Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Between Ink and the Internet

I enjoy learning new things.  Sometimes they are new things with a purpose and sometimes, it is simply because they are interesting.  No matter the why, in the ideal, whatever it is that I learn helps me understand something larger than the skill or task at hand, helps me see or think differently, or at least notice a glinting light reflecting somewhere I had not thought to look in the past.

I am the director of Barat Spirituality Centre, located on the first floor of our community house in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It has been open for about two years now and is steadily becoming better known in the archdiocese.  We advertise our programs in different places, have an email list of those interested in knowing what is happening, post on Facebook, Twitter, etc.  What we did not have was a website.  Until about a week ago.

We Now Have a Website!

I’ll not go into the joy of knowing that I accomplished a significant goal I had set last spring when meeting with a member of the provincial team or even the benefit that I hope the site will be for generating new interest and participation in events at the Centre.

What has been reason for deeper contemplation for me is the depth of pleasure I have received while learning new skills that have to do directly and differently with writing, design, and how those things interact with humanity.

I find it absolutely fascinating.  Besides learning how to set up a simple, clean, functional site and what Search Engine Optimization even means before learning how to cultivate it, I have experienced a coming together of heretofore seemingly disparate concepts.

A librarian by graduate degree, I am well familiar with the e-book vs. print debates that extend beyond questions of personal preference and reach into the future of “print and ink culture” and the debate of its sure demise. For the record, I am unabashedly in the print book category—unless traveling for such a time as to make it impractical to carry enough material to last.  And, I will vehemently argue that the demise of print and ink culture would spell the demise of something essential to the flourishing of civilization.


I think the world of the internet and the world of print culture might not be so far removed as they are sometimes made out to be—or at least, as they are sometimes imagined to be.

When I was staring at a blank template for the website I was creating and looking at the menu—Add: Text; Image; Table; etc… and noticing that choosing the Text option brought up a text box that could then be expanded, contracted, generally manipulated, to accommodate both the language and the space on the particular page, I was imagining typesetters of days gone by.  Typesetters and their sticks, arranging the letters and inserting the lines in their arrangements, adding “furniture” to get the spacing they needed for the confines of the paper and in consideration of the other items that would be inserted before locking the whole thing with quoins in a chase, giving you the forme that is the whole which will run through the press.

The process is really not so far removed.  It’s just being done on a computer.  So, yes, it’s “easier” but what you are considering as you work is not all together different.

How many times have you gone to a website and thought no-no-no-no…too much flash, too many things for my eyes to attend to…  With printers, it was about the quoins and the furniture…how to space it all so that an eye could both see a unit and move to the next, or to an advertisement.  Font and size of font… Think about famous headlines from history—BIG CLEAR FONT across the front of the page.  It’s where you want the eye to go because there is something the public needs to know.  How do I want to have the eye move on a website I might be designing?  How does the shape of the font relate to the content it is relating and what is the take-away feel I’d like to promote in the person who is visiting my site?  Calm? Excited? Is the subject more matter-of-fact/clinical or is it something else?

The links are many and fascinating to me… because as I consider all of this I realize that no matter what the medium…iron gall and dip pen on vellum, metal type and printing press on cotton paper, a keyboard and a screen on no paper at all… the act of creation, the putting forth of information, the desire to reach out and communicate something necessary, whimsical, provoking, despairing, loving…must consider the human being who will connect with it.

And while the formats might have changed over time and I know there is science that says brain wiring has changed in this digital age, I can’t help but think that the essence of our humanity hasn’t.
Communication matters to us.  Relationships of all kinds matter to us.  In part, it is how we make sense of the world around us.  And as that world becomes more and more complex, it seems like those relationships have taken on all together new import.

Maybe we get more emails with emojis than letters with illuminations…but if it’s from someone you love, can’t you still tell and aren’t we still grateful? The pop-up message from a friend too far away that simply says “CLUNK” and has a picture of a coffee mug…  I love knowing she’s having a coffee and thinking of me.  The fact that I can re-visit exhibitions at the Metropolitan Art Museum online!  How cool is that…

And, print, pen and ink haven’t gone away…

New books still smell good and I love a good set of Smythe sewn pages…
Also, I got a letter and a postcard just this morning.  And it made my heart happy.  So does working on our website.

“Do I contradict myself?  Very well then, I contradict myself.  I am large and I contain multitudes.”
—Walt Whitman—

(And if you'd care to visit the site for Barat Spirituality Centre, you can click HERE )

Monday, February 19, 2018

Beyond the Immediate

Beyond the Immediate

I took a walk this morning in the holiday-quiet streets.  It was a bright-eyed quiet…crisp and inviting. So I walked…and stopped periodically, rather hoping no one was watching and wondering what I was doing.  I was listening. And looking. And steeping my senses in something detectable though just beyond the immediate. 

