A Morning Prayer for Reformation

Last Saturday Waterloo Lutheran Seminary and Renison University College co-hosted a symposium on the theme of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. I wrote the following prayer for the opening worship and so share it here for you. Allen

Holy God, as we gather together today around your redeeming and reforming will for this world, we acknowledge You:

In grand rivers rippling with grace

In soil saturated with stories of Your faithfulness

In mighty forests bearing You, and here, in this place:

Your finger prints in wrinkles, dimples and folds of skin;

Your scent in bannock, curry, sausage and sage;

And in your desire for a church as

Supple as a moss on rock and as

Solid as tall cedar tree.

We celebrate you, and pray your passion for peace among us. We plead your impatience for justice within us. Form us that we might be living sacrifices in your Reign coming to us here, now in your Son, Jesus. Amen. May it be so.

Christus Insurrexit

“There is no rest that
can feign innocence – every
pause a cause
for alarm.”
 
And from the above,
Love looks upon
us crucifying ourselves
in this refusal to breathe; and
beckons us to recall that ours
is to ponder verbs
in the way of
peace.
 
Not so very far
from here rivers of
beauty flow, yet I often
pass them by – but yesterday
a child leapt into my arms and
we became a compass
oriented by joy and
laughter and play:
insurrection.

Silent Might

Last Sunday the global song choir to which I belong, Inshallah, sang at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on the Six Nations of Grand River reserve, some 60 km south of Kitchener. We were there a couple of years ago, and happy to make a return trip. Father Norm Casey, the local priest knows us well, and has been a remarkable host to folk from the Kitchener-Waterloo area on a number of occasions. The seminary where I work has made numerous trips that Father Norm has coordinated. Two of our students have done internships there, and the folk from Six have been to visit us many times. Slowly we have developed a significant relationship and coming to the reserve is always something of a sacred journey for me.

I offered to drive my colleague and his wife, who also sing in the choir since I know the area a bit. Alas, I did not know it quite as well as I thought, and made a right turn one road too late. We had given ourselves plenty of time, and so were able to re-orient and get to the church on time. Father Norm and the folk from St. Paul’s were busy getting ready for all of us. The church has recently received a significant bequest, which has enable the community to do some substantial repair, and so the church was shining, nicely dressed and ready for the party.

Our choir is rather large, and we exhausted the chancel and choir area of the sanctuary. The nave soon filled and the evening began with a traditional prayer, honouring and thanking all the creatures of the cosmos, as well as the Creator. This was done by Mike Monture, a gentle man whose prayer in Mohawk was done in a chanting fashion. He translated his prayer for us as he welcomed us to the territory. The evening then proceeded as we sang our songs, and heard as well the music of the Mohawk Choir of the Six Nations of the Grand River. This was lovely, and touching as well. At the end, Father Norm thanked us, and invited Mike to give the traditional closing thanks. He walked to the mike and spoke slowly, so very slowly, telling us that in the songs and words he heard the Creator remind us of the gift of children, and this touched him deeply because he taught Mohawk to children on the reserve. He thanked us for this, saying he would carry this evening into his classroom the next day. He also noted that he felt a deep peace in his heart and with the community there, and he was glad for this. And then he sang again the prayer of honour and thanks for Creator and all the creatures. It was a profound moment.

I discussed this bit with my colleague, Debbie Lou, the director of our choir. We both noted the profound power in Mike’s words, and how this power came as a truly being with us, evident in the ponderous pauses between his few and so very carefully weighed words, which were as potent as could be. It was the exact opposite of my experience at Ebenezer Baptist church a few weeks ago, but in a way it was the same experience. I felt God in that place and in that time in the authenticity of the speakers. Certainly I believe God is always with us, but every now and then, we have these moments that feel just a little like a veil is pulled back, and we are ushered into a new reality: where wounds are being washed, and memories are being honoured, and bridges are being built and friends are being made.

When we left, we discovered that the road I missed was closed because a bridge was out, and so my detour was, in fact, the most direct route. This seemed a fitting lesson as we slipped away from that holy moment into the fog that accompanied us all the way home.

There are no Mirrors in Heaven

There are no mirrors in heaven, no
self-reflection on
    tied tongues, pride
    rung and hung before
    eyes to see or
on ears marred by wounding words;
no deer-in-head-light fright staring
me in the face
of demands remanding my freedom.
No, none of this in heaven.

There are no mirrors in heaven, only
windows and doors
neither locked nor exit-ready;
no need to capture,
no need to bolt,
no need to be back-against-the-wall
because there are no walls in heaven, only
bridges where
    righteousness and mercy meet, where
    justice and peace kiss and
        all is the biggest word of all.

First Ski of the Season

I managed to squeeze in my first ski of the season just before January’s end, with only ten hours to spare. After two snow heavy winters, this year’s in Southwestern Ontario seems a bit odd. My one year old snow blower has earned its keep on only two instances. There was a bit of snow Friday, so I thought yesterday might give me occasion to reacquaint myself with my Nordic roots.

I generally ski on a local golf course. It is only a few minutes’ drive away and a two perimeter rounding of Rockway Golf Course is just right to ready me for an open-faced herring sandwich lunch with Akvavit to chase. The snow was a bit sparse. Here and there sleepy grass was sticking out tentative tentacles sleuthing the air for hints of spring. It will be awhile. In truth the bared bits were without cover because other parts of the greens, fairways and roughs collected snow as a result of the persistent wind from a westerly direction.

