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.

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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

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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!

Ensconced for now…

And now I am firmly ensconced in Bossey, Switzerland at the Ecumenical Institute. At least, as ensconced as one can be for four days. I am here with a working group of the Lutheran World Federation. We have gathered from near and far to deliberate over the nature of the church, and what it means for the LWF to call itself “A Communion of Churches,” and what it means to be in communion in light of those human frailties that fracture unity, community and the self.

I give a paper tomorrow, but today I am mostly trying to stay awake. I flew through the night, which gives me that curious sense that somehow, someone has robbed me of a day. I am doing all I can to stay awake, not wanting to sit up in bed four hours hence, wide awake even while I know that this is exactly what will happen no matter what. Jetlag exacts payment. You don’t get to defy space without time exacting its revenge.

I went for a walk in the late afternoon, and after about 10 minutes ran into a wall. I literally felt as though I was pushing through a pool of jello (without that curious mixture of uncommon texture and too common flavour). Each step required an act of the will, a volitional defiance of everything in me that said: lay down and have a nap. I refused that then and I refuse that now, and so I write. But not for long.

Soon, the words will blur, my sentences will slur as if I were sheets to the wind. My body winds down. Soon it will be time to succumb to the memories of a day’s travel: airports thick with a lifetime or more of agony and ecstasy; babies crying and parents stoically refusing to join in; the unlikely discovery of a Swiss Chalet (yes that Swiss Chalet) in Switzerland; the meeting of new colleagues and the re-meeting of old; and that curious sense of disorientation that comes when a threshold has been broached and a new challenge announced.

Soon it is time to let the day’s memories of spring flowers, song birds, and greening grass pass over me like a wave of tomorrow. Soon

Step by Stop

I’ve been walking to and from work these days, a practice that will likely continue through summer. That isn’t an especially intriguing boast. Many people walk to work and back. I suppose I could brag about the distance: just shy of 7 km each way. But people the world over walk this kind of distance out of necessity. I walk it by choice; enjoying the luxury of an hour or so of nothing to think about other than how to stay in the shade. I’m enjoying an increasing familiarity with the twin cities I call home Kitchener and Waterloo. I’m starting to recognize people on the street; the odd “Hi!” punctuating a passing by. In some ways this is an extension of the St. Olaf’s Way pilgrimage that I finished with my wife and four other fellow pilgrims a month or so ago. My walk replicates that sweet feeling of the brain emptying and the soul filling as foot follows foot repetitively; prayer in motion. But in other ways, this daily journey is altogether different. The pilgrimage was a “what’s around the corner” kind of venture; not knowing what our sleeping quarters would look like; not knowing what we would next eat, etc. My daily walk, by contrast, is rather repetitive, same streets, same businesses, same route. I am not charting new territory. I’m taking time to chart the familiar. The other day, for instance, I discovered Budds on my path.

Budds is a Kitchener institution. It is an old fashioned department store. The women’s wear is on one side, the men’s on the other, bargains are in the basement: everything in its place. The men who helped me wore dress shirts with ties and seemed to exude that measured ease of knowing how to make a sale: not too much help yet enough at just the right time. The store is 86 years old. For some reason related to parking I have never been in it. It has been in the same location since 1926, when it opened. I needed some new socks, and thought that this was a fine task to break up my walk home.

As I paid my bill, I noticed a pair of water-pipe-like tubes beside the till. “For water, perhaps?” I asked the sales clerk. He explained that they have been here for 86 years. When the store was built, the sales staff would write up the sale on a sheet of paper, add the cash rendered to the bill and put the two into a cylandrical container, which would then be deposited into what I discovered to be a “vacuum tube.” This bill and the accompanying bills would then be whisked away to the office in the back, where change would be made and returned in like manner. I asked how many years this system was used. “86” was the answer. I looked curiously at the gentleman. “It still works?” I asked. “Yes, it’s a back-up system we would not be without. It is a part of the heritage of the building and business” he said, as he gave me my change the new-fangled way. I was dumbstruck, and left the cool store to step out into the sun, reeling with the realization that there was a place in town that was not absolutely dependent on the good will of the world wide web.

I made my way home with my socks in tow and my thoughts on the past and future: what was the store like in its heyday? How often is the tubular till used? Will future owners respect this bit of the past? I was intrigued, but soon my feet found their rhythm and once again I entered that sweet trance, feeling rather like a tubular container being swept down a now vacuous King street; glad for the opportunity to have this one thing to do in this moment: to make my way home and to know it to be enough.