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.

Glass in Hand

I’ve been thinking
about how my hand’s
ability to turn might
be a parable for
repentance,
until it turns into
a fist, and then I’m set
to wondering whether it
might be akin to a comet
plunging toward the
earth – about to level
the playing field – setting
the anthropocene on its head.
And then one finger pokes out and
my hand is making me to be John the
Baptist, even though I’m loath to eat
locusts. When the middle finger
pops out, my hand can stand
in for scissors until the
third finger is made
to measure how
much Scotch is
to fill the
glass in
my hand.

Naming A New

Last night we were driving home from an afternoon spent on our boat Santa Maria. My wife had wondered, while we patiently and persistently scrubbed away some scum from this corner and that crook of the good ship, what we might call a vessel were we to acquire one nameless. This question was prodded, in part, by the plethora of strange names given boats in a marina.

People are trying to be variously funny, poetic, clever, sentimental et cetera (not a bad boat name itself, that last Latin common phrase) in this naming. Failures are many and magnificent, although “funny, poetic, and clever” may well be in the eye of the beholder. We quite like Santa Maria – an inherited name – although she was once differently called. We posed a few possibilities aloud, and scratched our heads at some names surrounding us.

The finger of the slip we are on in the harbour is in poor straits. Apparently, the marina was pounded by the remnants of hurricane “Barry” this week, although I am unsure whether this particular pounding was from Barry or another storm. Naming hurricanes, too, seems a bit fraught. Once upon a time these were all called by women’s names, as I recall. Now storms are differently gendered once they reach the requisite speed of 120 km/hr for a full minute.

There had been reports of yet another storm coming our way, and so we made our way home in the early evening, and drove through that very storm. It was a thing of rare beauty and looked utterly different than the storm we saw when I saw it through the eyes of different cameras at various angles on the news that night. But in each photo, it was stark and poised, about to pounce.

As we drove from the edge to the eye of the storm on our way to Kitchener, once called Berlin (a topic for another blog) to 185 Sheldon St. I know that here and there, in the world, houses and farms are named. Ours are numbered, as have been people, with the Holocaust and the Residential School Systems being notorious examples.

Santa Maria has a number as well, nicely stenciled on the fore of her hull. But I don’t remember it, while I never even have to grasp after “Santa Maria” in my current mental capacity. I like names more than numbers, and wonder too, what we might call a boat without a name. I suspect we will never face this problem since new boats are out of our price range, even while we could very well be facing the prospect of renaming a boat one day. “Barry” and “185” are unlikely candidates, and I suspect “et cetera” would finally not pass muster. But for now this is not my worry. A wise man once said that each day has troubles sufficing for itself (Matthew 6:34), and on this day called “Sunday,” I’ll think a little on him and ponder the power of storms, the curve of a hull, and the mystery of names, now chosen, now found and sometimes arriving without much ado.

Formed in the Deep

Night,
you haunt me,
hunt me and
spear me. Through
my chattering heart
your lance pierces
my island of dreams.

In the geography of the dark
you try me, you play me
with a joy here,
with a fear there.
Now my passion is
pushed beyond
boundaries.

If only I could steer
these dreams…
what pleasures
might visit the night!
I would eat at a sacred grove;
I would consume a canyon;
would devour mountains; and
take in each valley, feeding
my heart with desire.

But no, this is not to be.
Now is not the time for daydreams.
The hard work of night beckons, calling
me to be its matter, formed in this deep.

Dear Mom,

Dear Mom,

It’s been nearly six years since you left us, although you didn’t depart altogether. Every now and then, I find you in my shadow, banging pots about in the kitchen, flavouring this, tasting that. You carried me in your womb, your prayers, your heart and now I find myself bearing you, in divers ways. The other day, for instance, I found myself peeling a potato, and felt you hand guiding mine, sliding along the contours of this root of the earth, sensing that a potato was capable of bearing love, and that cooking for those I love is as holy as was my pious prayers at the altar today, where I sensed you yet again.

