Walking and Boating in a Good Way

I spent last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday learning a bit more about wampums from George Kennedy, a teacher brought in by ANDPVA for their Creation and Clan Workshops held at the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre. You can see some photos from the event here, with a shout out to Marissa Magneson for the awesome photography gracing these pages.

I have to admit I was a bit hesitant about investing three days at a wampum workshop. Time is precious, but by the end of the first day I knew I made the right decision. For those who do not know about wampums, they are treaties made in beads. The Two-Row Wampum pictured below was a treaty between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch. The two purple rows represent the two rivers they travelled on: one by canoe and the other by ship. The fact that these rows are parallel speaks to the commitment that the two communities will not interfere in each other’s business. The three white lines represent peace, friendship and respect. You can learn more about this wampum here.

Building a replica of this historic wampum was far more challenging than one might first imagine, and so was profoundly satisfying. The afternoon was structured around teaching, creating and eating, and the three wove together in a beautiful braid. I was reminded of the proverb that “a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) As we beaded, we all shared stories and got to know one another, and sometimes we just worked away at difficult bits in silence. A bit of a community of very diverse people developed. It was a magical time, and I am so very thankful to the organizers, George and my fellow participants: young and old, Indigenous and not, men and women and two-spirited, residential school survivors, and recent immigrants.

Since the event was held in downtown Toronto, and I did not want to spend three days fighting traffic on the infamous highway 401, I chose to sleep on my sailboat in a nearby Burlington, and take a commuter train to Toronto each day. From Union Station in downtown Toronto I took the subway to Dundas Street, and walked 15 minutes or so, traversing Dundas Square, replete with flashy larger than life screens before making my way, a few streets down, where I passed Margaret’s Respite Centre and its visitors who have great need of care and love. The character of Dundas changes every few blocks, as is common in downtown Toronto, and so I visited some very disparate worlds before landing in the warm and welcoming doors of the Toronto Council building. I did all of this in reverse at the end of each day.

Doing so allowed me to think about the teaching of the Two-Row, and the other wampums we discovered. I wasn’t exactly travelling by boat or canoe each day, but the lessons applied: even though we all travel our own paths, a commitment to maintain peace, friendship and respect does much to advance God’s mission to mend the entire universe. In Canada, that mending most surely includes working towards Truth and Reconciliation in Settler relationships with First Peoples. But these principles also travel well, and each of us is invited to imagine how the Two-Row might inform our relationships in our families, our neighbourhoods, our work-places etc.

I am so very happy for my time in Toronto last week, and pray Creator’s blessings on this ongoing work that advances God’s Reign of love and justice in Regent Park and beyond.

20180826

Advertisements

Highway Eleven – Saskatchewan

I drove into a William Kurelek
painting the other day – the sky
an orb, seeing me
travelling in God’s eye. I
stopped at a roadside
coffee spot, and saw
two wizened souls

she in spotted frock

and

he with hat crooked just so,

both leaning into the wind and
wearing both weariness and joy.

I travelled past wounded windmills,
from another time, and felt my soul
caressed by granaries old
enough to be my Omma and Oppa –
they called out:
“Do not forget your whence

and

Do not forget that your whither

cannot be divined.”

On our Way to Wawa

A certain Zen attends this most
non-pedestrian of affairs.
I am behind the wheel –
this circle, this eternity –
that unveils the truth
it is: what goes round is first
found in You, Point
of departure,
of arrival,
of travel.

This, my peregrination to points
last seen two decades ago, may
or may not be pilgrimage.
How am I to know? My
not-knowing is a hard truth.

But this too is true:
I cannot
take a step,
drive a kilometre,
sail a nautical mile or
traverse the continent without You
upending each ending and
bending each first.

Yesterday’s Thoughts

My wife is off to Portugal to build a house, so our house now hosts none save me. This is a bit of a turn of events in our life together. For years she was at home while I went here and there with work. I’ve never travelled a lot with work, but enough to know that it is something best enjoyed in smaller bits. Work travel also generally has that odd character of being nearly “a-topical,” that is, you are in a place but not really. Most of the time is spent in hotels, or conference centres and the lovely people you get to meet are rarely the people who inhabit the land you visit.

I think it will be a bit different for Gwenanne. She is on a build with Habitat for Humanity, for whom she works. The people who receive the home work alongside the international builders, so she will have plenty of occasion to rub shoulders with locals. She went a few days early, and so had a bit of a chance to engage Porto. She has the happy opportunity of being in Portugal over Holy Week, so I am sure she will have tales to tell.

When I was doing graduate study in Toronto, we lived in what is called “Little Portugal.” The folk there were from the Azores Islands, which are half way between Portugal and the Americas. Most of our neighbours were fairly recent immigrants with limited English. When I went to the local grocer, or barber, only Portuguese was heard. Nonetheless, everyone was so kind and made an effort to engage us as best as they were able. I have such vivid memories of sardines on the barbecues in the summer and wine production in the fall. I also remember marvellous custard tarts, which G recently reported having found in Porto, and without compare. So far, no comment on grilled sardines has been made.

