Musings on March

My relationship with March is
complicated. I want it to be
what it cannot: a younger May
stripped of any hint of January.
Instead, March is fiercely March.
It is a month with a mind of
its own and it brooks no challenge
to self-expression. Now its
ice winds cut across my skin even
while shadows shorten and trees
begin to drip sweet. March snow clings
to shadows tenaciously – white knuckling
the wheel of life.

The other day I ate my salad outside on an Adirondack chair,
bundled up like a swaddled babe, the sun was stroking my
face even while the wind scratched it. The snow chuckled,
nervously.

The Heavens are Shattered

This bare tree framing the sky lays
bare the state of my soul:
a little bit empty
now and then
I might be seen through
but this too is gift:
the tree frames sky
and I frame why.

Branches cut up what is on high just
like lead pieces glass together by dividing:
the power of the line meets
the strength of the translucent.
The heavens are shattered
and so beautiful…

At Their Feet

These plants on my windowsill
watch me day in and out,
looking about my office, they
track my comings and goings,
sniggering at my sweltering
sense of self-importance.

These plants are close to the earth
and hold the long view, knowing that
instantaneously – in a geological sense – I
will be in the earth feeding their fellows.

These plants also cheer me on, when I
close my laptop and play with the rocks
in the silica-now-glass container on
“my” oak tree-now-desk.

These plants weep when
I fail to taste my apple, when
I forget to thank them, when
I refuse to listen to their call
to pinch myself
alive.

These plants are poets of the first order:
Aloe Vera and Christmas Cactus – and when
I am wise, I sit at their feet, in a manner of speaking.

Seeing and Seeing To In 2021

Finally, it comes to end, this 2020 called by many – though not all – an annus horribilis.  For many of us, of course, it has been a strange year with much disappointment and anxiety: lost opportunities, the lack of familiar social and religious comforts, alongside of the pounding presence of never really feeling confident in making plans. 

But I also know of people who have found their footing in this dystopian time – discovering new possibilities in the space opened up and discovering physical and spiritual practices that would have been untapped had this been an annus ordinarius.  I suspect that most of us have had a mixed experience but we are tipped in the direction of wanting to shake off this year because its character of unpredictability is so unsettling.  And we don’t like being unsettled – be it by unemployment, or uncertainty, or illness.  And that is utterly understandable.  But this year also afforded us the opportunity to learn from our experiences. The data of our year – whether it be tragedy, or triumph, or a mix – provides an occasion for taking stock of our place in the universe.  Of course, this is always true but something about this apocalyptic year has sharpened our capacity to look at our lives more acutely.

That feeling of being unsettled, of course, is always just behind the curtain upon which we project our cinematic sense of self.  Down deep, we know that our carefully crafted narratives are subject to another illness, or a shift in relationships, or a fractured spirituality.  But right now, the curtain has drawn open and the film of our life is projected onto a spherical ball with projectile-like spikes.  And the image that results is hard to discern, and so we hunker down, or we shake our fist, or we make an anxious plan.

These responses are neither right nor wrong.  How we respond is who we are, and we are accepted as such by Love.  But Love also invites us to consider if this is how we want to be.  Love invites us to look at whom we have become. It calls us to behold the gift we are and our invitation to growth – both of these now present in our being human.  Our being gift, of course, is radically recast in these COVID-19 days as we realize anew the profundity of presence.  And growth, too, is being drastically reframed for us in these strange days as we ponder that sometimes growing means letting go and being less, doing less, being content with less.  Powerful forces try to negate this message. Yet that little sphere with its spikes reminds us that less can sometimes do more than principalities and powers and doing with less can be more than we can ever imagine.  We have seen strange things in 2020.

Blessings to you, dear readers, as you see, and see to, yourselves into 2021.

Your Hold on My Heart

Yesterday the sky wept, and
the branches of the trees
bled a bit of red. The earth
knows something that
I do not.

I want to read the earth.
I ache to converse with trees,
to listen to the stars, and
to feel the heartbeat of the soil,
but I am a soul too easily
sated with white noise,
with white… but at night
when my pen befriends me
and my guard goes down I
begin to hear, to see, to be differently,
Your hand on my shoulder, Your hold on my heart.

Taking Leave

One of the realities, often lamented and much discussed, in this time of COVID 19 is the amount of time we spend on Zoom, Teams, etc. This is an especially pertinent concern for those of us who teach. And one of the things that I have found that is especially odd about it is the difficulty of taking leave from class. In a normal setting leave taking is protracted, with some people disappearing immediately, some heading out of the class after a bit, and other not leaving at all choosing to stay in the class for study time, or hoping to catch up with me, etc.

But Zoom just erases this. Taking leave is abrupt. One moment you are with someone and the next they have disappeared, sometime leaving you with a hollow feeling. I have been mulling over different ways to end mediated meetings, and decided this semester to try something a bit different with my class. We end each class with a body prayer/meditation. Basically, one of my outcomes for the class is to get the body back into theology, and so at the end of each class we focus on one body part. It might be the neck, the elbow, the skin, the spine etc. I invite my students to shut off their camera, and I walk them through a five minute meditation on a part of their body, thinking about what that body part says about who they are as people as they hold, or explore, or imagine it. I then invite them to give thanks to God, and/or their ancestors, and/or themselves for that body part. This exercise is not mandatory and people are welcome to leave for this last five minutes of class. But often everyone stays.

At the end, I shut off my camera and before my eyes are the names of my students – no faces. I imagine them still feeling the nape of their neck, or the curve of their palm, and then slowly at first and then rapidly, the names disappear and mine alone is left. It feels nice – a silent but significant leave taking. I haven’t asked them, yet, about this experience from the perspective of ending. A few have expressed deep gratitude for the meditative experience, and I am happy for that. But most recently, I have wondered about this experience in terms of bringing a class to close.

