At the Edge of Devil’s Lake

This lake is called “Devil’s” but
at this moment it is a gateway to heaven.
Its sentinels are a stalwart frog,
a water snake who has perfected s’s,
guppies nibbling at my toes, and
a butterfly in buttery yellow so
stunning that it melts my heart.

I spent a good bit of time tonight
taking in this lake by light of fireflies.

My hope is that it has settled in
my soul so that when the time
comes to step through the
pearly gates, I’ll find them within.

Stern Words

I sit at the stern of my sailboat.
Ducks float here and there. I
speak to them, and they to me, but
in duck tongue. So, no luck there
but still the night is magical.
Masts tick-tock like metronomes,
and the lap of water
against the hull whispers “satis est…

Night lights are so soft and the
sounds are scrumptious. The
rock of the boat is hypnotic.
Here at the stern I am
speechless, and
the word heard for those
with ears to hear is:
“Listen.”

Turtles in Pink

The water is glacier green in this lake called Pink.
Three turtles graced our field of vision as we
traced its circumference. This lake
tells the tale of a day when sea
covered what is now
trees and rocks and the history
that followed that flood.

I look around and see mystery:
people smiling at vistas,
fish at water’s edge,
sun blessing faces – and
joy arrives. It just does.

We work so hard to keep
death and sorrow at bay
that some days I wonder
whether we miss joy in
our striving… but joy
comes to us unawares: in
an unexpected call,
a smile that knows more,
an offer to help and
a willingness to be helped.

Joy comes in green and blue and turquoise.
Joy comes in the leisurely roll of a turtle,
turning my world round.

In the Religious Other

It has been a remarkably painful few weeks in Canada with the recent slaughter of four human beings in London Ontatio for being Muslim, and the discovery of 215 graves of innocent children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation, whose deaths were the result of racist and genocidal policies by the Canadian government, enacted by religious communities entrusted with the process of “civilizing” Indigenous peoples. What is especially tragic is the realization that the racism that killed the Afzaal family (leaving their nine year old son an orphan) last week is but a tiny tip of an Islamophobia that daily batters Muslims; and the 215 bodies in Kamloops are joined in their cry for justice from Mother Earth with thousands more since the government and church operated 146 Residential Schools across Canada.

Two items clearly link these two events: racism and religious intolerance. These two, of course, exist as an expression of fear of the other, who thinks, believes and lives differently. That religion, which ought to be a source of empowerment for the flourishing of all, becomes the site and source of intolerance ought to give people of faith pause and cause to question what is going on.

I recall, in my first parish, going from door to door in my neighbourhood, inviting people to worship. If people did not answer, I would leave a brochure in the door. I remember knocking on the door of a house and there was no answer. I left and moved to the next house, and saw an Indigenous man open the door, see the brochure and throw it on the ground in disgust. I was aghast at his seeming lack of respect for the church. Of course, I did not know much about residential schools at that time (itself a telling tale), and so was not in a position to understand this response. Now I consider it rational. What is surprising, to me, is that Indigenous people still hold to Christianity.

Last week I was a part of a virtual gathering with Indigenous Christians. The discovery of the 215 children loomed large in every conversation. In one breakout group the question “Why Christianity?” was asked and an Indigenous person there spoke of their experience of Jesus. I have heard this from others as well. Jesus remains attractive. The church, not so much. Of course, theologians (like myself) can wax quite convincingly that you cannot separate the too, and that too is true. But still for those who hold to any formal religious organization in this day, the events of the last two weeks remind us that we need to hold to the truths of our faith with a deep and abiding humility, commit to justice unflinchingly and practice a love that is generous, excessive, and curious. Curiosity and humility, I think, are at the core of authentic spirituality and the two together appreciate the diversity that is written into the very architecture of creation.

I suppose most people can readily give lip service in affirming the gift of diversity, but our cultures generally reward conformity that expedites expediency. Institutions, in particular, credit sameness. It was written into the governance of residential schools, and it is evident in the eyes of a young white Canadian male who sees five differently dressed individuals as demonic. It is hard to be hopeful in these days, but my Muslim and Indigenous friends give me hope, literally. I see them taking steps forward and hope fills my heart. There is something very parabolic about that, which humbles me and makes me curious. In the religious other I experience grace upon grace that best racism, hatred, and fear.

