Some Straight Talk on Circles

Yesterday we stepped down the mast on Santa Maria, a sure sign that summer has passed on. The days shorten. The temperature drops. The grass grows more lethargic.

I am sad not to sail, but I have to admit that I really do love the turning of the year. I have never lived in a clime close to the equator, but I would miss the cycle of spring, summer, autumn, and winter – although I suppose they have their own cycles of the year with wet and dry season. This turning of the seasons suits me, but I am also mindful that time doesn’t only turn in circles but that it moves forward too.

Scholars sometimes mark the modern era as one with a linear view of time. The study of history in the early modern period, in particular, was one in which timelines sketched the progress of humankind. At an existential level, some might map this view on their own life journey, wherein accumulating wisdom, money, achieving goals, et cetera are viewed to be the point of life. Of course, we no longer read the march of history so optimistically, and we might now too wonder at an existential level whether the accrual of funds in our pension plans is all there is to life. Even the most jaded post-modern thinker might ponder whether there was something lost in the shift from a pre-modern worldview emphasizing a circular notion of time to a modern linear one. What might we learn from a return to the circle?

Many Indigenous voices speak to the power of the circle – concretely as a way to organize a conversation or pattern a gathering and metaphorically as a way to understand the universe. The circle speaks to equality, balance, and harmony, among other things. In the church, too, we map out the times of our worship in a circular pattern moving from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to Advent again. We sing “Jesus Christ is risen today!” every year. Our church year is cyclical because our year is cyclical. Nature is cyclical. And yet the circle is not all there is. I appreciate that I can move from cradle to grave in a way wherein my life can have a meaningful end in both senses of the word: in completion and purpose. Both make their way in my day to day life.

The beginnings of the academic years come and go and come again, but I know that one day I will not be involved in them. The earth makes its way around the sun even while I slowly make my way back to the earth from whence I came. Santa Maria comes out of the water and goes back in to come out yet again. But I know that one day it will not be me caring for this beatific boat. For now, however, I am a part of her circle and very glad for that as we say goodbye to the 2021 sailing season and look forward to 2022.

Some Snowy Solace

Like many in late autumn, I dreaded the coming winter. The coming dark months loomed more ominous under the shadow of COVID 19.  Oddly, however, I have found that the last month or so to be more endurable than I was expecting, and in fact, pleasant in some ways. I am mindful, however, that I move through this pandemic with a significant amount of ease afforded by my station in life, etc.

The winter has brought a balm and it has come in the form of cold and snow.  I grew up with strong winters that are rarely seen in southwestern Ontario.  When our family first moved here for me to attend graduate school, we were looking forward to milder winters but soon found them to be dreary when there was no snow on the ground, and no sun to be seen.  But this winter has been different.  The last month and half, or so, has seen consistent weather below freezing with plenty of snow and sunshine.  The weeks have been brighter and time spent outside has been vivifying, for me.      

Yesterday I made my way to the local municipal golf course and strapped on my skis.  There was a recent dusting of snow and so the trees, fences, and bushes looked as if they have been touched by a paint brush, which magically managed to sneak enough rainbow into the white to give my soul some hope.  The golf course affords me the opportunity to ski alongside an open creek for time, with ducks nicely ensconced on still open water, their bills safely hidden in the warmth of their wings.  The sun was strong, and a kind of perfect balance of warmth and cold obtained.  It was really quite magical.

The last few times that I have headed over to the golf course, I have been surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot.  Nordic skiing has become exceedingly popular this year, being a safe outdoor activity in a time that precludes Alpine skiing trips, journeys to the Caribbean, et cetera.  As I left the parking lot yesterday after an invigorating ski, I wondered whether this would continue in the future.  I suppose it depends, in part on the weather in coming years.  There has been many years when the skiing has been pretty thin, with snow falls being undone after a day or two by rain.  This year the snow and cold has been generous, and has given me a little solace in this pandemic year. Of course, I will look forward to spring’s arrival and have enjoyed the longer daylight as we slowly approach the spring solstice.

