Limping toward You

And then You come to me
again, and again, and again,
slipping Your words into the silence
of my speech. You right and write
my wrongs in strophes of
reconciliation, allowing
my ears to be hallowed
by Your cries; my
eyes to be sanctified by
the sight of Your tears
now made mine.

You are not
content to see
me face to face
but embrace me
from the inside out:
Your presence now my joy,
Your absence now my hope,
my words now my tongue
limping toward
You.

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Granite Hope

It is possible to hold this
poem in your palm, to handle
it even while you know that there is
no way you will ever
train it.

This poem will never
be domesticated, never
be tamed with our maimed
freedom. No this poem
has always been
fiercely free,
always soul,
always otherly
incarnate. It was
never mine.

This poem now palmed might
bite, or perhaps shape
shift into a stone:
in lithe liberty
it will then be
a silence that
demands my hearing,
that calls my ears to
attend to
granite hope.

After Six

Friends, I wrote this poem after a conference at The Six Nations of the Grand River Nation this summer. Here is a recently edited version.

They awe me, these suffering
ones, enduring

our colonial slips,

our empire eyes.

Oogling their land, and
straightening their circles, like

gluttons we grab and ignore and then

we fetishize and tokenize them

for our justification

for our failure

just to be.

They have much to teach us – when

our fists finally loosen

our eyes softly open

our hearts beat still –

when our voices find silence.

Saints of Old

It is no easy
task to be
invisible, unheard, on
the other side of
evident.

One first has to
hear a tree speak
see signs in the sky
touch the Braille of
the wind.

I’ve never been
invisible, and
although I’ve played
at hiding – I’ve
always been found
out.

The saints of old became fire.
Saints today may well be rocks.
And somewhere between

stone below and flame above

I wait on the Voice whose Ear
hears my silence.
I keep my eye on the Eye that
sees me through.

Site of Silence

With a solid footing of snow, I decided yesterday was an fitting occasion to head over to Bechtel Park for a Nordic ski. I am more inclined to go to a local golf course, largely because it is so very close. But time was a bit more spacious on January 1, and so I jumped in the car and headed about 8 km north on the express way so that I could ski the set trails at Bechtel.

It was actually a bit icier than I was anticipating, and so after a few swings around a couple of trails I crossed a little bridge over a small creek and inched my way on a path neither groomed nor friendly to cross country skis. I eventually always do this when at Bechtel. I usually take along a small thermos of hot chocolate and get far enough away along the creek’s side to know that I won’t likely be meeting dog walkers or other skiers. Yesterday, I took a few photos with my phone before finding a fallen tree to function as my chaise. It wasn’t long before I noted a pair of cardinals across the stream in one tree, and a pair of nuthatches in another. I was transfixed by them. I’m not a birder and really know next to nothing about our feathered friends, but every now and then I find myself drawn to them. After a time, I made my way along the path back to the parking lot, realizing that I had not taken any photos of the birds, but happy enough all the same.

Later in the day, I listened to a podcast on “On Being.” Krista Tippett was interviewing Gordon Hempton about his work to reclaim silence in our world. Noise pollution is his concern, and he makes the rather audacious claim that silence is about to become extinct. Silence, please note, is not for Hempton an absence of sound but a dearth of artificial sounds. He spoke at length, and eloquently, about learning to listen, and the curious fact that humans are not hard-wired to hear humans as much as certain other animals. Our auditory interest in humans is a later overlay. He spoke in particular of our ability to catch the song of birds, since their call often indicated a locale of some importance for the primordial homo sapiens. It seems there is a deep seated reason for my attraction to bird song.

