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Hope through pandemic and resurrection

Review of 'Wild Hope: Prayers and Poems' by John Terpstra.

Hamilton, Ontario poet John Terpstra is also a cabinet maker. Correspondingly, his writing hovers over themes of spirit and place. In Wild Hope Terpstra offers a sequel to In the Company of All: Prayers from Sunday Mornings at St. Cuthbert’s. There Terpstra concisely expressed that small congregation’s embodied spiritual desires, praises and hopes. With personal names removed, both volumes record spiritual and material themes particular and universal.

All congregations suffer illnesses. Beyond local maladies, hurricanes devastate; COVID spreads; children lie in cages. “The Kind of World We Live in” opens this collection, reminding us of such events, past and present. Repeating that verse twice, Terpstra stuffs the poem’s agonies into a metaphorical backpack borne on an elemental Lenten wilderness trek. As the pilgrim plods on, nourished by “roots and berries,” the burden lightens, until only “wild hope” remains as the tone for the prayers and poems limning that thin space between worlds.

Thus, in Palm Sunday’s “Donkey People Prayer,” runners meet agony and ecstasy in the Hamilton Marathon, while worshipers’ prayers celebrate that day’s joy. Thus we anticipate Good Friday’s agony – a long-distance journey, if ever there was.

“A Prayer That Everyone Should Be So Lucky” offers ambivalent thanks for Western plenty – or excess – while Terpstra movingly intercedes for society’s marginalized. A moving Easter prayer describes Jesus’ dance from death to resurrection, ending with celebratory and whimsical splendour, “when the rock learned to roll.” We smile with tears in our eyes.

“Brendan Luck” alludes to St. Brendan’s quasi-legendary journey in a currach. In Skin Boat Terpstra employed that book-long conceit to chronicle his personal spiritual and ecclesiological voyage. Repeating the opening verse “In the church where we go now,” he identifies fellow parishioners as “survivors and athletes coursing uncharted waters.”

This short book offers confession, penance and absolution to our confused times of suffering, plenty, health, disease and injustice. Throughout “wild hope” fuels human life encountering the mystery of God. As St. Augustine heard centuries ago, tolle lege – take up and read. Not just once, but often. Thanks, John Terpstra. We await more reverent words.

  • Jim is a semi-retired Christian Reformed pastor and missionary who now works for Resonate Global Mission ten hours a week as "Member Care Coordinator," which means "Pastor to Missionaries," because where lots of our missionaries work it's inadvisable to use pastor or missionary publicly. That cool job puts a framework to his week, keeps him in contact with hundreds of even cooler servants of Jesus all over the world, compels him to travel to visit them once in a while, though he connects with them via email and Zoom most of the time. The rest of the time Jim reads books--lots of free ones that he "pays for" with reviews. He was acclaimed President of Christian Courier Board of Directors while on his way to that meeting from a long ophthalmologist appointment. As long as God gives his wife Rose and him health, they ride a tandem bike around Niagara and other places in the bikeable months, paddle canoes and kayaks, visit children and grandchildren in the distant places they live because their parents provided them poor role models for stability of residence.

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