, but rather the kind that makes it finally visible.  Or better yet, it isn’t so much the light that becomes visible as what the light enlightens.  The other person, the unknown place now before my eyes as I slide from self-reflection to contemplation of God at work in the world.

Of course, I do not mean to romanticize darkness.  There is a darkness that is dangerous.  But there is also a darkness that eases the eyes, that slows the pace and focusses the gaze.   This time of the sun’s slippage is a transition time.  As the sun crosses the border of the horizon we are allowed to look into another world, and so see our own world in a new way.  I imagine that the experience of Advent in the Southern Hemisphere is rather different: rich, I am sure, in its own way.  But for me, these days of darkening are precious indeed.  I feel a little like we experience the reversal of birth.  As we light the second candle next Sunday, I will hold my breath and listen for my soul being nudged further along into the shadows, into another corner where I will see yet another sight.

Poignant, this Pause

In error’s midst
he comes.
In winter’s mist
he comes. He comes
bearing humility,
birthing service. Patient
waiting becomes him whom
the heavens hold forth for one
such as you, for one such as
I. We too wait. We await
this coming,
this tulip bulb,
this winter wheat,
this pregnant idea.
Poignant, this pause.