There you sit

There You sit,

poised and praising
my vulnerability, as if
it were something
other than what
it is: my being
drawn to
You, who
lets me poke
You in the side. I
am no longer divided
by doubt but at peace with
it as You open Your self to me
and allow entrance into Your Holy
Body: bloody in a way, but more so
beautiful, as bodies are meant
to be – ruddy and ready for
this sacred pleasure.

All Across Turtle Island

A year ago I was in Shillong, India, teaching some marvelous students, seeing some remarkable sight, and learning so very much. This year I’m not in Shillong, but warmed by memories of my time there. My not being there, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing the aforementioned activities. It seems that life is rich and sure to bless as we open our eyes. Of course, I know that people go through unbearably difficult days, days that deserve lament. This, too, is a part of life but hopefully not the whole of it.

Some days are gift. Yesterday was such a day. I made my way to the Conestoga Pow Wow held at the Conestoga College complex. I go most years, although I missed last year because I was away. When I entered I was told I could go left or right, which was a bit disorienting because in the past there was only one direction to go. But this year, the Pow Wow had grown so large that they had a separate arena for vendors aside from the arena dedicated to the drums and dancing. I quickly scouted out the vendors before going into the drumming and dancing arena.

As I entered the sound of the big drums just electrified me. The drumbeat has sometimes been described as the heartbeat of mother earth. It certainly felt as though I was close to the heart of the earth: strong, warm, enlivening, inspiring, justice-demanding: the list of words to describe this sound cannot be exhausted. Drums are considered to be animate for many folk who are Indigenous to North America, sometimes called Turtle Island. I can understand why. The sound was life. The dancers were, I think, carried by the energy, by the soul of the drums.

I had occasion to catch up with some friends at the Pow Wow, wise people who I deeply admire. I am always warmed by their willingness to spend some time with me, sharing their insights and helping me to understand just a little bit more of the way of Turtle Island. And I had opportunity to visit with some young folk who I know from my life at the university, strong Indigenous voices who paint the world right, who converse with the earth and lead us into right relations with our mother, who study and teach, dance and sing, fight and write for the good of all creation. My afternoon just filled me with so much hope. Canada is a long way from where we need to be in our nation to nations conversations. But the conversation partners are ready to talk, passionate about a future lived out in a good way.

I came away from my afternoon at the Pow Wow so very thankful to the Creator for making this possible for me. I do not take these interactions for granted. Life itself bids us come and learn how to be, how to listen, how to smile. I saw so many smiles yesterday. I can only hope that one day we will see more smiles on the faces of people all across Turtle Island, faces glowing in their knowing that everything is related, and all life matters because it comes from the Source of life. We are but a speck in the universe, and knowing that sets us free to be humble and hopeful.

Glass in Hand

I’ve been thinking
about how my hand’s
ability to turn might
be a parable for
repentance,
until it turns into
a fist, and then I’m set
to wondering whether it
might be akin to a comet
plunging toward the
earth – about to level
the playing field – setting
the anthropocene on its head.
And then one finger pokes out and
my hand is making me to be John the
Baptist, even though I’m loath to eat
locusts. When the middle finger
pops out, my hand can stand
in for scissors until the
third finger is made
to measure how
much Scotch is
to fill the
glass in
my hand.

Dystopia Times Two

I am currently in the midst of two dystopian TV series: The Walking Dead (TWD) and The Handmaid’s Tale (THT). Both are located in a future setting, where life as we know it is but a distant memory, and the future exists as a thin hope oscillating between obliteration and being at the threshold of the shades. I am rather far into TWD, and have just started the screen rendition of Atwood’s tale. Both are utterly fascinating, not only for their differences, but their similarities.

Both deal with a contagion: in the TWD it is a death that will not die; and in THT it is the inability in to give birth. Other comparisons are apt. TWD is punctuated with violence. There is violence in THT, but it is measured, and horrific in its calculation. While watching TWD, you can anticipate a zombie around every corner, every crook, every shadow – surprising, but not. In THT, violence is really more insidious, terrifying in its being cloaked in the guise of religion, and the supposed good. In THT, women are at the very centre of the plot, inviting the viewer to think about how women have been, and are marginalized and given a tightly scripted role in the narrative of life. I shut off the television, and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my daughters do not have to live in that world, but then I remember that the real world that they live in is rife with patriarchy and parochialism, and I know that the gains that have been made for women are ever at risk of being eroded. The women in the TWD are profoundly strong – but differently. They slaughter zombies and enemies with the same ferocity as the men and are found to be leaders of some communities. Women in THT are ever needing to make their way by speaking two languages, as it were: that of patriarchy and that of the circles in which they move at a level invisible to men.

