Walk around the Docks

This last Saturday I spend my day at the marina, in the august role of “Officer of the Day.” Our boat club requires 20 hours of volunteer service each summer, and being OOD is one way to fulfill this obligation.  Basically, you serve as ambassador should any transient boaters come in to stay overnight, or if reciprocal members from other clubs come for a time.  In addition to this, you are to walk the docks, looking for hazards and such, and answer questions people might have.  In my walk-about I generally end up helping people dock their boats, or help send some out on their adventures.

In my experience there are rarely visitors, but I spend a good bit of time chatting with this person and that.  It is a nice way to get to know people a bit more.  Folk often have a skewed idea of a “Yacht Club.”  In my experience, there are very few big expensive boats, but a lot of people sporting modest, 30 year plus sailboats 25 to 30 foot in length. 

On Saturday I chatted with a couple who down-sized in retirement, buying a smaller condo and a sailboat.  The also provide foster care, and currently attend to a six year old who has had brain cancer.  When the weather is right, they bring her aboard the stern of their backed in boat in her wheelchair, where she happily greets all walking by.  Another boat hosts a young man with down’s syndrome who greets me with measured enthusiasm.  Some folk here are chatty, some are taciturn, some are anxious to help and other are heavily pre-occupied.  In a way, the marina is the world.

I think that this OOD program outperforms its purported outcomes.  It allows us to get to know one another.  This is a gift of the first order. The practice of volunteering grants us the grace of encountering others to the end that we get to know our own selves.

Oddly enough, most of us would not serve as OOD aside from our need to volunteer 20 hours at the club.  Of course, some might say that these hours are not voluntary. But you can forgo the 20 hours and pay a bit more in your membership fees.  I am always amazed at how a small incentive to do what you should do results in a exponentially larger pay-back.  This is the economy of grace, the logic of service, one of the ways in which God works wonders in the world.

The sailing season is on the brink of winding down. I have dutifully finished by volunteer hours.  One might say that there is a carrot and a stick to my experience.  But more importantly, I note that both carrot and stick disappear when my experience illumines that other people aren’t hell (as per Sartre) so much as other people are health.

Including Green

When I was a child
I was told that
blood runs blue until
it spills in the air, where
it’s painted red. I’ve since
read that blood is not blue
but then when I view my veins,
I see green. Maybe my blood
Is tainted with envy or maybe
it’s enviro-blood, scouting out
ways to minimize my-its-our
carbon footprint, or maybe
it’s a sickly green, at sea in
seeing naught but ought, not yet
aware of freeing waves of grace
awash in every colour
including green.

In My Eye

A tongue of fire
rises from this candle
taller than two
others; brothers
flanking her. Their
tongues, their talk
lumine her. These three
enter me times two, then
become one in my mind’s eye.

I see my reflection in them:
flaming away I deplete each day
until I will be but one with You,
alight in Your eye – finally and fully
a human seen, as surely as
You have been a human being
aright in my eye.

In the Face of a Fireplace

Our fireplace is gas, a pane of glass
keeps me from reaching in and fiddling
with the fake flaming logs.

Piercing these logs are legs,
belonging to the coffee table,
between me and the fire.
The legs hold aloft another
sheet of glass, which slices me in half,
my reflection bifurcated
.
Each glass surface
reflects, refracts, and now
allows my eyes to see through –
if I sit just so.

God, too, is glass. Now I see
my face. Then I tilt my head and
I see grace, deeper than this surface,
which is, itself, sheer, evocative, apocalyptic.

Conversing with Trees

Here I sit, empty.
No poem comes to me.
Stirred, I go in search
of a verse to pluck.

But on what kind of tree does
a poem grow? Our garden
offers plenty of possibilities:
pine and oak,
beech and maple
spruce and hemlock.
Each one of these spirited trees is
ripe with grace and
rife with peace.

I settle, conversing with trees.
And even if no poem should arrive,
I’ll be succored by the sight of leaves aloft,
and trunks holding up the sky, my eye now
soaking in the chlorophyll filtered light,
inciting wonder, if not a poem.

A Sigh of Belief

You are ever
under siege, Your
mighty right hand
now wearied, and
Your left grasping
after a little rest –
but Sabbath seems
to escape You.

How will You renew
creation, Lord, when
You sit across from me
slumped in the chair
like a soldier about to
surrender?

And yet, Your eyes,
Your eyes still galvanize
in grace, and later when
I read Your latest missive
I am reminded that You
mind Yourself, and so us,
and I breathe a
sigh of
belief.

The Gift that Life is

Today I ran my first race since I was in high school, some 40 years ago. It was the 10 km MEC Trail Race at the Laurel Creek Conservation Area in Waterloo, ON. It isn’t the case that this is my first foray into running since high school since I have been a regular runner most of my life. I have always enjoyed jogging and tell people that running is meditative for me, giving me space to settle into my soul and enter into a kind of harmony with all about me. I experience running as prayer on legs.

