Akin to Earth

Yesterday was the spring equinox. It was a glorious and gorgeous day and although a good bit of it was spent inside marking, at one point my wife came in to pull me out to see snow drops raising their holy hooded heads from the ground. I wandered over to the corner of the yard to see how my little bur oak tree is doing, and bending down I could see some buds starting to form on it. Walking back to the house, I notice our backyard maple tree crying sweet tears of joy at the turning of the earth towards the sun. Everything seemed to be waking up.

The day before, I was looking out of my office at this same yard as I was preparing for noon-day pause at “chapel.” It was online and this was the Friday in which we do “Settlers’ Work,” pondering how those who are not Indigenous can educate ourselves around the reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, and the Calls for Justice from the national report on MMIWG. We always begin this time with a land acknowledgement, remembering that the land on which Laurier and Luther are located were deeded to the Haudenosaunee with the Haldimand Tract of 1784. This was also traditional territory of the Anishinabeg and Neutral Peoples. As I do this, I often think about a lesson I am learning from the land. On Friday I mentioned that we often talk as if mother earth is waking up in the spring, and suddenly it struck me like a ton of bricks that this same mother earth is falling asleep on the opposite side of the globe! She is waking up and falling asleep at the same time.

I am increasingly informed by the idea that this earth is our relative, our mother – as per Indigenous perspectives. And this invites us to imagine that in some ways we are like the earth, if she is our mother. Interestingly other worldviews share this perspective of our being imaged after the earth. The ancient Greeks considered the human to be a micro-cosmos. And the Hebraic name for the original, mythic male was Adam, derived from the word for dust, or dirt, and the name for female was Eve, derived from the word for life. Humans are living dirt. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We are akin to that from whence we came and to whither we go.

The earth wakes and sleeps at the same time. How about us? How might we experience this simultaneous arrival and departure; taking up and setting down; being born and dying? I suppose this is evident in every transition in life: from being a babe to being a child to being a teenager to being a young adult to being a not so young adult to being an elderly adult. Each stage is leaving behind and a coming to. There is both death and life in birth, life and death. This is the paradox of our existence. Paradox means contrary to opinion, or in opposition to how things appear: death is a being born just as surely as being born is a dying, since life itself is a journey of death and death is a journey of life. Of course we are taught to fear death by many forces. But our mother teaches us that dying is not the end of life but its transitioning into a new form, a point well illustrated in the lessons of Lent, a time of marking the dying in life as life in dying.

At Their Feet

These plants on my windowsill
watch me day in and out,
looking about my office, they
track my comings and goings,
sniggering at my sweltering
sense of self-importance.

These plants are close to the earth
and hold the long view, knowing that
instantaneously – in a geological sense – I
will be in the earth feeding their fellows.

These plants also cheer me on, when I
close my laptop and play with the rocks
in the silica-now-glass container on
“my” oak tree-now-desk.

These plants weep when
I fail to taste my apple, when
I forget to thank them, when
I refuse to listen to their call
to pinch myself
alive.

These plants are poets of the first order:
Aloe Vera and Christmas Cactus – and when
I am wise, I sit at their feet, in a manner of speaking.

Just Before Dawn’s Light

Here is light plating earth;
sliver sightings of a world not yet

green nor gold, a

pre-dawn pewter that

stems birds just

at the cusp of their awakening

taking choristers’

breath away. All of

this before gold

gilds the earth and

me in wonder at its incipient

coronation – a beneficiary – at this

now silvered sight that

calls, nay, bawls us all into being as

earth is born yet again.

Post-Trash Dreams

My middlest daughter, N, has taken up the cause of garbage-less living. She is new to this and shares her enthusiasm infectiously, reporting joys at finding this or that way to circumvent destining bits of life to the trash. She dutifully takes her own cloth produce bags to the grocery store, buys meat at butchers who do not use plastic and has located a bamboo toothbrush which is kind to the environment. N. is committed to the cause but is not ideological. She sometimes breaks her own rules, does not preach her lifestyle, but rather lives it winsomely. She is not in your face about it but makes public choices that signal a different set of values. In a way, she is living out what would be an attractive paradigm for any who are trying to alert others to an alternate lifestyle. Hers is not a coercive, inhumane nor dogmatic approach to a lifestyle change; she leads by attraction rather than shame.

