Archive for November, 2017

Etude on a mystery

November 16, 2017

Or a study on a metaphor for control
“All our values depend on the nature of our God” Jacques Maritain
Three times it has happened to me now
I am like a participant observer
In a science experiment
Something is proven true if
The results are repeatable
Eighty year old men
Their life at this moment
Out of their control
Though not out of control
Pain, disease, trauma to their bones
They cope with being a patient
By raising their voice
And swearing
Into the air, at the curtains
Around their bed on the wards
At the nurses, male or female
Just as the old men did in the ‘40s
When these were boys
At their anvils, horses, plows
Must be one of those culturally
Specific expressions
“Dude, you really need to find a healthier way
To deal with your helplessness”
I imagine saying to them
In my culturally specific manner
If I were their psychologist
“You should be like…”
And that’s where I
Draw a blank
So begins my search
My study, this etude
For a metaphor
About what life is like
When something in it is beyond
Your control:
Peter on the sea, in a boat, in a storm
Forgets he is a good swimmer
Accepts admonishment from Christ
And conveys that trust to us
“Whom having not seen, you love
In whom also now though you see him not
You believe and, believing
Shall rejoice with joy unspeakable”
A prisoner of war
Who hoards moments in the day
Like crusts and crumbs of mouldy bread
After a beating, before lunch
To play a game of cards
He has made himself
From empty cigarette packs
Sees in his nature
What he has been fighting to regain
Like the images in a Borys Humenyuk poem
The sun a burning tire
The moon the mouth of a bullet casing
After it’s been fired
And ejected, smouldering
From the barrel of a gun
A prodigal son, comes to his senses
Returns home
But finds it abandoned
Dilapidated, decrepit
His father and mother have died
Waiting for him
He dedicates the rest of his life
To their memory
For the ancient Greeks a flowing river
“The only constant is change”
To which a Cardinal Newman might reply
“Growth is the only sign of life”
And Jacques Maritain
Be like the deer at the river
Whose only job is to drink
“Insatiable thirst” for the proverbial
Something More
“Is the liveliest proof of our immortality”
When I was in the cradle
Much of my life was outside my control
While those in their graves assume
Others will take the torch from them
As John McCrae would say
Except in our culture
If it cannot be known
Eternal life, for instance
It doesn’t exist
What is alive just becomes
No wonder there is an appetite
For Medical Aid in Dying
Except that the human soul
Once created at conception
Is eternal
“Our values depend on the nature of our god”
If random selection, equal only to the animals
Only the material and physical exist
“There can in fact be no mystery
Where there is nothing
To know” – Jacques Maritain
“Mystery exists where there is more
To be known
Than is offered to our apprehension”
Do not be satisfied with the degrading
Slavery of being a child
Of one’s own age (G. K. Chesterton)
I have been avoiding this metaphor
For three days running
It is not a healthy example
Of regaining control of a life
Over which you have lost control
Surrogate what?
Well mother, of course
Then this is your child
It’s an embryo
Who bonds with an embryo?
“I-It” Martin Buber
Instead of “I-Thou”
Maybe it’s a rabbit
Maybe it’s a pig
You say it might never get human
If it’s not allowed to grow big
“I-Thou encounter rely on
Mutuality and truth-telling”
Painfully honest with who you are
Excruciatingly painful
You are mother to this child
Any other scalpelled calculation of words
Is a trick and a lie
“To engage another in anything less
Would be to engage him or her
In a way that is less than a whole being”
Embryo, surrogate
And they complain that we reduce
A woman to her
Uterus, ovaries
Blob of tissue like a Rorscharch blot
It can be anything you want
Or need it to be
With no essence in itself
A commodity, a thing, an it, and worse
“In each Thou we address
The eternal Thou”
Deny the humanity of the pre-born
Deny the existence of God
OMG has now become oIAMg
A modern anti-Mary
“Anything opposed to God”
Writes Jacques Maritain
Can never be called a good”
We have no right to idolatry
How do I respond
When something in my world
Is out of my control
Or really it is the world that is out
Of control
My life is a field of grain
Let it be of wheat
Since that was my father’s specialty
He is “the good man of the house”
In St. Matthew
Good seed, healthy shot blade
Expect a bumper crop
But someone has broadcast weeds
“An enemy hath done this”
Then doesn’t even bother
To defend these actions
“Suffer both to grow until the harvest”
Then the wheat will be separated
From the weeds
And we will rejoice in a good crop
And the land, too
Will still be ours
Until then, learn vigilance
“We shelter an angel
Whom we never cease to offend”
Jean Cocteau, quoted by Jacques Maritain
“We ought to be the guardians
Of that angel
Shelter your virtue carefully”


