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.

Tales from my Office

This week afforded me the opportunity to move into the office that I will call home for the next 14 months, or so, while our seminary building undergoes extensive renovation. I wrote of this a couple of weeks ago, and noted that we are moving into residences converted into offices. I have the happy accident of being assigned a former living room, which means that I am now in the largest office I have ever enjoyed, or ever will enjoy.

In my last space, I was able to make use of a large ledge under a generous window in order to create a stand up desk, and so wondered what I would do in my new space. I found it quite helpful to spend the mornings standing at my desk, and the afternoons seated, a happy combination which my then configuration afforded me.

While moving in, I had need to remove some excess chairs from office to one of the residence quads serving as storage for our pilgrimage. As I walked about the flotsam and jetsam of this and that about to spend 14 months in hiding, I came up the display case that used to house a rather old German missal. It can also serve as a lectern, with a glass front on an incline that you can look through to see whatever is on display. Fortuitously, the height of this magnificent piece of solid oak was exactly the height at which I type, and so I decided to migrate it to my office after chatting with my Principal Dean, who gave me the thumbs up. I built a small stand on the wall behind it, to hold my 2nd monitor, which, with a second keyboard, provides me opportunity to stand and type.

20170428_153424

But as l thought about using this glorious wooden work of art merely to hold my keyboard, I wondered if it might serve a dual purpose. I then came upon the idea of using the case to display, one by one, the various art books I have in my office. In addition to putting them, one by one, on my desk, they will now cycle their way into the display case. This will give me the occasion, from time to time, to glance down from my screen to see sights, sacred and not, looking up at my fingers dancing across keys.

Something seems right about this: pictures picturing me squirreling away with words, all the while knowing that our happy pilgrimage together will one day end when the display case returns to its former glory, and me to a new office. For now, it joins me in the peculiar glory that is at the crux of teaching, researching, administering and doing the odds and ends that lend a curious concreteness to my day, every day.

20170428_153437 Soli Deo Gloria!

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.

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.

Shadows Settling Me

Is there a light
as lovely as a
candle’s? She
makes art
of the wall:
deftly balancing

light and shade

aptly drawing

my eye in, then out

graciously holding

the centre

while caressing

the contours of this space.

She transfixes me, this candle.

She sets me in the room, just so,

and her glow mirrors

Yours – Word Aflame – Word

seen and heard as You

divine me, define me

draw me in, enthrall me.

I sit in the splendor of this

candle, in the lure

of shadows settling me.

Family in the Rough

Today is family day in our neck of the woods. Family is variously received by folk, some having memories warm and inviting; others knowing little but rejection, suffering and such. My experience of family is rich, and for that I am grateful, but also mindful that finding a way to navigate hard experiences of family must be a lifetime task for those whose experiences have been so different from mine.

Beyond our positive and negative experiences of family, we have all seen different configurations of them – a point I remembered this weekend. Saturday afternoon we took some friends who were visiting out to St. Jacobs, and as we are wont to do, took them to the local Mennonite Visitor’s Centre. For those not in the know, the area in which I live is rich in Mennonite history, dating from the 1783 when these peaceable folk left territories south in order to escape what they feared might become warring expectations.

The Visitor’s Centre has a very well done short video introducing folk to Old Order Mennonites. There is a piece in the film pointing to the addition of Granny Suites on many Old Order homes, and an accompanying comment that children grow up with family all about them – including of course their grandparents. Often aunts and uncles would not be so very far away. The extended family was and is extensive and near. My children had a significantly different experience of family. Most of their family was and is some 4000 km west of where we live. Their experience of family has been radically different from mine, and mine from my Mother’s, for instance, who used to speak of her Grandmother living in their house. I used to see my Grandparents once a month or so, while my children saw theirs far less frequently, although their maternal grandparents most often spend a few weeks in our town in the fall and/or winter. So many families; so many configurations.

The Bible uses language of family to describe those who share in beliefs. Some theologians I deeply admire express reserve about the family motif in the bible, given the negative experiences some have had. They suggest that it is time to explore some new metaphors, or resurrect old and lost images. An important one discussed is that of friend. Christians assert that God in Christ calls us friends. Another popular motif is servant/slave: God has redeemed us from slavery to sin, death and the devil, not so that we might be footloose and fancy free, but that we might be bound to Love. So many metaphors; so many possibilities.

It seems that families, like metaphors, are diverse and wonderfully made. Let me invite you, on this family day, to think about who your family is and why God has put these people in your life and you in theirs. Think too about the gifts of friends and co-workers, and the different ways in which they, too, can be family for you.

Steeling for Snow

I shoveled the walk
yesterday, leaving my snow
blower to rest, warming
up to its summer
hibernation. I settled
on the old fashioned scrape
of metal against concrete –
content with the push and pull
of these two, their force
felt in the vibration of
the wooden handle,
occupying my hands.

This steel shovel, so much heavier than its burden,
is a solid reminder of the days before plastic
when we lived a little closer to the earth.

The snow blower was
bought to hedge my
bets against heart attacks
and such. It is much
appreciated and yet some
days the nearly silent to and fro
of shovel sits well with
the serene snow about to go –
even though it only just arrived,
from far too far for me to
put it back from whence
it came.