My wife and I are proud of her efforts in this, as are her sisters. In small – and sometimes large – bits we have all taken up the cause in some fashion or another. For a time now, we have pretty much reduced our garbage to food wrapping; our green bin takes care of that which was once destined for landfills and recycling takes over most of the rest. Of course, we are not naïve about this, aware of investigative journalism that has tracked examples of restaurants and such that simply trashed what had landed in refill bins. We know that there are errors and deceits in the world of recycling. But still, this trash-less life is more than a choice about how to be in the world, but also an invitation for how to see the world: as worthy of the deepest care we afford this beloved earth, a gift of God.

We have been trying, in small ways, to lessen the amount of garbage we send to the curb. We try to avoid massive packaging but that is not always easy. Hard choices need to be made often, too often. Part of the problem, it seems is the big box reality that makes quick, daily trips to a local grocer outside of the reach of most. Instead we have to travel across town to acquire what we need and in so doing buy more and more that is deeply packaged. We have been chatting a bit recently around the dinner table about the older days when plastic was not ubiquitous. Memories of paper-bags for groceries as well as the pink paper meat wrapping have taken my wife and me to our childhood. This memory, for example, just this last Saturday inspired me, when buying some fish at the local store, to forgo the plastic bag around my paper wrapped fish. The other day I put my zucchini in my grocery cart without the requisite piece of plastic to protect a skin that I will wash and peel in either event.

I am intrigued by the commitment of many young people on this and like fronts. When I was their age I concerned myself with the most trivial of things. Many of the youth and young adults I know are open to the world and engaged in justice, and for that I am glad. While our contributions and theirs may be incremental, the reach of our actions are far when we live simply with integrity and in joy. Faith communities have much to learn from young activists on this front. May their tribe increase!!

Sacred You

The world is scarred, and
its people bleed; their
tears stain oceans. Earth’s
skin is torn; hope
evaporates. Dreaming
reverts again to nightmared
sleep that leaves, that left
both Mother and child bereft.

 

And yet You come, You
Healer of our Every Ill, You
Balm in Gilead, in Syria, in Ecuador, in Attawapiskat –
rippling across globe like
pebbled waves – as dogged as
spring’s march, sap’s flow, universe’s expanse.

 

You kiss this scar we are
and etch beauty across pain.
You come to us again.
You come.
You.

Charmed Again

I send this missive from Copenhagen, where I am on route from a conference in southern Denmark. I arrived here yesterday and leave tomorrow, and so the day afforded me the opportunity to do a little looking about. This is not the first time I have been to Copenhagen, a city I find to be utterly charming. This morning I made my way to Marmorkirken, a dome marble church across from the Royal Palace. The music was beautiful, and the service meaningful even though my Danish is less than elemental. Today is All Saints Day, and taking communion at a half round altar rail (whose other half extends into eternity, where it is attended by those we remember today) is always a powerful experience. I then went to the Danish Jewish Museum, where I learned a bit more about the incredible (and successful) efforts of the Danish people to protect Jews during the Second World War. Late in the afternoon I took a train ride to the Swedish city of Malmö, not so very far from Denmark and had a lovely walk and meal before returning.

The conference that brought me to Denmark was entitled “Luther from the Subaltern –the Alternative Luther.” Scholars from around the world spoke to themes either neglected in Luther studies or to new challenges that emerge in studying Luther today. My modest contribution addressed the manner in which the earth and its well-being were especially important to Luther and provide us with a meeting place for him and our contemporaries as we consider ecological concerns. I thought of that as I returned from the railway station and passed an electric charging station for cars. Increasingly people are mindful of the need to tread the earth carefully, which is somewhat easier in a place like Copenhagen. Major parts of downtown are car free, and so you see a plethora of bicycles and many people on foot. The public transit is to die for and unsurprisingly people are generally more fit. Of course, to some degree, Copenhagen and like cities are beneficiaries of wise planning in the past and careful contemporary regulations. Rules about the height of new buildings in the city core, and a concerted effort to keep historic buildings beautiful and functional make for a very fetching city.

