Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Advent is a season of hope in the church's year. We anticipate the celebration of Christmas, remembering how the birth of a baby proved greater than the machinations of rulers and powers in the ancient world. The memory nurtures hope in us that the trials and terrors of our world also may prove weaker than the small blessings of our lives. A baby is born, and thousands of soldiers are sent to Afghanistan. Only hope can say that the birth is the greater event; but so proclaims Advent.
This weekend we have our annual Festival of Christmas Praise at Providence. I have a similar response to the readings and music each year in our own celebration. Hope requires constant nurture in a dangerous world.
But another note sounds in the readings and songs. Each year the hymn, "Lo, he comes with clouds descending", begins the Advent season, reminding us that the hope found in remembering the birth of Jesus is linked with the hope of his return.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Come, Lord, come!
This link from youtube gives a good performance of this hymn, which is most sobering and stands alongside the hope of Advent with a kind of warning that we usually avoid today. The second verse, sung in the Choral Evensong as printed above, speaks of judgment on those who oppose the Messiah.
Judgment is a theme we prefer to omit from our thoughts about God or about the end of all things. But I don't see how to believe in hope if it does not also promise judgment. Revelation 6 pictures the saints persecuted through the ages as sitting within God's throne and crying out, "How Long, O Lord, will those who persecute us triumph?" Revelation then pictures these same saints as triumphant themselves, worshipping God with all evil removed.
I live in a world filled with evil -- from Zimbabwe to Afghanistan, and deep within my own countries of the United States and Canada. If that evil cannot be removed (because we are squeamish), I don't know how to anticipate Christ's return with any real hope. Or for that matter, how to live in the present with real hope for the future.
These thoughts are, I think, at one level somewhat simplistic or banal; but I note that they echo the lessons and carols. The lessons and carols themselves echo long and careful reflection on the core of Christian faith. As I said at the beginning, I appreciate these readings and carols, partly for the beauty of the music and partly for the depth of the readings.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Circles of life, within without
We sit, stand, walk together and alone.
Someone said: We are human only with people:
Umuntu gumuntu ngabantu.
We seek our circle.
I have heard somewhere
We must all as they say
Fusion of self makes bad health.
I am because I am.
God says: “I am.” We are
Because God is, and God made us
To find ourselves in us,
And only so to find God.
I have heard somewhere of soul’s dark night.
Forced individuation, isolation, atomization,
Alone in darkness
Pulsing with life yet lost
In wilderness of One.
Soul’s dark night brings blessing
So they say
So I believe (and have found).
Forced to one’s need in awareness of need
The place of pain and life.
When we stand again and enter light
We cannot remain
We reach out our hands seeking
Communal life, pulses mingling and merging
In shared humanness, Ubuntu,
If you love God,
Love brother, sister, neighbour, friend –
Else call God liar
And lose yourself as human.
In God we become each other’s
Bread and wine: Christ appears.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
First thought: I was at a conference last February where one of the presenters described an idea behind the way that some emerging churches in Australia structure their lives: Everyone needs three circles of friends – a work circle, a community circle, and a church circle. These three circles are, of course, in addition to one’s own family circle. As I reflect on my own processing, I realize that I tend to overemphasize one or other of these circles. I sometimes try to load the whole of my friendship needs on to church, or on to work, or on to community (i.e., those people in my life who fit together as my friends, but are not part of my church family or my work group).
Friendship circles, especially in the individualized West, are usually not strong enough to bear the whole weight of any one person’s friendship needs. Therefore I need to nurture each one in its place and not call on any one circle to bear the whole load of friendship needs. Socializing with co-workers, involvement in a care group at church, and participation in interest-based groups all work together to supplement the foundation of care received from one’s own family circle.
Obviously for each person the blending of these three circles will be different, and there will be overlap as some people are found in one or two or all three of these circles. But the basic point remains: we lean on each other in ways that fit the respective places in which our friendship lives.
Second thought: We all bear responsibility for reaching out to others for our own friendship needs, and for inviting others into our circle for their benefit. Personality plays a huge part in this process: some reach out naturally, almost instinctively, while others struggle to reach out at all. Some need many people in their circles; some need three or four and find more than that stifling or draining. But in one way or another, we are all responsible both for ourselves and for each other.
I have experienced this dynamic in different places more than once. I find it relatively easy to reach out to others, but more than once I have stood on the edge of a new group wondering how to join in. I have been the one needing to be invited. I have also been the one looking at someone who wants to join a circle and speaking words of welcome while showing with my body language that the newcomer is not welcome. Of course, the newcomer reads the unspoken message and moves off soon enough.
Why do we sometimes close ranks like that? I can speak only for myself. I know that sometimes I think the newcomer is boring. Sometimes I think that he/she will get in the way of another friendship I want to nurture. Sometimes I’m judgmental. Sometimes I just want to be left alone. Since no one can be open to every one else all of the time, some sort of selection must go on. Friendship circles cannot be infinitely open, or they lose their ability to support and nurture those in them, and they lose their meaning.
