Turtles in Pink

The water is glacier green in this lake called Pink.
Three turtles graced our field of vision as we
traced its circumference. This lake
tells the tale of a day when sea
covered what is now
trees and rocks and the history
that followed that flood.

I look around and see mystery:
people smiling at vistas,
fish at water’s edge,
sun blessing faces – and
joy arrives. It just does.

We work so hard to keep
death and sorrow at bay
that some days I wonder
whether we miss joy in
our striving… but joy
comes to us unawares: in
an unexpected call,
a smile that knows more,
an offer to help and
a willingness to be helped.

Joy comes in green and blue and turquoise.
Joy comes in the leisurely roll of a turtle,
turning my world round.

For the Weal of the World

Thursday saw Santa Maria make her way from the hard to the lovely and oh so wet Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario. COVID-19 complications meant that this was not a possibility last year, so it was especially sweet to see her land in the water.

For those who are not familiar with sailing in my part of the world, sailboats have to come out of the water because the lakes freeze, and fixed keel boats have keels thousands of pounds heavy, so a lift or a crane is used. Our marina rents a crane. It is quite the site to see things that float flying across the sky.

When she landed, I was near at hand, and jumped into the boat, started the engine as the pier crew moved my boat down the dock. Within some seconds she was ready to go, and the crew tossed the lead lines into the boat and I was off. It was a feeling… slipping across the water. Boats are mesmerizing. You cannot turn on a dime. There are no brakes. And the feeling of floating is unlike any other. Something stirred.

I didn’t grow up on the water. My mother was afraid of it, but my dad had been in the navy and while he rarely spoke of his experiences in the second world war, he sometimes talked with some enthusiasm about learning to sail as a part of their training. I suspect that some bits of my joy on the water are related to this. My paternal grandmother was from the west coast of Norway, and so it just might be that other bits of my joy come from blood. I’m not altogether sure but being on the water brings me a joy that I can’t quite describe.

I suspect most people have some place, or activity, or perhaps a time that finds them outside of themselves, drifting into the future, the past, the stories in our bones. These experiences are life giving and avoided at our peril. Alas, we too often fail to attend to these in our busyness. I truly feel that these experiences are divine gifts that feed our souls, our minds, and our bodies. Too often we imagine that only “holy” activities ground and grow our spirit. But all that is truly whole is holy, shaped by the Creator for the good of our humanity, and for the weal of the world.

Of course, these may well change and shift with time, but then again, so do we. I should note too that sailing is not the only activity that takes me to another place. Sometime art will do this, or music, or running. The Holy One has given us so many ways to stay alive. Receive these gifts for what they are: given for you.

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.

Walking down an Addis Street

my mind drifts, following
my eyes, now on a
pothole, now on a
building bending from sky
to ground, now on
beauty whisking across
the street with poise and purpose,
now on a row of toilets and sinks
and pipes for plumbing lives.
But then I see a little finger
swaddled in a mother’s
hand. And I think on
You and my soul
floats up to a
place where
I know
Love.

Deceptively Pedestrian

My walk home from church was unexceptional; aside
from the fact that I can walk and the street-
side tress cannot; and aside
from the fact that the sky
opened for a time and showed
me the divine eye: and aside
from the fact that the wind
whispered my name and the
horizon smiled at me; and aside
from the fact that the blessed
dead watched my every step,
counting each one and writing
them in ‘The Book of Strides’; and aside
from the fact that I remember angels
rambled round King Street, dressed
incognito – although their wings
left tufts of down under
this tree and round that bush.

My walk home from church was
deceptively pedestrian.

Full Stop

Your smile is firmly
entrenched in my mind’s eye
even while my heart’s
tongue tastes still Your tears,
salty and sweet both.

Yours is a lament that sings
to an air of promise.

Sometimes I hear You call
my name: now
in a dream, now
in a desire, now
in a drive to be
more fully me.

God, in this You find
me: heart pounding
at a full stop.

To Catch a Tear

The clock just chimed 5:00 am
and the neighbourhood birds
are singing the sun up,

and the sun coaxes the earth
to turn again and again and
again without end.

The chimes fill the house,
every corner penetrated by
morning’s evangel.

I sit in the basement and scribble
this poem while around the world

this tick accompanies a death;
that tock witnesses a birth.

The hands are on the face:
now in delight; now in lament;
now in laughter; now…

in time to catch a tear.

Running the Faith

Yesterday I entertained a luxuriously long run. I’ve been slowly working up to longer distances after 6 weeks away from jogging while on my most recent jaunt to Switzerland, and then India. I am happy to be working my way back up to my pre-travel fitness level. I walked as much as I could while away, and did a few exercises – a push-up here, a sit-up there – but now is the time to do a little catch-up.

