Texts: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver * Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (coming in and going out) * Video of complete service
Friends, I enjoyed my summer break of four weeks. Kim and I spent time with our grandson from Calgary, Ethan, who at three months continues to seem well. We also enjoyed seven nights in Toronto and two nights in Bracebridge, which is two hours drive north of Toronto and is an entrance to the cottage country of Muskoka.
Although there was not much open in Toronto 18 months after the start of the global pandemic, restaurants were busy with 50% capacity inside and many with patios on the sidewalks. I got to spend some time with my brother Paul and sister-in-law Abbie and with a niece, a nephew-in-law, a great nephew, and with two other grown nephews in Toronto.
Kim and I swam in the municipal swimming hole in the Muskoka River where I had learned to swim in the early 1960s, and which is just a five-minute walk from a former United Church manse in which my family spent one-month per summer from 1959 to 1966. We also enjoyed a free lecture on the violin in the woods in the nearby resort village of Windermere two days before we flew back to Edmonton.
But after I returned to Edmonton 10 days ago, I crashed. I was OK at a wedding rehearsal nine days ago for Emily Kabotoff and Tyler Kolodychuk in Spruce Grove and for their wedding the next day. But following that, I became largely immobile with tiredness and brain fog.
Kim called two EMT technicians to the house seven days ago to examine me, and I spent nine hours at The Grey Nuns hospital emergency department following my first day of work here at the church on Monday. But both these experiences ruled out any physical problem. My issue seems to be psychological.
We are now in the 19th month since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, and I am upset it continues to dominate our lives. Perhaps I will feel better after an emergency Council meeting, which is occurring via Zoom tomorrow evening. Perhaps this meeting will lead to changes here at the church that I will like next Sunday. We will keep you posted!
I am pleased that 73% of Canadians have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 65% have received two doses. But I wish the figures were closer to 85% given that everyone aged 12 and older has been eligible for a vaccine for several months and the vaccines are free, safe, and widely available. I wish COVID-19 was largely finished in Canada. But with the vaccine-hesitant sitting at around 15% of the population, and with a larger percentage than that in Alberta not yet taking the vaccine, I am discouraged at the disease’s persistence.
I had assumed that 2021 would be year either for things we didn’t want, such as the re-election a fascist U.S. President with all the implications that event would have meant; or for the defeat of that President with all the positive implications implied by the latter fact. But given how narrow the election victory was in the United States, 2021 has been a year in which things like the pandemic, the disastrous end of the nearly 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan, and the intensification of climate disaster have been present and alarming, but without necessarily horrible implications. Most of us have endured a difficult, but hardly impossible year. And after more than 18 months of coping with a pandemic, I have lost capacity to cope.
But as usual, I look to Sunday mornings to provide inspiration for life and work. Today we heard Jesus criticize the Pharisees for being upset with the rituals involved in the eating of food instead with what comes out of people after they have been fed. Jesus says it is what we do that matters, not what occurs before we are fed.
In the poem “Wild Geese” Mary Oliver offers a similar message. She says that regardless of our despair, we need only love what the soft animal of our body loves because the world goes on and the wild geese call to us.
For me, the call of the world is represented by the moon. I saw the full moon on Friday night as it rose above the neighbourhood as Kim and I took our old dog for a walk. Regardless of wisdom or folly in relationship to the pandemic, or to climate disaster, or toward any other social problem, the moon rises and falls according to its own timetable. It is not dependent on human wisdom or folly. It does what it will without us. It is dependable, and I love it.
As for religious rules about eating, we can let nature do what it will with us and focus on what we say and do after eating.
Our church will play its small part in dealing with the pandemic tomorrow evening. This will not have a huge impact on how the province, country, or world responds to the emergency. But it will be our reaction, and it will have its own small and meaningful purpose. I hope that whatever we decide will help all of us respond to the challenge in a balanced and sensible way.
May the world continue to offer itself to our imaginations and call to us like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, while announcing our place in the family of things.
May it be so. Amen.