But if they are simply closed, they become cliques, potentially destructive, whether at work or in the church, or in our communities. C. S. Lewis has written about the effect of the “Inner Ring”, the circle of people who are in the know and who wield an unhealthy influence in society. Somewhere between the infinitely open and the destructively closed, we need a balance in our friendship circles, inviting others in and yet remaining a healthy size. As one who has moved often, I see the difficulties inherent in maintaining such a balance.
Third thought: Friendship is one of the basic ways in which we love each other. Jesus often referred to his disciples as, “my friends”. Alongside the incredible love of God (agape) and the wonderful intimacy between a man and a woman in marriage (eros) stands simple friendship (philia). (One can add familial love or affection – storge – as Lewis does in The Four Loves.) Friendship is a basic way in which we discover God’s presence and in which we become fully disciples of God’s Son, Messiah Jesus.
That is, I believe, why we need more than one friendship circle: we mediate God to each other daily in the way that we treat each other – if we do so in genuine and caring friendship. To lack friendship, then, also means to be deprived of the full blessing of God’s presence in this world. God has made us so: that we mediate him to each other through our friendship.
Obviously this mediation occurs at different levels: with one person the friendship will be more on the surface, and with another more deep and full of meaning. Yet in every case it is truly God’s Spirit flowing through the bonds of friendship.
I wish I knew fully what I am trying to describe; but after almost 60 years of life on this earth, I know only that I need friends with every fibre of my being, and that I need to give friendship as deeply as I need to receive it.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I think back to to another war, Desert Storm. Lois and I had just returned from Zimbabwe to find talk of war everywhere. In Zimbabwe nobody was talking about invading Iraq. In Europe on the way back nobody was talking about invading Iraq. In the USA that's all we were talking about. It was like entering an parallel universe. Or coming from one.
I think of the present military actions (may we call them "wars" now) -- in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with the horrible shooting on an American military base. A counsellor who needed counselling and who acted out our worst fears, the enemy within.
I rarely wear a poppy -- more a matter of not thinking to put it on, or not thinking to put on MCC's alternative poppy. My poppyless state is less a statement than a lack of care about dress. But today many wear the poppy, not to remember war, but to remember those who fight. We all (or almost all) pray for peace. We all (or almost all) recognize that war comes when what we want fails. "War is hell": so said a soldier.
So we remember together. Our own brushes with war, and with all the other forms of violence in our world -- whether against children, or abused women, or through oppression and poverty. The acts of war and violence that plague or planet, the disease of our race: people made in God's image, fighting and destroying the image of the Creator.
As we remember war, we remember and pray also for peace. We work for peace. We want the Shalom of God's presence, life full and running over in place of hatred and death and separation. I wish God's blessing on all who work for peace in our world, whether sharing my convictions as a CO or somewhere around the world with the American or Canadian military -- or in the many armies of our world. God keep and guide us all.
Monday, November 02, 2009
The key aspect I see in acedia is a focus on self that makes life difficult. Christian doctrine teaches us that our centre is to be found in God. As the Westminster Catechism puts it: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” If our purpose in life is to glorify and enjoy God, then self-centredness is one form of the first and primal sin, in which we dethrone God and enthrone self.
All of this is the most elementary material in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “He who would be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me.” I have heard this text and many like it from my earliest days; but I’m a slow learner (or late in coming to any real spiritual and emotional maturity). So elementary or not, I restate some basic lessons for my own benefit. These lessons are variants on a theme: Let go of yourself; take hold of God.
The first notes the benefit of regular prayer. An old verse says it: “You must seek him in the morning if you want him through the day” (Ralph Spaulding Cushman, “The Secret”). I have said more than once that the regimen of early morning devotions I have often heard prescribed fits certain people better than others. I still say that; but I recognize that the appeal to personality type (you can’t expect an ENFP to be so regimented!) had become an excuse for not centring on God. The basic step over the past year of beginning the day with the Lord’s Prayer has been a small step. I have been surprised how big a step it has also proved to be.
From that small step grows a second and more helpful discipline, including prayer for myself, my family, my friends, and my own community. I am working at bringing regular reading of Scripture into the process. At the least I no longer can say that such a regular practise of discipline is antithetical to who I am. In fact, the very spontaneity of my daily life requires such discipline to construct a framework within which I can be most truly myself. Focussing on God at the beginning of the day makes me able to be God’s child more fully, which in turn gives me a real more substantial identity than the self-centredness of the past (a self-centredness that creeps all to close outside the door of my heart).
Third in the small steps towards God that I am taking is greater physical discipline. I have been exercising more regularly and carefully in the past months. It might seem that a focus on physical well-being would turn one’s heart and mind towards oneself and away from God. That can happen easily enough. So the way that I exercise becomes more important. I am experimenting with a rhythm of combining exercise with Taizé music – not everyone’s cup of tea (or glass of wine), but it may be mine.
A final step for now is to plan specific ways that I interact with other people. Inviting friends and acquaintances into our home for a meal; accepting greater involvement in our congregation’s life; playing chess on a Tuesday evening with friends; having a young person in the grip of despair over for coffee; genuinely listening to people in the dining hall (how often have I wanted them simply to listen to me?) – there are myriad ways in which one takes the focus of oneself.
