An Echo to be Seen and Heard

 

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This last weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada.  For many this is a time to gather together around a roast turkey and pumpkin pie.  As we planned our Thanksgiving this time year, we realized that two of our three girls would be unable to join us, and so my wife Gwenanne pondered the possibility of meeting our middle daughter N for a camping weekend.  Gwenanne and I have never camped in the fall, and thought it might be fun.  N agreed and so we asked her where we might meet.  Algonquin Park is a favoured spot but was found to be full and so N suggested Bon Echo Park.

Bon Echo Provincial Park was unknown to me, but rather important for a couple of reasons, perhaps the most important being that the massive cliffs found at the narrows found in the middle of Mazinaw Lake served as the canvas for a massive number of pictographs, created by First Nations.  It is not overly surprising that these massive cliffs became the site of these ancient and mystical works of art: the cliffs are potent and the water pounding these rocks offers both access to them and protection for them.

The park was once the site of an inn, built first for retreat for the wealthy of Methodist persuasion until the Inn was purchased by Flora McDonald Denison, whose vision was to replicate in a Canadian context a place where the philosophy of Walt Witman could find a home.  Members of the Group of Seven also found a home here, who along with others, visited this site in their quest for Canadian artistic expression in the early 20th century.  The family ran the inn until the Great Depression, at which point it was leased until fire destroyed it in 1936.   Bon Echo was made a provincial park and opened in 1965, and still today park visitors come to be inspired, moved and quieted in much the same way that those First Nation and Group of Seven artists did.

On our last day there, we rented a canoe and paddled along the cliffs, taking in the many pictographs.  Knowing their provenance, and the fact that these pictographs were often painted in places deemed spiritually potent, I attended them with a sense of expectation, which was not disappointed.  I was also deeply moved as I looked up to see cliffs formed by massive geological events encoded in the diagonal press of rock from the horizontal of water splashing in song against these same cliffs.  Here and there, cragged trees pushed out of these cliffs, marbled with tales to be read by geologists with their long game wisdom.

I took a few photos of the park in our brief sojourn there.  As is usual, these woefully underrepresent the power of the place.  Yet, I hope to explore some of these paltry photos in painting on canvas in service of my soul as I discern how to echo the heavens “declaring the glory of the Lord and the firmament proclaiming his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It was, in fact, a most fitting way to spend a thanksgiving weekend, even if the turkey we ate was soup (lovingly prepared by my wife) and the pie we ate was forfeited for a pumpkin loaf (a first time attempt on my part).  The sun illumined trees iconically.  The wind spoke to my soul.  The ground opened up, here and there, and showed divine fingerprints on our walks while bonfires at night reminded us that life is gift, pure gift indeed, and we have every reason to be thankful people.

 

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Pictographs at Superior

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No, these images cannot be
described – neither
poetry nor prose can
circumscribe these etchings
on stone, cyphers of tenacity
sketched on rock, scars of strength
anchored across
grandfathers’
cheeks.  My cheeks
now moistened as I feel
this place dripping divine: mine
the gain as  I lay down any sense
of superiority,
of expertise,
of being high priest.

No, none of these
obtain because here I am
a drop of water crashing against rock;
a tear salting skin-on-fire;
a dropping of the guard into the
truth that being a drop is more
than enough.

Stars tell tales

Stars tell tales, but
few have ears to hear
such light, to see
such songs yet
mystics and children and the odd poet,
too, can turn light to sound and
sound to light to delight us
plebeians.  These might
draw us  out and so
speak in us the spark
that begins
the burn.

 

Embers echo stars.
They twinkle sagas of
births and deaths;
of dragons and elves.

 

The chronicles of trees and my kind, too,
are not so very different:
tears, sap
sap, blood
blood, leaf
leaf, skin
skin, bark
bark, voice
voice, root
root, foot
foot and trunk both
drunk in the Mystery.

