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.

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.

Dance me a Prayer

Yesterday I spent my Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran, New Hamburg. The good folk there invited me to speak on the topic of “evil” in the adult education hour, after the Anchor service at 9:30 am. It was a delightful morning. Pastor André spoke winsomely of the passion narrative, making reference to the Greek text in order to reframe the story for us and thereby giving occasion for my heart to be strangely warmed. Pastor Anne presided at Holy Communion. It is always a treat to hear again her voice. I closed my eyes and experienced transport of a sort as she chanted me into a different place, a different time. We sang one of my favourite Lenten hymns: Go to Dark Gethsemane. The journey had just begun.

With coffee in hand I moved over to the education room, where I had opportunity to chat with 30 or 40 people on the topic of evil. It was a rich experience, indeed, as I heard the stories that sustain people, as well as the questions that plague them. We spoke for a time on the topic of evil, and its character as both a philosophical quagmire and an existential pit. We spoke of evil’s irrational character, which seems to preclude making sense of it.

People asked me probing questions, and together we endeavored to imagine a Christian response to evil – looking to lament and a struggle against injustice to assist us in such times and places. People spoke so openly of their trials – it was really very moving. One elderly woman spoke of her strategy for dealing with the dark days that descend upon her from time to time. She told me, she told us all that when a heavy, claustrophobic cloud descends upon her, she pulls out her favourite dancing music and dances – all by herself in her room – despite the fact that she can hardly walk. She can dance herself out of the darkness in vexing moments. It was beautiful to hear her talk of her strategy and the hope she embodies in dancing. It struck me that her dance is her prayer of lament, of faith, of life.

On this, the beginning of Holy Week, we could do worse than imagine ways to dance together through the multifarious modes of darkness that descend upon us here and there, now and then. This elderly dancer spoke to us of the relief that comes as we allow our body to speak what our heart feels. I don’t know about the others, but I came away a little richer yesterday as I was afforded that curious opportunity to be a co-learner as well as a co-teacher.

My prayer for us, Lenten pilgrims all, is that we may take advantage of this week to discern how to dance a prayer through the darkness: from dark Gethsemane to the darker cross and tomb, and then at the last into the glorious splendor of life.

Blessed Inversion

Last week it was my turn to lead the Wednesday afternoon “Open Door” service in Keffer Chapel at the seminary where I work. Instead of using the prayers in our denominational worship book I wrote my own, as I do from time to time. For those so interested, I include here for your edification (I hope!) a part of the liturgy called the “proper preface.” This prayer arrives a step or two ahead of the words recounting Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. The prayer typically speaks of God’s majesty. In this instance, I speak of the majesty of God from the perspective of the beatitudes in order to underscore God who sides with the least, the lost, and the broken. Without further adieu (!), my offering:

It is indeed our duty and delight that we should praise you, Holy God of power and might;

God of humility, God of suffering love;
God crossing barbed fence, God jeered,God mirrored
in the faces of children bereft of parents,
God spoken in the cries of the dejected, the rejected,
the refuse of the earth; God with us in both hell and heaven too,

where we laud you with angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim as we sing you Holy.