I am a neophyte at this discipline. I recognize that I still take my mental and emotional temperature all the time. Perhaps we all do to some extent; but I want to find the kind of fulfillment that the Westminster Catechism describes, and I know that such fulfillment requires an intentional awareness of God and of others to a greater extent than before in my life. I feel a faint resentment that full healing of my own sense of being crushed requires that I stop looking at myself, but I know that resentment and being ridiculous are closely allied. And I want to keep moving away from acedia towards Paradise.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Generally speaking, that's what happened; but as my previous post suggests, O'Hare did not cooperate with the program. We arrived in Chicago on schedule at 7:30 in the evening to find the gates in F packed with people waiting for delayed flights. A weather system was bringing huge rain to a large area south of Chicago (and to Chicago), which meant that flights from Cincinnati (for example) were late, and flights on from O'Hare were delayed.
We quickly joined the delays, first from 9:15 to 10 pm, then from 10 to 11 pm. Finally we boarded our flight, and two hours late for the 25 minute hop across to South Bend seemed not too bad. But of course the evening was only beginning. As we sat at the gate, and sat, the captain announced first that a weakness had been noted in the floor near the door. Then he told us that the weakness was "within specifications" and we would take off. Then we learned that the weakness was worse than thought. Finally we deplaned (with some relief), and went back to Gate F12. Finally came the announcement that the flight was cancelled.
Lois went down to the specified gate to get a voucher for a hotel and make plans for the next day. I waited at the gate for our bags, two carry-ons that had been tagged and placed under the plane. Then I realized that I had the boarding passes Lois needed to make arrangements. A quick trot the quarter mile between us carried the passes to Lois, and relieved some of the building tension I felt. No bags. I went back to Lois and talked a bit, then returned to the gate to wait for our bags. Then we were told that the bags would be delivered to baggage area 6 in terminal 1. I went back to find Lois, and she was gone!
A female attendant at the desk checked the wash room for me, eliciting a voice from somewhere inside, "I'm not Lois!" Then the attendant who had given Lois our vouchers recognized me and told me that she had gone to baggage area 6, so I set off again at a brisk trot through a now deserted O'Hare. Out through security, on down the stairs, to the lower level of Terminal 1.
Here I found Lois, along with 40 or so other irate passengers. Apparently our luggage was to be held, and then sent off to South Bend the next day, where we could pick it up. While we milled about Lois told me that we had a voucher for the hotel, and that we could take the next bus to South Bend at about 7 in the morning. It was now after 1:30 am, and the time was moving.
Finally our luggage appeared at baggage area 2, relieving the growing frustration of passengers on the edge of rioting. We took our bags and crossed to the bus terminus. There we found that the first bus to South Bend left at 5:15, just over three hours later. So we forgot about the hotel and rested as well as we could.
Two young girls just back from Mexico shivered on a nearby bench, until a car arrived to take them off. I talked with JJ, a former football player from the Bronx headed back to his old university's homecoming. He had flown from New York to Detroit, then to Chicago, and now was waiting for a bus to take him to some friends in Portage. An even more convoluted journey than our own!
At 5 am we boarded the bus, and left at 5:15. Lois slept almost the full three hours on the bus, and I slept for an hour or two. At 9:20 we pulled onto the Notre Dame campus and looked around for our son to pick us up. I had woken him from a deep sleep with directions for where we would get off. When he woke, his handwritten note said cryptically "Notre Dame Holy Cross 9:20". Missing was the word "intersection" between the two street names. So he went to the Holy Cross College on the Notre Dame campus, where there was a bus terminus.
Meanwhile, Lois and I stood in a wet and rainy morning, in a wet and chilly open air bus terminus. Across from us at the main gate of the campus was a guard, who invited us into his heated shelter, called our son for us (on his cell), and soon we were at our son's apartment.
The journey was almost over. After a shower and breakfast, we got into the car and left for Harrisburg -- 10 hours through constant rain. A final twist came as we left the turnpike, five minutes from Dad's house. Lois reached for the ticket to give to the attendant at the toll booth, but it slipped down behind the ash tray. We could see it, we could touch it, but we could not get it out. We pulled over into the toll area's parking lot and took turns trying to reach it. Finally our son hooked it, and I carried it across to the toll booth. At last we could arrive.
The wedding was wonderful. The reception lovely. Brunch on Sunday delightful. We had good family visits in between. The trip back was unnaturally smooth. We arrived back in Winnipeg 20 minutes early. Every light except one was green, and less than an hour after leaving the airport we were home. A trip to remember!
Our son looking for the ticket.
Monday, October 26, 2009
As we glide ghost-like to the ground.
A slow dash through the rain
And we sit and wait and sift our thoughts.
Flights delayed or cancelled
Float just out of reach -- the traveller's quest.
Too many people crowding around
Buried in her magazine a young girl leans against the wall.
Middle-aged, a man sits perhaps asleep with music in his ears.
Soft conversations suggest
More life in cell phones than in people.
Someone vaguely Asian moves down the aisle
Tapping on some handheld device (secret Asian man).
My mind drifts, picking berries more real than phantom airplanes
Circling like tired hawks searching for a place to land.
