This Too Can Be Home

There is a sprig of hemlock,
Tsuga canadensis not Conium maculatem,
nestled in the round of our Advent
wreath; warmly wrapped by
lights of hope, peace, joy and love,
this gentle bough at home
in my home.

I pinch a bit of it for my nose and
I find myself transported to a
fragrant conifer forest. My
soul is sated and settled in the
womb afforded by four sister trees:
hope, peace, joy and love.

I look above and see tongues of fire
resting on these sacred silva beings:
I take delight in knowing that this too can be home.
I pinch myself and am transported back
to my living room, where the Holy
holds inner and outer as one.

Home is Where the Questions Are

Home is where the questions are:

My hearth now a why
My door a where
My window a who
My pen a how
My clock a when

And presently my oven is baking a future.

At our table we eat hope
but every now and then
I fail to attend to the time
and a bit of despair
is scorched in our
daily bread.

My pantry asks me about
my neglect, or sanity perhaps,
with no deluge of toilet paper, or
yeast, or pasta, or beans.
Gape-mouthed, I failed
to seize the day, or
the flour.

Home is where the questions are:

Why do we count angels on the head of pin while people die?
Why do we cast stones at those who think, who act differently?
Why don’t we break out in song, in dance, in verse at the fact that

home is where the questions are;

and questions are where the Answer is.

Family in the Rough

Today is family day in our neck of the woods. Family is variously received by folk, some having memories warm and inviting; others knowing little but rejection, suffering and such. My experience of family is rich, and for that I am grateful, but also mindful that finding a way to navigate hard experiences of family must be a lifetime task for those whose experiences have been so different from mine.

Beyond our positive and negative experiences of family, we have all seen different configurations of them – a point I remembered this weekend. Saturday afternoon we took some friends who were visiting out to St. Jacobs, and as we are wont to do, took them to the local Mennonite Visitor’s Centre. For those not in the know, the area in which I live is rich in Mennonite history, dating from the 1783 when these peaceable folk left territories south in order to escape what they feared might become warring expectations.

The Visitor’s Centre has a very well done short video introducing folk to Old Order Mennonites. There is a piece in the film pointing to the addition of Granny Suites on many Old Order homes, and an accompanying comment that children grow up with family all about them – including of course their grandparents. Often aunts and uncles would not be so very far away. The extended family was and is extensive and near. My children had a significantly different experience of family. Most of their family was and is some 4000 km west of where we live. Their experience of family has been radically different from mine, and mine from my Mother’s, for instance, who used to speak of her Grandmother living in their house. I used to see my Grandparents once a month or so, while my children saw theirs far less frequently, although their maternal grandparents most often spend a few weeks in our town in the fall and/or winter. So many families; so many configurations.

The Bible uses language of family to describe those who share in beliefs. Some theologians I deeply admire express reserve about the family motif in the bible, given the negative experiences some have had. They suggest that it is time to explore some new metaphors, or resurrect old and lost images. An important one discussed is that of friend. Christians assert that God in Christ calls us friends. Another popular motif is servant/slave: God has redeemed us from slavery to sin, death and the devil, not so that we might be footloose and fancy free, but that we might be bound to Love. So many metaphors; so many possibilities.

It seems that families, like metaphors, are diverse and wonderfully made. Let me invite you, on this family day, to think about who your family is and why God has put these people in your life and you in theirs. Think too about the gifts of friends and co-workers, and the different ways in which they, too, can be family for 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.

Step by Step Home Ownership

Yesterday my lovely wife and I rebuilt the steps for our back deck. We constructed them just last fall, before the snow flew, but we knew as soon as we put them in place that something was amiss. We also knew that it would have to wait till spring, which was of small concern since we don’t use our back deck much in the winter. The weather, now warm, invited us to come and make good on our promise.

It was a splendid day for a constructing job. Neither of us are carpenters. My wife has the knack and I have the muscles but together we make only a portion of the real deal. We enjoy doing projects from time to time, and unlike some couples, work together rather well. Even so, despite having some degree of self-confidence, like most home owners and handy men and women, we do not do jobs often enough to remember how to do things so as to get it right the first time. We always get it done, it just happens by way of a circuitous route. The wrong sized screw, or a missing tool, or the wrong color of paint will send one or the other of us back to this store or that. Usually we book double the time it really ought to take, and it takes us double the time we booked. But yesterday was a good day to double your time outdoors. The sun shone, with that strange April light that comes of a sun higher in the sky, with no leaves to filter it and little green to soak it up when it hits the ground. It was a bright day, but not hot, and thus refreshing. So, off came the steps.

Because we were without steps for most of the afternoon, my wise wife figured out a way to hop up onto our deck using a deck chair. I tried the same, and to my chagrin, discovered that my weight upended a chair that quite happily held hers. No harm was done, but I had the happy chance to roll across the new patio we had installed (this by a professional!) last fall. It was this patio that occasioned the replacement of a very dilapidated stair. Soon railing will follow, and hopefully without any more falls to follow.

The day unfolded as it should, with some happy moments for self-reflection with coffee in hand as Mrs. J ran to and fro with hardware store tasks. It struck me that we both find a kind of satisfaction in knowing our blood (sometimes!), sweat (always), and tears (rarely) are important components that we have personally contributed to bits about our house. A kind of satisfaction comes in knowing that I am in what I now use. It isn’t just about pride, or economics, or learning something new – although some of all of these fit in the mix. It is more about a different kind of ownership, or perhaps stewardship – if you will.

Perhaps some of the joy I find in self-involving repair and renovation comes from it being a kind of practice of resistance against a plug and play world, replete with toss away conveniences, jobs and economies. It is also true, that a bit of work here and there, from time to time, allows us to “own” the home differently, with a bit of sweat equity that we gladly pay on fine spring day.