Saturday on the Hard

Some twelve years ago or so I took sailing lessons. My dad, who was a sailor in WWII, spoke fondly of learning how to sail in his training, and after his death I took an interest in learning how to sail. I suppose it was a way to connect with him. It grabbed me, though, and the next year we bought a sailboat.

Sailing is a delight of my summers, but this year it is not to be. The marina where we keep out boat was in need of a new break wall, keeping the marina safe from strong east winds off Lake Ontario. Because of the stay-at-home orders and the fact that our marina is in a park closed by provincial orders. Work on the break wall was halted for a time. The project has only recently been completed. By the time the docks would be put in place, and boats put in the water, we would not have much sailing time left. Consequently, Santa Maria will stay in its cradle on the Marina parking lot, on the hard, along with another 100 or so from our marina.

This has been a strange year, and because of restrictions at the marina and my teaching an intensive course using Zoom meaning a steep learning curve, we have not had much opportunity to get to the boat. We went down a couple of weeks ago to see what was up with Santa Maria. She was doing fine, but we decided we would do a few projects on her this year. Yesterday we took a trip down to the marina and spent the afternoon scrubbing the hall, the deck and the cockpit. A mulberry tree branch hangs over the boat so we spent a good bit of time scrubbing away blue bits.

After an afternoon of cleaning Gwenanne and I both felt a kind of satisfaction. It was an afternoon far removed from a typical summer Saturday, spent on the water. But there was a kind of satisfaction and delight in being by the water, and getting away for a day. In way, it sort of reminds me of visiting someone by Zoom. It’s a far shot from a face to face visit, but far better than nothing at all.

We won’t be down at the marina every weekend, but we have enough projects that need to be done to keep us busy through the summer. It will be a summer on the hard, but in the big scheme of things this is a small loss. We are in a time of doing work differently, doing worship differently, doing everything differently. Even marinas that are open (and ours in not unique in staying closed), are having a unique and different experience. In due course this will all pass, but in the meantime we take joy in different experiences, and look hopefully for another kind of summer next year.

My Week with Loons

My social media feeds today include images of people winding their way down the 400, Ontario’s cottage country parking lot. My wife and I travelled down it on Saturday without a hitch, before folk began their trek back to Toronto after the long-weekend in Algonquin and environs.

We spent just shy of a week in Ontario’s near north heaven: three days with dear friends at their family cottage and then three days of canoe camping. The former was simply a joy, and the latter a marvel. Summer is certainly the time to set aside some projects in order to rejuvenate the soul and see again the wonder of God’s creation.

We canoe camped on three different lakes (Raven, Linda, and Owl), and were entertained at each by loons. Canadians love loons so much that we have put them on our one-dollar coin. But to see a loon and to hear a loon are two different things. I learned, many years ago, how to make a loon call but it really seems to hold no truck with loons. The real thing, or things, is a marvel with their varying calls with meanings that I can only guess at. I recently learned that smaller lakes usually host only one pair of loons. Raven and Owl were quite small, while Linda was a bit larger. When we would paddle about on all three lakes, they would often be in our vicinity. Every now and then one would dive down, and re-appear a few minutes later: popping up out of the water a dozen metres or so from the canoe. We were utterly transfixed by them.

I also learned recently, that loons eat some small rocks along with their diet of small fish, frogs, salamanders and other aquatic foodstuff. The rocks apparently help digestion, breaking down exoskeletons of certain dishes. I’m fairly certain that much could be done with this, metaphor-wise, but I think I want to sit with this for a bit. I do know, however, that the seeing and hearing of loons piqued my interest in them anew, and my fascination with the wonders of creation.

Luther was something of a creation theologian, speaking of the divine converse between nature and its Creator. In his estimation, we are not the sole inheritors of God’s interest, a point too easily forgotten in too many iterations of Christianity, and perhaps other religious traditions afflicted with modern obsessions with the self. But the simple loon reminded me again that the community of well-being that God imagines is so much bigger than me and mine. It includes all of creation, which functions as so much more than a stage for the divine drama. The loon and the lake, as much as the human enjoying them, are players in God’s playbook, and we ignore what my Indigenous friends call “all of my relations” at our loss and peril both.

