This Work We Do Together

This week was the beginning, again, of school. It is always such an exciting time, meeting new students, imagining how the first classes will unfold, and knowing all the while that anything is possible. But one thing is certain: I’ll blink my eyes and it will be Christmas.

Time continues to race on in life. I see our students and can’t help but remember my own foray into theology so many years ago. I never imagined that one day I would be a part of the team welcoming students into a new world. So much is the same: nervous excitement, wondering whether the right choice has been made, and trying to navigate the best ways through academic life. But much has changed. These days there are more women than men in our classes, which are increasingly diverse in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. This diversity makes the classroom an exciting place!

It is odd, but when I consider the differences, the time seems long, and when I ponder the similarities the time shrinks. Theologians and philosophers have thought long and hard about the nature of time, but it seems that all of us have responsibility to make our peace with time.

Students of history know well that the capacity to mark time with watches and such was an important step in the journey to the modern world. Time drives our way of being in the world; being ever watchful of the clock, pondering how to make the most of each day. I am not one to look longingly to the past, but on this issue, I exercise this right. Our overcommitment to projects; our constant checking of time whether by wrist watches or devices demonstrates the kind of difficulty so many of us have in getting settled into a place. We are hounded by the keeping of time.

I know from personal experience that this sometimes dangerous. I do my best work when I work sabbatical into my week. When I am rested, and wrested from the busyness of life new ideas and possibilities pop into my mind. This allows me to be more productive when I get back to work.

I hope our students learn this lesson sooner rather than later. People who burn both ends of the candle do not typically excel. I, too, need to be reminded of this truth. Down time makes on time more productive, imaginative and effective.

Of course this is not only a lesson for students. Their professors owe them the same so that we are better able to be creative, helpful and engaged in this work we do together.

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Slivers of Sabbath

I have just finished the first week of my sabbatical, which means that I have 51 more weeks left of this marvellous opportunity. This seems like a passage of time that will last forever, but I know from past experiences that this period flies by. So, I am working at being quite intentional about using it well.

I have had a number of people ask me about a sabbatical, and what it means for me in my work situation. I explain that for six years of work, one half year at full salary, or one full year at 80 % of salary is offered professors who make application. The concept of the sabbatical is biblically grounded in the notion of a day’s rest for seven days of work (Exodus 20:8-11). The word sabbatical itself comes from the Hebrew word for seven, or seventh and from there became associated with rest. But to reference the theme of rest alone is not quite adequate when it comes to describing the sabbath I am on.

The board of the institution where I work anticipates that my sabbath will be a time wherein I do some research to develop skills in service of teaching and to advance knowledge in my area of expertise. A sabbatical is not for laying on the beach for 52 weeks. I found some funding from an outside source that will support my research in considering how schools of theology might respond to the 60th call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls upon theological colleges – among other things – to prepare ministers of religion and practioners of spiritual care of the “need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right.” This is an important commendation that is more complicated than first appears, and so demands a careful accounting of what this might mean in the context of any given school, and the theology that shapes its mission. I will spend a good bit of my sabbatical looking at this, but that is not all I will do. Over the last six years, I have accrued a good bit of nearly completed papers etc. that warrant some editing time and such. Sabbatical will partly be a time for some catch-up.

But I also need to remind myself that the ancient practice of doing less for the sake of more is a spiritual discipline. Recharging the batteries is a necessary practice in becoming whom I need to be for students, my colleagues, our institution and my family. I need to practice rest. Of course, doing nothing is counter-cultural. We are all defined by our jobs, assessed for our productivity, and valued for our contributions. This, unfortunately, is too often parlayed into a way of being that is thoroughly dismissive of the need to take a break, to slow down, and to do nothing for the sake of those times that demand my all. This sabbatical needs to be a time for me to lean into the discipline of pausing so that I might encounter the holy anew.

