Monday, February 20, 2017

Sliding back the door: RIP Stuart McLean, teller of tales

From my notebook this morning…

20 February, 2017

Leaning on the counter, waiting for the coffee to gasp and gurgle into wakeful splendor.

Fell asleep listening to the most wonderful obit/tribute to Stuart McLean, 20 year host of Vinyl Café, who’d worked at CBC for over forty years. They played different clips from his career.  It was interesting to hear his style carried through different kinds of broadcasting. 

He was absolutely a storyteller, a raconteur.  I especially liked the clip of Dave and Morley skating on the canals in Holland. 

When he begins—either a report on Gordie Howe trying to get his 1000th NHL goal or the last official bare knuckle boxing match or skating on the canals or gravy on the lightbulbs and Butch the turkey—a barn door is opened.  The latch is slid back and bit by bit, this wide door is pulled open.  And everyone waits to see what is inside, moving to the side in relation to the progress of the door, in order to crane and see the most that can be seen.

That was the way he seemed to see things—whether the world around him or the world within him—as something to be revealed, shared, shown, and he thought that HOW the revelation happens makes a difference.  His approach was slow and deliberate.  But it never felt sluggish—no, it was detailed, invitational so this drawing back of the barn door was a part of the experience of coming to know what was inside.  Each wedge made visible was as important and equally worthy of time and consideration as the whole. In fact, when the door IS open all the way, when the report or the story/episode ends and the whole is revealed, my accumulated feelings of participation, curiosity and presence settle into the praise of a culminating sigh.  A sigh of fullness and gratitude and knowing.  Because Stuart McLean has revealed the beauty of the journey itself, step by step and detail by detail.

Thank you, storytellers, writers, talespinners of all sorts…the reporters, the broadcasters, poets, preachers, painters, composers and singers, symphony musicians and subway buskers...  Thank you for revealing the details of this journey. For helping us walk in truth and in faith, in beauty and in hope.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Cache of Beauty, A Journey of Light

From my notebook this morning…

Wow…you’d think those who put together the Give Us this Day (nb: monthly publication of readings and reflections for the liturgical year) had been having premonitions when they put together the volume for February… Today, the call in Isaiah to ~share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them and do not turn your back on your own…~

(From somewhere in Isaiah 58:7-10)

Do not turn your back on your own…seems pretty clear that for Jesus, who asked Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?, that this category is NOT bound by nation, race, politics, religion, or any other measure, save the doing of the will of God, who is infinite Love.  Not infinite security in the here and now, not infinite safety or ease…Infinite Love.

~ If you remove from your midst/oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;/if you bestow your bread on the hungry/and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness and the gloom shall become for you like midday.~ (From somewhere in Isaiah 58:7-10)
If we remove “alternative facts,” baseless pronouncements, off-the-cuff insults, blatant exclusion…then maybe this cloying gloom that has descended, that has swathed, bound and constricted, the political scene not only in the United States but around the world, will give way or at least loosen; maybe then we could see more clearly and be about that Love, about justice, be about openness, welcome, a bigger table with more chairs and not a higher wall.

And from the accompanying reflection by Bl. Oscar Romero... ~each of you who believe must become a microphone, a radio station, a loudspeaker, not to talk, but to call for faith.~

In the midst of all that is real right now…travel bans, mosque attacks, marches, phone calls, letter campaigns, suffering, action, fear, confusion, righteous certainty, and finding out exactly how narrow is the brink on which we stand, I’m also thinking about squirrels.

Squirrels that store up nuts, squirrels who pack their cheeks with reserves and go looking for more, squirrels who have caches of what they need to be nourished through the winter.

Huh…in so Many ways, it feels like winter.

I am aware that to make it through This winter, to have something to offer to those with whom I live and move, have being, have purpose, have whatever portion of hope that can be mustered, I too need caches.

Of late, I have been aware of storing up beauty….beauty of all sorts.  Sunrise at the harbor; the conversation with a stranger on the street about her hat;  people marching in peace; people encircling mosques here in Halifax as well as in Quebec and Montreal so that prayers could go on in peace inside; the kissy, jowly, reunion joy of the dog in the back of the SUV ahead of me, parked at the curb at the airport; the exquisite beauty and perfection of metaphor in the writings of a newly discovered author; The friend who wrote so honestly and simply, “I often find myself in love, particularly when people are living with passion and authenticity...”; The smell of sautéing onions, garlic, cumin, cayenne, and tomato paste that forms the base for red lentil lemon soup;  the clean line of a fine point pen on a fresh sheet of paper; the swell of full bodied Gospel music and opera arias and dancing to old-school Rock in the kitchen.