Backs collide in the press of people,
Exclamations of apology press out,
A thin wine of relational juice.
One harried woman cries out in lament:
"Paper! Give me paper! To take your names! Hear me! Help me!"
Harried staff relieve their tension,
Laughing at her distress once she is gone.
We sit by, too weary in our own journeys
To aid her in her quest
For a winged steed to carry her away
From O'Hare, our fallen Camelot.
We sit and dream of our own quests,
Some place beyond this swamp of delays and cancellations.
"I should have rented a car."
A few hours drive to Springfield in place of
So many hours sitting and waiting.
Friendships form, from Fort Wayne to Beijing,
As ephemeral as the clouds
Drifting apart as flights land.
Stories float through the air:
A missed connection to Iowa leaves a young woman distraught,
Confessing her despair to her cell phone,
The ubiquitous companion of solitary souls
Held in cell phone cellophane wrappers.
Some sleep, or sit silent alone. Next to me
A man slides his hat down over his eyes,
Blocking the glare of bright bright light,
Chasing the dream of life outside
A mother walks past, baby in sling crying,
but only a bit. The baby is at home with mother.
We only dream of home.
An attendant consults the computer
To tell a traveller what
Already says from every wall around.
Another with less ceremony wrests real information
From the computer,
Giving hope to our dreams.
A football flies by,
Two boys in their own quest for glory.
Penn State fans meet someone from Iowa,
And jest of dreams already past.
A crowd gathers round the Sports Bar TV.
One man, neat suit and tie, shakes his head
In dismay as the Yankees fall behind
on this stage of their own quest.
So many people, drinking and eating,
Laughing and crying and loving.
My hope of warm bed fades
Into the bright bright light and hard chair.
She is here anyway, and my dream lives.
22 October 2009
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
We're flying this time to Pennsylvania -- or more precisely to Indiana, then driving to Pennsylvania. We'll leave out the driving on the way back and fly from PA to Wpg. My niece is getting married, and we would like to be there! Family gatherings are a good thing, especially when one's family is as scattered as ours.
I have pointed out to our sons that it would be okay for them to settle close to home, but I admit that the example of the past three generations has predisposed them to ramble. We're just glad that they're in the general orbit of our families of origin.
And of course the wedding. My niece is getting married. I wondered to myself why they didn't get married in London: it would have given us an excuse to fly further to a place we enjoy even more than PA. (May as well be hung for sheep as well as a lamb; if we're going to fly, really go somewhere! And wherever did that expression come from -- a sheep as well as a lamb, and why hung?) It should be a good celebration, and we wish the newly-married couple a long and joyful life.
Meanwhile, the airplane. We've taken our dog to a friend for the weekend. We've almost finished packing. Lois has vacuumed and mopped upstairs (must be sure the house is clean while we're gone). And the plane is waiting. Tomorrow afternoon I will once again close my eyes as we taxi out onto the runway, and I will once again pray for safety and protection, and (I hope) I will once again enjoy the actual experience of flying.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Almost 50 years ago Bob Dylan wrote these words (Bob Dylan 1963):
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
If the times have changed, they have not become more clear or certain. Rather, they continue as twisted and confusing as ever.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.
It is not clear to me that the time has yet come to speak. Winners and losers from my youth are still spinning. John Kennedy was a winner – maybe. Except that his legacy in the political corridors of Washington includes a bitter fight for control, currently in the debate (a word we use by courtesy) over some sort of national health care system. The debate threatens to consume American society, and there really is no predicting the loser or the winner.
In Canada, we have tried our own great social experiment with “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms”; but has it worked? You would have to be wise indeed to know the answer to that question, as the courts try to work out the balance between an individual’s right to privacy and the needs of the larger community. Certainly we struggle with our multicultural identity, and our world is still spinning.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.
The battle outside today is economic, social, religious, political – so many battles that leave us feeling the full force of our uncertain times. We check our RRSPs and hope that our jobs don’t disappear. The idealism of the 1960s is but a memory, and the winds of change continue to rattle our windows and threaten our safety.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.
Dylan was singing to his parents (and ours); but now we are the ones who don’t understand what’s happening to us. We thought that we were putting the forces of change in motion. In reality, we were caught up in forces much broader than ourselves, blowing not just through North America, but throughout the world. Afghanistan and Steinbach are part of the same world now.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
The dyads Dylan sets up end with one we recognize, pointing towards the end of all things when God brings in the true new world order. Whether we understood it or not in the 1960s, the uncertainty that we face in this world finds its resolution only in God.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
For me, spending the weekend alone (Lois is with her mother, which is a good Thanksgiving indeed) feels strange. I enjoy some time alone, but reach a point where I need to talk with someone. Is blogging sometimes a substitute for talking, except that one really doesn't know if anyone is listening? Maybe.
I like the timing for Thanksgiving here in Canada. The American custom of waiting for the end of November separates the Day from the Harvest. Our timing here reminds us that we give thanks for provision, for food and lodging, for life itself. In the States, I think, holding the celebration so much later plays into our excessive commitment to money. Commerce reigns supreme!