The ski-out was downhill and into the wind, and the ski-back was uphill with the wind behind me. On my second go-around, I saw two young girls tobogganing down a gentle slope, laughter at hand. I went around a corner, and as I was making my way up a tedious hill, I noticed a maple-leaf twig skidding across the wind-crusted snow, a bright-red sail running at broad reach. We were making about the same time, although I was having a harder go of it. I suspect that I would have lost the race, had he not slid into my ski track, wherein my worthy opponent met his demise.

I was left to finish the last bit of the round on my own, taking in the peculiar beauty of winter. The trees that grace the course are spectacular in a different way in winter. Nude, they bare their vein-like highways of trunk, branch and twig that bridge heavenly reach and earthly roots. These vulnerable, gentle giants serve as a parable of the mystery that is life: heaven kisses earth and for those with eyes to see, peace slides into view and the world seems well, if only for this instant.

Sometimes this instant is all we have, and the wise make the most of it. Perhaps they stop skiing for a second, and notice the cold air that reminds the lungs that nothing can be taken for granted. Perhaps they look about and notice animal tracks that trace a life that has wrestled out a reasonable peace with winter. Perhaps they release a prayer into the air, for loved ones near and far, and know that life is precious, and beautiful, and best lived in each moment.

Thoughts from the I 90

Dear readers, be assured I have not abandoned you. I have made plans and then my plans have remade me. This past month has entailed a trip to the United (as of now) Kingdom, a trip to Copenhagen followed up by a week’s long conference in Chicago. In the midst of all of this, classes have started, and I have endured meetings that have not always been endearing.

Increasingly I have come to know life as the undoing of my plans. I am working at being at peace with chaos, even while I pine for a pause in life. But I have also come to know that peace is more often imbibed in bits: a poem here, a vista there, the vision of a child wrapping herself around her mother’s leg that takes me outside of myself and to a place I covet for all. When I least expect it, repose sneaks up on me. For instance, last Wednesday a generous young woman named Sarah agreed to ferry me and a Malaysian friend from Hyde Park in Chicago to O’Hare Airport. The organizer of the conference had wisely arranged for transport for all well in advance of normal departure times. Winds in 40 knot range were expected along side of the precipitation befitting such gales. As was expected, the trip was about double the time. This plodding commute gave me occasion to ponder the last week since I was not in charge of driving, not needing to be anxious about when to get on or off ramps and like. I was able to sit back and revisit the conference; meeting new and old friends from Indonesia, Nigeria, Germany, Brazil etc. I was at a meeting of the Lutheran World Federation, where we asked the question: How do Lutherans the world wide read the bible?

As you can expect, no easy answer emerged. Some had suggestions while others queried the wisdom of travelling down this path at all. After all, some argued, the empire upon which the sun never set was obsessed with uniformity, and we all know how that ended. But then again, that empire, like so many others, has not really ended. It lives on even if only in wistful wishes for an empire of no setting sun. But the sun insists on setting, even in the shadow of busy airports.

Here and here, in the midst of traffic crawls, and renegotiated flight departures pause is thrust upon us. This is really the tale of life: while we may struggle with the rudder, the wind is beyond our purview. We bob along, and hope for the best; at least the wise do so. In those pauses, welcomed or not, comes our very own opportunity to be welcoming: will we breathe when the opportunity arises? Will we take leave of our importance? Will we embrace those moments that arrest our constant, if not consistent, rushing about? Will we will Sabbath? Will we ache to become a deep breath in harmony with all of creation? Will we be content with the moment given us, to be grateful and so generous? Life is so astounding in so many ways; here an unexpected gift of time; there an opportunity to practice peace; and in the midst of it all – God, ever offering fresh starts, even on a Illinois Inter-state.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

This has been Luther Hostel week at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary – a week with credit and continuing education events, as well as special worship and recreation events.  Last night we had opportunity to see the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  This movie is about groups of women, both Christian and Muslim, who worked for peace in war torn Liberia.

 

The story is stark, and difficult to hear: sons enslaved as soldiers, daughters raped by marauding gangs intoxicated with guns and the numbing power of drugs, mothers and fathers forced to see and hear the unspeakable, moments before their death.

 

I do not know so very much about this story.  The film served as a correction, even while alerting me to the fact that there is so much more to learn.  While a film such as this is disturbingly dark, it also came with moments of hope.  Seeing the women dance and sing – each turn, each stanza made into a prayer – was incredibly moving.  Hope shone through in strength of these women who refused to let the devil have the last word in their communities.  Together, in sit down strikes and stand out defiance, they turned faux peace talks into a test of accountability.

 

The film also chronicled the difficult task of facing former child soldiers, now young men, in this post-war situation.  We have the good fortune of having Esther and Lazarus, two church workers from Liberia, with us for a couple of months.  They were able to comment on the work being done in this area by the Lutheran Church in Liberia.  They reminded us that these former child soldiers have had their childhood robbed from them, even as they robbed life, and hope, and community from others.  In the film, some of the victims spoke of the difficult task of forgiving these.  Not all are able to do this.  I can certainly understand that.  But for those who are beginning to see their way into forgiveness, an important step was seeing them again as children rather than child soldiers.

 

I will never forget the strength of the women in this movie.  Their righteous anger echoed the beatitudes proclaimed by an itinerant preacher of a time long ago.  He talked of tables being turned, of the weak taking power, of the meek inheriting mantels, and the mighty being brought low.  Something of this was experienced in Liberia.  A new Reign fell upon this land.  Prayer and solidarity held hands as mercy and truth met in these strong women.  Much work remains to be done in Liberia, where our thoughts, prayers, and solidarity are coveted.  But hope is being enacted in the form of former child soldiers now learning talents and trades to contribute to a new Liberia, to a new kind of freedom.