Ridiculously Rich

Dear Readers, the following was written late last night:

Today was an oddly busy day. It began with a funeral for a colleagues’ mother, which was, as they are wont to be, a polygamy of memory, re-connection, rejoicing, mourning and more. The afternoon found me at a three hour “Bridging Communities through Song” concert held at a local church, but brought to us by the Indigenous singing group Mino Ode Kwewak N’gamowak (Good Hearted Women) Singers and the Waterloo Regional Male Chorus along with friends. This event is in its third year, and aims to build bridges across divisions – of hostility and indifference; of race and class; of host and settler cultures. The event ended in a giant round-dance, with strangers and friends making their way around the church in increasing complicated circles of joy. It was followed up by a feast in which I had occasion to visit with a dear colleague, her daughter, and god-mother over a marvellous meal. Our table guests also included four other people previously unknown to me who were delightful dinner companions.

It is hard to process days like this and the ridiculous richness of emotions attending them. It was all there: from the pain of grief to the hope of reconciliation; from the horror at recollections of residential schools and the devastation following in their wake to the beauty of meeting new friends over good food and the warmth peculiar to a post-concert sigh; from the rush of running from A to B to the invitation to settle into a pew. What is one to do with so much – both old and new – in one day?

I came home and my wife and I decided upon a movie – a film set in the 1970’s called Remembrance. In this movie, a woman discovers that the man she loved – and thought dead – from her days in a WWII concentration camp is still alive. More emotions still! But with this movie, perhaps a lesson as well. As we debriefed the show we thought about how WWII survivors (from so many different kinds of prisons) spent the rest of their lives either unpacking their experiences or constantly packing them away. So much comes at us at times in life that it sometimes seems impossible to give our many experiences the deep, patient, reflective moments they need and deserve. Sometimes it seems we are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to ask what is going on in these moments. Where is God? Who have I become? What did this moment teach me about me, about life? Such moments, so very rich in possibility, call us to the discipline of reflection.

It is the season of Lent, and my discipline for this year is to write a little each day in my Moleskin with a new fountain pen. It is meant to be a practice of process; of intentionally looking at a day with an eye open for traces of divine tracks; looking for pathways that pattern how my life is being intercepted, and to what end. Today is one of those days that is going to result in a paucity, or perhaps plethora, of words in my daily record and oddly enough, either one of the two options seems fitting.

Views from the Gallery

Last Friday I made my way to Toronto. A handful of times a year I venture in to see what is on at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I was especially looking forward to its current exhibit on Alex Colville. For those unfamiliar with Canadian artists, Colville has been called one of our most influential. It isn’t easy to describe his art. His is a style that might be called realistic; some call it hyperreal, but that doesn’t quite catch it. You often hear the words “eerie” or “menacing” attached to his art. His style is dramatic, exploring the everyday in an uncanny way. He regularly introduces some unresolved narrative twist in an image, as if we are given a frame from a film spool – isolated and so bearing the burden of telling the whole story all on its own. The viewer is left wondering what the next frame will be. Colville’s art invite us to reflect on the phenomenon of searching for the stories needed to make sense of our experiences. Humans, it seems, are people attuned to stories, and are often on the lookout for occasions to unleash the imagination. But back to the story at hand!

I generally take the train for these trips, and so immediately enter a different world. I am neither in control nor accessible and so find the journey from home to the big city and back to be a kind of voyage deeper into the self. By the time I am at the gallery, I am in a different space and open to what might otherwise escape me.

I did not know that Colville, for instance, was a rabid fan of animals. I recall that animals often fit into his work, but I was not aware of his thought behind the images that I knew so well. At the gallery there were some interesting clips from a National Film Board interview of him some years ago, in which he spoke of animals as those not tainted by the many vices that mark being human. Their appearance in his paintings, then, strikes me as an especially interesting comment on our responsibility to attend to innocence. His work draws out the way in which animals invite us to see the world differently, and so draws us deeper into those residual moments of openness to the earth that paradoxically result in both joy and sorrow.

Colville points us to both our interest in the storied character of our existence as well as our sometimes muted yet never obliterated fascination with a more instinctive path of life. In the end, he invites us into a different world; a world where intuition matters as much as measurement, and passion as much as plans. Colville certainly cracks open a vantage point from which to witness a different way of being in the world – for those with eyes to see. May his tribe increase.

The Shank of my Pen

I look down the shank of my pen –

this “mightier than the sword” menace that I wield.

It bleeds blue.

Strange, this wounded weapon.

Or perhaps not.

 

What is the nature of a pen’s might?

Is it not to write of wrongs and

so to score with a measured weakness? With

mirror words?

 

 Satis est.  This is enough:

To look to aim – not mar or maim – to

measure strength differently:

to weep words.