Again, I know that my experience is only mine.  Others hate winter, no matter the conditions.  Recently friends way south of the border have been blasted by weather nearer the temperature of ours – but without the insulation, and winter tires, and clothing needed to navigate truly winter weather.  I cannot imagine them sharing my joy.  But I find some balm in the rotation of the seasons.  It reminds me that life moves along, and this COVID 19 time too will eventually be behind us.  Time can be a healer and a source of hope both.  As the season pass the baton I am able to reminded that the scriptures I call holy speak of both mundane and revelatory time.  Sometimes, in the midst of the tedium of the pandemic, this very mundane reality of winter can become revelatory and hope slips across my field of vision – now as a duck floating on a mirror of the azure blue sky; now as a rainbow dressed in winter’s snow on trees ever green.

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.

The Tick of a Hand

Is it possible that the tick
of the clock is all there is?
That tock is a figment of my
Imagination, projected by
an ear anxious to hear what
really isn’t there?

I’m amazed and
arrested by
the thought that the
tock of the clock is a ruse.

As this thought winds
its way through my body, I
recall those odd times when
my eye twitched without my
willing it to do so – twitch, twitch,
twitch – like the tick of a hand
racing across a face
looking to tock.

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.

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.

This Hope of Time

Pound out a poem
when your soul
feels empty, betrayed
by a loss, or
a distance, or
a failure.

Pound out a poem:
stretch your words
tight, like the
skin of deer
on ringed
wooden
rim.

Your voice… your stick
Your pain… your power
Your heartbeat… your hope.
Yes, hope, keeping
time because sometimes
this hope of time
is all we have.

Well-tailored Time

I can hardly wait
for the next moment
and yet the present
demands its due;
to listen to the house sigh,
to see the floor’s peace,
to feel soap – warm on pots,
to smell wine’s fruit,
to taste labour.

Now beckons.

And when I
slip now on
like the well-tailored
time it is, You
settle my past, You
unsettle my future.

Now beckons.

Each breath in

I am

Each breath out

still here

Between each

now.

Room is Needed

“Do you need room?”

This is a question the barista asks me most days. Do you want your coffee up short, so that you can whiten it with a bit of cream, or milk, or a mixture thereof? I say no, but I mean yes, not that I want my coffee whiter but I want a bit more room in my life.

Life gets busy. Days are too short. The things I crave are sacrificed to the things that shout loudest. I am not complaining but stating facts on the ground. I make poor choices and in the making of them I breed yet more. It is hard to stake out a healthy vantage point when you are hard pressed.

Making room is not so very hard, though. It means saying “no” more often. Some of us are better at it than others. I’m not great at it because I don’t want to pass up opportunities. I don’t want to let down friends, acquaintances and those I admire. I don’t want to think through the options. But sometimes I need to say “no” because I need room.

Without room, I cannot turn. Without room, I cannot stretch. Without room, I cannot step backwards. These verbs all matter. These are verbs of faith, they describe wagering another way of being in the world – one bound by neither pettiness of spirit nor brag of pride.

But having room means having less. A roomy life is less cluttered. The roomiest of all lives are lived en route with nothing save what is near at hand. A roomy life is not only a life with less but a life that gives with less, which is not the same as giving less. The one with room gives with less because they give out of emptiness and may paradoxically give what is needed most: a little room.

We neither bear nor hear paradoxes without room. There is no place for paradox in an inn full to the brim, nor in a boat battened down with fear. But love casts out our fear. Love is paradox made flesh, as are faith and hope: love in the April sun as sharp as a razor, hope in fresh buds pushing up against cynicism, and faith in friends taking time simply to be together. These three together give us voice to play the barista, offering room to thirsty pilgrims.

Bottoms up.

Of March and Mirth

These days seem weighty.
March’s time does not march at all,
but shuffles along, sometimes even losing ground.
In fact just this last week
Tuesday followed Wednesday, which
meant I had to do Wednesday twice
and Tuesday too.

Spring came but just now announced a
reversal of course. Time
it seems, is not always on our side.

Thank goodness for space. Today,
walking home, a lane announced
that hope is in order – shouting out
a colorful mural like a street preacher. And
earlier in the day
an empty parking lot said
“Take a look!” and so I
did and the heavens wrapped me round
like a quilt,
like a mother,
like life.