So tomorrow I preach a sermon; find something to eat; spend more time alone at home (not really feeling sorry for myself -- but eager for Lois to return!); maybe some telephone conversations. Then Thanksgiving Day: Read papers for school; prepare a Bible study; read a bit professionally and personally; some facebook and reading of blogs; and Lois comes back!
I find myself wondering what stitches everything together. What do I say relatively little about, but is the fabric within which I live (and without which I cannot live). God. Talking to God; listening; realizing how I ignore, then trying to reconnect with. And saying thank you. To God.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
When we got the news, I started pulling up youtube videos of the trio singing. "It's the hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, a song about love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land." Quite a change from listening to the health care debate.
I found myself feeling the loss -- not so much of Mary Travers, but rather the loss of our generation. Such high ideals we had. "All the world over, so easy to see, people everywhere just got to be free." We wanted to hear the oppressed and impoverished speak into our lives. We wanted to learn from them and work with them to build a new world. We built something all right: a bigger house for each of us than our parents would have ever imagined.
At least for each of us who has money and resources. Think again of the health care debate in the United States. The Sixties suggests that we would embrace health care for everyone, that we would care about everyone around us. But we have had 40 years to build something, and we have cared more about building a bigger garage and driving a bigger car than anything else. Once we railed against The Man. Now we are The Man.
I feel betrayed when I listen again to the two records of PP and M that we have. I believed them then; I still believe them now. But Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses alike have taken us down a different road than any PP and M sang about.
The ideals we held in the Sixties resonate with me at least partly because so many of them spring from deep Christian roots. But when I turn to the church, so many of my brothers and sisters there are busy fighting against any effort to build those ideals into our society. The protesters (who learned the ideals from the church) fell to the goddess of greed (or is greed a god?); and the church (who gave them the ideals in the first place) seems to have forgotten them.
I know that my rant is overdone. There are many counter-examples. Ron Sider's work with Evangelicals for Social Action is one. Ben Lowe has an excellent book, Green Revolution, in which he gives many other examples of Christians who have begun to remember who we are. Perhaps some degree of funk emanates from sitting and thinking of what we hoped to be and do, and knowing that Mary Travers just died. And perhaps reality is deeper and better than our many glimpses of failure.
Her songs remain, with Peter and Paul. And a wonderful youtube version of the trio singing "If I had a hammer" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. We were so young, and so wrong about so much; and so right about the fundamentals. Freedom, justice, love, peace. All good.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Remembering that day (however hazily) I think back to meeting my wife, and to falling in love, and wonder how it all happened. I know that the feelings of "falling in love" have been less important than the settled commitment to each other that we share -- not "as long as love shall last", but "as long as life shall last". That committed love, an act of will deeper than feelings, is crucial.
But the feelings are there anyway -- whatever we mean by "falling in love". And as I sat watching my son's wedding rehearsal, I wrote the lines below to my own bride.
I wonder when I fell in love ….
So many years ago,
So gradually and gently.game long past
No bolt of lightning, fading as quickly;
but a growing joy and lasting light.
I remember a circle of people,
Young we were then.
She sat somewhere
Across from me, where I could watch her
Carelessly, or seeking her eyes (beautiful green eyes).
Did she watch me?
I wonder when I fell in love.
I remember the piano,
She and another both played.
The other was good, all runs and trills.
She was better!
Competent, complete, divine!
I know the process had begun,
watchful attraction deepening to love.
I remember walking
Under the trees beside the river,
(Though I did not know it then.)
She had a composure, a completeness
I lacked and desired.
Calm and controlled
(How little I knew!)
In a world of chaotic change
I felt the attraction of perfection
(though neither of us had it).
And I fell in love.
I’m still falling.
Beneath the music,
Beneath the lively intelligence,
Beneath the challenge of her competitive spirit,
Beneath the long hair (long flowing auburn hair)
And green eyes (beautiful hazel eyes)
And her body moulded to my touch,
Beneath all else I find
Love, Compassion, Grace;
Desire for God’s love, compassion, grace;
Her spirit more beautiful even than
Face and eyes, hair and outer form;
Her spirit seeking God’s Spirit
Echoing my own inner desire for
True Perfection, True Divinity.
10 July 2009
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Dorcas Mildred Slagenweit. Born this day in 1919. Died May 12, 1991. Living forever with the blessed Trinity. Living forever in our hearts and memories.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
My first thought was that I had walked up to the edge of possibly a major depression. Since then I've read a book recommended by a friend: Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me. Acedia is the sin of sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. You can check Wikipedia's definition here.
Norris suggests that one test for whether one is experiencing acedia (the lack of caring; a sort of massive indifference) or depression is to see what helps. Acedia, she suggests, is not amenable to therapeutic counselling, but does respond to spiritual care. Depression, she states, is not helped by spiritual care, but does respond to therapeutic counselling.
Some bits of what I walked through fit her description of acedia; other bits fit what I know of depression. Certainly the two, acedia and depression, mimic each other. And certainly, whichever one a person experiences, the body, mind, and soul are all involved. But my own journey as I reflect on it was a spiritual journey, not a therapeutic one (in a counselling sense). Healing there was, but healing that came through prayer and an experience of God's grace.
