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…

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En route and off

Last week we went to Ottawa to celebrate the convocation of my middle daughter, who has completed a degree in mechanical engineering. We were exceedingly glad to celebrate the day with her and her friends. This was most interesting in that we have heard stories about many of them, and met a few along the way. The convocation, of course, also gave us occasion to meet some of their proud parents. Afterward, my wife made the observation that the convocation ceremony was notable in that, aside from siblings and grandparents, the audience was in the range of our age. It is rare that we gather in mass with people from our generation, that is the end of the baby boomers.

I thought about that a bit on our trip home. We travelled from Ottawa via a more northernly route, camping one night at Canisbay Lake in Algonquin Park. Along the way, we stopped to grab some food for supper, and my wife suggested we buy some bread, cheese, and veggies for a picnic along the way. An hour or so later, we managed to find a pull-in station along the highway, where there were picnic tables alongside a lake. We had a leisurely lunch, enjoying the sights before we continued on our way. As we travelled, we chatted of our memories of doing this quite often as kids, and with our children when they were young. At one point, in Alberta where we lived at that time, road side camp shelters were quite common. These were not over-night camp sites, but spots where folk could stop for a bit of a rest along the way. People would often take a break, and allow kids to run. I distinctly recall their demise. A would be premier, promising more services for less taxes, promptly shut them down upon his election. It was a sad day in my then province. I do not know if they have been returned with a recent turn in government. We have been happy to find a few here in Ontario, but I do not know if the current state of affairs represents a decline, or not. I suspect , in part, that they are probably less used if even still in place. This is sad since they are a pre-eminently civilized diversion in the increased rat race of our travel habits, now complete with hands-free phones, food on the go, and road rage. I recall, as a child, travel as decidedly more leisurely. Perhaps these days can be resurrected. If so, it will take some of us with a little bit different memory of the past to call attention to a different way to be, which brings me to my first observation.

In a way, a convocation is a profoundly important inter-generational experience. It isn’t exactly a passing of batons, but there is something of that to this important event. As a new graduating class makes their way into the world, they will make and influence choices for good and for ill, just as have those who sit in the audience. It is given to both to work together, in both dreaming and recollection. The past is not pristine, but neither is it obsolescent and progress is not the purview of the future alone. Theology, amongst other disciplines, knows these treasured truths and forgets them to its peril. The path forward is sometimes behind us and the future might well be where we finally meet our past. Memories are the repository of dreams and the obverse obtains, and no place is as replete with memories as a convocation hall.

The convocation hall, in a way, is a great symbol as a meeting place of both past and future, of many generations. It is a location of being together, which is surely the condition for the possibility of true community. Perhaps this, in a way, is the most important commencement address. We are community in being together, across generations for the task of celebrating these achievements and perhaps we ought to make this being together a habit, so that we might learn from both past mistakes and successes as we dream a world whole and well.

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.

Pining for a Little Snow

I am hoping to change the background photograph on stillvoicing. I try to bring in a new image for each season, something I have shot recently. Often the photograph is from our neighbourhood, or an image from my walk home from work. I especially aim to reflect the season, which has been a bit vexing this year. Winter has been coming in fits and starts. There has been a bit of snow, but not enough has stuck around for long enough to get a decent photo. We have been slipping, too frequently, into that kind of weather one expects in March, my least favourite month. But during my walk to church this morning, the skies opened for a time, and down floated opulent feather like flakes. I was able to make out single snowflakes a few paces in front of me, and so in a strange sort of way, they drew attention to the space between them. For a time, I wasn’t walking down the street so much as through air punctuated with miniature clouds. It was nice to feel winter.

And even though the snow hasn’t consistently abetted my sense of the season, the sun has been of aid. We still have rather short days, although I am already able to note their gradual lengthening. All the same, it is dark enough after supper to light some candles around the house. I find this to be a ritual that reframes the evening, allowing it to proceed under that gentle illumination that speaks a particular kind of hope: soft, quiet, and calming. This, it seems to me, can be the gift of winter: an invitation to be away even while at home.

