Reflesh Me

Today I heard a leaf sing, seeing
green grow lips as the earth
took voice in our garden.
It sang to me that no matter
my state of mind, I can always
lay down in the grass, where
ants would take care of my cares; where
grass would loosen my knot in life; where
the sky would bend down and stroke
my cheek – blue on my ever evolving
summer colour; and the wind, the wind
would refresh and reflesh me with memories of
cool, and sail, and a silent flight by grace
of a glider so many years ago. As I looked up
my time in the sky came again to mind
there on the ground, surrounded by a voice
that sang to me: “Never enough, never enough –
of Creator, creation, creativity! Do not quit,
but do pause, and breathe…”

For the Weal of the World

Thursday saw Santa Maria make her way from the hard to the lovely and oh so wet Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario. COVID-19 complications meant that this was not a possibility last year, so it was especially sweet to see her land in the water.

For those who are not familiar with sailing in my part of the world, sailboats have to come out of the water because the lakes freeze, and fixed keel boats have keels thousands of pounds heavy, so a lift or a crane is used. Our marina rents a crane. It is quite the site to see things that float flying across the sky.

When she landed, I was near at hand, and jumped into the boat, started the engine as the pier crew moved my boat down the dock. Within some seconds she was ready to go, and the crew tossed the lead lines into the boat and I was off. It was a feeling… slipping across the water. Boats are mesmerizing. You cannot turn on a dime. There are no brakes. And the feeling of floating is unlike any other. Something stirred.

I didn’t grow up on the water. My mother was afraid of it, but my dad had been in the navy and while he rarely spoke of his experiences in the second world war, he sometimes talked with some enthusiasm about learning to sail as a part of their training. I suspect that some bits of my joy on the water are related to this. My paternal grandmother was from the west coast of Norway, and so it just might be that other bits of my joy come from blood. I’m not altogether sure but being on the water brings me a joy that I can’t quite describe.

I suspect most people have some place, or activity, or perhaps a time that finds them outside of themselves, drifting into the future, the past, the stories in our bones. These experiences are life giving and avoided at our peril. Alas, we too often fail to attend to these in our busyness. I truly feel that these experiences are divine gifts that feed our souls, our minds, and our bodies. Too often we imagine that only “holy” activities ground and grow our spirit. But all that is truly whole is holy, shaped by the Creator for the good of our humanity, and for the weal of the world.

Of course, these may well change and shift with time, but then again, so do we. I should note too that sailing is not the only activity that takes me to another place. Sometime art will do this, or music, or running. The Holy One has given us so many ways to stay alive. Receive these gifts for what they are: given for you.

Succor in Solitude

Some months ago, after visiting my middlest daughter, I brought back from her Ottawa home two aloe vera plants. They were about the same size, and I planted them in two available pots, one about two thirds the size of the other. The plant in the larger pots has done well, looks healthy and grown a bit. The plant in the smaller pot is going gangbusters. It has swollen to twice the size of the other plant, and produced a whole host of babies, some of which are nearing the size of the other plant.

I don’t know if these plants are a metaphor for life, or not. But it is interesting that the plant with the most room to grow is the least productive. I read an article the other day about a writer who took a furlough/sabbatical for writing a book. He left the big city and made his way to a cottage, where there were little to no distractions. He set up a plan of how many pages he would write each day for a week, free from the burden of his job, obligations at home etc. for a one-month spacious period of time. But he produced nothing aside from some writing on the first day.

Maybe it isn’t space we need in order to be productive but intimacy, small places and times where we can feel our edges and experience our breath bouncing back at us. Intimacy comes from a Latin root that is the superlative of “inner.” To be intimate is to be utterly within. Our common parlance often understands this word in relationship to sexuality, or perhaps in reference to a special kind of comradery. But there is an intimacy of knowing the self, of being in the presence of our own interiority.

This is not always an easy place to be. Here we see our fears, our rages, our deaths. But these are rich materials for the project that is being ourselves. In this kind of intimacy we see beyond the self we project in the world and we begin the journey of truth. The philosopher Martin Heidegger writes that the word truth in Greek is related to the verb of disclosing or laying bare. In intimate relations the other is disclosed to me; in intimate spaces, I begin to see myself.

In the Christian church today is the Reign of Christ Sunday. The image of Jesus as King of Kings is celebrated. But the story of Jesus begins in a stable, and moves to cross, and ends in closed cave where the story begins again. This so-called king was really a master of intimate spaces, and places us in the same, where we discover the love that reigns in the heart. From the intimate heart comes healing balm, an aloe vera like salve, our succor in solitude.