A Little More Future in the Pipes

The big tractors are getting closer. Our portion of the street is about to be ripped up, as has already occurred further down the way. We learned of this necessary exercise last year, and have been dreading it ever since. As crews rip out old water and sewer pipes and replace them, mud supplants roads and water lines are displaced by temporary fittings into exterior water hose receptacles. There are new things to trip over on our street!

My father-in-law was chatting with one of the workers the other day, who informed him that the sewer pipes being removed are made from asbestos. I was somewhat taken aback, knowing that asbestos calls for hazmat suits: the school where I work is undergoing renovation these days and working through some asbestos abatement. Asbestos, it seems, is something of a sleeping dragon; once disturbed great problems follow and so this removal of asbestos and replacement of pipes is a good thing, an exceedingly good thing, in fact! So, despite the street getting ripped apart like a piece of cloth being shredded, in due course the street will again be whole with new “veins” worming their way below the skins of asphalt.

In the midst of all of this, another bit of good news is that the uproar has neighbour talking with neighbour. My wife has often lamented the manner in which winter sometimes locks people in their homes. With spring people begin to enjoy one another’s company, and with the activity on the street we now have opportunity to query what the city or the construction firm has been up to. Not only is the street being remade, but so is the shape of the community.

These days, as I wander around the civic mess of my street, the constant noise of equipment is a reminder that things are changing, as they should. Work is advancing, and just today a husky man with a thick Scottish brogue stopped by to give us parking passes that will allow us overnight parking on a handful of streets near us, which we will need when the tractors are at the end of our lane.

We look forward to a new street, and the realization that our asbestos days are receding. In the meantime, we will drive carefully, chew the fat with our neighbours and try to enjoy the knowledge that there is a little less asbestos in the ground and a little more future in the pipes.

More than Parchment

This last Friday, our school celebrated Convocation.  Students, who have spent two  three, four, perhaps more years with us made their way across the stage, newly hooded and eager to shake the hand of the university President, our seminary’s Principal Dean and then to hold in their hand a piece of parchment.  Now they will be Masters of Divinity, Masters of Arts in Theology, and Doctors of Ministry.  As I stood to congratulate them as they wound their way from the stage back to their seats, I could sense both excitement and a bit of trepidation.  Endings are odd events.  A sense of completion and satisfaction attends them as well as uncertainty and that anomie that accompanies a future not yet crystalized.

 

Convocation is not only an emotionally charged event for the students; staff and faculty too have mixed feelings.  We are so very proud of the hard work that has enabled our graduates to achieve a goal that will hopefully open new doors for them.  But with them, we also experience a little bit of sadness.  Many of these students have shared themselves in hallway conversations and class papers.  While writing on topics of theology, more than a few have poured out their hearts, making me aware of their experiences, their passions, their hopes and fears.  They have shared themselves with me.  I am changed by my students.  I am not being polite in saying this.  I really do feel myself shaped by the encounters that make up my experience as a teacher.  I suppose, I too, share something of myself with them along with the facts about history, theological vistas, and hopefully some passion for our subject matter.  Something happens in this interchange that really includes a change in me.  I am forever being prodded, challenged and stretched.  Many of them have experiences that are foreign to me.  Many of them have interests that are embryonic in me.  They all bring something to the table, and I am the better for it.  So I lament their walk across that stage even as I celebrate it.

 

Students really are in some ways like a book.  They need to be read with both a lot respect and a little bit of appreciative criticism.  Sometimes they want to generalize their experiences, and sometimes they discount their experiences; sometimes they can’t get out of their heads, and sometimes they really don’t want to get into them.  Of course, all of this is true of me as well.  But if I am willing to encounter them with the supposition that they have something to offer me, I will never be disappointed.  I might not like what I learn, but I always learn from them.  Hopefully, I’m able to return the favor.  So in this season of convocation, I’m mindful that two words hide in this synonym for graduation.  “Vocation” is rooted in the Latin word for call (vocare) and the Latin preposition con means “with.”  To convocate is to be “called with.”  No-one convocates on their own because we are all called to learn with others and to teach with others.  Knowledge is only knowledge in its being a shared phenomenon.  I thank God for my students, my teachers, and this gift called learning.  The parchment is important, but what really matters never ends.  Learning feeds that hunger that paradoxically feeds humanity.