Hempton spoke eloquently of our need for listening. He claimed that ours is a world pre-occupied with sight. Learning to shift our focus from eyes to ears, and then to hear what comes naturally is no small task. Luther, the famed Reformer whose 500th anniversary of the posting of 95 theses (which is said to have kicked off the Reformation) is being commemorated in 2017, spoke of the church as a Mundhaus, or place of hearing. He made mention some 500 years before Hempton of the curious fact that ears do not have lids like eyes. Hempton made the case that this makes sense from the side of evolution because hearing is how we best discern who or what is in the environs. Luther made the case that this makes theological sense because hearing is passive in a way that is not quite true for seeing and so an especially apt receptor of words of grace.

Yesterday I was delighted to both see and hear the cardinals and nuthatches, and I was also very happy to look up at the clear blue sky and see snow laden trees branches form a frame for that heavenly blue as if they were playing the part of stained glass. Hempton calls the great outdoors his cathedral, a point I can appreciate even while I am quite content to let cathedrals be cathedrals and nature be nature. Both have things to teach us. Both provide both moments of rapture and occasions of deep awe – in their own way. But I am happy to hear – and see – in both evidences of hope and healing. Both can be for me sites of silence.

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.

Reforming Language

Dear Readers, as a matter of course I do not post sermons, but I am going to make an exception this week.  I was asked to provide a 3 minute reflection on the Reformation and Language in chapel today, and thought some might be interested in reading my speaking.  Allen

In John 8:31 Jesus says:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

This word “word” was of such importance to John and his community, and was of incredible importance to the Reformers studying John. The Greek word for word, logos, means word but so much more. It can also mean speech, subject matter, an accounting or reckoning as well as reason or motive. While all of these words have different nuances they all point to a linguistic common denominator. Language is at the heart of being human. God spoke the world into being and we are made in the image of God, so speaking – or more broadly – communicating is being human.

Communicating was a big deal for Martin Luther. Some years ago a group of us traveled to Eisenach in the former East Germany and visited the Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the New Testament into German. We were told that, at that time, the German lands each had a dialect. Luther’s translation of the Bible was an important step in developing standard German, which he used to great benefit in communicating the Gospel: the good news, that Jesus is God’s word to us of grace; Jesus speaks to us of the unconditional love of God; Jesus is God’s unconditional love for us. This word was at the heart of the reformation.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for us to reduce this word to an idea, an idea that we can master – rather like the times tables. But the gospel is not an idea; the gospel is an event, a happening, something that cannot be orchestrated, nor manipulated. The gospel is all about God, and where God is at work, anything is possible. God cannot be put in a box, and God’s word cannot be manhandled. This is why Luther insisted that the Church was not a Federhaus, a pen house, or a house of writing, but instead a Mundhaus, a mouth house. Scholars will sometimes translate Mundhaus as house of speaking, but I like mouth house. It sounds more problematic, perhaps a little cheeky, and besides, it is very sensual.

Mouths, after all, are the loci of taking in and spitting out. They are the location of our ingestation as well as our protestation; they are the place of the kiss, and the curse; they are the smile, the frown, they are language incarnate; language in flesh. The church is a fleshy place and a mouth house is a house that is bodily in nature. Debbie Lou has spoken often to the choir of the role the body plays in singing. Of course, the same is true in speaking. Communication is a bodily event. And so, when we think about language, we think about bodies: my body, your body, the body we call the body of Christ, the body we call the cosmos, the earth, the universe; the bodies – all of these bodies – that God loves intimately.

The church is a mouth house, but I would be amiss to neglect to point out that a mouth that never stops speaking is cacophanous; sounds begin to screech and our ears weary from too many words, from too much sound. A motor mouth church wears its hearers down; bombarding them with cliches, with half truths, with pollyanna-like pious, plastic language. It is enough to make you want to shout “Enough!”

Language, like music, depends upon silence. The space between the notes, the consonants, the sounds makes hearing them possible, makes ingesting them pleasurable, makes repeating them desireable. Language without silence is noise, and we all have enough noise in our lives.

There is a certain freedom in knowing that sometimes, sometimes we can be like God can be: quiet, and that this quietness is not a betrayal of the gospel, but intrinsic to its nature. Sometimes, sometimes, what needs to be said, for now, is nothing….