Pilgrim Moves

Earlier this week my Dean popped by and asked if I might like to join him and another colleague for a little stroll, to our new digs for the next 14 months. At the end of April we empty our building, and the insides of this 55 year old building will get a major overhaul. It is badly in need of the same, with asbestos here and there, and everywhere a dearth of electrical outlets. Other issues abound and we look forward to a rejuvenated building. The plans for the renovation look stellar, and while we look forward to the move back in, we also know we are about to begin a bit of an institutional pilgrimage.

Our interim offices are on the top floor of an early 70s residence – repurposed in the manner of converting bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms into offices. I have the happy pleasure of inheriting a living room that is larger than my current office, and so have been allotted the kind of space that admits the dangerous temptation of adding bookshelves, and so more books. Pray for me since I will return to a smaller office.

Our chapel will be an “L” shaped room that eats up the better part of a former quad, and will do quite well for our weekday prayer services and our weekly Communion. For special services, the just off campus Roman Catholic parish, St. Michael’s, has agreed to make space for us and Inshallah, the seminary and community global music choir conducted by our Dean of Chapel Debbie Lou Ludolph, which will meet there late Tuesday afternoons. Classes will be spread out across campus by the fiat of the university allotment system, but the powers that be hope to keep us in common corridors.

All in all, things seem to be coming together.

Still, by all accounts, a pilgrimage remains a pilgrimage. It involves a wager that the journey is worthy of the costs. The costs, in this instance, are not insignificant and risks are clear: how will we keep the community connected without the our building playing host; how will worship work without the familiar spaces that facilitate our experience of the holy; how will we be in a new location since we both shape and are shaped by the places we go; will all the fund fall in place?

Scholars of pilgrimage speak of the role of narrative in the ritual of pilgrimage. Holy journeys draw upon stories of travel and trial – stories of manna and water from a rock, and they create stories that feed the future. I have no doubt that when the history of our school is told to subsequent generations, this will not be an insignificant marker in the history that we are becoming. Pilgrimages hold great possibility: dislocation allows a fresh appraisal of identity and provides opportunity for both the retrieval of lost or forgotten resources and the arrival of possibilities that cannot be imagined in the comfort of well-trod trails.

Only time will tell what will be told about the years 2017-18, but I am sure of one thing: grains of sand will reckon in the accounting, and these will be reminders of both irritants to pilgrim feet and the accounting of Abraham’s blessing.

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Restore, Recycle, Remember

I am moving offices.  Our school just brought a community pastor on board, and we want her to have an office with good visibility and high traffic.  My home for the last 9 years fits the bill, and so I was asked if I would be willing to move.  I am very happy to do this, and was offered a couple of offices that have recently emptied.  The one I choose has good light, is a nice size and is set back a bit from the traffic.  It will serve me well, and I am glad to have it.  I was invited to move my furniture upstairs, or to leave it behind and get something from university stores (good, gently used goods).  I asked to see what was in the office of the retiring colleague vacating my preferred location.

 

I had never really noticed before, but he had an old wooden desk with a matching credenza.  I was taken by them, and asked if I couldn’t just keep these two.  The Principal Dean agreed to this, and I seconded my wife to help me cart these old masters home.  The following picture tells a little about the desk’s history.

 

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In 1973, the Lutheran Church sold its university to the province, and Waterloo Lutheran University became Wilfrid Laurier University.  Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, where I work is the founding institution of the old and new WLU, and is now a federated college.  The sticker lets us know that the desk dates from at least that time, and possibly earlier.  The cuts of the design hint at 60’s Scandinavian style, but the following photo from one of the desk drawers tells us that the desk was built locally.

 

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I am currently stripping the finish.  My wife is the wood expert in our household, but I have taken on this project with her advice as needed.  I really wanted my work of mind to take place on a piece of furniture in which I have invested the work of my body.  It seems right.  It also seemed like an act of retrieval because old desks like this are often junked in favor of the modular furniture that serves the cubicle culture of the modern office.  My office is a little old school, and so a 50 year old desk seems fitting.

 

I must say that I feel a little like I am in the midst of a holy task as I strip and sand and stain.  I find myself thinking about the sacred conversations that occurred across this desk.  I think of the professors writing articles, preparing lectures, and mulling over sermon ideas.  I think of the craftsmen who first put together this work of art.  I feel honored to be included in the history of this desk, and its credenza.

 

In working on this work of art, I find myself oddly at peace.  I don’t think I’ll give up my day job and take this up vocationally.  All the same, when I look down at the desk, it strikes me that as I caress this tree rendered in service of homo sapiens, the grain of the wood smiles at me, and I smile back.