The Joy in Writing

Another year of writing this blog comes to an end. A colleague at work the other day commented on this practice, wondering whether I have found it to be a good discipline. I think that to be true. I don’t quite write something every week, although most weeks I do – generally alternating poetry and prose. I sort of wind my way through each week, looking for a muse in some form or the other to generate a thought, or spark an insight. It doesn’t always happen, and when that it is the case, I sit downstairs in the basement on a Saturday night and start pondering the first thing that comes to mind. Generally something comes together. Writing is funny that way: sometimes it just clicks and other times, not.

I mentioned this to another colleague the other day; we were talking about academic writing in this instance. She was asking me about a paper I gave at a conference, and I could tell her that the paper under discussion nearly wrote itself. An idea fell in my lap, and I did some research around it, but the basic form of the essay was in place and I researched to span gaps and to strengthen pillars. But at other times, I do copious research; reading and reading with a view to finding some idea to chase after. For such a paper, every paragraph is pure effort.

I think, to some degree, I have been well served by another colleague of mine, who speaks of the classroom as a workshop, inviting students to test out ideas and play around a bit – not being too anxious about piety, or fidelity, or orthodoxy in his space. They can take on those concerns when they leave his class, or not. In a way, I find this space to be something like that. Here, I sit down and write and refuse to worry about my writing passing the muster of an editor, or a publishing gate keeper of some sort. I just write for the joy in writing.

But this joy, like so many other joys, is fueled by facilities empowered by practice. I write more easily when I write often, I think. And so, when it is time to write an academic piece, I think that the time I have spent in this workshop, or gym, or studio called “stillvoicing” has prepared me to get to work. Or at least that’s what I’m imagining today. The freedom this space affords, allows me to stretch in new ways, and develop new skills that make their way into a different kind of public.

And so I write: sometimes prose and sometimes poetry. I remember hearing Leonard Cohen in a CBC interview some years ago, where he said that being a poet is a verdict not a decision, or self-declaration. I suppose that is true for writers of other genres as well. Many people write; but I’m not sure how many writers there are, or poets, or artists. But then again, I don’t know that this much matters. If writing brings some joy, or meaning, or relief, that is reason enough to write. And perhaps, from time to time, that reason translates into something worth reading.

This Hope of Time

Pound out a poem
when your soul
feels empty, betrayed
by a loss, or
a distance, or
a failure.

Pound out a poem:
stretch your words
tight, like the
skin of deer
on ringed
wooden
rim.

Your voice… your stick
Your pain… your power
Your heartbeat… your hope.
Yes, hope, keeping
time because sometimes
this hope of time
is all we have.

This sentence is a scar…

Imagine, if you
will, this pen
a knife, this page
skin: sheet bleeding
ink into quill.

The scratch, scratch,
scratch you hear
is the sound
of paper being
lacerated and
from this
vellum comes
blood blue.

This sentence is a scar…

There is no writing
without pain, no
words without death.
“The Word was made flesh”
is both promise and warning:
“Write at your own risk.”

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.

What is this Dough?

What is this dough? This
melange of broken wheat,
salted water and yeast gone
wild? This rogue lump will not yield to
my will, yet still it calls me into
its rising.

I cannot knead this
dough without attending to
its soul: it will not be
bread unless I
heed its call,
listening to its song,
its laments, its lauds.

This mystery – growth
under hand
under time
under fire
– sustains as
dough mysteriously
rehearses again the
coming Reign:
bread for the hungry.

Words Sovereign and Free

They will not be coerced,
these words sovereign and free –
although I might coax them
with appropriate libations
or prognostications that
evoke their curiosity.

The other day my eyes
were on the street and
“peregrination” poked its
head around the corner, but
it walked away –
of course.

And I know
we cannot force
the hand of “manipulation,”
but if we wait, quietly, at
night with the stars, we
jut might catch
“consternation,” or
perhaps a
“cold.”

5 O’clock Dark

Heading home, Friday last,
I passed the Salvation Army and
the street lamps did me the honour
of multiplying my shadow leaving me
variously iterated in black:
here short and squat, like a puddle at feet
there long, lean and sliding across the street
but ahead just right, properly proportioned
and cutting a sweet angle a little left of centre,
slightly smug until an ambulance navigating the traffic
rendered me red on Sally Ann’s wall –
each shadow dancing a life under
the aegis of an emergency’s brief
incursion – after which I stepped
off the curb and slipped across
the street into a stretch
of easy dark.