Religion plays a big role in each: in the TWD there are believers who struggle with their faith, and admittedly agnostic characters who have a kind of tenacity that seems super-human. Religion in THT is the antagonist it seems (at this point), with images of ruined mainline churches setting the backdrop against which a state-sponsored dystopian religion reigns, supporting the patriarchy, which quotes scripture in support of the rape of handmaids, and the torture of deviants.

I am finding it so very informative to watch these two shows together. Both of them serve as a kind of lens for looking at the present. In TWD a kind of oscillation of utter chaos and brief but tenuous calm advances the plotline. I am too early into THT to weigh in on this, but I can say that its use of flashbacks is haunting, since they take me to my present time – and my own geography since much of THT is shot in Cambridge and Toronto, both close to where I live. Both series are externally supported by the regular and disorienting clips concerning climate change in my various news feeds. Of course, these dystopian tales have their provenance in apocalyptic literature – found in the bible and elsewhere. In the bible, this genre serves to tell those in utter chaos that God will bring about a just end. The hand of God is not so clear in these dystopian tales.

Both, in their own way, raise important theological queries: from the THT, I am constantly invited to ponder how religion can be a tool for hegemonic purposes. In TWD, religion takes on such a chameleon character – now seen in a tenuous hold on faith, now seen in people who betray their religion for survival, and now seen in hard existential questions about the purpose of life – played against an apocalyptic back drop that here and there peppers the viewer with biblical phrases. If I was a pastor who preached regularly, I would be watching both shows with a note pad at hand. As it is, I am ever watching, wondering how these fundamental questions of life, caught on screen might inform my classrooms, my church, my world.

This Nose Hunts

Not quite awake, my
body drags behind
my foggy mind.
I am dull,
here in the
dungeon of
night: my sight
is off, and a muffled
ring shrouds my hearing.
The silence of the house is
deafening – even the clock
is at sea.

But the grape on my
tongue tastes like the
troth of life and my
noses scouts about:

here, morning’s toast
there, yesterday’s curry

racing round the house, like
a cat on the loose, not to
be caught. But this nose hunts,
and now, now, I smell God:

first like baby’s skin
then like the air of a storm

taut, and sharp, like cheese blue.

Scored in Bread

What am I to do with
this lack of You that
haunts my every
breath.

You take residence in
my soul as sorrow;
in my body as hunger;
in my mind as I find
myself dreaming You
again and again.

And yet.

I tasted You at table;
saw You scored in bread;
felt my thirst slaked
for a time as you sated softly
my ache for Your making
me into a host to Your
visitation.

You sit across from
me now wholly
strange, and yet
so intimate that
my tears Yours, and
Your tear, me.

These words we are…

This week brought my semester’s teaching to an end. Marking is still outstanding, and a host of post semester responsibilities: some around publishing, some around church work, some around the to and fro that comes with life in an institution.

It has been nice to have a little room to breath. My colleagues and I have had a bit more time to chat, and check in with each other. This really is one of the best bits of my work. My years in parish ministry sometimes came with a sense of being on my own even though I always had supportive people in my parishes. But this isn’t quite the same as having colleagues to interact with daily. That is now the case, and this piece in my position reminds me of how community really is at the core of finding fulfillment in life.

This last year I have been reading Indigenous authors who also speak of this – but they tend to expand the understanding of community in important and interesting ways. They invite us to consider all of the natural world as our relation. Trees and bumble-bees; fox and stalks of grass; clouds, rivers, springs and tides are all our relations. It is a helpful tonic to the way we relate to the world more often; seeing it as a resource for meeting our ever fleeting and demanding desires. This perception is fed by the idea that the world is a big cupboard for the wanton wants of the oh so important human species.

There are theologians, philosophers, scholars of various stripes who are querying the idea that the humans are at the pinnacle of creation – a point made by Indigenous people around the world. These voices point out that our sense of superiority is undone by the track record of homo sapiens vis-à-vis planet care. Further, they recognize that other animals and plants seem to have varying capacities to communicate and relate, and demonstrate compassionate faculties sometimes sorely lacking in us.

Interestingly Luther, in his Genesis lectures, invited us to think of all created things as words of God. I find that to be a liberating idea, allowing me to imagine that I am surrounded by God speaking to me and to all creation, and no one vocable, no single sigh from the divine mouth outstrips the other in importance. Each word from God has a right time, a right place and they really cannot be compared.

This last week, as we spent time chatting over coffee, and in the halls, in the little bit of a lull awaiting the arrival of papers, my colleagues were words from God to me in various ways. And for that I am grateful. Of course, a word came here and there came from the tree on our front lawn – that I adore – and from the light slipping between the pine trees in the backyard, singing a laud that held me spell-bound for a time.

God speaks in so many ways with and to all of the creation. There are no apexes in this taxonomy. We live together; we die together; and just as importantly, we pray together, also speaking the word we are to the ears that hear and echo God’s words right back.