Swerves of Gratitude and Grace

My usual Saturday run yesterday involved an unexpected detour. I generally run along the Iron Horse Trail, aptly named because it follows the route of a former train track. At the point at which the trail crosses a local creek, a barrier was up. A former rail bridge is now removed, and a new bridge is not yet in place. So, a detour was in the offing.

Fortunately, there is a “Y” in the road at that point, and by following to the right I was able to enter Victoria Park, complete with a larger than life statue of its namesake. The park is replete with paths, some encircling a little lake that the local swans call home for the summer.

Yesterday, however, I didn’t see many swans but I did see a park full of people walking about with their faces in their devices. This, of course, is normal at the university where I work, but the number of people doing this on Saturday was astronomically high. Since this is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada, and we are right in the middle of Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, I surmise that what I saw was some sort of virtual scavenger hunt.

Running in the midst of this was a bit tenuous. I generally find that people walk without much thought to what, or who, is behind them. I suppose I do the same myself. But when you’re running – especially on a narrow path – a walker’s casual swerve to one side or the other can be a bit of a disaster to a runner trying to negotiate a safe path for a pass. This problem was simply racheted up by the fact that these walkers were deeply invested in their devices. I avoided crashes by giving them wide berth, which is reasonably easy in a park.

As I made my way out of the park I thought a bit about our walking patterns in particular and thought about how travel becomes a metaphor for our journey from cradle to gravel. John Malloy, one of our professors spoke a bit to that theme in chapel this last Wednesday. As we travel, he invited us to make gratitude a pattern for our journey from cradle to grave, noting its especially important place for Canadians in the midst of a national election. He noted that gratitude is a firm tonic against cynicism. It is no accident that one of the foci of Christian worship is the Eucharist, coming from the Greek word for “thanks,” which itself contains the Greek word for grace in its root. Cynicism is countered by gratitude, which is grounded in grace.

I was very grateful for my run today; to be able to enjoy the fresh air, the beautiful colouring of trees, the joy of movement and the surprise of detours. When the journey is the destination, however, it seems a bit odd to speak of detours. Perhaps my journey in the park wasn’t so much a detour as small, and so remarkable kind of adventure reminding me that a certain capacity to be fleet of foot is beneficial when you set out on a journey.

I wish such a journey for each of you, no matter your mode of transportation and regardless of your destination. Let yourself be carried away by gratitude, and I can assure you that you will travel far, wide, and deeply.

The Canvas that is Everyday

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. We ate our turkey yesterday, and so today is given over to the happy task of left-overs, that ever important tradition of receiving yesterday’s gift, and so yesterday as gift. This seems a rather fitting motif of thanksgiving itself: revisiting in order to receive anew. As I think about this task, and turn my sights, not to the year behind me, but the week just past I am ever surprised by the convergences of joys and sorrows; of hope amid brokenness and pain.

Monday morning began with work, and the reminder that I do what I love for a living. This is no small gift. I go to work cheerfully, and although mine is not a perfect life or job, I find that my days go by with plenty of opportunity to count myself rich. I am especially grateful, this week, for my Monday afternoon class of GC 101: Christianity and Global Citizenship wherein a student spoke to the fact that the scandal surrounding football players kneeling during the American national anthem was originally a protest against racism, but has since been leveraged to different purposes for different reasons. This African Canadian student reminded me that it is easy to forget the roots of movements, and that social justice agendas, too, can be co-opted.

Tuesday is the day that Inshallah, the global choir to which I belong practiced. I have written of this choir before. This is simply a life giving moment in my week. To sing with joy and to pray for the gift of seeing love and justice meet (Psalm 85:10) is a delight. As I think back on the growth and increasing depth of this choir I am humbled to be a part of this effort to sing the circle wide.

Wednesday was a hard day, with the news that a former student – a beloved pastor of a community, as well as a husband, son, friend et cetera – was killed in a motor vehicle accident. I taught a class for our aspiring pastors immediately after hearing this news, and had to pinch myself from time to time, trying to live into this harsh reality of the death of 39 year old servant even while thinking through what it means to confess the faith onto death; and this with those who have a full life of ministry before them, a life that may be long or not as long as it ought to be.

