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.

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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.

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.

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.

Redeeming Winter

I thought of this title yesterday afternoon as I went for a ski. I am not a serious skier, but an eager one. Had I more time, I would strap these magical sticks to my feet more often. Given the amount of snow we have had this winter, readers might well imagine that I have spent a lot of time out skiing this year. Alas this has not been the case. It is either too cold to ski comfortably (below 20 degrees Celsius) or warm and snowing buckets of white. Alternately, it rains. Yesterday was the first day in the New Year when the stars aligned and I got out. It was glorious.

The snow has been sculpted by the wind, and as I made my way westward, cresting a hill of our local golf course, I looked down and imagined myself floating across windswept waves frozen in time. The crust of the snow looked exactly like an ocean’s break upon the shore. I suppose at some point, each molecule of water I skied across had one day crested across a shore somewhere, sometime. And the hard water that bore my skis today could vey well one day buoy my boat, and water my plants, and bathe my body. But today it struck a pose, frozen for a time.

I love to ski, but it always begins with an uphill battle. There are tasks: getting changed, prepping the skis, driving to the golf course where I ski, etc. But once I get going I feel good, very good about the decision. I imagined, yesterday, as I skied, that this experience redeems winter. There is something about getting out – especially for something fun – that reorients my attitude to winter. I appreciate its ponderous beauty in a new way, feeling included in it. Winter is no longer the enemy.

I like the ambiguity of the word “redeeming’ in my title. We can understand it verbally and imagine that winter is redeemed. But the word can also serve as an adjective describing winter: winter is a redeeming season. This too is true. Winter is the time of earth’s rest, and an invitation to all of us to slow down. The other day I was visiting with friends and we recalled rural stories of slower times in winters past. Not only the earth was rejuvenated, but the inhabitants she hosts, too, were renewed. This is lost on too many of us, and I suspect that many people’s distaste with winter has to do with unacknowledged loss of the gift of Sabbath.

Well, I always feel better after having gone skiing. This is true for so many things in life, things that are good: for us, for our beloved, for the earth. And with so many of these things we discover that curious grace, or promise, written into the logic of creation: listening to the cadence of creation is to encounter the wisdom of the Creator, calling us to be, to observe, to accept enough as enough.