A Prayer after the Rain

Your kiss, God, lingers
in the rain rich air and
your damp lips
stay the day’s chaos. I
look hard for a bow of
promise in the sky,
but no and yet
clouds glimmer hope
with gilded edges
and
in the odour after the rain
I sense Your scent.

You, God, are
after the rain – I feel
your weight in wind’s caress,
wet with joy.

You, God, are in plants panting Your Breath
You, God, in this butterfly speaking hope
You, God, in that harried immigrant smiling love
You, God, in swell of wave, in surge of faith.
You.

Eden on Edge

Today the sky slipped me a secret.

She opined that

I will know no joy

apart from hearing

swans’ wings beating as Bach

aside from seeing

wave wrestling wave

without smelling

fresh baking kissing coffee

and tasting

salt on skin

feeling

flesh shiver at the intuition of

whirling oaks
and burning bush
and Eden on edge.

A Little More Future in the Pipes

The big tractors are getting closer. Our portion of the street is about to be ripped up, as has already occurred further down the way. We learned of this necessary exercise last year, and have been dreading it ever since. As crews rip out old water and sewer pipes and replace them, mud supplants roads and water lines are displaced by temporary fittings into exterior water hose receptacles. There are new things to trip over on our street!

My father-in-law was chatting with one of the workers the other day, who informed him that the sewer pipes being removed are made from asbestos. I was somewhat taken aback, knowing that asbestos calls for hazmat suits: the school where I work is undergoing renovation these days and working through some asbestos abatement. Asbestos, it seems, is something of a sleeping dragon; once disturbed great problems follow and so this removal of asbestos and replacement of pipes is a good thing, an exceedingly good thing, in fact! So, despite the street getting ripped apart like a piece of cloth being shredded, in due course the street will again be whole with new “veins” worming their way below the skins of asphalt.

In the midst of all of this, another bit of good news is that the uproar has neighbour talking with neighbour. My wife has often lamented the manner in which winter sometimes locks people in their homes. With spring people begin to enjoy one another’s company, and with the activity on the street we now have opportunity to query what the city or the construction firm has been up to. Not only is the street being remade, but so is the shape of the community.

These days, as I wander around the civic mess of my street, the constant noise of equipment is a reminder that things are changing, as they should. Work is advancing, and just today a husky man with a thick Scottish brogue stopped by to give us parking passes that will allow us overnight parking on a handful of streets near us, which we will need when the tractors are at the end of our lane.

We look forward to a new street, and the realization that our asbestos days are receding. In the meantime, we will drive carefully, chew the fat with our neighbours and try to enjoy the knowledge that there is a little less asbestos in the ground and a little more future in the pipes.

Easter in Mondays

I remember, some years ago reading a very fine book by Nicolas Lash entitled “Easter in Ordinary,” which referenced “heaven in ordinary” from a poem by George Herbert (entitled “Prayer (I)”). The point of the book and poem both was that Easter shaped experiences of grace sometimes surprise us in the seasons named “ordinary.” For those not conversant in church-speak, those are the times of the year not dedicated to seasons such as Christmas, Easter, Lent etc. Seasons ordinary are exactly that, and so the poet points to the surprising character of Easter insights in ordinary time.

I have always been a fan of ordinary time, but even more so a fan of ambiguous time. “Ambiguous time” is not a liturgical designation, and as far as I am aware, is a term I have invented. I will happily hear of evidence to the contrary. At any rate, ambiguous time points to those days not quite ordinary, but neither extra-ordinary. I think, in particular, of Boxing Day, or Easter Monday. These are days that live in the shadow of the big days, and so seem even less ordinary than ordinary time, which has taken some distance from High, Holy Days. In a way, Easter Monday, is exceptionally ordinary to the extent that it stands back so that Easter might have its full sway.

But for foragers of the divine in the rough, Mondays such as this – and in fact all Mondays as the day after Sundays, which are known liturgically as a little Easters – are rich in retrospect and relief. Retrospect because such days are days set aside to mull over what occurred the day before, and relief (as in rest but also in the artistic sense of the word, that is something cut away so that something else comes to the fore) because these are days that step back so that Sundays shine, and Easter Sunday in particular.

What was this Easter Monday for me? This Easter Sunday gave me the second opportunity in a two years to spend the Easter weekend with one of my daughters in their towns: last year in Halifax and this year in Ottawa. Easter was doubly out of the ordinary, then, giving me occasion to experience worship in a different church, meals at different tables, and yet a familiar joy at the narrative of new life and the hymnody of deep and abiding hope.

Easter Monday, by contrast, was spent back at home and doubly ordinary – allowing me to recall that the gift of being outside my familiar surroundings long enough to appreciate them, and short enough to pine for these days away to return. Easter Monday was not quite sorrowful, yet wistful in a good way; that is, it announced a longing for such days to return in times ordinary as well. Easter Monday, it seems, gave me and gives us just enough distance from Easter Sunday to remember that it was gift, and yet there is an equally profound gift in Mondays themselves, in that they serve as a bridge to the week by providing a little distance, a little space, a little bit of ordinary mixed in with their holy to make it possible to be in awe that the Word made flesh can be heard well in the vernacular and in ambiguous times.

Something in the Empty

Boxes everywhere, and
all emptied save for
air, now a cypher
for hopes both
disappointed,
and fulfilled.

“The day after,” too,
is sacred with rattled
bows unleashing oceans of
questions asking after
what we will.

These empty boxes
hold a potent
absence and are a
mirror of
sorts inviting us
to peer
into the void where
we finally
glimpse our desire.