Reflesh Me

Today I heard a leaf sing, seeing
green grow lips as the earth
took voice in our garden.
It sang to me that no matter
my state of mind, I can always
lay down in the grass, where
ants would take care of my cares; where
grass would loosen my knot in life; where
the sky would bend down and stroke
my cheek – blue on my ever evolving
summer colour; and the wind, the wind
would refresh and reflesh me with memories of
cool, and sail, and a silent flight by grace
of a glider so many years ago. As I looked up
my time in the sky came again to mind
there on the ground, surrounded by a voice
that sang to me: “Never enough, never enough –
of Creator, creation, creativity! Do not quit,
but do pause, and breathe…”

For the Weal of the World

Thursday saw Santa Maria make her way from the hard to the lovely and oh so wet Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario. COVID-19 complications meant that this was not a possibility last year, so it was especially sweet to see her land in the water.

For those who are not familiar with sailing in my part of the world, sailboats have to come out of the water because the lakes freeze, and fixed keel boats have keels thousands of pounds heavy, so a lift or a crane is used. Our marina rents a crane. It is quite the site to see things that float flying across the sky.

When she landed, I was near at hand, and jumped into the boat, started the engine as the pier crew moved my boat down the dock. Within some seconds she was ready to go, and the crew tossed the lead lines into the boat and I was off. It was a feeling… slipping across the water. Boats are mesmerizing. You cannot turn on a dime. There are no brakes. And the feeling of floating is unlike any other. Something stirred.

I didn’t grow up on the water. My mother was afraid of it, but my dad had been in the navy and while he rarely spoke of his experiences in the second world war, he sometimes talked with some enthusiasm about learning to sail as a part of their training. I suspect that some bits of my joy on the water are related to this. My paternal grandmother was from the west coast of Norway, and so it just might be that other bits of my joy come from blood. I’m not altogether sure but being on the water brings me a joy that I can’t quite describe.

I suspect most people have some place, or activity, or perhaps a time that finds them outside of themselves, drifting into the future, the past, the stories in our bones. These experiences are life giving and avoided at our peril. Alas, we too often fail to attend to these in our busyness. I truly feel that these experiences are divine gifts that feed our souls, our minds, and our bodies. Too often we imagine that only “holy” activities ground and grow our spirit. But all that is truly whole is holy, shaped by the Creator for the good of our humanity, and for the weal of the world.

Of course, these may well change and shift with time, but then again, so do we. I should note too that sailing is not the only activity that takes me to another place. Sometime art will do this, or music, or running. The Holy One has given us so many ways to stay alive. Receive these gifts for what they are: given for you.

Differently Wet

I look into my glass and
see the hue of sun-soaked rye.
I put my nose to its edge
and smell soil,
discern dirt,
learn of land.

The liquid on my tongue is full,
global in note. I can taste
more than I can name.

This drink is cool on my tongue,
warm in my throat,
hot to my heart.

I learned the other day that “whiskey” is
from Gaelic for ‘water of life.’ Of course,
such water is used to
slake and drown;
dream and destroy;
commemorate and obliterate.

Water is life.
Water is death. And
this sweet on my tongue slips
down the same throat that
channels breath, which will
one day end in death – to
begin a life
differently wet.

A Day in the Life of May

This May has been so very lovely, and I was delighted to spend yesterday in the garden with Gwenanne, my wife. The last two Fridays we have ended the week by making our way to a local greenhouse to agonize over plant choices before coming home to toast our purchases as the start to the weekend. With cooler nights now (hopefully) behind us, Gwenanne decided it was safe to put a few plants in the garden in the backyard.

Our yard has been something of a balm in this COVID Gilead. I have a bit of a ritual most days, making my way from our fifteen year old Autumn Blaze Maple now 30 feet plus tall, to our Blue Beech tree as wide as it is high, and then over to my little Bur Oak now about one foot tall, saying some encouraging words to each before pilgriming to the massive Norway Maple in our front yard. I usually touch each tree along the way and give thanks for their witness to the glory of creation. The other day there was a robin in our Blue Beech, and he sang to me. I was close enough that I could see his throat throb as he hymned me into a kind of trance.