The Boxcar

November 13, 2017

“Fear is useless
What is needed is trust” Mark 5: 36

“What’s that?” The patient asks
He is two beds down from me
The medicine the nurses administered
Had put him to sleep
He is waking up, disjointed
I can see what he sees
While disoriented
Staring out the large window
We all share in this hospital ward
Tall stone buildings to our left
The water to our right
Each floor a geometry of precision
And parallel windows
The horizontal is the longer side
Vertical in calculated proportion
All the frames are painted brown
A different logic than the lines
Of nature in the river
His life is no longer parallel with mine
We intersect now at this one word
“What are those boxcars doing there?”
He shows early signs of dementia
Confuses Rosetown with Saskatoon
Insists on getting out of bed himself
So quickly after his return
From surgery on his left hip
And risks another fall
“How can you tell which one
Is broken?”
“A senior nurse asked a student
On her apprenticeship
“The shorter leg
With the foot turned out”
I am training, too
He has taught me how to be poetic
I wish I’d thought of that
I can see the simile in what he said
“Windows like railway boxcars
One long line on top
Of another
Floor upon floor
All the way up the building
Silent, as if parked
On an abandoned branch line
At the outskirts of a prairie village
That will only survive
If the railway thrives
The occasional rhythmic clatter
In a sudden gust of wind”
John of St. Thomas gives a clue:
“It is in the mind
Where art resides”
This exclamation a projection
Of his internal state
Like the answer to a question
“What one word
Describes your life?”
The iconic picture of a boxcar
On the prairie landscape
From the decades he worked his farm
This patient is from my dad’s generation
But I know a boxcar when I see one
This obscure question
A puzzle for the nurses
Has become for me a symbol
And he doesn’t even realize
He wants us to know it
That distinctive association
With the great depression
Wide sliding doors on one side
For grain or cattle and freight from mines
And for men who rode the rails east
Three generations back in time
(Both he and I have been spared the memory
Of boxcars used for people
Deported to Majdanek or Siberia)
This hospital room
Is now our boxcar
Travelling east is good
The sunrise when the patient recovers
And the resurrection
When the train of one’s health
Follows the rails of a singularly Compelling logic
And comes to a complete stop
In a terminal that intersects
With eternity

From Here We Begin Anew

November 11, 2017

(0n Remembrance Day)
“Let Israel rejoice in him that made him” Psalm 149
Lord, teach us to pray
As Christians, as humans
Even let it be
As spiritual people
But those who know the difference
Between God and not gods
Being a creation
Of the God of nature
We have forgotten this information
Knowledge, wisdom, enlightenment
“The important thing
Is to distinguish the authentic
From the fake” – Jacques Maritain
“They sometimes bear the same name”
The true is known by liberty
And a preference for reality
Over illusion
I stand in the middle
Of this sanctuary
Room 4102
“University Hospital Chapel
Furnished 1981”
The wrist band with my name
And designation IP
In-hospital patient
Proves my right to be here
As does my name tag
Spiritual and Cultural Care
Ukrainian Catholic Clergy
Others, too have this same right
No permission needed to enter
“This room is to remain unlocked
At all times”
Like the young man
Beseeching the Lord
That his family think again
And not rush to donate organs
Of someone he clearly loves
“Why decide under such
Insane stress”
The World Health Organization itself
Identifies human nature
As body, mind, and spirit
The logic of our human structure
An architecture worth stopping at
And having the courage to enter
Even when everyone else
Walks right by and they
Mistake it for something it isn’t
“The whole life of the age
Is far removed from Christ” –
Maritain writes about human nature
“What men and women
Of their own free will
Can obey
Or destroy”
On this same floor workers
Renovate the building
Behind tell-tale drapes
“Heavy duty construction barrier
For dust particle containment”
And signs: “No entry
Without permission”
They have form behind this veil
Distinguishable just dimly
They are there nonetheless
If all this floor were torn down
Medicine, surgery, maternity
Cardiac, neonatal, cancer
Long removed to other rooms
And just the chapel left
It would be enough
For a brand new start
Like a phrase by Fra Angelico
A middle ages Italian artist
The only words of his preserved
“Art demands great tranquility”
This sacred space creates it well
“Be still and know
That I am God”
It sure is quiet here
“And to paint the things of Christ
The artist must live with Christ.”
Crumbs that have fallen from the table
Evoke excitement still
In those who need them
“Grace heals the wounds of nature”
A renewal from within the space
These bricks and mortar hold open
The altar of sacrifice
Of praise and song
And humble heart
The sacrifice of body and blood
Has already been made
It does not need to be made again
By anyone else
The cross of humiliation
And glory
Repulsive to one
Draws another in
To paradise
The lectern for the word
Authentic, physical sounds
That evoke a presence
Of one who has promised
To be with us, always
With Maritain:
“The modern world is shaping
Human activity in a properly
Inhuman way”
Insistence on the existence
Of the physical alone
“The ultimate end of this frenzy
Is to prevent man from
Remembering God”
Constant in thought
Devoid of all
But reason alone
“And regard as useless
And therefore despicable
Everything which bears
The mark of the spirit”
We have something to defend
That which is revealed
As fully human
From here we begin anew
Someone is about to open
The door