There are many moments…and I find myself writing them down, underlining them, telling people about them, finding ways to let them live beyond a moment, let them sustain my soul, let them help center-me-down to be grounded on the journey, so that I can be present and do all that I can for others walking with me, for those who can’t make the journey, for those who are to come, who are to inherit, whatever it is that we help to create.

I am scared of what might be a part of the Winter yet to come, there is no denying that.

At the same time, with each footfall forward, I pray that the new day's creation be infused with Light.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Voices of Good Company

There is something to be said for the effect of the company we keep—clearly.  One of the things that brought me great joy as a teacher was when the right students found each other and became friends—when those who could bring out the best in each other got a hint or a taste of that possibility and decided to give friendship a try.  I know that to be true for myself too…those people nearest my heart make me a better person, a more whole person.

There is a corollary within the library world—The right book for the right reader at the right time.

A while ago, I met someone who shelved their books according to affinity… the books that ‘got along’ in some way were next to each other.  I loved that idea because it speaks to the “voice” of text, the power of the written word, the company a book can be.  It is that voice that calls to the reader, perhaps makes the mind move in ways it almost but not quite moves on its own, or proposes something totally other, adding depth, perspective, new swaths of horizon, to the ways in which a reader thinks, creates, acts.

I have written before about my relationship with certain books…how I find it satisfying to know that there is a particular volume in my bag, even though there are times when I might not have a chance to read it over the course of the day.  There are times when that company is more important to me than others.

These last weeks when so many voices have been tweeted, chanted, berated, raised in protest, stifled, barred, printed, cascaded across the expanse of our world, it has been all the more necessary for me to ground myself in the company of a voice that touches on or draws out something generative, something thoughtful and creative, from my experience of all that is happening.  And to walk with that outside voice nearby.

The author Rebecca Solnit has walked around with me, had coffee with me, eaten with me, and simply hung out with me, for the last number of weeks. 

I mentioned her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost in this post and that post from January.  Her paragraphs have been part of my writing, my conversations, my prayer, my thinking, from the first drawing back of the cover.  The margins of my copy are filled with my own commentary, my own leaning in toward an interesting encounter that I am not ready to end.

A friend is borrowing that conversation and hopefully adding to it… meanwhile, Hope in the Dark has filled the pocket in my satchel.

The title alone would be enough to entice me during these times.  For a kinship to be maintained, however, more is needed.  And Solnit offers much to make firm my affinity for her voice, for her way of expressing her perspective, for the content of her thought and action.

The hope I’m interested in…You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. (p. xiii-xiv)

This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen.  It’s also a nightmarish time.  Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both. (p. xii)

Thus it is that the world often seems divided between false hope and gratuitous despair. Despair demands less of us, it’s more predictable, and in a sad way, safer. (p. 20)

I wanted to write this in part as a thank you to her and with the Internet, who knows—maybe she’ll read it.  If not, my gratitude is no less.  I write it too in part to say thank you to all of those people whose voices I carry with me and who make me a better person for others, the people who inhabit my hope, inspire my actions, and sometimes haunt my dreams.  The people who teach me about solidarity and suffering and what I do not know.  The people who listen to my voice, my chapters.  The people with whom I stand and among whom tomorrow’s horizon of justice, compassion, and Love, will rise and beckon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Chrysalis of Change

The strange resonant word, ‘instar’, describes the state between two successive molts, for as it grows, a caterpillar, like a snake…splits its skin again and again, each stage an instar.  It remains a caterpillar as it goes through these molts, but no longer one in the same skin.  There are rituals marking such splits, graduations, indoctrinations, ceremonies of change, though most changes proceed without such clear and encouraging recognition.  ‘Instar’ implies something both celestial and ingrown, something heavenly and disastrous, and perhaps change is commonly like that, a buried star, oscillating between near and far.  (p. 83;  A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Rebecca Solnit)

 When are you going to wake up and see how it really works? When are you going to see that the world is NOT a warm and welcoming place? When will you stop being such a Pollyanna?

 These are questions I remember being asked between middle school and high school.  At that time, I had nothing to offer by way of acceptable response.  I simply needed to believe that there was hope.  I needed to know in my bones that there was reason to believe in something bigger, something more.  I could not bring myself to give in to darkness nor could I offer an acceptable defense of my seeming aloofness to another’s perceived reality.

 I have been asked those questions by others in my adult life too.  When will I wake up?  When will I see the true state of things? 

And I still don’t have an easy answer that can be penned into an appointment slot or plotted on a
Google calendar.

But here’s what I believe: I will see the true state of things when I die…when I Become. When I witness a driving rain transformed into light.  (The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery) Then I will truly see as God sees and I will know as God knows.