Amidst this disarray of
Boxing Day, order may
well evade us, but meaning
presses hard against the
dis/content; there
is something in
the empty.

Hope is Where the Heart Is

Winter arrived while we were away last weekend. We left Kitchener while the grass was yet green, but came back to 10 cm or so of snow on the lawn. This was doubled yesterday, and weather reports advise more of the same over the next few days. It’s looking like this year will be rather unlike the last, which was devoid of snow. I am happy for this, a thought discussed by my wife and I the other night on our drive home after curling. We both like our winters here. We grew up in Alberta, where the cold can be quite a bit more severe. Here there is more snow, less cold and a shorter winter. This seems amiable to us. We like four season, but are happy to avoid extremes. It is likely that our distant ancestors, from Scandinavia and environs, knew weather more like ours than that of our childhood.

We wondered what those first winters must have been like for our families – more accustomed to Danish, Western European and coastal Norwegian winters – arriving on the prairies with its sharp winters. Still, they survived and even thrived. Humans are resilient creatures, and hope for a better life pulls us through situations of all sorts. Hope is a hardy virtue.

During our last week in class, we had occasion to talk of the nature of hope, and its relation to doubt. I spoke of Paul Tillich’s insistence that certainty, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. This seed feel solidly in a few souls in class, and so I began to see some fruit here and there in term papers. Some students spoke, quite eloquently I might add, of their liberation in hearing this concept – new to them. One, in particular, wrote of how it helped her feel at home in her skin and make sense of scripture that was once obtuse to her. Giving a little room for not-knowing was freeing for her. I spoke recently to another student, of Rahner’s “Faith in a Wintry Season,” that speaks to the surprising persistence of faith in times that one might imagine capable of extinguishing it. Winter, was for him, a metaphor for those occasions that test faith true. Maybe that is why I am so warm on winter.

On the other hand, I am not so fond of the certainty I see in some adherents of faith. I am all for confidence, but confidence is located in the Divine while certainty, it seems, lands on the doorstep of the self. Winter is a season that points us to the Other and others. The other day, to illustrate, while snow-blowing our drive way, and the sidewalk on our half of the block, I saw many of my neighbours out assisting theirs in this way or that. Winter presses us to the necessity of looking out for the other. It is a season that announces our need, and nothing is as friendly for faith as need.

Shakespeare’s “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York” points us to summer’s reprieve, but while we travel still in this winter season, we do well to let our eyes follow the soft contours of snow on snow on snow, on branches ever green. Under this wintry blanket we find that hope that does not disappoint. Hatred may rage, but hope stills us; spite alienates but faith enfolds. And in our wintry faith we find time for being , for being still, and for still being hopeful.

Faith at Niagara Falls

The week before last I spent three days in Niagara Falls. I wasn’t there to see the falls, visit the casino, or frequent the various and sundry quirky stops on Clifton Hill. I was there for a meeting of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission. The purpose of the Commission is to monitor the Waterloo Declaration, outlining the intention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada to live in full communion.

This is a committee whose members regularly comment on the deep satisfaction they get from this work. I have been a member for some 8 years. It is a great group and our twice annual meetings are rich indeed. For the last few years we have met in Niagara Falls, chosen for its economic efficiency vis-à-vis travel. In many ways it is an odd choice, with its crass commercialization around one of the most beautiful of nature’s wonders. Yet I regularly find these meetings spiritually enriching, in part because of the group and in part because we meet at the Mt. Carmel Spiritual Centre, a monastery of Carmelite order, which serves as an ecumenical retreat centre. The folk there are so very hospitable, and the food is to die for.

20161104_085039-2

I learned, this time around, that the Centre is in the midst of developing vineyards: the one seen above and another 7 acres vineyard elsewhere. In due course wine will be available for purchase. This is, of course, a longstanding tradition for monastic communities and a part of its plan for long term sustainability. Yet, learning about it buoyed me in a way. We hear much about the demise of the church in North America in general, and in Canada in particular. But the Carmelites are committed to their vision of setting aside space for sacred contemplation, giving the kind of physical room for spiritual discernment within a stone’s throw of Canada’s version of Las Vegas. I find this most amazing and hopeful.

People in my circles are generally rather jaded about Niagara Falls. I understand this, but whenever I am there, I take leave from the Centre most evenings for a walk down to the falls. The City really is commercial in the worst sense of the word. But whenever I get to the falls proper, I am awed by the majesty of water reminding me of my impermanence. I am always intrigued, as well, by the wall to wall wealth of ethnic diversity chronicling their visit to this otherworldly place: orthodox Jews alongside hijabbed women, followed by busloads of Japanese tourists.

During this last visit, the weather was rather miserable and so my walk along the Niagara Parkway was untypically quiet. Against the dull roar of the water and the patter of the rain the absence of jostling was marked. In some ways it was dull, but differently so in that hope settled as the hype of capitalism receded. The rain washed the excess away for a bit, and I had opportunity to see the falls anew. Hope emerged, perhaps hastened in part, by the realization that spiritual renewal can happen alongside of our most desperate efforts to improve upon nature – a lesson learned from the Carmelites.

The Carmelites know well that hope feeds prayer, and prayer grows hope. They are resolutely committed to this vision in the midst of one of North America’s most desperate attempts to sell the beauty that is freely given. These have been days in which heartening and hope is sorely needed. It has been good for me, this last week, to remember Mt. Carmel, and to know that God’s reign surely comes.

20161102_220946-2