Infinity on Edge

I recall – at age eight – a
field full of
triangles made of
six hay bales:
three kissing the earth
two holding the centre
and one with an eye on the sky.

This field was my playground;
I a fighter plane,
those bale stooks mountains,
and my flight a
reconnaissance.

O, to be eight again.
A magical age:
two zeros on
top of each
other –
infinity
on edge.

I heaven I suspect
I will be eight for
eternity, flying
reconnaissance,
leading me
to You, where I will
know myself anew.

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I Become What I See

This cloud is a
masterpiece. Wisps
of white stroking a blue
canvas, evoking

breath of mother on child’s cheek

or

slip of fish with current.

So gentle these clouds
that slowly grow
with time and travel until
one day they weep into life
or perhaps rage in violence.

From my vantage point
at tiller, I cannot but
stop breathing – for a time – as
this beauty evaporates
me. Now ascending into
this scene I become
what I see:

Your breath on my cheek

a silver streak in living water.

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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.

The Poetry of Your Prose

I can smell You in this text, in
these words bearing
Your breath

Your warmth
Your concern
Your passion.

I can see Your neck’s nape

in this ‘r’
in that ‘j’.

My flesh meets Yours

in both belly laugh
and anxious palpitation

at Your tales.

I can taste You as

tears flow from eye to tongue

at the poetry of Your prose, Your poise.

Take and read. Taste and see. The Lord is good.

Slivers of Sabbath

I have just finished the first week of my sabbatical, which means that I have 51 more weeks left of this marvellous opportunity. This seems like a passage of time that will last forever, but I know from past experiences that this period flies by. So, I am working at being quite intentional about using it well.

I have had a number of people ask me about a sabbatical, and what it means for me in my work situation. I explain that for six years of work, one half year at full salary, or one full year at 80 % of salary is offered professors who make application. The concept of the sabbatical is biblically grounded in the notion of a day’s rest for seven days of work (Exodus 20:8-11). The word sabbatical itself comes from the Hebrew word for seven, or seventh and from there became associated with rest. But to reference the theme of rest alone is not quite adequate when it comes to describing the sabbath I am on.

The board of the institution where I work anticipates that my sabbath will be a time wherein I do some research to develop skills in service of teaching and to advance knowledge in my area of expertise. A sabbatical is not for laying on the beach for 52 weeks. I found some funding from an outside source that will support my research in considering how schools of theology might respond to the 60th call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls upon theological colleges – among other things – to prepare ministers of religion and practioners of spiritual care of the “need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right.” This is an important commendation that is more complicated than first appears, and so demands a careful accounting of what this might mean in the context of any given school, and the theology that shapes its mission. I will spend a good bit of my sabbatical looking at this, but that is not all I will do. Over the last six years, I have accrued a good bit of nearly completed papers etc. that warrant some editing time and such. Sabbatical will partly be a time for some catch-up.

But I also need to remind myself that the ancient practice of doing less for the sake of more is a spiritual discipline. Recharging the batteries is a necessary practice in becoming whom I need to be for students, my colleagues, our institution and my family. I need to practice rest. Of course, doing nothing is counter-cultural. We are all defined by our jobs, assessed for our productivity, and valued for our contributions. This, unfortunately, is too often parlayed into a way of being that is thoroughly dismissive of the need to take a break, to slow down, and to do nothing for the sake of those times that demand my all. This sabbatical needs to be a time for me to lean into the discipline of pausing so that I might encounter the holy anew.

My life, like most – I suspect – is shaped by chunks of time divided up into fractures of “busy” bordered by ten minutes here, and five minutes there: waiting for the program to load, or the cars to move, or the meeting to start. I hope that this sabbatical will train me to embrace these fractures of time as a gift for the intentional practice of sabbath: to use the traffic jam to think of the blessing my life has accrued; to use unexpected down time from the computer to look out the window and monitor the cardinal; to use the waiting time before a meeting to notice my colleagues around the meeting table, to give thanks to God for them, and to find a way back into that space of attending to the divine. It seems, then, that a sabbatical isn’t only about re-grouping but more about re-shaping. I do not know, then, where this will lead, but this is part of the challenge and joy of the next 51 weeks, and hopefully beyond.

And Again Tomorrow

I saw You from afar, and
yet, not so very far away
from my eyes,
looking down now
at my feet. I
found You just
below my gaze,
in my heart, where
you twisted my desire
in Your direction.

I felt a little unsure, a
little at sea – my feet
not up to the feat of
rolling with these waves – and
so I looked up to the horizon,
and there You were again,
Your eyes on me; You smiled
enigmatically, and I knew

I would never be the same again – just
like yesterday, and like
tomorrow too,
I suppose.

Shape Shifting Conventions

This last weekend was spent in the Delta Hotel in Toronto for the last biennial Synod Assembly for the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, of which I am a member. This is the last because our church will be moving to triennial conventions after this. One member told me that these events used to be annual up to the 80s. Things change, and I have noted many changes in the nature of these events.

I remember going to my first church convention while I was on my internship, in Alberta, in the late 1980s. I recall sitting beside my mother-in-law’s cousin Ralph Jorgensen, since we sat alphabetically – in rows. I also recall being numbed by a barrage of changes to by-laws and such, and reports being read out loud, even while they had been distributed by mail in advance. Business filled out most of the events, and worship was clearly demarcated from the business sections, all taking place in ordered pews with worship rather like what one experienced at church most Sundays.

These days we sit at tables in circles and Julio Romero was by my side – so the naming was clearly random in character. I had been invited to lead some bible studies, along with my colleague Mary (Joy) Philip. Three sessions were allotted for this, as well as some learning events around inter-religious dialogue (involving a panel with a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Sikh), in addition to the learnings around racism and poverty. The racism event involved some truth telling by delegates, and an interactive experiential learning event – in a addition to one of the bible studies germane to the topic. The presentation on poverty involved a presentation by Raffi Aaron, a Jewish activist from Toronto. Worship was antiphonal in style and involved some global music, as well as some traditional hymns. We still did business, but it was peppered with prayers and song. Things are so very different from what they once were. Reports are distributed electronically well in advance, and there is a consent agenda to deal with issues that really do not demand much attention.

The other night, over a beer, a few of us were discussing these changes, and noted that the renewed focus on learning and worship reframed how business sessions were experienced. During the presentation of the budget, reference was made by speakers to themes presented in the bible study and worship. A kind of synergy, I think, shaped our time together. As I think over the 30 years, or so, of Synod assemblies I have attended I like the trajectory of the event. The arc of meeting is moving, I think, in a direction that allows a kind of attentiveness to tradition and experience, to text and context, to the past and future.

I recall seeing, some years ago, a photo from a Synod Convention held in South-western Ontario in the 1930s. Everyone was male, in suits and ties, and sitting in rows in a room without air conditioning. We have come a long way, but I think it important not to dismiss the experience of our ancestors. They did, in their time, what seemed right while we respond to our culture, context, and needs. But in either event, the commitment to spending time together in an effort to discern where God calls communities of faith remains a perdurable character, and one to be celebrated.

I sometimes grumble a little before these events – in that they are a big investment of time – and I usually come home a bit exhausted. But I always, always, look back on them and recall some profound Gospel moments. The opportunity to meet new friends and re-connect with distant colleagues and former students is so very important. As I imagine the next 10 years or so of my career, I know that such events will continue to be a part of my duty and delight, and I look forward to seeing how they shape shift in response to our ever-changing context.