Polyphony of Praise

Each leaf lingers like
note hanging to staff,
stemmed to branch,
performing a polyphony of praise
as the tree lauds its

earthy inspiration:

terra firma
feeding
cantus firmus.

For those with ears to hear,
the tree – like all spirited
songs – hosts a community of joy:

cardinals in canticle

rhythmic robins

and squirrels ad-verse to gravity,

as delight bursts forth with blossoms of hope.

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On Good Friday Last,

I ran through a wood;
silva bathed in silver.
And in the lesser light
with shades crossing my path,
my laboured breath could not
but gasp at upended
trees. Prostrate trunks
and exposed roots
reminded me
that these giants
too cross over, in
the bosom of their
kin, in the ken that they
are never alone.

On Good Friday last,
on the forest floor,
I discovered that when
trees fall, they
sing, whether I am
there to hear them,
or not.

Glaciers of Joy

My body summons me,
serving notice of the
need to return to
ancient ways still at play
in little ones – before
we take them
out of themselves
and clothe them
in agendas. It is no
wonder that we ache for wonder,
that our calloused hands
reach for heavenly cheeks.
Our flesh seeks flesh
that still knows and so we
touch, yearning for Mother’s milk,
for water crisp off glaciers of joy.

Painting Me in Three

I decided, not so long ago, that it was time to paint a portrait again. I generally work on landscapes but a few years ago I painted my Oppa, from a photograph. It was a most trying and satisfying experience: trying because I must have spent more time working on his eyes than any optometrist ever did. But satisfying because I remembered him as I painted: the way he teased Omma, his slow but graceful ways, his lovely accent, his warm smile, and the fact that he is – at least in part – where I come from. It was a richly satisfying experience, emotionally. But it was hard work for this amateur, not that painting landscapes isn’t. Yet this was altogether different. I’m not surprised it has taken me some time to come back to a portrait. The delay has been extended by the problem of deciding whom next to paint.

Some time ago I came upon the idea of doing a self-portrait. Yet, I knew I wanted to do something a little unusual and so have demurred. A couple of weeks ago I came upon an idea while cleaning up some files. I found a folder with some school photographs inspiring me to paint myself as a young lad. I spent some time pondering myself at twelve different stages. I came to the conclusion that I peaked in grade three, the year when my teacher likely combed my hair, and my teeth were all in place, and I seemed to exude a joy that suggests that life was pretty fine. I found my subject.

I have not yet started painting me in grade three, although I have done some sketches to warm up to the task before me. Drawing the sketches has been rather vexing. I come out looking like a young adult. With some re-working I can get myself down to what seems to be about grade seven. It is hard to draw myself at eight years of age. Perhaps the years have made it hard for me to reflect the adventurousness and curiousity of my public-school self. I can’t quite get me, but I have spent quite a bit of time looking at my eyes. The eyes seem to hold the key, and I will likely need a bit more sketch work before I wander toward the canvas.

In the meantime, I have been making an acquaintance of my grade three self. It has been most interesting. Questions emerge: what were my eight-year-old worries, joys, dreams, hopes? Was I proud of those delightful freckles? Where has my hair all gone? When I see myself in the photograph, I think that I would like to spend some time with that young man! Of course, I can and do spend time with him. He wanders around inside me; some days spreading more trouble than delight, and some days the opposite. Some days I send him to his room, but he generally sneaks out, and for that I am glad. We are spending quite a bit of time together these days!

I am not especially confident that this will be a successful venture, but I am absolutely certain that it will be worth every minute: looking at myself at a different stage in life, wondering whether one day I will be 82 painting my 56-year-old self ,and wondering: “What’s up with that grin?”

The Wood of Your Children

Far away, in the north – home
to winters cold and forests old –
You play and so
stay my constant queries,
my daily demands. You
refuse to be the mirror of
my desire, as You stretch
in the wood of Your children.
Yet my longing is not not sated
in Your absence. Echoes
of divine Sabbath are
borne on the North Wind, and
when I open my window, You
fill the room, along with the whiff of pine
as I pine for You. Awaiting Your
return from rest, I am arrested
by this awareness that even
You, God, take leave for
a time.

Missing Out?

This weekend I was re-acquainted with an acronym I met some years ago: FOMO, short for “fear of missing out.” I came across it in an article by Jim Balsillie and Norman Doidge, the former famous for his role in the development of the Blackberry, and the latter for his work as a psychologist. The article addressed the role of smart phones as addictive devices, pointing to the science behind the claim. It was a most illuminating and important contribution into a long, hard conversation that needs to continue on many fronts. I commend it to you.

But FOMO didn’t begin with smart phones, or the internet, or the computer, or the modern advances of technology in our society. FOMO is at the heart of human experience. The other day in class we were pondering Chagall’s painting of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob, who bought out Esau’s birthright for the price of some pottage. This may well be an example of FOMO times two: Esau that he would miss out on a meal, and Jacob (and his mother) that he would miss out on a blessing. I am sure we can all find our own examples of ways in which we have succumbed to FOMO in our personal, work, social lives, etc.

At the core of FOMO, I think is a failure to see what is within. We only worry about missing out because we miss what is within. Religion has sometimes contributed to this, certainly I can speak to this from the perspective of Christianity run amok. Some years ago it was a rather popular corrective to counter a traditional treatment of original sin with a focus on original blessing. This was intended to undermine what was seen to be an obsession with what is wrong with people. Original sin or original blessing? Which rings true for you? I think that most of us have had enough experience – both with ourselves and with others – to know that there is truth in both. We really are made in the image of God and we really do fail to be who we are. But the latter does not erase the beauty of the former, and so we all experience human beauty, courage, and curiousity in ourselves and in one another, aside from the brokenness we know so well. But it would be a mistake to think that we need God because of the latter erasing the former. The truth of the matter is that we don’t only need God because we are flawed: we need God because God made us to need God. This isn’t a flaw. This is a gift.

Of course, it isn’t only God we need. We need one another, and this also is a gift. When we look deep within ourselves and see an ache for relationships, we should be glad. We can rejoice because this ache is a trace of God in us. This is what we are created to be: in need of God and one another. I recently read an article pointing out that the greatest indicator of longevity in a longitudinal study was regular face to face personal interaction. This need not be deep abiding relationships, although these too were important. Rather, the person who meaningfully and regularly interacts with the cashier at the grocery store etc. is likely to live longer, and more richly too, I would guess. It is, of course, no small irony that we use our devices to combat FOMO when we really should set them down and take time to reach out to those God puts in our path: no matter their race, creed, social status etc. Perhaps then we will discover the grace-filled joy of reaching out that dissipates the feeling of missing out.

This Lumen

These candles alit
outside on this fall
night usurp the sun for a time.
This trinity of soft
light plays well on my
eyes, weary of too
much clarity, too
much certainty, too
much of that kind
of faith that is
finally aloof.

These three wick a joy from
deep in heaven; a joy
hovering above the
window of my soul.

This, this lumen
settles me and I am
happy for this time
of grace, when the
aureole rays of these
three kings stay my
anxious heart
and illumine
You.