Being on my own usually means I am cooking or baking or making something. Today it was rye bread, beer and then banana bread this evening. Yesterday it was granola. I am afraid that my production levels are outstripping my consumption patterns. Cooking, it seems, is the way I negotiate being on my own. All the same, the quiet has not been oppressive. I turned the radio on at lunch time, for a bit, but quickly sent it packing. My herring and Akvavit were adequate dinner companions. Tomorrow a guest comes for a few days, and then it is the chaos that is the week, before I fly to Halifax to spend the Triduum with my youngest. Gwenanne returns the day after I do.

I think that I am finding balm in the quiet because the week prior to this was pure lunacy. This was, in part, a product of poor planning from my side and the simple collision of events in the accident that is life. Well, of course, life is not only accidents. We plan, God laughs, and then we react. Sometimes the best reaction is to get on a train and go see some art, which I did yesterday. Sometimes the best reaction is to cook, which I did today. And sometimes the best reaction is to go to church and to listen again to the stories of God’s accompaniment with us. That is my plan for tomorrow – inshallah.

Tomorrow, India

Tomorrow, India.  Today, the plane.

This destination is  farther in mind

than body as this

duty, and that

responsibility

hamper, but cannot finally recall, this fall

into happy circumstance.  And soon I will

be where I am in India – not lost between

duty and destiny

but instead in an

auspicious moment, a place along the

way which is my life.

Not all that I expected,

but more.

Dear Readers, a wedding beckons in Mother India.  Friends of ours who have made us their own have invited us and so we go.  It will be a very different Christmas the year and I may have tales to tell.  My pen will be close at hand, but my computer at home, and so I bid you now a blessed season, and look forward to our interaction in the Newest Year.

So here I sit in Edinburgh

So here I sit in Edinburgh 

Single malt at hand¡

A castle overlooking me while

I ponder what I have overlooked.

Tasks at home now

Chinks in my armor

Flanks under seige by

Poor planning, by poverty of prognostication and

Yet a ridiculous richness descends on me in my

Knowing that driving on the left

Leaves me disabused of certainty – each

Traffic circle gracelessly cornered a sign of

Undeserved grace.  Far from home

I sit back – when safe so to do – and

Ponder my place in a place such as this:

Afar and alien by a half.

Being Red, Being White

IMG_20140701_161000

 

Today we celebrate Canada Day.  I’ve always loved this holiday.  I’ve celebrated it in many and various places, but perhaps one of the most memorable was last year’s festivity.  For my readers with a little longer history with me, you may recall that last year I was in Norway at this time of the year, making my way with five other pilgrims from Dovre to Trondheim.

 

We were all Canadians, and I recall that at one point in the day, we dropped our packs, raised our voices  and belted out “O Canada” in a Norwegian meadow on the side of a mountain.  It was a memorable moment, touching even.  In some ways, this moment recapitulated the enigmatic character of  pilgrimage – in its various guises.  People in pilgrimage studies have studied the why, the how, the where, the who and the when of pilgrimages.  But to tell the truth, this pilgrimage was as much circumstantial as by design.  The invitation just came at the right time, and my wife and I had enough interest, and the bank account gave us a thumbs up, and so we went.

 

 

allen-pondering

 

But our going, at least my going, was something of an internal journey: some making sense of my DNA.  Where is the locus of my people – or at least half of them.  What did they leave behind?  Why did they go?  Did they ever want to return?  Alas, so many of my questions remained unanswered, yet attenuated by the stubborn beauty of this land called Norway.  We did learn of the difficult economic time at the end of the 19th Century that had ripple effects for many years.  We learned of the impossibility of finding enough land for a house full of children.  Of course, I also knew of the attractive – if not quiote honest – images being used on posters to encourage immigrants to the prairies.  Pictures of buxom young women (blond of course) in front of acres and acres of wheat bordered by vineyards.  Little did those young Norwegian men know that they would end up on a prairie in sod huts with land requiring back breaking work.  And as for the young women?  Some were lucky in love, but others not so much.

 

Immigration is hard work.    Immigrants have to navigate how to fit in, what are appropriate social cues etc.  And yet immigrants still come.  They often hope to escape the very real possibility of death by war or interrogation or targeted hatred.  In others cases, like that of my grand parents, they were simply looking for a place to call home.  As we sang “O Canada” in that Norwegian dale, I knew that Norway was not my home, but I also recognized as a second generation Canadian that my people are fresh on the land, still learning what comes by second nature to the First Nations of this continent.

 

Canada Day is a day for Canadians to consider the gift it is to be hosted by generous First Nations, but it is more.  It is an invitation to return hospitality to those coming from afar.  It is good to be the stranger – even on a Norwegian mountainside – so that I, so that we, can practice the radical hospitality and infectious joy that marks the way of the One whose way I follow.  Dear Canadians, take time this day to recall what brought your people to this place, and try to imagine the feelings of those wondering if they will ever fit in, and if so, how.  Take some time today, or in the next few, to become what you have enjoyed: grace, hospitality, and an ease with the land.  Happy Canada Day all!