So, why would I turn something seemingly sacred and scar it with competition and such? I can’t really say that I did this because I was hungry for a running community, although in this short venture into a competitive event revealed how people connect through a shared experience. I can’t really say I did this because I needed a goal to motivate my daily running. Running is a kind of gift onto itself for me, and so I have no need of external motivation to run. I can’t really say I did this because I have my eyes on qualifying for anything since I have no dreams of grandeur. Why then? There is something about a competition that invites one to transcend the self with others. In fact, the etymology of the word “compete” suggests that it means to seek, or go after (petere) with (com) others. In the company of others, I struggle with myself to become something more. The bible uses this motif to get at the life of faith when the author to Hebrews writes:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1,2 NRSV

Interestingly, the word for “race” in the Greek text is agon; sometimes translated as race, and at other times as contest, struggle etc. The word agon makes its way into English in the word agony. Agony, then, is a kind of contest in which we have occasion to try to find a way to best ourselves. But besting ourselves for the sake of bettering ourselves sometimes calls for others to aid us. I found that to be true this morning as my fellow racers prodded me to run a little harder, to be in the moment a little more clearly, and to breathe deeply into the joy of moving. Bettering ourselves isn’t only about shaving seconds off a lap time, but also about seeing movement, and breath, and oxygen as pure gift.

I find running to be an experience of transcendence. I suspect others find other activities with like consequence. This morning I found racing to be an experience of sacred agony. I suspect other have other ways into this holy gift. In either event, “laying aside every weight” is a call to lean into the moment with clarity, and conviction, and amazement at the gift that life is.

Hope in La Paz

My wife and I are just back from a trip to El Salvador with Habitat for Humanity. We were helping a family of three – a mom and her two young daughters – build their home in Zacatecoluca in La Paz. We were part of a team of eleven, ranging in age from 15 to older than 15. Our group consisted of seven women and four men, all from Canada. A couple of them spoke enough Spanish to help us along from time to time, mostly when we were away from our translator in down times. It was an amazing experience on many levels, and difficult to describe.

Sometimes people, upon hearing of the experience, praise me as if this was a self-less act, a kind of exercise in altruism. But that isn’t quite right. I got much out of this trip; more than I gave, I think. I met some amazing people, saw a marvellous land, made memories that will last a life time, and all in return for a handful of days of labour. I am tempted to say I came out ahead, but the experience reminded me that being with people in a common cause for good is not something that can be measured by comparing costs and benefits. I cannot say that I paid a certain number of hours of labour to accrue a benefit of a matching amount of joy. Sometimes the labour was the joy – as I experienced again that satisfaction that comes with exercising the body in meaningful work. And sometimes the joy of the comradery was a kind of a labour, a giving birth to hope, and meaning, and peace too. I learned anew that some experiences are not subject to calculations and financial accounting.

How do you put a price on young people expanding their world beyond their high school at home? How do you rate the joy of a grandmother seeing a future come together for her daughter and granddaughters? What is the value of a smile from local Habitat Volunteers, happy to see that they are part of a global movement, and not just labouring for housing justice all on their own in their backyard? What is net worth of watching an six-year-old Salvadoran girl teaching teen-age strangers-become-friends some basic Spanish? What kind of a value can you attach to the tears of volunteers and future home-owners as they say good-bye after an exercise in hope? This is a liquid that makes oil, and gold, and diamonds seem like the dross that they are. What matters at the end of the day is not what we have, but who we are and how we share who we are with others.

Jesus teaches us that it is more blessed to give than receive. I like that, but I am sometimes reminded that it is not always so clear when I am giving and when I am receiving. These two do not exist with sharp boundaries, to the end that I can calculate how much I gave and how much I received. Often, giving and receiving come and go together, hand in hand.

As I reflect on this trip, I am reminded that it is a remarkable gift when you encounter holy moments in which giving and receiving merge into a poignant joy. Will I do another build? Most certainly. Can I expect it to replicate what I experienced this time? I doubt it. Grace is a mystery and cannot be orchestrated. This last week I discerned a rich measure of grace in my encounters with people of hope in La Paz; in our team and our time together; and in the gift of being away, for a time, in the land of El Salvador, the Saviour.

h4h el salvador

Photo Credit: Gwenanne A. Jorgenson

Acutely Awake

Such a peculiar beauty – winter, a
crystal white world wedding
the dream of sleep and
soft light affording
luxurious insight.
Winter’s wisdom is
generous. It sees
beyond fault – sharp
edges softened by snow;
hard surfaces now
dancing under the
play of sun’s illumining rays –
now from this angle
now from that.
This season of sleep is a
time of grace; of being
acutely awake to
other worlds.

The Bridge Called September

There is a view from
the bridge called September
by which one can see
a road, calling
wayfarers to
turn onto it and so into
themselves:
curious,
brave and
trembling on holy ground.

Many have stepped
onto this path –
some singing,
some swearing,
most sweating –
but all who enter there
never see the world
the same again.

Some of us are given
the grace to walk for a time with
those on this journey. Do
not think I take it
for granted.

With each step of each pilgrim

my heart races and

my soul soars and

my mind burns at a hint of a future.