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.

Happy New Year

In Canada, we are closing in on the end of the Labour Day weekend.  Most people make use of this weekend to ready themselves for the real New Year, the start of school and the relaunching of program etc.  Of course, this year, everything is a mess and much muddling seems to be the order of this Labour Day.

My wife and I spent a good bit of the Labour Day weekend digging out the polymer cement between our flagstones on our patio.  When this cement is in good shape, the individual stones are bonded together and a safe, welcoming space is created.  As the cement breaks down, the flagstone shift and annoying (and dangerous) lips are create.  So every now and then we need to repair the space by replacing the cement.  It is not an especially enjoyable job, spent on our knees picking away at cracked and crumbling bits of adherent.  My efforts this year were rewarded by a wasp bite that leave my left index finger swollen with resentment.  But wasps, too, have a place in creation.

The new polymer will be applied when it looks like we will have at least 24 hours of dry weather, which is not necessarily going to be for a while.  So after yesterday’s time on my knees, today was a typical Labour Day for me, getting ready for the start of school.  Classes at Luther will all be remote this fall, as they were in the spring, so I am trying to learn from successes and failures as I get ready. 

Tuesday will be orientation, and it too will be online, with some asynchronous activity.  My colleagues have worked tirelessly to prepare what we hope to be a welcoming and revitalizing start to the new year.  One of my colleagues, Sherry Coman, as invited us to use the word “mediated” rather than virtual to describe our gathering online.  I like this very much.  Virtual implies that this coming together is not a real coming together.  Mediated helps us to imagine that it is different, but no less real.

I also like that the word mediated shares the etymology of the noun “means” with both pointing to what is in the middle, between this and that and enabling a relationship.  This use is informed by the Lutheran notion of the means of Grace – Word and Sacrament.  Here concrete earthly elements become the meeting ground between believers and between believers and the Divine, who makes space for our gracious reception into Love. 

Hopefully this mediated space will in some way approximate such a welcome.  From my experiences with Zoom, and Teams, and other technology, they can be likened to the polymer that links stone to stone.  Sometimes there are cracks, and crumbling, and the odd wasp that bites.  But in the end, with some loving care, it can do what needs to be done to bridge the distance between people who are eager to learn, and ready to grow.  I have seen it happen in ways that are different from face to face meeting, but significant all the same.  This New Year will be unlike any other, but then again, so is every New Year.

Coveting Joy

As the twelve days of Christmas draw to a close, our family slowly but surely makes its way back out into the world.  For a week and a bit, my two youngest daughters have been home from universities afar, and with their arrival my eldest, who lives not so very far away, has been frequenting home.  Of course, offspring often bring friends in tow, and so Friday three extra mouths were at table giving us eight instead of our usual two, and yesterday we had seven at table.  It is fun to have more feet around the house, more eating at the table and more laughter in the living room.  It is always a delight to have our children home again.


Yesterday our youngest asked for one of my watercolour paintings to take back to her apartment.  We pulled out an art file with paintings spanning our years as a family.  It was fun to reminisce as we looked again upon images I made in Northern Alberta, Toronto, here in Kitchener and while on holidays.  We were transported briefly back to earlier times.  It was also interesting to see my painting style shift and change, with an innovation tried for a bit and then discarded, as well as constant themes that interested and interest me still: skies, water, horizons.  The two girls who were here each grabbed what struck them and that made me glad.  It is nice to imagine a piece of me in their apartments.


I am a little sad knowing that they will soon be winging their way back to their lives, but this too is how it should be.  Leaving is a part of life: we leave the womb, we leave the safety of our parent’s laps, we leave grade school and on and on.  This is the cycle of life and while we sometimes want to hold some moments hard we also know that other moments are hell and the cycle serves us well in giving us distance from these.


It is a New Year, and so I am not altogether surprised that I am a little wistful.  While 2015 was a good year, it also held some disappointments and even tragedies for those near us.  Tragedies, of course, are contagions and  spread their darkness.  But joy too is infectious, and so it is good at year’s end to recall moments of rejoicing: delicious laughter and poignant peace, the gifts of reunions, and sharp prairie skies as well as sheets to the wind with water spraying over the deck and washing a kind of timelessness over “busy-wounds.”  It is good to remember those holy moments when we recall how small we are and yet find ourselves cradled in a palm of compassion knowing that we are, as Pastor Anne so gladly shares at work, “more than enough, so much more than enough.”  There is peace in cracks and joy in shadows; there is hope in losses and love in misses.   2016 will be what it will be and hold what it holds, but we are invited to enter the year with eyes wide open and hands to the plough.  There will be opportunities to create memories to reflect upon joyously a year from now – as tonic for griefs that come without our bidding.  I covet a year of great joys for each of you, and pray God’s winding way into your paths.

Coloring Hope

Days are slowly drifting into nights, and nights into days.  Slowly is the operative word here.  Jet lag is a worthy opponent and is only beaten bit by bit.  Mid-day naps are no longer de rigeur, but I write this at night and sleep is far from my mind, which is fixated on color at this moment.

People have been asking me of my impressions of India after our short stay there, and I find myself leading with the word colorful.  Time and time again I would lift my eyes from gray street, or dirty near dead dog splayed across my path and a wash of magenta, crimson, and cobalt laying up against ochre hues would baptize my eyes anew.  Saris would bloom like lotuses in the mud brown streets of Mumbai, and the hawkers’ cries of “Please, sir! Buy, sir!” would fade against this shocking beauty.  The press of body against body as everybody made their way to train became, for a moment a distraction rather than a threat.  Color does that to me.  The color in Kerala in Southern India also took me in.  But my mind, in these southern memories, does not go first to saris even though these too were colorful, but to homes.

We spent a few days in rice patty country at a home stay.  Here we could walk along canals used to irrigate the rice fields.  These canals were fed by a broad river located just outside our converted granary’s window (or would that be ricery?).  We could take walks along these canal systems, where women would be washing clothes on the river rocks, and the children would delight at the opportunity to practice their English.  The poverty in this area was not quite so apparent, although clearly some homes were very basic.  But even the most humble abode was painted in bright colors.  From a distance, houses on canals would sit like birds in a tree, boasting their beauty and bidding us to take notice.  As we took note, my wife, youngest daughter and I all recalled how homes in some of the newer sections in certain cities in Canada are these days colored gray, or pale browns.  A car ride’s view while driving through some subdivisions is rather like the erasure of beauty.  I think also of my first impressions of dress in Toronto, some years back, where black bested every hue.  India seemed little interest in this sort of sophistication.  I had a similar impression of color in Newfoundland some years back.  A guide there told us that fishermen coming from sea would want to be able to make out their house as soon as possible as ocean’s horizon gave way to a glimpse of terra firma.  Perhaps some people are more aware of their need for hope than others.

I remain hopeful that I will again, one day, sleep through the night.  This is a rather modest hope in the face of this worlds’ pressing needs.  But every healthy hope bespeaks the greatest Hope of all, and in this time of the beginning of a new year, I hope for all a blessed year with safe journeys and rich remarkable home comings.