I am Water, the Hour, Food

I/ Water

My name is nibi, mayim, pani, water.
And I am here to inform you
and Jesus, too, that I am
very much alive.

And he would not be, save
for the fact that I am some
60 percent of whom he is.

I am ancient, and I am new.
I was born at
the time of creation.

And still I am being
birthed, wherever and whenever
a complex of carbon and
hydrogen sparks with oxygen.

I measure 1.4 billion
cubic kilometres
large on earth. Now

a cloud arresting your eyes, now
a single flake of snow so intricate it screams “glory!”, now
an iceberg, a diamond writ large, now
a dewdrop stopping creation as it sings from a petal.

I am waving at you from the ocean
I rain on both the just and reprobate
I slake your parched throat.

And I am happily recycled;
some of me-in-Jesus is
now Jesus-in-you.

You, dear hearer, have tears that

were once the sweat of Christ;

the water in this font

was once in the well of

of Sychar, of Shechem.

Now, I make alive. Now, I drown.
Now, I am the ocean all around
humankind in utero.

I am water. But I have no idea what
Jesus means when he promises
a well swelling and self-multiplying
into eternal life.

This is something new,
I know nothing of self-replication;
There is no spermatozoon in me; nor ovum;
no self-pollinating possibilities, even
though I am, where life is.

My name is water, pani, mayim, nibi

II/ The Hour

I am the hour. You have met me; you know me well.
I come around every now and then.
I am that time that wakens you

now with joy; now with terror.

I am that moment when the truth cracks you open

And you know you will never be the same.

I am that time the doctor sits you down…

And I am that time you open a letter and read

“I am pleased to inform you…”

I was your being born and I will be your dying.
I am haunting, I am holy. I am the hour.

I am burned in your mind, where you find traces of all of those little dyings, those little deaths:

That moment of being tongue-tied

That instance when you failed to look left

That time when you shied from speaking out…

I am also alive in your flesh.

I am that muscle memory of that first poignant fist pump

That instance of knowing that you could go further, bear more, be more

I am the hour: pounding your heart and clocking your time.

I am those poignant, agonizing, beautiful moments:
“When a woman is in labour, she has pain because her hour has come.”

I am also the hour at the other side of life:

A breath in, a breath out,
a breath in, a breath out,
a breath in, a breath out,
a breath in, a breath out,

and then silence – silence so sheer it could slice a mountain in half.

I am the hour, “coming, when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” Yes, I am that time of clarity, of insight, when you see that your seeing is mostly in the dark, with the odd and wonderous moment of lightning flashing across the screen of the sky: but will you look at the lighting or at what it illumines?

I am that hour

When you finally know that your knowing is fractured and through a glass darkly;

I am that hour

When you discover your doing is flawed, and awkward, and so, so beautiful that it makes angels weep.

I am that hour

When you finally feel your feelings; and live in your skin and rejoice, even though you know it is soon all over.

I am the hour… “for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you

unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it

remains a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

I am

green…… green… green

cracking black…

I come around every now and then.

You have met me; you know me well. I am the hour.

III/ Food

I am food.

Are you hungry?

Are you looking for me?

Sometimes I am easy to find, too easy some say.
Other times I am as scarce as world peace,

ribs poke out and
bellies bloat with water retention.

I am the first thing on the mind of many as the day begins,
and I am the agony of those at enmity with me.

I am food and with every bite, I invite you

to fight for climate justice,
to battle for food security,
to leverage all your power so that no-one is ever without me.

I am food. I weep at my absence while Canadians throw away more than half of the food they produce.

I am food and finally, I refuse the logic of a zero sum:

When I am shared, there is always enough, there is always more.

You know me, because I am you:

Your planning in this garden’s graces.

Your loving hands in kneaded bread.

Your tears in soup, your song in salad, your laughter in a latticed pie.

I am your daily bread: I am

the farmer, and the soil she worships;

the seed so sacred: sown, for, given, for you

I am your daily bread: I am

the trucker and truck bearing me to the mill to be floured;

the worker who does a most holy thing: showing up day in and day out.

I am your daily bread: I am

the bright dawn beginning at the bakery and the miracle of scoring a loaf

now I am that aroma and texture, that delicate balance of air and flavour

“My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to complete God’s work.”

I am that food: I sate you with service.
I am that food: I satisfy you by slaughtering greed.
I am that food: I content you with meeting needs.

“My food is to do the will of the One who sent me and to complete God’s work.”

I am food; I am mystery. I am Eucharist and this I want you to know:

The One whose food is to do the divine will, will never forsake you.
As you eat me you, too, become food…

Bread for the journey.

You become me, and we will be, together, eternally.

I am food. I am your hunger.

The above was presented in Keffer Chapel at the Open Door Service on March 11, 2020 as a reflection on John 4:5-42.

A Metaphor for Life

This beauty is so stark;
plying my mind with
sensual gestures.  Here
we find diamonds in the drift.
Yet, these marvels caressing my
eyes are but clusters of crystals of ice –
sharp and exact under a microscope
while soft and generous in the
play of the day’s rays of sun.

These drifts stand in opposition to a seemingly straight
line, that is but a throng of dots upon closer inspection.

Drift beside line: together a metaphor for life.

What seems straight is a crowd of clumps and
what curves is a collection of crystalline lines,

Things are not as they appear:

the grave now Your womb and
my kindness Your cross.

Affordability, Predictability, and Convenience

Last weekend ended in Ontario with family day on Monday.  As my wife and I do many family day weekends, we headed up to Ottawa to see our middle daughter, and her pets.  It was a lovely weekend, with the highlight probably being a skate on the Rideau Canal, the world’s largest skating arena.  The trip to Ottawa went markedly well, with even the trip through Toronto being pain free.  The trip home was a bit of a different story.

 

There were many hold-ups and back-ups on the 401, Canada’s busiest highway.  Undoubtedly this is due to the fact that most of the highway east of Toronto is the same size as it has been for many years, while the number of drivers increases without end.  All it takes is one person’s flat tire to bring things to a halt, which thankfully was not crashing in any way – but frustrating all the same.

 

My wife and I mused about the state of affairs with car travel on the drive home.  Cars are altogether convenient, affordable and (nearly) predictable.  As long as this is the case, people will not convert to public transit.  When public transit is cheaper than driving (and parking) a car; and when it is utterly predictable and convenient, people will make the switch.  Alas, people will not give up their cars simply because cars are bad for the environment.

 

I have chosen to take the train to work two or three days a week.  I don’t train on days when events after work mean the trip home would be quite a bit later than I want; and since I don’t pay for parking, and it is relatively cheap for me to drive; and the trip home is quicker than taking the train, I have to be quite deliberate in a decision to take what is reasonably convenient, affordable and predictable public transit.

 

Last Thursday I was waiting for a train that was 8 minutes late, and I kicked myself for not driving.  But the train arrived.  I took out my book as I took my seat, and as the train lulled me into that netherworld only accessible in the knowing that I need not worry about the next 20 minutes because they are in some else’s hand, I arrived at the place where I could say: “This is good.”

 

“This is good!” is, of course, a biblical phrase.  God speaks it as creation’s contours slowly fall into place, as the light relates to the dome in the sky, and the sky relates to the ground separated from the waters, and all of these relate to plants and animals and humans and more.  “This is good” is all about good relations, about being together. I experience a kind of being together, a conviviality on the train that I definitely do not experience on the 401, where we are buffered from one another by atomistic vehicles and speed.  But conviviality will not persuade us to switch

 

At the end of the day, affordability, predictability and convenience will rule the ride.

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.