I find running to be relaxing. I know that not everyone has this experience. But I find that I sometimes enter a Zen-like zone on the trail, something I’ve written about elsewhere. Jogging is pretty much meditation for me. I have a profound sense of God’s presence when I am running. I’m not at all surprised that the apostle uses a running metaphor to describe the spiritual life in 1 Cor. 9, although the idea of running to gain a prize isn’t altogether intriguing for me. Running is the prize, in my experience.

While on my most recent run I started thinking about running a marathon. Once upon a time, I was asked if I would ever do this, and I said no. At that time, I think the idea of the physical and time demand was a bit overwhelming. But now I find that I crave this time on the trail. I get lost in my thoughts, or perhaps my lack of thoughts. The idea of a marathon intrigues me because it will demand of me the sweet discipline of clocking in a significant number of kilometres each week in preparation. And so the idea of running a marathon marries the discipline of training and the experience of spiritual communion. I suppose it becomes, then, a spiritual discipline.

Spiritual disciplines are notoriously hard to define. It is easy to point to prayer, scripture, worship attendance etc. But I like an expansive definition, and readily include art, and conversation with friends, and walking, and baking, and running, etc. A spiritual discipline is an activity that promises a more intense awareness of God’s presence, although sometimes in the modality of a delayed gratification. There are so many ways in which I experience a more acute sense of the presence of God. To think that running has this benefit, as well as the joy of increasing one’s physical, emotion, and mental health too, is an amazing thing. But that is true, too, for other spiritual disciplines.

I am not absolutely certain that I will run a marathon this summer, but a seed has been planted. Perhaps the plant will be a surprise, but that’s the nature of grace, ever giving me joy in new and wonderous ways.

Eve and Adam

To learn more about runes, check out this site.

Eve,
today your
beauty was severe
as you sang the poetry of
trunks and branches runed,
and your face sparkled
with the blush of
first light.

Your breath spirited me
to this marvel of your
possessing me fully.
Here I fall ever
anew into you, into
your sacred site of joy.

I will not slip between
your fingers, but will cling
to you until that moment when
I finally and fully fall into death; and
until that days comes, I will
practice dying by coming
again and again to
the loam I am:
Adam.

Running Like a Fish

It has been an unusually mild winter in our parts – not much snow nor sun. These winters are utterly unlike those I remember as a child. This isn’t altogether surprising since I lived far west and north of my current location: now Southwestern Ontario, and then Central Alberta. I miss the sun but not the cold, although I find the weather feels warmer when there is snow on the ground.

While I haven’t been so fond of the weather, the upside is that it has made running outside quite easy. I have done a number of longer runs over the last little while, all around 10 km. My run starts with a bit of an uphill climb for the first 5 minutes or so. If you were to drive my pathway, you would have no idea that the path is uphill. In fact, when walking I would only attend to the grade for the last 100 metres or so of the first 500 metres. But running, like cycling, makes one intensely aware of grade, and wind, and temperature.

My pathway mostly involves a hiking/running path. It is well protected, which is nice when the predominantly northwest winds are blowing hard. The run is largely uphill on the way to my 5 km turn around. The trip home tends to be downhill, with the wind behind me most days. The trip home seems to be the part of the run where I manage to experience the “runner’s high.” This makes the run doubly rich.

The euphoria of these moments – not experienced with every run – are really quite remarkable, and give a kind of gravitas to the idea that the journey is the destination. The race itself is the prize, it seems. Many times, as I’ve run, I’ve thought about the marvel of being able to move, something I most often take for granted. When I’m in the right head and heart space, it strikes me as an utter marvel that I can slip across physical space like a fish through water. As I do so, I feel badly for people in cars, too often seemingly stressed and sometimes racing to make lights etc. When my lungs and legs are in harmony, my spirit soars and I have no desire to give up that feeling of being alive for the comfort of the car.

Last week I was speaking with a senior friend at church who ran regularly throughout his adult life. He spoke eloquently of the joy of the sport. He, unlike me, ran competitively. I have not run in a race proper since I was a youngster. One day I might try it again, but for now I revel in the experience of knowing that my knees can still sustain my joy, and my heart can yet propel a hope that humanity will find the collective will to ensure that the air for all is fresh.

My friend no longer runs but he remains an avid walker. One day my running days will be over, but as long as I’m able, I keep on the move, thankful for movement in whatever way I can manage – recalling all the while that it in God that we live and move and have our being.