When I returned from my train trip, I was going to read in the hotel, but the siren call of the city had me out again. It is rather like an affectionate cat wrapping itself around your leg; begging you to pet it (cat haters please insert an appropriate dynamic equivalent here). The city is inviting, well-run and simply fun to be in. It strikes me that the success of the Danes in design might not be unrelated to their living in well-designed cities. Our environment shapes us, and we shape it as well, which brings me back to Luther. In the mid-20th century there was a school of Luther research in Scandinavia that spoke of Luther’s interest in creation and created matter, asserting that it held as much importance for him as redemption. If we read Luther as if all he offers us are insights into the soul then that is all we will get. But if we anticipate that he has interest in caring for the earth too, we might well find some fodder for future reflections. Luther can’t do our theological work for us, but he can give us tools to attend to our relationships with God, one another and the world as well – a world that includes not only natural beauty, but charming urban space too.

We Are Party to this Intoxication

We are all traversing

a whirling dervish:

earth in ecstasy,
madly twirling in
love, in
devotion, in
expectation. And
we are party to this
intoxication –
earth under us, earth in us,
earth our mother, earth our song.

Can you hear the music?

Can you hear her heart

beating a cantus firmus?

Will you be her melody?

Will you be her silence, her hymn?

Of Forests and Trees

The photo below chronicles an event of some significance on my neighbour’s lawn. This last spring he took out a very old, and weary maple tree from his front yard. It had reached the end of its days and was no longer much more than a tall stump with a few way-laid branches. We all were beginning to worry about its coming down at an inopportune time on a unfortunate car, or even person.

In early spring, an arborist took down the tree, ground out the stump, and planted some grass on the re-soiled spot. Alas, the effort seemed to be in vain, and so a few weeks ago my neighbour re-seeded the area. He has been hard at work trying to coax the grass to rise: alternately watering and watching with care. In the interim, a huge – and very healthy – maple in my front yard has been in the business of blanketing the neighbourhood with maple keys, those glorious little helicopter like things that float down. My tree is “sowing its wild oats” – yet cyclically. Every seven years or so the tree is a bit more libidinous than normal. This was one of those years. Our front lawn and driveway has been blanketed in keys in a manner akin to the fall flurry of leaves. Indeed, it is not only our lawn that has been so very blessed, but our neighbour’s as well. The other day he was laughing at the fact that even though he is rid of his maple, he still has maple work to do. I grinned awkwardly.

Just this last week, however, I grinned gratefully as, getting out of my car, I glanced out and looked upon my neighbour’s yard: what once was a bit of lawn with tenacious grass had become even thicker in green. But upon closer inspection, I realized that the lawn had, in part, become a forest of miniature maples. The picture below does not quite do it justice, that bit of the lawn is really vibrating with energy!

I’m not sure if our neighbour will choose to let one of these babies grow; if I were him, I would be sorely tempted. He certainly has many to choose from and the price is right. But he may have other plans for his yard, and the lawn mower may well spell the end of this canopy in miniature. In either event, I have been once again gob smacked by the ways in which earth’s fecundity sometimes appears formidable.

The green is rich in our yards these days, and colour is bursting forth in unexpected places bringing unrivalled pleasure. It is a beautiful world for those with occasion and willingness to engage it. Yet June is also a busy time for many, including me. Thankfully, this curio-canopy reminds me of the need to wrench myself away from the so many “important” tasks that rob me of both forests and trees. Jesus once told us to “consider the lilies of the field,” and may very well still be inviting us, too, to feel the trees between our toes.

IMG_5481 (2)

“The Reign of God is like this: it is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprout and grow even while the person knows not how it happens.” Jesus

Of Loam and Libation

Here, on earth

Your will is done, where

Your Reign will not come

without the

taste of dirt, the

smell of leather, the

sight of nests – mysteriously mingling tree, field, sky, death;

without the feel of skin on skin, on concrete, in water,

now warm, now cold.

 

In these You eschew

our sanctimonious platitudes,

our betrayals of uncertainty, and

when we despair, You come

in body broken

in blood poured upon us:

You a libation,

we the loam, the earth, the ancestors,

the terra not so firma, but trembling:

frightened, and tender, and ripe.

Sun Goes Dawn

Now I see.

My eyes fall into view

transfixed by earth’s ridiculous riches.

A warbler’s yellow wing slides across my eye’s orb

and a cardinal calls with a clarity stalling time so that I am

locked, mid-stride.  She echoes me through.

Thoroughly impoverished, my ears suddenly

burst with possibility:

now I hear – sharply – and the

sun rays me.