Marking Market Day

I made my way yesterday morning to our local farmer market. The goal was to buy some tomatoes for canning. I had a bushel in my sights. Along the way I gathered some goose paté, a half-bushel of apples, Emmental cheese and a piece of Gjetøst. This latter is an especially marvellous find, being a Norwegian cheese not in our supermarkets. I bumped into some friends and we chatted for a time. They told me that they are there every week because the market is where they source their bread. I don’t have that excuse since I make our bread, using a recipe given me by my father-in-law. All the same, visiting the market could be an easily acquired habit; with violins and such humming around a variety of vendors. There is something intoxicatingly humane about a market. Things are scaled differently. Everything is weighed and priced in parcel sized pieces. There are no gross quantities of anything and if I am too slow to take it up, the last New York Times escapes my grasp. For some strange reason I find this comforting. I look people in the eye and they smile back.

I was also on the hunt for Weisswurst, a heavenly German sausage. As I walked around a corner in the indoor part of this market, I saw two young traditional Mennonite children playing at the window on my left, looking out on the world their tradition so carefully navigates. My eyes went right, where Mom and Dad were engaging customers and attending to their nicely stacked counter of organic vegetables, all the while keeping an eye on both Sohn und Tochter. I felt a smile escape me. I turned another corner and a student from school happened past me, and we shared a quick hi on the fly.

Eventually I made my way to the corner where tomatoes were on offer. I landed a bushel and felt both of my shoulders burn with happy burdens. I happened upon a young woman playing the cello with a generous smile on her face. Her cheerfulness was entirely gratuitous, since my hands that would have otherwise gladly applauded her efforts with cash were clearly and utterly occupied. It struck me that she might well be smiling because she enjoyed what she was doing. About half way to the car I passed a young man heralding the the gospel with brochures en français, a seemingly incongruous fact given that an eastern European, or perhaps a tongue from the African continent is more likely to be encountered. But then I remembered that those speaking this latter might also converse in our other official language in their native lands. I happily meandered to my chariot.

Every once in a while, for a blink of the eye or the inhalation of a breath, all seems well with the world. Yesterday morning I had one such moment. I have learned to embrace such instances even while knowing that razored security walls are being erected around the world, and people are finding the mouths of sharks preferable to places they used to call home, and immigrants are being demonized in our midst. It is good to remember that this walk in a market of plenty was what my paternal Grandparents and my maternal Opa and Oma hoped for their Kindern and our generation and so on. It is good, every once in a while, to stop and breathe in the gift, knowing that others paid hard prices for our smiles. And so we smile even while sighing a prayer for still burdened souls.

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.

Being Red, Being White

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Today we celebrate Canada Day.  I’ve always loved this holiday.  I’ve celebrated it in many and various places, but perhaps one of the most memorable was last year’s festivity.  For my readers with a little longer history with me, you may recall that last year I was in Norway at this time of the year, making my way with five other pilgrims from Dovre to Trondheim.

 

We were all Canadians, and I recall that at one point in the day, we dropped our packs, raised our voices  and belted out “O Canada” in a Norwegian meadow on the side of a mountain.  It was a memorable moment, touching even.  In some ways, this moment recapitulated the enigmatic character of  pilgrimage – in its various guises.  People in pilgrimage studies have studied the why, the how, the where, the who and the when of pilgrimages.  But to tell the truth, this pilgrimage was as much circumstantial as by design.  The invitation just came at the right time, and my wife and I had enough interest, and the bank account gave us a thumbs up, and so we went.

 

 

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But our going, at least my going, was something of an internal journey: some making sense of my DNA.  Where is the locus of my people – or at least half of them.  What did they leave behind?  Why did they go?  Did they ever want to return?  Alas, so many of my questions remained unanswered, yet attenuated by the stubborn beauty of this land called Norway.  We did learn of the difficult economic time at the end of the 19th Century that had ripple effects for many years.  We learned of the impossibility of finding enough land for a house full of children.  Of course, I also knew of the attractive – if not quiote honest – images being used on posters to encourage immigrants to the prairies.  Pictures of buxom young women (blond of course) in front of acres and acres of wheat bordered by vineyards.  Little did those young Norwegian men know that they would end up on a prairie in sod huts with land requiring back breaking work.  And as for the young women?  Some were lucky in love, but others not so much.

 

Immigration is hard work.    Immigrants have to navigate how to fit in, what are appropriate social cues etc.  And yet immigrants still come.  They often hope to escape the very real possibility of death by war or interrogation or targeted hatred.  In others cases, like that of my grand parents, they were simply looking for a place to call home.  As we sang “O Canada” in that Norwegian dale, I knew that Norway was not my home, but I also recognized as a second generation Canadian that my people are fresh on the land, still learning what comes by second nature to the First Nations of this continent.

 

Canada Day is a day for Canadians to consider the gift it is to be hosted by generous First Nations, but it is more.  It is an invitation to return hospitality to those coming from afar.  It is good to be the stranger – even on a Norwegian mountainside – so that I, so that we, can practice the radical hospitality and infectious joy that marks the way of the One whose way I follow.  Dear Canadians, take time this day to recall what brought your people to this place, and try to imagine the feelings of those wondering if they will ever fit in, and if so, how.  Take some time today, or in the next few, to become what you have enjoyed: grace, hospitality, and an ease with the land.  Happy Canada Day all!