But yesterday my hands moved from the tree to terra firma. We had added some soil to our expanded gardens about three weeks ago, and I had spaded together new and old earth before my wife raked it smooth. I put my hand to Mother Earth. She was warm to the touch and as my fingers slipped beneath this surface I could feel spring cool in the humus. As I made some space to settle our tomato plants, I was met with the delightful sight of worms. So many worms adding soil to soil. I thought for a moment of the robin and now the worm. Both such gifts to me, and the worm to the robin, but not so much the other way round! Life is complicated among us homo sapiens, and no less so with the predator and the prey, whom I both adore.

My last act for the day was to plant the first two sisters of my three sisters garden: corn, beans and squash seeds from the fruits of seeds first received at a workshop at Six Nations some years ago. As I did so, I thought about the rabbits that razed my beans last year, necessitating a replanting, and the racoon who enjoyed my corn that they made theirs. Creation is remarkable but competitive. I bought some netting last year to give me an edge. We’ll see.

The trees, of course, look on and smile. They take the long view. My neighbour across the way figures that the monstrous and majestic oak in his yard predates the arrival of settlers to this part of Turtle Island known to some as North America. I am not sure of this, but I know these trees give me more than oxygen to breathe, and the vegetables from our garden make for me more soup. They make me see that I am speck in God’s world, but they also remind me that a speck too can breathe Soli Deo Gloria.

Mother Maple

These little maple leaves,
now breaking forth from bud
stretching their arms with
first cry will
soon toddle on tree, will
soon be schooled in photosynthesis, will
soon branch out and then
then settle down; life
made in their shade until at end
they blaze in glory and fall to fate:
fodder for humus; toil for humans.

What is tree to leaf?
Is she mother? Is the end of
each branch to womb? Does tree
portend leaf’s coming, being, going?
Or is tree like God? Or do the two merge?

I put my hand to trunk
and feel earth, intuit strength, know
life flowing to me like energy incognito;
life from womb in whom is
caring, Kraft, creation.

In Her Heart

Yesterday we went down to LaSalle Bay to ready Santa Maria for the water. She has been on the hard for a long time. Our marina needed a new sea wall and construction had been slowed by Covid last summer. The long and short of it was that boats did not make it into the water. We missed being on the boat but spent some of the summer fixing this and that, including replacing a through that was leaking and a few other tasks. We both found a modicum of delight in getting down to the water even if not on it.

A similar feeling accrued yesterday. The exterior of the boat did not need a lot of work since we had cleaned and waxed it last fall. But the inside had two winters worth of spider waste and such. My dear wife worked on that while I scrubbed the outside. It was either outside with a howling wind and cold water or inside bending about corners in search of spiders and their offerings.

We also put on the outboard motor, fit on the tiller, connected the electrical etc., making sure everything was ready for launch day, May 13. It was a satisfying day of work, with a 3.5 hours passing by like the snap of fingers. When we got home, however, we received an email announcing that lift-in was delayed until the current stay at home order is lifted. I have to admit that I am not overly surprised, since the city of Burlington has not yet opened any marinas.

We don’t generally sail in May. We try to get our mast up, and sails on but the month of May really is quite cool for sailing, although some do with parkas and mitts and such. It really is surprising how cold the water is and the wind very generously shares it with you when you are out and about on a boat.

My hope is that we will be in the water by the end of May, or perhaps early June. We bought a new main sail and genoa last summer and are itching to feel how Santa Maria performs with sails that are more efficient. But wait we will and wait we must. This has been a year and more of waiting and watching. In some ways, it has been a kind of training in prayer, which doesn’t begin on the knees so much as in the eyes and ears and heart attuned to the world around us – attentive to the moment.

Santa Maria’s moment is not yet, but it will come, of that I am certain. In the meantime she will do what she does so well, wait and ponder in her heart, as will we.