Thursday gave occasion to take my middlest daughter out for a birthday supper in Ottawa, where I travelled for a conference. This was a special treat and also gave me occasion to meet her new kitty Willow and become reacquainted with her puppy Hazel. I was reminded that animals, in their own way I think, bear a different kind of image of God: being paw prints of divine creativity. This occasion also served as aide de memoire of the three births I attended and the happy truth that life can be ridiculously beautiful.

I was occupied with the conference Friday and Saturday, the former which gave me occasion to present a paper on “Faith, Freedom and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).” Good conversation ensued. I learned much from many very fine papers and had occasion to share a wee dram or two with Matthew, a dear friend who roomed with me for this event. On Saturday I drove home and caught the most spectacular sunset as I drove westerly. The sky modulated reddish orange over-coating a blue green canvas with gestures of clouds that floated about as leaves on water’s face. It was breath-taking and gave me opportunity to give thanks for breath.

Sunday involved church and then the happy meal that began my reflection. Two of my three daughters were home, one with a friend new to our acquaintance. The third is presently traipsing about Peru. The day involved an leisurely afternoon in our backyard with mid-summer weather in October, followed by a fine meal, a board-game and then to bed. This, with the knowledge the next day – now today – is a holiday, a holy day that may well remind me that every day is holy, hallowed by sacred sketches by the divine artist on the canvas that is the everyday.

An Echo to be Seen and Heard

 

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This last weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada.  For many this is a time to gather together around a roast turkey and pumpkin pie.  As we planned our Thanksgiving this time year, we realized that two of our three girls would be unable to join us, and so my wife Gwenanne pondered the possibility of meeting our middle daughter N for a camping weekend.  Gwenanne and I have never camped in the fall, and thought it might be fun.  N agreed and so we asked her where we might meet.  Algonquin Park is a favoured spot but was found to be full and so N suggested Bon Echo Park.

Bon Echo Provincial Park was unknown to me, but rather important for a couple of reasons, perhaps the most important being that the massive cliffs found at the narrows found in the middle of Mazinaw Lake served as the canvas for a massive number of pictographs, created by First Nations.  It is not overly surprising that these massive cliffs became the site of these ancient and mystical works of art: the cliffs are potent and the water pounding these rocks offers both access to them and protection for them.

The park was once the site of an inn, built first for retreat for the wealthy of Methodist persuasion until the Inn was purchased by Flora McDonald Denison, whose vision was to replicate in a Canadian context a place where the philosophy of Walt Witman could find a home.  Members of the Group of Seven also found a home here, who along with others, visited this site in their quest for Canadian artistic expression in the early 20th century.  The family ran the inn until the Great Depression, at which point it was leased until fire destroyed it in 1936.   Bon Echo was made a provincial park and opened in 1965, and still today park visitors come to be inspired, moved and quieted in much the same way that those First Nation and Group of Seven artists did.

On our last day there, we rented a canoe and paddled along the cliffs, taking in the many pictographs.  Knowing their provenance, and the fact that these pictographs were often painted in places deemed spiritually potent, I attended them with a sense of expectation, which was not disappointed.  I was also deeply moved as I looked up to see cliffs formed by massive geological events encoded in the diagonal press of rock from the horizontal of water splashing in song against these same cliffs.  Here and there, cragged trees pushed out of these cliffs, marbled with tales to be read by geologists with their long game wisdom.

I took a few photos of the park in our brief sojourn there.  As is usual, these woefully underrepresent the power of the place.  Yet, I hope to explore some of these paltry photos in painting on canvas in service of my soul as I discern how to echo the heavens “declaring the glory of the Lord and the firmament proclaiming his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It was, in fact, a most fitting way to spend a thanksgiving weekend, even if the turkey we ate was soup (lovingly prepared by my wife) and the pie we ate was forfeited for a pumpkin loaf (a first time attempt on my part).  The sun illumined trees iconically.  The wind spoke to my soul.  The ground opened up, here and there, and showed divine fingerprints on our walks while bonfires at night reminded us that life is gift, pure gift indeed, and we have every reason to be thankful people.

 

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Treasure in Heaven

Wet leaf, framed by pavement

bleeding blue;

Chipmunk, startled by human eyeing

its surreptitious caching;

Sky so clear that it waters

eyes with beauty;

Child smiling at seeing me

seeing her;

Paddle in still water, and

the soft sweep of canoe;

Laughter around table, sweet

breath upon cheek;

Words that work soul as soil;

Bread and wine taken and taking in;

Water washing;

Silence.

These – all – treasure in heaven and so earth.