A Land of Holy Reckoning

Not far from the land of
gratitude lies the region of
hope – folk only visit
the one via the other, and
no-one begins in either.

It is a geographic miracle – a delight.

Of course, some opt to
tarry in neither, but on
the other side of both
is peace: a land of
holy reckoning.

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This Work We Do Together

This week was the beginning, again, of school. It is always such an exciting time, meeting new students, imagining how the first classes will unfold, and knowing all the while that anything is possible. But one thing is certain: I’ll blink my eyes and it will be Christmas.

Time continues to race on in life. I see our students and can’t help but remember my own foray into theology so many years ago. I never imagined that one day I would be a part of the team welcoming students into a new world. So much is the same: nervous excitement, wondering whether the right choice has been made, and trying to navigate the best ways through academic life. But much has changed. These days there are more women than men in our classes, which are increasingly diverse in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. This diversity makes the classroom an exciting place!

It is odd, but when I consider the differences, the time seems long, and when I ponder the similarities the time shrinks. Theologians and philosophers have thought long and hard about the nature of time, but it seems that all of us have responsibility to make our peace with time.

Students of history know well that the capacity to mark time with watches and such was an important step in the journey to the modern world. Time drives our way of being in the world; being ever watchful of the clock, pondering how to make the most of each day. I am not one to look longingly to the past, but on this issue, I exercise this right. Our overcommitment to projects; our constant checking of time whether by wrist watches or devices demonstrates the kind of difficulty so many of us have in getting settled into a place. We are hounded by the keeping of time.

I know from personal experience that this sometimes dangerous. I do my best work when I work sabbatical into my week. When I am rested, and wrested from the busyness of life new ideas and possibilities pop into my mind. This allows me to be more productive when I get back to work.

I hope our students learn this lesson sooner rather than later. People who burn both ends of the candle do not typically excel. I, too, need to be reminded of this truth. Down time makes on time more productive, imaginative and effective.

Of course this is not only a lesson for students. Their professors owe them the same so that we are better able to be creative, helpful and engaged in this work we do together.

Pet Dreams

They fall asleep so swiftly,
these animals closer to Genesis
than me and my kind. They
dream of the Lord God
walking their wood,
until then again they
flinch from the pain of
the primal couple stepping
out of the garden and into
their nightmare.

Is there any hope for Your
creatures? To surface from
sleep to discover a sliver
of sanity seeping into this
Homo Sapiens?

These pets sleep –
domesticated by our
regimes, our
treats, our
house training but
every now and then
the wild comes calling
and I sense some
hope for
us all.

The Gift that Life is

Today I ran my first race since I was in high school, some 40 years ago. It was the 10 km MEC Trail Race at the Laurel Creek Conservation Area in Waterloo, ON. It isn’t the case that this is my first foray into running since high school since I have been a regular runner most of my life. I have always enjoyed jogging and tell people that running is meditative for me, giving me space to settle into my soul and enter into a kind of harmony with all about me. I experience running as prayer on legs.

So, why would I turn something seemingly sacred and scar it with competition and such? I can’t really say that I did this because I was hungry for a running community, although in this short venture into a competitive event revealed how people connect through a shared experience. I can’t really say I did this because I needed a goal to motivate my daily running. Running is a kind of gift onto itself for me, and so I have no need of external motivation to run. I can’t really say I did this because I have my eyes on qualifying for anything since I have no dreams of grandeur. Why then? There is something about a competition that invites one to transcend the self with others. In fact, the etymology of the word “compete” suggests that it means to seek, or go after (petere) with (com) others. In the company of others, I struggle with myself to become something more. The bible uses this motif to get at the life of faith when the author to Hebrews writes:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1,2 NRSV

Interestingly, the word for “race” in the Greek text is agon; sometimes translated as race, and at other times as contest, struggle etc. The word agon makes its way into English in the word agony. Agony, then, is a kind of contest in which we have occasion to try to find a way to best ourselves. But besting ourselves for the sake of bettering ourselves sometimes calls for others to aid us. I found that to be true this morning as my fellow racers prodded me to run a little harder, to be in the moment a little more clearly, and to breathe deeply into the joy of moving. Bettering ourselves isn’t only about shaving seconds off a lap time, but also about seeing movement, and breath, and oxygen as pure gift.

I find running to be an experience of transcendence. I suspect others find other activities with like consequence. This morning I found racing to be an experience of sacred agony. I suspect other have other ways into this holy gift. In either event, “laying aside every weight” is a call to lean into the moment with clarity, and conviction, and amazement at the gift that life is.

Full Stop

Your smile is firmly
entrenched in my mind’s eye
even while my heart’s
tongue tastes still Your tears,
salty and sweet both.

Yours is a lament that sings
to an air of promise.

Sometimes I hear You call
my name: now
in a dream, now
in a desire, now
in a drive to be
more fully me.

God, in this You find
me: heart pounding
at a full stop.

To Catch a Tear

The clock just chimed 5:00 am
and the neighbourhood birds
are singing the sun up,

and the sun coaxes the earth
to turn again and again and
again without end.

The chimes fill the house,
every corner penetrated by
morning’s evangel.

I sit in the basement and scribble
this poem while around the world

this tick accompanies a death;
that tock witnesses a birth.

The hands are on the face:
now in delight; now in lament;
now in laughter; now…

in time to catch a tear.

Naming A New

Last night we were driving home from an afternoon spent on our boat Santa Maria. My wife had wondered, while we patiently and persistently scrubbed away some scum from this corner and that crook of the good ship, what we might call a vessel were we to acquire one nameless. This question was prodded, in part, by the plethora of strange names given boats in a marina.

People are trying to be variously funny, poetic, clever, sentimental et cetera (not a bad boat name itself, that last Latin common phrase) in this naming. Failures are many and magnificent, although “funny, poetic, and clever” may well be in the eye of the beholder. We quite like Santa Maria – an inherited name – although she was once differently called. We posed a few possibilities aloud, and scratched our heads at some names surrounding us.

The finger of the slip we are on in the harbour is in poor straits. Apparently, the marina was pounded by the remnants of hurricane “Barry” this week, although I am unsure whether this particular pounding was from Barry or another storm. Naming hurricanes, too, seems a bit fraught. Once upon a time these were all called by women’s names, as I recall. Now storms are differently gendered once they reach the requisite speed of 120 km/hr for a full minute.

There had been reports of yet another storm coming our way, and so we made our way home in the early evening, and drove through that very storm. It was a thing of rare beauty and looked utterly different than the storm we saw when I saw it through the eyes of different cameras at various angles on the news that night. But in each photo, it was stark and poised, about to pounce.

As we drove from the edge to the eye of the storm on our way to Kitchener, once called Berlin (a topic for another blog) to 185 Sheldon St. I know that here and there, in the world, houses and farms are named. Ours are numbered, as have been people, with the Holocaust and the Residential School Systems being notorious examples.

Santa Maria has a number as well, nicely stenciled on the fore of her hull. But I don’t remember it, while I never even have to grasp after “Santa Maria” in my current mental capacity. I like names more than numbers, and wonder too, what we might call a boat without a name. I suspect we will never face this problem since new boats are out of our price range, even while we could very well be facing the prospect of renaming a boat one day. “Barry” and “185” are unlikely candidates, and I suspect “et cetera” would finally not pass muster. But for now this is not my worry. A wise man once said that each day has troubles sufficing for itself (Matthew 6:34), and on this day called “Sunday,” I’ll think a little on him and ponder the power of storms, the curve of a hull, and the mystery of names, now chosen, now found and sometimes arriving without much ado.