Until then, I live with the tensions.

The tension of lax money-grubbing, gun laws that allow the mentally ill to own guns and accrue ridiculous amounts of ammo.

The tension of discriminatory immigration policies based on fear, power, finance, and privilege. Policies that affect people I know, people I love, and people I do not know…people who are fleeing their home with nothing and seeking refuge.  People who need safety before they can believe in tomorrow.

The tensions of racism, classism, radical nationalism, gender-ism, sexual orientation/gender identity-ism…and   a multitude of –phobias… all of which seek to elevate distinct groups, set them aside as good and better and best, while other groups are to be scorned, feared, blamed, ridiculed, beaten, starved, exiled, stoned, shot…

 The tensions of a political situation in my country of birth that I find shameful, blind, and profoundly dangerous. 

These issues and so many others are pulling at me.  Pulling at my hands to write, my feet to march, my eyes to be open, my voice to proclaim, and my heart… my heart…

Oh, my heart…it hurts sometimes. Deeply.  It hurts with wounds and it sometimes hurts from so much grace.

I see all of this as tension, though.  Tension…not laxity. Tension…because there are forces pulling back.  There are forces within me that are stronger.  There are forces in world society that are stronger.  Energy for good.  For hope.  For justice, compassion, inclusion, solidarity.

Sometimes the balance pulls to one side, sometimes to another…sometimes heavenly, sometimes disastrous…oscillating between near and far...

So, when will I "wake up?"  I've been awake. Awake because of Hope; Awake to Love; Awake for what lies ahead...the work, the tension, the grace.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Six Years and a Smooth Stone

I recently began a book that has quickly become a warm smooth stone in my pocket, a book I am pleased to have with me whether I have a chance to read it or not.  When I do have the concentrated time to savor it, usually in the morning, I do so with a pencil in my hand…bracketing things, starring sections, freely annotating, carrying on a running commentary with the text/author.  It is as much a gift when this intimacy happens with a book as when it happens between friends.  

 A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit had me won over in just a few pages.  She begins with the distinction, “losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing.” (p.22) And by referencing Walter Benjamin, a twentieth century philosopher-essayist.  “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away.  In Benjamin’s terms, to be lost is to be fully present and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” (p. 6) 

This speaks so directly to my deepest desires about God and to those moments I have known when I am certain that with just a bit of effort and a bit more letting go of gravity, I would rise and be enveloped by what was present to me…Listening to the choir at Saint Francis Xavier in NYC, listening to a live performance of Handel’s Messiah, staring at the Pieta and being captivated by the aliveness of the question in Mary’s upraised hand, feeling the depth of silence created only when a community gathers to weave stillness together…

Rebecca Solnit has another phrase that delights me as well—“the blue of distance.”   How easily and readily I can lose myself in this blue…how it calls to me.  Standing against the wall in Assisi, looking out over the textured patches of land and history, out toward the horizon; Sipping coffee and having an apple turnover by a window looking onto Halifax harbor on Saturdays at the farmers’ market; stepping outside the hospital at sunset and looking past the mountains toward the unknown ahead when my father was dying… This blue draws me, entices me… “These nameless places awaken a desire to be lost, to be far away, a desire for that melancholy wonder that is the blue of distance.”   
(p. 41)

And she closes this chapter with a knowing reminder—“Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.” (p. 41)

These first chapters have me thinking about Augustine’s restlessness of heart and my own.  A restlessness born of desiring God.  Born of a call to the blue of distance.  Born of a desire to be fully present, in uncertainty and in mystery.

January 30th will mark the 6th anniversary of my final vows, when I gave my life to Love, forever, in the Society of the Sacred Heart.  I like that this book will accompany me as I mark the date and wonder at where the journey ahead might lead.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Advent IV 2016

Advent IV, 2016

Come, fire-child,
to the cracks and fractures
of our humanity.
Make plain
the one hearthstone,
the common foundation,
for what burns,
consumes, creates
anew, Heaven;
anew, Earth.
Come, fire-child,
comet of Love,
to the galaxy
of our hearts!

Kimberly M. King, RSCJ

Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent III, 2016

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC-1073, taken by NASA Hubble Space Telescope

Advent III 2016

I dreamed of touching darkness
with the fire of Word.
Cradling fear in my hands—
each finger a ripple of light
woven into an embrace,
a space,
where silence is balm,
where hope can breathe,
where wounds are tended;
Where joy flares fresh
in the company of Love
and cannot be held back:
Amen! Go Forth into the stumbling glory.
Remember this!

Kimberly M. King, RSCJ