My Proper Fear

I have no fear of
those who wield worlds of
war, wealth and stealth.  It’s
the robins I fear, who
sing the world silly guarding
their nests; who
drop egg-blue bombs that
leak a beauty so
pregnant with praise that
the trees bow in obeisance.

 

I fear the dandelions, those dents-de-lion whose
teeth steel the sun as their
eyes track my every pilfering of
their lair.  I fear for
my presence on this fierce earth,
which marks my ways and will
demand of me an accounting
for what I have done with
cardinal’s cues.

 

But I do not fear you, dear reader, nor
do I fear my
breath portending death – that
distillation of life and perfect love,
casting out every fear.

There’s More Here Than Meets The Ear

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Meet Chip. I realize it is not the most inventive name for a chipmunk, but my wife called him that one spring day when he popped his little nose around a rock to sniff us out. The name has stuck and he has stuck around. A few years back we lost our cat, and in the ensuing summers our backyard has become a bit more diverse. Chip is out and about. We regularly see robins, cardinals, rabbits, squirrels – the list goes on and on. We all loved Noel dearly, but it is nice to see some bio-diversity.

I especially like Chip. One day I was reading a book on a Muskoka chair and when I looked up, on the chair beside me was Chip eating a raspberry. He calmly ate half and then scooted off, leaving the other half for me or some other hungry creature. My wife has had the same experience. We will often see him pause in his jog across our patio, cheeks full to the brim with seeds or such, panting while he catches his breath. And then again after a brief repose, he sprints to the end of his race, a barely noticeable hole in our lawn, which serves as a portal to his storehouses.

I thought of Chip the other day while reading some theology. Luther wrote a treatise in 1525 entitled “How Christians Should Regard Moses.” It was written in response to an emerging idea that Christians in the German lands should be freed of the pre-Christian laws, which formed the basis for current laws, and embrace instead the mosaic laws. Luther disagreed, claiming that the mosaic laws were written for mosaic times, and while we might employ some of them (he mentioned, in particular, the Jubilee Laws), he rejected their wholesale engagement. He wrote that some of what we hear God say in the bible is said by God to others, not to us and so we ought not to hear them as addressed to us. Of course, this invites a broad conversation concerning which bits are intended for us, a matter taken up in earnest throughout the document. At any rate, he used a most interesting example to illustrate his point concerning directed speech. He mentioned that God speaks to angels, trees, fish, birds, animals etc but we do not hear it because what God says to them was not meant for us. And then I thought of Chip.

I like the idea of Chip – and Noel for that matter – holding converse with God (I can’t imagine it being a monologue). Nature, like “civilization,” is both messy and beautiful, and I would anticipate praise and lament from Chip and his fellows. Of course, I do get to hear one side of the conversation from time to time. The local cardinals let me in on their side of the song, for instance, even though I do not know what they say. But I hear them “saying,” that’s for sure! Of course, there are other – biological – ways to interpret their song, and I will happily hear of other interpretations. I will probably agree with them, but rescind from thinking scientific and theological explanations as mutually exclusive. But in the meantime, I will listen hard for what God has to say to me in this verse and not that, and in the play of Chip and friends, gracing my lawn with their presence.

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This Side of Language

These days the squirrels
query me about the nature of life
on this side of language.

I reply that their
play displays a tongue
of their own, one
that portrays that
theirs is not mine.

And yet, yet if I look
with intention and listen
with attention I discern
their voice as mine
recedes.

This is a mystery:
to listen is to divine;
to watch is to marvel;
and perhaps to speak
of this spoken life.

Ephphatha, or God at Bat

Wonder arrests me as it
vests me with eyes
seen by robin, whose
cocked head whips mine
round.
Wisdom unsettles me as
she wrestles me
into a garments of joy:

a toddler twists a word and world
a stalk explodes with a bloom
a preacher weeps the gospel –

finger to ear
spit to tongue:

Be opened.