I have walked closely enough with clinical depression to know that it does not yield to advice from well-meaning friends to "pray more." This brush with acedia suggests that for some of us -- Kathleen Norris and I share at least this much -- acedia is a lifelong companion, and spiritual discipline is a necessary part of life lived in defiance of such torpor.
It is a good journey, and at this stage I am glad to be on it.
Friday, June 26, 2009
In some sense the six months at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 were the most difficult of my life. In objective terms I see no reason to have experienced a particular crisis. There were professional pressures of working in a tight economy. There are the personal pressures of living in one's 59th year. But many around me have had more real difficulties to deal with than I. But for whatever reason I came to the edge of some sort of crisis in February, which found the beginning of resolution in March. Lent was a season with more than usual meaning this year.
Resolution began with two dreams and with a voice in the silence. The following lines describe something of the experience -- a journey into darkness to find God's limitless love, patience, and grace. I do not yet understand what happened, or why. This record of the path through the undergrowth (of my life) to the cliff overlooking a pit, the cross beside the road, the sea, and the circle around the ashes is an effort to keep the whole in mind long enough for it to form the journey of the coming months and years.
One: The Path
The path wandered through the undergrowth,
A pathless way deeper into the darkness.
Wandering unwilling, compelled, pressed, constrained
I stumble like a sloth into the dark.
It did not seem so dark at first,
this crosspath; but as I walk on
Through under-undergrowth, the need grows
To break clear, escape
Some cataclysm, a burning.
Wandering aimless and looking for freedom
I, trapped in fear.
Relentless the pathless path wanders down
The growth of many year, shapeless fears
Forming in the darkling gloom.
So many years of growth underfoot
Obstructing, clutching, pulling.
At last I break free into a clearing
At the edge of a cliff, and find
Only darkness burning deep within the pit of myself.
A pathless path balanced on the edge of time.
Two: The Cross
Beside the road stands a cross, unheeded, unneeded.
People hurry past, hardly looking.
I stand, lending my weakness to keep the cross
I am not needed, not heeded -- let me go!
A building close by beckons, offering safety, privacy,
A chance to slip out of the light, a place to hide.
I cannot leave.
Unnoticed, unneeded, I want only to go and change.
I promise to return ....
There is no escape,
Compelled to stay, to stand by the cross beside the road.
"I want nothing between us."
Immediate fervent assent
To live at the cross by the side of the road.
Three: The Sea
Floating in a dream
Floating in the sea.
Completely secure, endlessly rocking
Floating in the calm and stormy sea of love.
Four: A Voice in Silence
Circled around the ashes
Waiting for a sign,
We sat in silence, ritual simplicity.
My friend gave up coffee for Lent,
Waiting for a sign.
My friend gave up wheat and wine,
Waiting for a sign.
We sat in silence, ritual simplicity.
Circled round the ashes I heard (can I say "heard")
A voice in silence.
"There is no more. I have done all. Receive."
The imposition of the ashes.
To put divine encounters in words, no matter how couched in imagery, gives the impression that I think I have found more than I have. As I said, I do not understand what happened -- except to say that I became a person again when I stood on the edge of losing myself. In this life to find ourselves, however briefly, is a gift from God.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I remember well the day that my mother died, and Dad was left alone. Eighteen years and one month ago she left us. I remember Dad saying to me of her death: "I didn't know you could hurt this bad, but I know I'm going to be okay." Over the next two years he learned to care for himself, without his lifelong companion who had helped him so much in so many ways.
I remember Dad's wedding, 16 years and two weeks ago, to Verna Mae. The have been married now longer than many much younger couples, a relationship that has grown richer as they have grown older.
And today I remember Dad. He has walked with God throughout his life -- in Zambia and Zimbabwe, in Pennsylvania and California, in Indiana and in Ontario. When we talked today he referred to some of his favourite verses from 2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
C.S. Lewis preached a sermon (during the second world war) called "The Weight of Glory", in which we celebrated the eternal glory that we are becoming. On his 90th birthday I celebrate seeing glimpses of that glory in my Dad's life.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
This doesn't rise to the level of poetry, but does provide me for a medium to think on paper.
At nine I climbed rocks
The hills of Matopo:
Into the crack between the rocks;
Up to the bell that called to us all.
School there was, with memories;
But over and under all were Rocks,
Ancient and lasting Matopo Hills.
A young man in a new school,
Fourth school in four years.
A year later I remember myself,
Nineteen, second-year student, in and out of my element.
My first girlfriend;
Lost alone in the woods;
Soccer and theatre – more play than work.
Becoming so slowly a man.
Three years of teaching; four more running a folder
(Constant clatter of machine: paper and ink gets in your blood),
Now at twenty-nine a man: back in school, and far more
Married; Wife and Friend and Lover,
Still too new to know.
Father, a role to learn and discover;
At thirty-nine two sons call me
Father, and other names.
I remember, but memories slide away,
Too shy to let me see them clearly.
What at that moment was important?
Many roles – husband, father, friend;
Pastor, teacher, print shop labourer:
What really mattered?
Memories slide around the corner
When I look at them. I remember
Anticipating forty, the angst of aging.
