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

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
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.

The World Beneath my Feet

It has been a wet June, and somewhat cold too after a warm dry May. Yesterday I rushed out and mowed the lawn aware of an impending rainstorm. My timing – albeit prompted by my wife’s observation of the light’s shift– was exquisite. The heavens opened just as I put away the lawnmower. Our lawn these days is rich in colour and complicated in content. “Weed and Feed” and such were outlawed a few years back, and so folk have the option of hiring lawn professionals (who can still use such products), or going au naturel, or converting grass to something else: a rock garden, a perennial bed, etc. Ours is a rather large lawn and so the conversion option is not so very attractive. We are not inclined to go with lawn professionals, and so wild is our style.

Our lawn gets a little more interesting each year. It hosts many sorts of plants, including grass. From a distance it looks a lovely green of various hues. Up close the breadth of selection is staggering. I generally like this, and am very happy with what must be a small wild strawberry that grows below the generous height I have set my lawn-mower. It begins with a lovely, tiny butter yellow flower that turns into a rock hard red fruit that is utterly inedible. From my perspective, its value is all in the beauty it brings to the lay of the lawn. Last year, a pretty little purple flower came along as well. I cheered it on, of course. But in due course I realized that it was strangling everything. It didn’t play well with others, and so I pushed back. This year it pops up here and there and I round it up with my hand rather than “ “Round Up.” Clover spots the lawn, and feeds the rabbits, and there are the odd dandelions that I did not dig up manually in the spring. I leave them be until next spring.

As you can tell from the above, I know my lawn a bit better than I did, say five years ago, when we would fertilize and apply herbicides in the spring and cut like crazy through the summer. Now I wander around, with my eyes on the ground wondering what I might find in this microcosm of multiculturalism. Scientists tell us that diversity is the building block of a healthy eco-system. That seems sound, as long as that diversity is ready to push back when certain species have “monoculture” as their watch word. Social scientist tells us that diversity is also the mark of a healthy culture, where room is made for the many or few who are different from the rest. That Christian sage of old seemed to have this in mind when he compared the church to a body, a harmony of disparate parts needing a diversity ordered to the common good of all.

Dealing with diversity in human community, however, is frightening. We imagine that if others look like us they will think like us and then all will be well. This, of course, is one way we put our heads in the sand. The pathway of the common good does not demand everyone look the same, or say the same thing, or even believe the same way. Common good comes from good community where people take time to be with one another, to find out what it is that divides and unites us, and to respect the difference and the distance we all need. In this week of national celebrations north and south of the border, we do well to recall that we all need one another because we can only be individuals together.

Winter’s Reach

Not far from here,
sequestered in
forgotten cracks of
hidden boards below
decks scattered across
this city, winter
awaits. At just the
right moment
reaching out with
a tentacle of frost –
slipping across graying
once green grass – it will
Midas in silver and we will
awaken in a diamond.
And then, with purity, it will pounce
and pronounce us its subjects –
for a time,
for a time.

Redeeming Winter

I thought of this title yesterday afternoon as I went for a ski. I am not a serious skier, but an eager one. Had I more time, I would strap these magical sticks to my feet more often. Given the amount of snow we have had this winter, readers might well imagine that I have spent a lot of time out skiing this year. Alas this has not been the case. It is either too cold to ski comfortably (below 20 degrees Celsius) or warm and snowing buckets of white. Alternately, it rains. Yesterday was the first day in the New Year when the stars aligned and I got out. It was glorious.

The snow has been sculpted by the wind, and as I made my way westward, cresting a hill of our local golf course, I looked down and imagined myself floating across windswept waves frozen in time. The crust of the snow looked exactly like an ocean’s break upon the shore. I suppose at some point, each molecule of water I skied across had one day crested across a shore somewhere, sometime. And the hard water that bore my skis today could vey well one day buoy my boat, and water my plants, and bathe my body. But today it struck a pose, frozen for a time.

I love to ski, but it always begins with an uphill battle. There are tasks: getting changed, prepping the skis, driving to the golf course where I ski, etc. But once I get going I feel good, very good about the decision. I imagined, yesterday, as I skied, that this experience redeems winter. There is something about getting out – especially for something fun – that reorients my attitude to winter. I appreciate its ponderous beauty in a new way, feeling included in it. Winter is no longer the enemy.

I like the ambiguity of the word “redeeming’ in my title. We can understand it verbally and imagine that winter is redeemed. But the word can also serve as an adjective describing winter: winter is a redeeming season. This too is true. Winter is the time of earth’s rest, and an invitation to all of us to slow down. The other day I was visiting with friends and we recalled rural stories of slower times in winters past. Not only the earth was rejuvenated, but the inhabitants she hosts, too, were renewed. This is lost on too many of us, and I suspect that many people’s distaste with winter has to do with unacknowledged loss of the gift of Sabbath.

Well, I always feel better after having gone skiing. This is true for so many things in life, things that are good: for us, for our beloved, for the earth. And with so many of these things we discover that curious grace, or promise, written into the logic of creation: listening to the cadence of creation is to encounter the wisdom of the Creator, calling us to be, to observe, to accept enough as enough.

Greening now

Greening now the tree queries me
“How will you be on earth? As you are in heaven?
Rooted in the mystery
you are
not far
from surfacing, from breaking through to freedom.”

My maple mentor
reminds me that we
are rooted
in fecundity.

We share this – even while
she coaxes me to be where I am
these roving roots that skip me, spin me, ski me, kneel me
across earth’s girth.

I slip across the land while my sister keeps watch,
firm on terra firma,
she teaches me to be where I am
even while my
where whirls on
in its way.