In Wake of Canoe

I’m going after God,
not content with
God’s coming to me. I’ll
seize the divine
cloak – here in
oak, there in
wave slipping away
in wake of
canoe.

It won’t do
for me to sit
patiently like Job
did until he didn’t.
I’ll raise a fist to divinity
and a pint to mystery. I’ll
cheer the thunder
clap resounding as
lightning ferrets
out traces of
the divine.

I’ll look into her
eyes, rimmed with
hope and worry
both and I’ll see
God seeing me,
God coming
after
me.

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On the Making of a Turtle

On Saturday I made a turtle. Or, more accurately, I carved a turtle out of soapstone, pictured below. I was a part of a workshop hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre. A shout out to both Richard Morgan who led the workshop and Naomi Johnson at the centre who organized the event. It was quite remarkable.

At one level it was especially interesting because in our part of the world, the turtle is a primary character in some indigenous creation stories. I won’t tell that tale now, but one version of it can be found here, but critical to the story is the turtle, who agrees to have the land where we now live built on its back. For this reason, North America is known in some Indigenous Communities as Turtle Island. In the story, the turtle exemplifies self-less giving, a willingness to take on the world, as it were, for the good of all. For those who are interested in reading more about this fascinating creation story, you will find that other animals also give much for creation of community. And as a think about the act of carving, I can also see that the rock that gave itself for this piece of art, too, was generous. This is, I think, more significant than it first appears, since in some Indigenous traditions rocks are considered grandfathers and grandmothers, elders in our midst. They, too, give themselves in order that something marvellous should occur.

What also struck me as so very important in this Saturday adventure was the conversation we had around the table as we scraped away at the Brazilian soapstone with our files. Some people spoke about the many negative stereotypes that persist about the first peoples of Turtle Island, some spoke of their personal experiences of these, but a consistent theme that resonated was the role of art in healing these pains and others. Our instructor had also worked as a social worker and spoke of how carving had helped some of the young people he worked with work through their trauma. As he spoke, though, it struck me that it wasn’t only the art that healed but the fact that it was art done in an environment dedicated to well being and healing. Alas, I’ve also seen art used as a means for competition and control. But when art is done in an environment of grace and acceptance, it can release powerful emotions. I experienced something of this last Saturday. Of course, this isn’t just true for those carving, but all the arts, including but not limited to painting, dance, song, story-telling, poetry, etc.

Martin Luther (a famed theologian of the 16th century) in a commentary on Psalm 101, called the Holy Spirit the greatest and best Poet. Most immediately, he was referencing the poetry of the psalm. But as the great linguist he was, he also knew that the word for poetry comes from the Greek word for “to make.” The Spirit, then, is best maker, the best artisan, the best artist of all, as is evident in creation’s beauty. Whenever we have occasion to experience creativity, it seems to me that we imbibe something of Creator’s Spirit. I certainly felt that way last Saturday, and for that I am so very grateful.

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Polyphony of Praise

Each leaf lingers like
note hanging to staff,
stemmed to branch,
performing a polyphony of praise
as the tree lauds its

earthy inspiration:

terra firma
feeding
cantus firmus.

For those with ears to hear,
the tree – like all spirited
songs – hosts a community of joy:

cardinals in canticle

rhythmic robins

and squirrels ad-verse to gravity,

as delight bursts forth with blossoms of hope.

This Book in Your Hand

Do you see the tree –
now this book in
your hand? Can
you hear echoes of
its whispering through
the wind? Do you
know that it once
breathed out its
life as it inhaled
your death?

This book in your hand
is your relation.

Its pages are leaves for
the healing of the nations.
You can divine in its spine
trunk and branches and roots –
given for you, given for me.
It bears the ink it bleeds
nobly. This book
reminds us that
we do not read
without cost.

This book in your hand
is a living wood, and
it will not remain
silent.

Infected Hope

Not so very far
from hope dwells love,
where time is stopped
with this gesture and
that glance. Each
is but a breathing
that this is enough.

Some say God is
love and so it seems;
but hope too is infected
with the divine; this sacred
contagion spreading
like wild fire, like a
virtuous virus,
causing
me to see
trees at prayer
skies in rhapsody
and you, yes You.

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.

Eden on Edge

Today the sky slipped me a secret.

She opined that

I will know no joy

apart from hearing

swans’ wings beating as Bach

aside from seeing

wave wrestling wave

without smelling

fresh baking kissing coffee

and tasting

salt on skin

feeling

flesh shiver at the intuition of

whirling oaks
and burning bush
and Eden on edge.