I remember preaching, teaching, caring,
Loving, fighting, living: memories slide.
What matters? I did them.
Forty-nine. A new country, new job;
A new life as fifty looms.
The path led back to school at forty-one,
That bend ended two years later;
Back to pastor, church in a cornfield;
And after four years in the cornfield
With trains sawing back and forth:
Again a teacher, back to the present.
I come to now.
God. Above all, beneath all, around all, in all. God.
Family: dearest companion; children grown.
Community: sometimes at school;
In the coffee shop and living room;
On the soccer field, across the chess board.
Family, students, colleagues, friends,
Gathered community of people,
Bound together by the search for
Truth and life.
Truth, the Good, matters:
Family, friends, colleagues, students
Relationships make life.
Fifty-nine. I remember, and
Leaving a trace, a shape,
A desire for more
Life, and Truth, and Good, and
21 May 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
But Mother's Day is also always May 12 for us. On this day in 1991 our mother died, and we don't forget. We were blessed to have her as our mother, even if her time feels as though it was cut short (as my younger sister wrote to me). Memories are clear, as they should be: mother standing on a ladder at around age 50, hanging something in the church basement, and falling off the ladder in a kind of somersault. Scared everyone around; but she was fine. Mother inviting the woman who became my wife to lunch -- before we had started dating. Mother boxing with me when I was a moody teenager: you can't stay moody when your 5 ft. tall mother starts boxing with you.
Today is Mother's Day every year, alongside the Sunday celebration. We don't forget.
Friday, May 08, 2009
We had a good evening, and headed home as the sun set. North of the 49th parallel, on a Spring evening (or in what passes for Spring in Manitoba) that means driving around 9:30, so that we approached our home town after dark.
Two or three miles north of home Lois suddenly yelled, "Stop!" Now she has called out surprising things sometimes, such as the other morning when she told me to get something from the car outside. Turned out she was still asleep and the request was part of her dream. Not this request, however. I hit the brakes, and a deer passed lightly in front of us. I thought we had dodged the danger, but then we saw a second deer and felt a significant thump. The sound of the impact was enough by itself to shake us all up.
I kept going. After 10, so close to home, one dead deer (I thought): why stop? At home we checked the damage, which was remarkably slight. The passenger side mirror was gone, and there was some slight scoring of the passenger side doors. The repairs come to $1,200; but the damage was less than I could have expected based on the sight and sound of the unfortunate deer.
We're glad to be home and grateful for so little harm. I hope that the deer just bounced, and went on his way a bit startled. But I'm afraid: a snapped neck seems more likely.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
I was in Form Three (Grade 10) when we left, and entered Grade 11 in Pennsylvania that September. But Hamilton is the place where I really began to grow up, and the facebook pictures called back many memories. Pictures of the school fields recalled hours spent during school walking over the ground that would one day be a rugby field, picking up stones to clear the field for planting grass. Not a particular punishment: just an activity by which all students participated in upgrading the school. Today the rugby field has virtually returned to the bush from which it came.
Other pictures showed the way that an all boys school puts on musicals. The girls chorus was populated by boys wearing dresses and singing the girls' parts -- which we could do because our voices had not yet broken. I was Ellen in Oklahoma, a minor part with three lines. I still know the women's music in Oklahoma better than the men's.
The pictures recalled a day when girls from nearby Montrose school studied with the boys of Hamilton, until they had enough students in the upper forms to fill their own classes. We were an all-boys school, and the sight of girls on our grounds filled us with fear. Some of the comments under the pictures (posted both by girls from Montrose and boys from Hamilton) recalled how strange and desired the experience was for both. Little wonder that my Grade 11 in Pennsylvania was a bit frightening: too many girls in the classroom!
Most of all the pictures recalled a day when the vast majority of the country's education was directed towards the White minority. I benefited with a superior education unavailable to most Rhodesians of the day. Now the school grounds and buildings are in disrepair. The Thistle on the school gate (Hamilton is a Scottish clan; the Thistle is the Scottish emblem) is faded and pockmarked. Pictures from an old boy who had visited Hamilton recently showed the decay.
I know that Zimbabwe is necessary, and that Rhodesia was an unjust monstrosity. But I mourn the passing of what was good in the old, and its death in the new. They say you can't go back. Except I suppose in our memories. Pictures of a time past, in a country that no longer exists, of people that I haven't seen for over 30 years and don't expect to see again. Even on facebook.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
There was a lot of water out. The Red River is filling up with water, and the Red River valley is on full flood alert. When I candidated at Providence in 1997, the crest of that year's flood was moving through Winnipeg: The Flood of the Century. Now people are talking about a repeat. It doesn't look quite as bad here in Manitoba; but in Minnesota and North Dakota the danger is real.
I saw fields full of water, fields that needed a skiff more than a tractor. They aren't as bad yet as they might become, but they're bad enough. I was preaching at a Covenant church in a small northern Minnesota town -- mostly farmer families. Not everyone was there: at least one family was sandbagging their yard to keep the place safe from rising water.