You have given me many things, Mom. But one of the best is a respect for women. I am surrounded by strong women: my wonderful wife who has imbibed deeply from her own Mother’s well of wisdom and has also found some wisdom of her own; my courageous daughters who continually redefine success for me; sisters and in-laws whose faith buoys me; friends and colleagues who leave me in awe with their talent, their dedication, their ability to know exactly what to say to me when it needs to be said.

You have given me the gift of eyes, Mom. What a precious gift that is! As yours faded so many years ago, in some small way I think they migrated to mine, and every now and then I think I see through you… well, only in part, dimly, through a glass darkly, as the good apostle says. I will never know what it means to be a woman, but from what I can see from where I sit, it is a marvel and a challenge, a contentment and a frustration; a holy calling.

Men sometimes stereotype women as emotional, but those leaky eyes I encounter here, and there; this turn of the head when cheeks become beds for rivered emotions; this weeping is pleading for justice and a burden for peace and healing. These tears often prophetically announce that things are not as they should be, and are begging for a world more just. I stand in awe of such tears and wish them for myself: to be able to cry peace and righteousness; to be fit to sob for the healing of creation. This I covet when I find myself paralyzed. But the women in my life, Mom, show me the way, just like you did for so many years: be not afraid; look for the opportunities to brighten someone’s world; invite people into relationship; knock at the door until someone opens; be of good courage; pray always and in many ways.

I miss you so, Mom, but I know that you are in a good place. I also know that you are never so very far away. That veil separating us is thinner than we imagine. And I thank God for your example: you were not perfect and you taught me that I don’t need to be either. You taught me that love takes many forms, and it needs to be embraced for its diversity. You taught me things that you did not know you taught me.

Today is Mother’s Day but I think on you every day and know that what made you a marvel was not so much that you are my mother, but that you were you, that you are you. Your being you, unapologetically, reminds me every day that the sacred slips into our lives askew: now in a potato peel, now in a tear, now in song, now silence, now.

Lovingly yours,

Allen

Let those with ears…

I’ve been trying to listen these days.

Not to listen for something, or someone – not even a still, small voice. I’ve been trying to listen – full stop. I’ve purposed to listen, every now and then, without deciding in advance what I’ll hear. It is an interesting exercise, and one I would readily commend to all. I can assure you, however, that it is harder than it first appears, and in truth my success in this venture is frighteningly fraught with failure.

It is a bit like the meditative exercise of sitting still and attending to your breathing. Soon, you find yourself thinking about what’s up at work, or how will I resolve this issue, or that. The only difference is that I do this while walking, or standing, or sitting. My eyes are not closed. I have no desire to empty my anything. Instead I aim simply to listen. And I have been a bit surprised in this.

The other day for instance, I listened while I walked across campus. I had just spent some time at the gym, and was making my way back to my office. The first thing I noticed was the tap of my feet on the sidewalk below me. And then, to my utter amazement, I noticed that I heard the footsteps of two young men 50 metres or so, in front of me. I didn’t hear their voices. I’m not sure if they weren’t speaking, or my ears were differently attuned. But the cadence of my steps, and theirs, served as a kind of Grundton for music of my journey.

On Saturday, my wife and I were down prepping the deck of our sailboat, Santa Maria, for fresh paint before she moves from the hard to her summer slip. As the day ebbed away, I took a break while Gwenanne did some last-minute touch-ups with Bondo, I stood still and listened to hear: the lilt of chickadee, red wing black bird’s trill, wind strumming branches and water settling into shore. It was a miracle of sorts.

It is now deep in the night and as I sit the clock walks its circular path, ticking each step as purposeful as any step I have ever taken. Softly, but noticeably, in the back the gas fireplace makes sound: now a click, now a whoosh of gas, and then later the fan kicks in a blaze of sound. All the while a I perceive a low, but steady ring in my ears. I can imagine how painful this latter would be if it were louder and persistent.

I’ve heard of rooms where all the sound is shut out, and all you can hear, in them, is your body’s sounds. Perhaps, finally, there is no silence in our lives. There is always the beat of heart, the swoosh of blood through veins and arteries. There is always sound, it seems: ever an acoustic horizon for the play of our pathway from cradle to grave. But then, again, I wonder about the experience of those deaf

The bible talks of sheer silence, when Elija meets God. I can only imagine its sound, or not…