Of course, endings are so very important. We spend our lives – if we spend them wisely – in preparation for our ultimate experience of taking leave and so, of being welcomed. Leave taking is a profoundly spiritual practice and in this mediated age we are wise to ask: “How do our small farewells fare in terms of ensuring that it is well with our souls?”

In My Eye

A tongue of fire
rises from this candle
taller than two
others; brothers
flanking her. Their
tongues, their talk
lumine her. These three
enter me times two, then
become one in my mind’s eye.

I see my reflection in them:
flaming away I deplete each day
until I will be but one with You,
alight in Your eye – finally and fully
a human seen, as surely as
You have been a human being
aright in my eye.

No Memorial

He lay splattered across my
wife’s emptied plate – now void
aside from this wasp’s corpse – flailed
by a fly-swatter repurposed:
wasp swapped for fly.

One wing conveniently
remains intact, shooting straight
up, like the arm of a child
anxious with an answer,
or a washroom request.

Of course, I grabbed the
dinnertime demon by the
sleeve and tossed him over
the guard rail into the
garden below.

No words were said over
his body; no proper burial;
no notice on some wasp website;
no memorial for him aside
from this poem.

No Sheets to the Wind

The university where I work decided to make this long weekend extra-long, giving us Tuesday and Friday off as well. Gwenanne also had Friday off, so we headed down to Lake Ontario to do some boat chores. Some of you know that our dear Santa Maria is on the hard this year, as are all boats in our marina due to some Covid related construction delays.

For Christmas this last year, we had decided to buy each other a new set of sail for our boat. We heard news this week that they were ready. Kevin at Bay Sails did a great job, and he was sympathetic at our plight of getting new sails without having opportunity to use them. But we remain philosophical about it. This is a summer for working on the boat.

It was really most amazing to see his workshop. The floor really was the table and here and there, there were work stations cut into the hardwood surface in which he would stand while doing industrial sewing. Hammock-like “shelves” hang from the ceiling filled with fabric, and sails were strewn everywhere. A big window to the north looked out on the bay and I felt like I was in a different world. The sails were crisp and so firm that they felt like they could stand up on their own.

After picking up the sails we went to a marine supply store to get a new thru-hull fitting for the boat. Our boat’s kitchen sink thru-hull sprang a leak last year that we fixed with McGyver finesse. But now is the time to fix it properly, and so we pulled out the old thru-hull and prepared to put in the new one, which will need a new piece of teak, sitting at home and waiting to be fitted for service. After supper at a local diner, where a pilsner and a burger were the reward for an afternoon of sweat, my wife and I returned to remove the halyard that lifts the fore-sail, this too in need of replacement. And then we headed home.

It is nice to be by the water even when we cannot be on the water. Water somehow gives me the sense of a bigger something, that I can be a part of. Karl Rahner famously compared God to a horizon, always before us and never in our grasp, but still grasping us. Big bodies of water nicely illumine the drama of a horizon, especially when the sun sets and the fact of the world’s spinning on its axis becomes dramatically apparent. I was able to see a bit of this spinning on Lake Ontario on Friday. Of course, the world is always spinning, but every now and then the light changes and we see what is right before our eyes and under our feet.

This present Corona crisis is such a revelatory moment, in a way. A variety of Covid predicaments are opening our eyes and we’re seeing whom we are for good and for ill. Our values become more starkly evident as our anger reveals our fear and as we find joy in things long forgotten but discovered again. These times tell us a bit about the state of our souls as we differently face life, pulsing through us and around us despite our waylaid plans.

The sails may be in the bags, but the wind still moves us as she will.

Saturday on the Hard

Some twelve years ago or so I took sailing lessons. My dad, who was a sailor in WWII, spoke fondly of learning how to sail in his training, and after his death I took an interest in learning how to sail. I suppose it was a way to connect with him. It grabbed me, though, and the next year we bought a sailboat.

Sailing is a delight of my summers, but this year it is not to be. The marina where we keep out boat was in need of a new break wall, keeping the marina safe from strong east winds off Lake Ontario. Because of the stay-at-home orders and the fact that our marina is in a park closed by provincial orders. Work on the break wall was halted for a time. The project has only recently been completed. By the time the docks would be put in place, and boats put in the water, we would not have much sailing time left. Consequently, Santa Maria will stay in its cradle on the Marina parking lot, on the hard, along with another 100 or so from our marina.

This has been a strange year, and because of restrictions at the marina and my teaching an intensive course using Zoom meaning a steep learning curve, we have not had much opportunity to get to the boat. We went down a couple of weeks ago to see what was up with Santa Maria. She was doing fine, but we decided we would do a few projects on her this year. Yesterday we took a trip down to the marina and spent the afternoon scrubbing the hall, the deck and the cockpit. A mulberry tree branch hangs over the boat so we spent a good bit of time scrubbing away blue bits.

After an afternoon of cleaning Gwenanne and I both felt a kind of satisfaction. It was an afternoon far removed from a typical summer Saturday, spent on the water. But there was a kind of satisfaction and delight in being by the water, and getting away for a day. In way, it sort of reminds me of visiting someone by Zoom. It’s a far shot from a face to face visit, but far better than nothing at all.

We won’t be down at the marina every weekend, but we have enough projects that need to be done to keep us busy through the summer. It will be a summer on the hard, but in the big scheme of things this is a small loss. We are in a time of doing work differently, doing worship differently, doing everything differently. Even marinas that are open (and ours in not unique in staying closed), are having a unique and different experience. In due course this will all pass, but in the meantime we take joy in different experiences, and look hopefully for another kind of summer next year.