Roots in You

Trees cannot walk, unlike
homo erectus now sapiens.
But our silva relations
are stars at standing still,
the sine qua non for
paying attention.

Simone Weil once wrote:
“attention is the rarest and purest
form of generosity,” so making of trees
exemplars – always giving
shade and sap
breath and beauty
warmth and wood.

Posing like a tree
demands more of me
than I first imagine:
balance, humility, serenity
and finally, roots in You.

Being at Home, Being Away

I am just now home. I went to Alberta, my home province, last Wednesday for a church convention and then I took advantage of the travel to visit some family members these last few days. It is always an interesting experience to travel “home.” While I was at the convention I spoke with a couple of people – one who was originally from France and the other from the Philippines – who spoke of the odd feeling of having resided in two different countries and feeling as if you really belonged in neither. I’m not quite sure that this describes the experience of living some 4000 kms away from your home town yet in the same country, but it might approximate it.

In some ways going back to Alberta is and always will be a homecoming. This is the province of my birth, youth, marriage, and the birth of my children. Moreover, people I love are buried here and so there is land there that is, in a fashion, holy to me. Yet it is no longer my province. Much has changed since I left some 14 years ago. Ontario is home, and yet my roots here are only 18 years deep. I am a sapling in this province, and so find existence here a bit more tenuous – not in the sense that I worry about my health, a roof over my head, or having food in my cupboard but in the sense that calling this place home seems more like a wager, more a gesture than a hard fact.

In a way, I feel spread across the country. I am sure many have felt this way and can better explain it than me. But it seems that this stretch is of a piece of my identity. I am quite certain that it is utterly unlike the experience of immigrants in many ways, but oddly enough, it also reminds me of my immigrant origins – having a mother born in Europe and paternal grandparents from Europe as well. My people are from away and I am from away even while I stay in the country: dislocation is where I dwell. I think this a good thing. A sage from an earlier time tells me and those with ears to hear that the faithful are ever foreigners and aliens. Being a guest is my vocation. I am “rooted” in the hospitality of others, an experience revisited time and time again at the convention.

The theme of our convention was “Liberated by Grace.” As we pondered this theme, many speakers reminded us that liberation is found in our experience of being freed to serve; in our experience of reciprocating the gift of hospitality with generosity. We pondered how this grace catches us unaware in the embrace of a circle, in the beat of a drum and in the song of the land. We remembered that returning the gifts encountered on this land with generosity is simply “grace upon grace.” Giving itself is a gift and so, we are blessed in discovering ourselves at home in serving others.

Hoarding’s End

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now” Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, p. 78.

This is not only good advice for writers, but for all artists, for scientists, for believers, for all.

Some of us hoard our way through life:  waiting for the right moment, the right person, the right opportunity to give.  But that tendency is at cross purposes with a true gift – at least a spiritual gift.  A spiritual gift comes unbidden from a spiritual giver who is not looking for a perfect person, but a person in need.  When need announces itself it is time to give: a word, a picture, a gesture, a hug, a hope.  Now the astounding thing about giving gifts in this key is that the giver gets more than she gives.  Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and we can only imagine that he spoke from experience.

Of course our experience isn’t only that it is hard not to hoard, but it is also exceedingly hard to receive (taking, of course, is much easier).  To receive, to receive the blessing that attends generosity’s upending of parsimony, that is difficult indeed!  We are embarrassed by the wonders that wind their way to us when we give.  It may be more blessed to give than receive, but it is surely more humbling to receive than to give!  Yet the paradox is that when we give, we receive and so find ourselves in face of the realization that we were truly poor when we hoarded.

Give.  Truly this affords us a richer life – but it comes at the cost of being counter cultural. After all, many voices announce scarcity as the state of affairs in our world.  Yet the astounding testimony of those who visit the so called “two thirds world” is that those who have the least give the most.  Those who have next to nothing know that what sustains us in times of trial is community and community comes by sharing: our goods, our words, our wonder, our fear, our faith.

How might you move beyond a posture of hoarding this week?  Will you dare to share a poem with a friend?  A meal with a stranger?  A hug with someone who hurts?  “Give it.  Give it all.  Give it now.”

Literacy Daze

September 8 was International Literacy Day (www.bit.ly/U3ogeU).  Not everyone celebrated.  Yesterday I was speaking with a friend whose child cannot read without difficulty despite having graduated from high school.  He is orally articulate.  He is clever, delightful, and passionate.  He just can’t read well and he writes worse.  His story is rehearsed by many.  What gives?

It is hard to say.  Many things can go wrong: health, education, socio-political instability, gender discrimination, ADHD, etc.  Yet one thing is certain: a will to change the situation can make a difference.  It begins with the recognition that the ability to read and write is a right not a privilege.  In our culture, illiteracy is a sentence to poverty.  We all need to do all we can to ensure that every human being has access to schools, teachers, books and the freedom to learn.

My daughter Corin recently spent two and half weeks with Free the Children (www.bit.ly/S0KvAk) building a school in Kenya.  This experience enabled  her (and her fans) to understand anew the depth of the lesson that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Jesus).  By giving we get, and when we give others the opportunity to read we receive the gift of reading anew.  We read with new eyes.  Helping others to read helps us to read.  Time and time again we learn that generosity never leaves us impoverished.  This truth doesn’t just apply to money, but to skills, talents, and passion as well.

Maybe this week will afford you the opportunity in some small way to help others learn to read.  Maybe you can volunteer at a school, or donate to a worthy cause, or give your employees the gift of time to read in honour of this day.  The day might be behind us, but future is before us and helping others to read and write is always right.

Seize the day.  End the daze.  Give the gift of reading.

Corin is the tall blond on the right.
Photo Credits:Taleesha Thorogood