Well-tailored Time

I can hardly wait
for the next moment
and yet the present
demands its due;
to listen to the house sigh,
to see the floor’s peace,
to feel soap – warm on pots,
to smell wine’s fruit,
to taste labour.

Now beckons.

And when I
slip now on
like the well-tailored
time it is, You
settle my past, You
unsettle my future.

Now beckons.

Each breath in

I am

Each breath out

still here

Between each

now.

And then I breathe…

What am I to do with this
sharp this hard gift this lack
of time – edge of knife limning
me as I strain to discern
which pressing possibility
decidedly speaks
my name.

Some days, I
step back and ponder my
choices, my being chosen. I see me,
for a time, as a haggard, ragged man
– not always so aware
of my surroundings
as I wish
I were.

But then and now, robin
sings me awake his
head cocked his
fluttered wings wetting in bath and
I see my life, I see my eyes
and then I breathe…

Reforming Language

Dear Readers, as a matter of course I do not post sermons, but I am going to make an exception this week.  I was asked to provide a 3 minute reflection on the Reformation and Language in chapel today, and thought some might be interested in reading my speaking.  Allen

In John 8:31 Jesus says:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

This word “word” was of such importance to John and his community, and was of incredible importance to the Reformers studying John. The Greek word for word, logos, means word but so much more. It can also mean speech, subject matter, an accounting or reckoning as well as reason or motive. While all of these words have different nuances they all point to a linguistic common denominator. Language is at the heart of being human. God spoke the world into being and we are made in the image of God, so speaking – or more broadly – communicating is being human.

Communicating was a big deal for Martin Luther. Some years ago a group of us traveled to Eisenach in the former East Germany and visited the Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the New Testament into German. We were told that, at that time, the German lands each had a dialect. Luther’s translation of the Bible was an important step in developing standard German, which he used to great benefit in communicating the Gospel: the good news, that Jesus is God’s word to us of grace; Jesus speaks to us of the unconditional love of God; Jesus is God’s unconditional love for us. This word was at the heart of the reformation.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for us to reduce this word to an idea, an idea that we can master – rather like the times tables. But the gospel is not an idea; the gospel is an event, a happening, something that cannot be orchestrated, nor manipulated. The gospel is all about God, and where God is at work, anything is possible. God cannot be put in a box, and God’s word cannot be manhandled. This is why Luther insisted that the Church was not a Federhaus, a pen house, or a house of writing, but instead a Mundhaus, a mouth house. Scholars will sometimes translate Mundhaus as house of speaking, but I like mouth house. It sounds more problematic, perhaps a little cheeky, and besides, it is very sensual.

Mouths, after all, are the loci of taking in and spitting out. They are the location of our ingestation as well as our protestation; they are the place of the kiss, and the curse; they are the smile, the frown, they are language incarnate; language in flesh. The church is a fleshy place and a mouth house is a house that is bodily in nature. Debbie Lou has spoken often to the choir of the role the body plays in singing. Of course, the same is true in speaking. Communication is a bodily event. And so, when we think about language, we think about bodies: my body, your body, the body we call the body of Christ, the body we call the cosmos, the earth, the universe; the bodies – all of these bodies – that God loves intimately.

The church is a mouth house, but I would be amiss to neglect to point out that a mouth that never stops speaking is cacophanous; sounds begin to screech and our ears weary from too many words, from too much sound. A motor mouth church wears its hearers down; bombarding them with cliches, with half truths, with pollyanna-like pious, plastic language. It is enough to make you want to shout “Enough!”

Language, like music, depends upon silence. The space between the notes, the consonants, the sounds makes hearing them possible, makes ingesting them pleasurable, makes repeating them desireable. Language without silence is noise, and we all have enough noise in our lives.

There is a certain freedom in knowing that sometimes, sometimes we can be like God can be: quiet, and that this quietness is not a betrayal of the gospel, but intrinsic to its nature. Sometimes, sometimes, what needs to be said, for now, is nothing….

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Dear friends, this was written early Sunday morning just as the ice storm fell upon us. Shortly thereafter we lost our power and internet both. Power came back late Sunday, and we still await restoration of internet service. I managed to sneak this on via my daughter’s cell phone. So here it is, late but possibly made better by its accompanying wishes for a blessed holiday on this Christmas Eve.

