Working Edges

This last Saturday night my wife and I went to The Mayors’ Dinner in Kitchener, a fundraising event for the Working Centre, a not-for profit organization in our community that addresses issues of poverty and unemployment. This happens every year, and a person or group of people, is given special recognition. This year the recipients were Arleen Macpherson, Gretchen Jones, and Jennifer Mains, all who work or have worked with St. John’s Kitchen. My wife and I have gone to a few of these fundraising events, but I was especially interested because I have had students that have done volunteer placements at St. John’s Kitchen. A few years back one of the Community Service Learning coordinators and I visited the site, and chatted with Gretchen, who keeps thing moving on a daily basis.

I still remember the visit well. We biked there from the University, Rebekah leading the way as we wound our way through a kind of back street route from point University to point Kitchen, in Kitchener. We locked up our bikes and said hi to a few clients on our way up the brightly painted stairwell, and into the well lit, vibrant, second floor of 97 Victoria St. N that houses the kitchen, the dining hall, and offices for some health care there. We sat and visited with Gretchen, who told us a bit about the program, and then expressed thanks for the volunteer work done by students. Of course, I already knew from student feedback that they received more than they gave at this volunteer site. For many students, their experience at St. John’s was a life changer, in important ways.

Many of them had never had experience working with marginalized people, and so this experience reconfigured the world they knew. They came to see that there are not simple solutions to problems like homelessness. They came to see that people in need do not need charity, but deserve dignity. They came to see that where their world ends is where other people’s worlds begin. This experience took them to the edges of their lives, where they started to work at important questions: who am I? what is my place in the world? where is God in this?

At the dinner on Saturday, Gretchen and others from the Kitchen spoke, and told some very moving stories: accounts of varied experiences that were miraculous in many ways. We also were introduced, via video, to some of the volunteers and guests of the kitchen, who opened to us the Reign of God, for those with ears to hear. We began to see the face of the Kitchen, painted with stories of broken people reaching out to care for broken people and so creating community. At the end of the evening, I rejoiced at having been given another snapshot of what it looks like to live in community, where truth makes things messy and hope makes people patient.

We have to be patient to work at the edges, where we discover ourselves anew in the experiences of growth, being stretched and strained in ways that remind us that the human condition is change: from cradle to coffin we are moving from life to death and from death to life. These two feed on each other, and so there is no food that does not entail death in giving life. Food is the marriage of life and death, and St. John’s Kitchen is one place that preaches the sermon that we are what we eat: the community of life and death that works at the edges, that works on its edges.

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I’m Turning a Phrase

My pen tends
this word and that as
seed in need of
field – aching for a
place to land and
fertilizer to lavish it
with a just-so adverb or
participle or preposition, as the
case may be.

I’m turn a phrase like
soil in spring; I’m upending a potato
hill in autumn, pregnant with pause, as
my hoe, my pen leads my hand
away from knowing and into
Dirt: life’s cradle, death’s bed.

My Proper Fear

I have no fear of
those who wield worlds of
war, wealth and stealth.  It’s
the robins I fear, who
sing the world silly guarding
their nests; who
drop egg-blue bombs that
leak a beauty so
pregnant with praise that
the trees bow in obeisance.

 

I fear the dandelions, those dents-de-lion whose
teeth steel the sun as their
eyes track my every pilfering of
their lair.  I fear for
my presence on this fierce earth,
which marks my ways and will
demand of me an accounting
for what I have done with
cardinal’s cues.

 

But I do not fear you, dear reader, nor
do I fear my
breath portending death – that
distillation of life and perfect love,
casting out every fear.

Slip into Life

Write please write.
Push the pen until it bursts
solar flares on white;
bend it
until it leaks God
until it bleeds sky and soil.

Do not be content with
anything less than what
blinds you. Gaze
beyond your reach
waiting on shades to teach
your eyes your soul your fingertips
to feel for what is needed.

Sit
for a time
in the dark
and breath
rhythmically. In
your breath is
an echo of
death and
on hearing it
you slip
into
life.

Not Far from Night’s Silence

Not far from night’s silence
is a horizon where
darkness weeps
for joy at
dawn’s
birth.

So delighted is eve at day’s
break that she gladly
dies in nativity
but even as
labour’s pains
become acute, death
is denied its sting because
day promises to die
in turn: daughter
to mother when
dusk in
silence
nears.

Otherwise Disposed

I died just

yesterday and so am

otherwise disposed.  I cannot

attend to your “RSVP”:

your pardons,

your pleas,

your demands of me fall

on dead ears.  But

still the earth in you calls

to the earth I’m in.

Here, a deep resonance

your heart to mine-sown-in-soil – our

bridge, our

beat, this bond

strikes me, like the hammer

the bell.

I am dead,

but not

silent.

Futile Wisdom, Clever Folly

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” I Corinthians 3:20

Yesterday I stopped by the 4th Annual Pow Wow at Conestoga College. If you have never been to a Pow Wow, I highly recommend it. Here is an event teeming with life, the drum beating like a heart at the centre of the circle, and all around the community gathers, as a body: to celebrate, to mourn, to reconnect, to sing, and above all, to dance.

As I watched those with winged feet whirl about the circle – ever clockwise in this territory, I chatted with my good friend Jim. Jim grew up in Haudenosaunee territory years before I was born. As a young lad he attended the Brandford Mohawk Institute, one of the many residential schools committed to the infamous Canadian policy of assimilation. He commented that as an Indigenous child he never saw such dancing. It was, of course, deemed illegal. The “wise” ones of those days had outlawed the traditional practices of those who have loved this land for many, many generations before settlers arrived. In their “wisdom” – both futile and horrific – they imposed rules that have inflicted pain on too, too many of Jim’s generation and those that followed.

I came home from the event with a purple ribbon on my jacket. My wife asked what it meant, and I told her that I purchased it at the Wilfrid Laurier University Aboriginal Services table. I also bought a cookie there, and the money from the cookie, and the donation for the ribbon were being used to pay for the funeral of a young woman in the community who had taken her life. Only the Lord knows the reason for such despair, but certainly generations of Indigenous cultural denial by mainstream settler “propriety” and greed inform the why of such a tragedy.

As Jim and I watched the dancing, I pointed to a young man, whose whirling and intricate foot work mesmerized me. He brought to my mind a bird, nesting a world. Jim said that this was Scott, the son-in-law of his youngest sister, and that Scott wouldn’t have grown up dancing, but clearly mastered it along the way. About that time a little one, maybe four years old, feathered and sequined and at one with the drum ran and danced and danced and ran. Jim smiled and said that this one will always know dancing. And I thought, this is how it should be: dancing your way into life, foolishly losing yourself to the drumbeat, the heartbeat, the heart, the hearth, the fire, the flame.

Such is hope: folly to the “wise.”