My life, like most – I suspect – is shaped by chunks of time divided up into fractures of “busy” bordered by ten minutes here, and five minutes there: waiting for the program to load, or the cars to move, or the meeting to start. I hope that this sabbatical will train me to embrace these fractures of time as a gift for the intentional practice of sabbath: to use the traffic jam to think of the blessing my life has accrued; to use unexpected down time from the computer to look out the window and monitor the cardinal; to use the waiting time before a meeting to notice my colleagues around the meeting table, to give thanks to God for them, and to find a way back into that space of attending to the divine. It seems, then, that a sabbatical isn’t only about re-grouping but more about re-shaping. I do not know, then, where this will lead, but this is part of the challenge and joy of the next 51 weeks, and hopefully beyond.

The Wood of Your Children

Far away, in the north – home
to winters cold and forests old –
You play and so
stay my constant queries,
my daily demands. You
refuse to be the mirror of
my desire, as You stretch
in the wood of Your children.
Yet my longing is not not sated
in Your absence. Echoes
of divine Sabbath are
borne on the North Wind, and
when I open my window, You
fill the room, along with the whiff of pine
as I pine for You. Awaiting Your
return from rest, I am arrested
by this awareness that even
You, God, take leave for
a time.

Divine Lips to Clay

What is this place that
calls me – arrests me – freezes me
in my frenzied,
in my harried
activity?

Something
inside of me knows
that this flurry of
importance:

starting this

building that

saving this

securing that

is simply not
enough; is simply
too much.

Deep
inside I want
this flesh to
know that it
lives in the sweep of

a pillar of fire

and under

a columned cloud.

I want my body to
sing or better yet to
whistle
as God
again puts divine lips
to clay and blows.

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.

Sabbath of Sabbaths

My wife and I don’t often miss church.  Most Sundays find us at St. Matthews, where we find nourishment in the familiar rhythms of word and sacrament, and the comradery of friends old and new engaging.  In the main, we like the hymns and songs, choir and bells, the sense of being in a historically grounded space, the grace and quirkiness of this person and that; but most especially Gary, whom some might call challenged but I see as especially gifted.  Perhaps gifting might be the better word.  He reminds me each Sunday that God is sharply located among the weak, wounded and dependent ones.

 

Like I said, we don’t often miss church and on holidays we like to visit other congregations if travel is serendipitous in that way.  Last weekend, we sailed to Port Credit, and hunkered down in the Credit Valley Marina for the night.  Our plan was to get away fairly early Sunday morning, so to be back in time to get ready for another week.  This meant no church and I knew I would miss my routine.

 

One of the spiritual disciplines of my Sunday is the walk to and from church.  There was to be none of that this Sunday last, but a short walk was in the offing all the same.  I walked along the Mississauga lake front trail, enjoying the view and the people enjoying the view.  I was especially struck by a man sitting on a bench with a coffee, cigar, and crossword puzzle who was utterly transfixed by his tasks.  He didn’t seem to notice his pristine view of the lake, which was emitting some of the diamonds it harbours in waves and wakes.  Others were chatting as they jogged, walked, and cycled about.  None looked like they were on their way to church, and it struck me that a change in their plans was not too likely.

 

Of course, many in the Greater Toronto Area would know nothing of church, coming to Canada with other faiths in their pasts, but I was reminded again how many in Canada would know nothing of church, being born with little or no knowledge of what the practice of church could mean.  I looked at the people biking in their little groups, and asked myself how many of them might give up their free Sunday morning at lake’s side for the weekly discipline of worship.  My forehead furrowed.

 

My father, of blessed memory, used to say that a revival was needed in our day and age.  He had in mind a revival of the heart of both the individual and the church, and I think he was right.  But as I made my way yesterday upon that pathway leading not to church but along the lake, I surmised that re-vivification will involve neither finger waving nor bland religious platitudes, but more time spent with folk like Gary.  He gleefully shouts “Time for church!” as one of us hold open the door for him who, in turn, opens a few doors for us unawares.  His faith is contagion as he revives the heart of the institution and the individuals who still find in it a home for their faith.

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.