_____________

The threat of having weather intrude inside is equally frightful. It seems, however, that something of this is occurring in southern Ontario. A severe ice storm warning is in effect for our region and beyond (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/major-ice-storm-hits-ontario-1.2472721). Power has already fallen in parts of the province as lines weighed down with ice collapsed under the strain of wind. People are advised to stock their shelves. Some years ago, a significant population of ours and Quebec were powerless for a significant chunk of time.
For someone who grew up in Alberta, I am always struck by the beauty and absurdity of ice storms. They were rare, very rare in my recollection. A quarter of an inch of ice so solid that it makes scraping the car window nigh impossible was not a part of my childhood experience, while it is of my children’s. This rugged beauty makes me imagine that there is something jarring about nature’s beauty.
There is a fundamental beauty in the power of nature. It reminds us that we are not in charge. It reminds us that we need to look to one another for support in facing the onslaught of forces beyond our control. It reminds us that God alone can promise a future, can redeem a past, can imbue my present with meaning and grace. Nature invites me to look up, but also to look around me.
I write this early, very early Sunday morning. The trees are bearing down under the ice and wind. I am safe in my little brick house. The Theilman family built this house so well 60 some years ago that we can hardly hear the wind gusts outside. My gas fireplace comforts me. All seems well inside, but the beauty outside is harsh in this longest night of the year. Earth may be deep in sleep but she is tossing and turning, thrashing in these sheets of white. I alone am awake in my house, which seems fitting since there is a kind of a solitude that comes with this weather, a solitude that is simultaneously a worry and a relief. It is a worry because the possibility of harm in ice storms is real. People die in these sorts of storms. One cannot under-estimate the power of nature, and its seemingly capricious nature. On the other hand, nature sometimes seems to force Sabbath on us. With its arrival comes a forced facing up to our humanity, to God’s majesty, and to the earth’s incomprehensibility.
Christians and Jews will recall that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” from Psalm 24:1. The weather , too, is the Lord’s and the beauty therein. If this weather has you hunkering down, use this time to recall the gift of community and the beauty of a world made strange by icicles that cross- etch creation, by sheets of silver refracting the subdued sun. Take some time, since this is time given you to recall that we are not God, individually nor collectively. And while an ice storm is not, in my humble opinion, an “act of God” as so many disclaimers in insurance policies purport, it surely Is used by God to awaken a chastened sense of self and a revive some sense of community. If you are someone under the assault of the storm on this Sunday, takes some time to soak in the beauty of it all and to witness the poetry of an earth that proposes that today a comma, a pause, a full stop might be in order.

Living, Full Stop.

“Our universe was fired in the kiln of the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, when all existing matter was compressed into a singularity, a point no larger than the period at the end of this sentence.”  David Suzuki and Wayne Grady, Tree: A Life Story

Suzuki writes further of the expansion of this period-come-cosmos and so inspires me to imagine that we are living in this period, this full stop.  There is something mind altering about this realization, that we are fixed at the end of a sentence, in a full stop, a pause.

Most of us don’t much like to pause, and so to be a pause, well, that’s quite the call: to know that enough has been said, that it is time to rest, to relax, to allow the word to resonate for all with ears to hear.  It is a challenge to be a pause.  It is hard to leave control in the ears of the hearer; it is hard not to try, even subtly, to bend the hearer to my intentions, to make the hearer obedient, to make the hearer in my image.

It is hard to pause period.  So much gets in our way of stopping.  There are so many important things to do: laundry to launder, reports to write, the cat to feed, the universe to fix.  There are, of course, many important things to do and I don’t mean to belittle them.  But every now and then, we need to be reminded of our responsibility to stop and to yield to the fact that we are not God.  Sometimes it is hard not to be God.  I think Jesus knew something of that.  Not pulling the God-card landed him on the cross.  That might not be our story, but giving up on being in charge sometimes results in our own crosses: I cross others who have expected more of me than I can deliver; I cross myself in being the human that I am; I cross a great divide and become authentically human when I stop and accept my  finitude, my Sabbath.

It actually is a gift to be a pause; to be the between, to be the space that allows that expansion of the self that is my neighbour, my friend, my enemy.  Indeed, it is a gift to stop and to be in the presence of people who become more as I accept them unconditionally.  I stop demanding more of them; I stop ordering them around; I stop finishing their sentences, their chapter, their story.  I stop, and in stopping I discover that it really isn’t the other that has changed so much as me.  I have paused, and in pausing I am of a piece with a sentence: full stop.