Meanwhile we wait. Tonight we're supposed to get two or three inches of rain (or its equivalent in snow). That's the fear -- that a major storm will add to the frozen or waterlogged ground and run off into the Red. Then ice jams downriver closer to Lake Winnipeg can add to the problem.
The Red flows north, an unusual thought for most Americans. usually it is a placid, mild stream. Now we're watching it grow and praying that it doesn't get too high.
Thursday, March 05, 2009
Now I know that I killed a spider on my ear at 2 am or so, just after the doctor told me that my swellings looked like a spider bite. So our actions were more or less rational. Besides, we found several friends with similar stories. Maybe there was a spider or two involved!
But long after we were sure that the spiders were gone, the apparent bites continued. Finally I had to conclude that some sort of allergic reaction was under way. I tried avoiding peanuts, milk, msg, all the usual suspects. The effort brought no more relief from the swellings than sleeping in another room far away from my sweetie had.
Finally I ended up at the allergist's office, where my arm was swabbed and pricked with 30 or so substances. Only the histamine prick formed a reaction, which said that I was normal. But my arm was itchy the next day where they pricked and smeared me! Blood tests ruled out any other underlying cause, and the reactions continued unabated.
Finally two weeks ago they did start to abate, and finally I am more or less clear of reactions. They may return, but for the moment they have receded. The most likely culprit seems to be some low level allergic reaction, exacerbated by stress. Well, it has been a stressful six months, harder perhaps than any similar period that I've been through. But spider bites? I ask you!
Anyway, they are gone for a bit now. Some time I may try to describe what stress feels like, besides just itchy!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The pictures set the theme of snow. We really have more cold than snow here, but I wanted a particular ambience. I must look for old pictures and see if I can scan them! Story follows.
Lois had more snow days than any other month of her school life. Of course I walked back and forth to the press regardless. Towards the end of the month we had a major blizzard on top of all the snow we'd had that far. My memory says that about two feet of snow came on a Thursday. A google search reveals that in nearby South Bend three feet of snow fell on January 26, 1978. That was indeed a Thursday.
I worked my usual 7:30 to 4, with a half hour for lunch. Running a folder is another story: proof that even the radically non-mechanical can run a machine. But back to the snow. Just before 4 pm Lois called from home. She had had another snow day. After 31 plus of being married to her, I wonder what she did or if she felt cooped up. In any case, she had decided to shovel a path from our front door through the four feet of snow in the driveway out to the road, to let me into the house. (True love runs true!)
Well, there was too much snow. When she opened the main door, which opened inwards, she found that the outer storm door was fast closed in by the snow. It wouldn't move, and she was stuck inside. So she called and warned me.
When work was over I walked home, where I found the snow piled against me. Lois stood inside the storm door, and I stood outside on the road, and we just laughed at the ludicrous situation. Eventually I waded in, floundering up to my chest in four feet of snow. The snow shovel was propped against the wall just outside the door, and I dug out a patch in front of the door, just enough to open the door and go inside. Supper was wonderful, and the house was warm and a wonderful place to be.
The next morning we heard how thoroughly the snow had covered the state. Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio had been blanketed, and the northern half of Indiana had been completely shut down. In our town of Nappanee, the police had posted themselves at the four roads by which people could come and go, and were stopping anyone who tried to leave town. People out in the country were snowed in for days -- friends of ours were stranded in their home for six days until the oil truck broke through to replace their oil supply.
So far as we could tell all of the businesses in town were closed -- except for mine. Lois had no school. The shops were closed. Factories shut. But two good men walked into the press, opened up, and called the rest of us. I could walk too, so I had to admit that I could make it. But first I shovelled our driveway out properly: six feet of snow piled straight across. That took a good hour or two. Then I shovelled a path from the road to our neighbour's door. She was a widow, and another widow lived across the street. So of course I had to shovel her out too. Finally after lunch I walked on into work.
It was a most amazing snowfall. One of our friends used the packed snow to build and igloo in his backyard and sleep in it. Lois and I had the impression that we had settled in a winter wonderland where it would snow forever.
Years later (15 years later) we brought our sons back to Indiana from Kentucky. We made sure that they knew this was the land of snow; but of course there was little snow. The blizzard of the century came only once in the century. So we moved further north to Manitoba, looking for snow. We have found cold, more than enough; and although it doesn't snow like that one incredible blizzard in 1978, the snow we get stays and stays, clear and bright and sparkling. And Lois and I can look across and laugh for the delight of winter.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
New Year 2009
We had a dachshund, loyal, loving;
I remember too clearly
A warm summer day,
The dog seemed more weary
Than usual. Dogs die.
Deep roots diving deep into the earth.
I had friends when I was young;
we went to school together,
Talked, played, ran, and sang;
the bond we shared was real and strong.
Now years and miles between.
He held his blanket, grasped it tight
As it hung on the line to dry.
Life was real and life was right
When he had wrapped it so;
It answered his possessive cry
And calmed the ebb and flow.
At midnight we circled round the game
Our glasses lifted in a toast;
The past poured out, an empty night
A day begun, shaken roots still holding.
I need my friend, my dog, my love
(I have not even tried to speak of her),
Comfort and strength to grasp what's now, what's new.
6 January 2009