Last Friday, my wife and I went out for a movie, and upon returning our eldest and her friend popped by for coffee, wondering whether the power had been out earlier that evening in our part of town. We did not return to any flashing lights, so it seems that this was not the case. They reported that it went out where they were and it was dark long enough to break out the candles. They, too, noted something acutely beautiful about a time without power. A candled evening, rather like a snow day, unravels our overly calendared agendas; these forced sabbaticals settle our souls into the realization that we are not in charge.

In the midst of a course I co-taught with a Jewish scholar last semester, on the book of Exodus, we spoke about the Sabbath. While he referenced his regular observance of a day at rest, I relayed my utter failure. He noted that keeping Sabbath is difficult without communal support. It is hard work not to work without spiritual and cultural infrastructures. That struck me as true, and one of our students spoke of her commitment to 24 hours without home-work, etc. over the last few years, noting what I knew to be true: working less sometimes allows us to get more done. So Sabbath is something I have been working toward over the last little while. It is challenging – especially when deadlines loom and I am tempted to do just a little more – but every now and then the power’s failure shuts down computers, or the snow slows the commute, and I am reminded that I need to slow down, we all need to slow down: for the good of our bodies and souls, our planet, and simply to make some time for joy.

I am well aware that many people are quite happy with our relatively snow-free winter. Some would rather be rid of winter altogether, but I am reminded of how my parents and their generation used to speak of winter in terms that brought hibernation to mind. And while we cannot recreate their culture, which made possible something of a Sabbath season, perhaps there is another way into the best of that that mindset. It just might be that a weekly 24 hour break is a good start. Wish me luck.

Earth’s Unwinding

Friends, a poem from a year ago that seems fitting today.

This is the season of earth’s unwinding – finding
soil’s Sabbath.
You can hear terra firma
exhale
expire
exhausted, she
sleeps and with sleep
comes a dreaming –finally
ease frees earth’s form to reframe:
subliminal luminosity obtains.
The sun lays low and so
bestows on the earth – that I am –
a softer glow
a kind of light that sees shade
not as harbinger of dark dangerous design
but as foreshadows of my resolve:
I will stop. I will pray. I will stay distraction.
I will dare that dying
that is life, that is wealth, that is
repose, reward, renewal.
I will be late Autumn.
I will be November.

Slivers and Shards of Time

I don’t think my experience is atypical.

I race from meeting to class to appointment to task to gym to bus to social engagement.  My life is split apart – too much to do wrestled into too little time.  No longer the singular whole I remember life being as a child, it is now shattered into sometimes seemingly disparate bits of time.  Singularity escapes me.  Perhaps this is a condition of the modern age, or middle age, or both.

In between these pieces of time, broken from one another, I find shards – shards and slivers of time.  Little bits: five minutes here, seven minutes there.   Sometimes these bits are barely long enough to take a breath.  Most often these shards of time are too short to do too much, and yet long enough to make me worry about wasting them.  So, I do what I most of you too would do with these fractured five minute moments: I check my emails and start projects that I cannot finish, and so start again, later.

But every now and then, other things beckon.  My eyes are drawn up to the painting over my desk.  It is an abstract impression of a northern Ontario lake, painted from the perspective of a cliff on the Canadian Shield.  The artist has layered colour over colour, and as the light strikes the painting at different times in the day, various hues show through.  I find myself both calmed and energized by what I see.

Sometimes, the light that illumines the painting draws my eye outside.  Across the street from my office, I see an oak tree.  In the winter, bared of leaves, I see that this tree is actually a dance.  Branches whirl – twisting they invite me to follow the contour of their contortions and to marvel how chaotic parts make for a symphonic whole.

Usually, the above is much more satisfying than checking my emails.

I call these mini-Sabbaths.  Smaller instances of the bigger discipline of stopping: to see, to rest, to pray, just to be.  These shards of time remind me that we are invited into repose, into rest, into the Sabbath for a reason.   We are recollected, reconnected and resurrected in stopping to remember where we are, who we are, and whose we are.   Curious, indeed, is our propensity to be busy instead.