A Trial By Fire in Saskatchewan

November 7, 2017

“Every activity we undertake in defense of the sanctity of life is prophetic….the day is coming when all evil will be conquered.” 40 Days for Life prayer on Day 40

A trial by fire in Saskatchewan
Means a trial by frost
I close my eyes where I stand
And imagine the fresh cold wind warm
The Book of Daniel description
Of the three young men
In the fiery furnace
Describes the flames alight
As a refreshing breeze
“You rescued the three holy youths
From the fire
You saved Daniel from the mouths
Of the lions”
I am not the one being martyred
I just stand with my sign
“Pray for an end to abortion”
Both hands curled into fists
In my mitts
To stay warm in the setting sun
A posture of defence
For the pre-born
A battle worth fighting
I am not mad at anyone
Not even the attractive young driver
Who gave us the middle finger salute
Driving past on Queen Street
She is too beautiful
To be that angry
At us
There are eight of us here
On the public sidewalk
Our hour vigil
In front of City Hospital
We seek the true, the good
And the beautiful
“It is for its beauty
That wisdom is loved”
Writes Jacques Maritain
Quoting St. Denys:
“The beautiful is good
And desirable and delightful
And loved”
Abortion is just thoroughly ugly
And corrupts all beauty
With hatred and death
I vibrate in the cold
Like a conveyor belt
That mechanical principle
Of separation
To extract gold from stone
A rumbling, repeatable
Law of nature
(The crucible is what is endured by pregnant moms
Manipulated, coerced,exploited
Into believing in abortion
At a time when they disbelieved
In the truth, goodness, beauty
Of their own already motherhood
Tempted to throw the gold
We believe in these non-mechanical Perfectly human principles:
When cursed, we bless
Do not do evil thinking
That good may come of it
You are a child
Of the living God
The child of your pregnancy
Is already truly and fully
A human being
Since conception
You are not the force
That generated this life
And the force you yield
To destroy it
Is not a right
These are our rules
There may be ones more sophisticated
But these are the ones that warm
The will
When the November air is cold
With the thought of innocent people
Being willed out of existence
To paraphrase a soldier’s motto
They came into existence
To live, and not to die
I close my eyes where I stand
And imagine the sharp cold wind warm
I am not the one being martyred
Lord, save these Daniels
From the lions

How Curling Was Invented

November 5, 2017

Pumpkins line the concrete steps
To your front door
And resonate like coins
When they’re dropped
They froze through the night
Small kitty outline
Medium Belle and Beast
Large monsteresque smiles
On skeletal faces
Grit their teeth from the cold
Solid orange against fresh gray cement
Neither surface succumbs
The pumpkins glide without resistance
Like rocks on ice
When nature sends you winter
Make a game
I sweep away the snow
Powdered and light
Winter boot impressions
The size worn by five year old twins
Stamped into the white
All the way down to the curb
Our November winter storm
Happy to visit my daughter
Son-in-law and grandchildren
And see her so domestic
Meanwhile the great gathering of geese
Clutter the field across the street
The civic water reservoir
Is now their town square
A flurry of salt and pepper feathers
Their numbers create an air
Of weight and importance
As they communicate their autumn commands
Sounds and bodies swell and recede
While they practice take off
And landing
Before they migrate south until spring
And follow a path charted by nature
Unbeknown to us
I hunch down and swing my broom
In rhythm to their cackle
They seem angry
At the snow
At the cold
At the compulsion of instinct
At me
I am too slow when I move
They will have to leave me behind
My nature is a mystery to them
Less instinct and habit
More intuition
Added to reason
And love
For all I know
Their sounds are shouts
That could very well mean
For me and for them
Hurry, hurry hard
When life sends you hardships
Make a family