About Right

For those of us who live north of the Equator, in climes in which water freezes in winter months, now is the season of preparing boats on the hard. “On the hard” for those who may not know the language of sailors and such, is the antonym to “in the water.” It is, indeed, a sweet season.

Yesterday my wife and I were down doing a little work on Santa Maria. Last month I put in a new water tank since the last one was filling the bilge as fast as I could fill the tank. Water issues have shown up in other places as well, and so my wood-worker wife opted to rebuild a couple of walls that had been ruined. She works wonders, and her carpentry skills were put to task. Yesterday we put these walls in place. She also plans on varnishing the hatch boards, which we have been staining, and while she cut a temporary hatch (so we could take the regular boards home) I cleaned the hull.

I like cleaning the hull. It brings me a deep joy. When my mother (whose blessed memory I honour today!) had me clean anything as a child, I would never have described the experience with the word “joy.” But yesterday I found myself grinning as I wiped away a winter’s worth of grime. As I washed and polished, I wondered about this pleasure: why this joy? Perhaps it is because I do so much work that brings so few concrete results that I see. Perhaps it is because the action itself is a cypher signalling changes in the season. Perhaps it is because I simply enjoy being outside, or the gentle curve of the boat, or the back and forth with my wife. It is probably all of these and more. But as I worked I thought a little bit about the gift of physical labour: how it puts us in touch with our bodies, how it teaches the gift of patience and perseverance, and how it reminds us that those who preceded us knew nothing of the many luxuries we take for granted. There was no heat without wood being hewn, and no food without laboured fields and snare set trails and animal husbandry. Of course, food is still worked for but most of us are distant to the physicality of this truth.

But to return to the mystery of my smile, above all I think this task takes me back to my parents, who valued hard work and meant to teach their children that it is a gift. Of course, I do not want to sentimentalise labour – remembering that many ache from bodies broken by harsh conditions. But still, I am happy for the occasion to remember those who tried to teach me to find some pleasure in work, and so to know that sweat on the brow can be a blessing as well as a curse.

As I caressed Santa Maria with water I imagined the one, after whom the boat is named, caressing her own beloved child, and finding joy in her work. Then I thought on God too, who most certainly – from time to time – cleans this ship that we are, and so I imagined God with a gracious grin and wet hands and a deep joy, and that seems to me to be about right on Mother’s Day.

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.

Without Pause

It is best, I
think, to write
without pause; to
push pen to paper and
spill its ink before
this wand betrays
its sacred task and
mine too.

Pens cannot
sin – exactly – but
they can be lazy and
so it is mine to call
it to its task:
to summon it to its joy
to raise it up for its occasion
to rid it of its insufficiencies,
which are finally naught
but lies it
tells itself and
sometimes me
as well.

Christus Insurrexit

“There is no rest that
can feign innocence – every
pause a cause
for alarm.”
 
And from the above,
Love looks upon
us crucifying ourselves
in this refusal to breathe; and
beckons us to recall that ours
is to ponder verbs
in the way of
peace.
 
Not so very far
from here rivers of
beauty flow, yet I often
pass them by – but yesterday
a child leapt into my arms and
we became a compass
oriented by joy and
laughter and play:
insurrection.

After Rumi

“You are song.”
Each of you – you are song.

Your breath: God

breathing you;

your stillness: God

stilling you;

your quest: God

filling you.

 
Your life is light birthed from earth
your sleep is snow blanketing the dark
your laughter lights stars and
your kiss caresses death to life.

You are song, sung
by God to joy the world.

Coveting Joy

As the twelve days of Christmas draw to a close, our family slowly but surely makes its way back out into the world.  For a week and a bit, my two youngest daughters have been home from universities afar, and with their arrival my eldest, who lives not so very far away, has been frequenting home.  Of course, offspring often bring friends in tow, and so Friday three extra mouths were at table giving us eight instead of our usual two, and yesterday we had seven at table.  It is fun to have more feet around the house, more eating at the table and more laughter in the living room.  It is always a delight to have our children home again.

 

Yesterday our youngest asked for one of my watercolour paintings to take back to her apartment.  We pulled out an art file with paintings spanning our years as a family.  It was fun to reminisce as we looked again upon images I made in Northern Alberta, Toronto, here in Kitchener and while on holidays.  We were transported briefly back to earlier times.  It was also interesting to see my painting style shift and change, with an innovation tried for a bit and then discarded, as well as constant themes that interested and interest me still: skies, water, horizons.  The two girls who were here each grabbed what struck them and that made me glad.  It is nice to imagine a piece of me in their apartments.

 

I am a little sad knowing that they will soon be winging their way back to their lives, but this too is how it should be.  Leaving is a part of life: we leave the womb, we leave the safety of our parent’s laps, we leave grade school and on and on.  This is the cycle of life and while we sometimes want to hold some moments hard we also know that other moments are hell and the cycle serves us well in giving us distance from these.

 

It is a New Year, and so I am not altogether surprised that I am a little wistful.  While 2015 was a good year, it also held some disappointments and even tragedies for those near us.  Tragedies, of course, are contagions and  spread their darkness.  But joy too is infectious, and so it is good at year’s end to recall moments of rejoicing: delicious laughter and poignant peace, the gifts of reunions, and sharp prairie skies as well as sheets to the wind with water spraying over the deck and washing a kind of timelessness over “busy-wounds.”  It is good to remember those holy moments when we recall how small we are and yet find ourselves cradled in a palm of compassion knowing that we are, as Pastor Anne so gladly shares at work, “more than enough, so much more than enough.”  There is peace in cracks and joy in shadows; there is hope in losses and love in misses.   2016 will be what it will be and hold what it holds, but we are invited to enter the year with eyes wide open and hands to the plough.  There will be opportunities to create memories to reflect upon joyously a year from now – as tonic for griefs that come without our bidding.  I covet a year of great joys for each of you, and pray God’s winding way into your paths.