I returned home and installed myself in the corner table of the downstairs dining room to do some work while soup did its thing on the stove in the kitchen.  Dividing my attention between the keys in front of me and what was happening in the other room, it occurred to me that much of what happens inside that simple, humble, pot, is also something just beyond the immediate.  It’s chemistry, it’s science, it’s a bit of knowledge, a handful of creative luck; it’s time, hope, patience, and if needed, adaptation. It is layers of flavor, welcome, home, hearth, and nourishment.

There is so much just past the immediate.

And maybe that is where the desert-journey of Lent leads…Maybe that is the draw onward that calls to the students who will be walking out in protest of gun violence...the burning in the hearts of those headed toward Emmaus…That place just beyond the immediate….detectable, desirable, and worth the cost.

The fullness of Mystery, fullness of Love, fullness of grace, justice, welcome…drawing us through an immediate that brings out the absolute fullness of humanity—the potential for devastating hatred and violence as well as the capacity for extraordinary strength, generosity, and tenderness. 

What a gift we have been given to consciously choose to open up our senses, our mind, spirit, being, to something beyond the immediate; to be oriented by a Love known in the here and now and also so much bigger and to let that be what draws us onward, let that be what shapes and informs us--and through us, those around us, on this journey.

Winter Blue Light Lentil Soup 
(Born out of opening drawers and seeing what was there that needed using)

Heat up a good glug of olive oil in a heavy bottom soup pot that has a lid

Sautee the following until the onions are soft and you can smell the spices

1 bok choy, chopped
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small bag of baby carrots
about a teaspoon of cumin
a shake or two or three of dried chipotle pepper flakes


a mostly drained can of diced tomatoes (the ones with red pepper if you want kick)
A good handful or two of red lentils (I just reached in the bag and grabbed)
Chicken broth to cover everything
Let burble for a half-hour or so.  Blend with an immersion blender. 

Polish up finished soup with a short glug of rice wine vinegar.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Help my Unbelief

I had a conversation last evening with someone about the latest school shooting…I’d had a conversation earlier in the day with someone too.  In both conversations and in a comment I’d made on a friend’s Facebook page, I found myself sighing and thinking “Help, Lord, my unbelief.” My unbelief that things will change…my unbelief that things haven’t changed yet…my unbelief that a nation can sleep when this is happening…my unbelief…that has nothing to do with God and everything to do with human beings, human nature, and the inability to make a decision.

The unbelief—it has its foundations in an all too intimate awareness of the complexity of this issue.  The unbelief has roots in watching laws get rolled back and pockets get lined thanks to the choke-hold power of the gun lobby. It comes because congress seems to think, or perhaps even claim to know, that US citizens would rather give up the safety of their most vulnerable populations than give up the right to legally own, load-up, and wield, weapons of war. The unbelief comes because though there have been an obscene number of opportunities, congress cannot collectively decide that it would be better to try reducing the possibilities of violence though peaceful means rather than have a little extra jingle in their pockets. 

I might have a hard time believing that Congress will actually enact laws to help ease this collective infection, but as a woman of faith, I shall summon up every reserve I have and I will speak out with ink and voice until we make a better decision for the sake of humanity. 

I thought about that again this morning while sitting in one of my favorite thought-spots at the farmers market. 

7:10 AM Hammered dulcimer music floats over the round-edged comfort of early morning conversation between passers-by and vendors selling both winter vegetables and the promise of spring. The coffee is hot and strong, the book newly begun, and the pen has ink. Amen.

And then a little while later:

…It is time to let someone else feel the blessing of February morning-water sun spread across their back.  It’s a beautiful thing, that feeling…not dissimilar to listening to Evensong the other night.  It is a feeling I find myself “yearning-into”—something more than leaning. The tender, permeating, wide-love warmth that makes even the vulnerability of allowing my spirit to stretch and relax in public a blessing.

And then I thought… this feeling, this is my wish for humanity.  Feel the weight of this.  Not the weight of weapons.  Not the weight of no better option.  Not the weight of hate, racism, injustice.  Not the weight of purchased influence.  Let us decide together bear the weight of Love and all that it asks of us.  

Giving in to that takes more courage than anything else I know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


14 February, 2018 4:23 PM

Early and alone in the Anglican cathedral, listening to the University of King’s College chapel choir practicing for Ash Wednesday Evensong.  Their sound nearly leaves me aching…with longing…with beauty…

I always seem to think of the solar system when I listen to them…so many pieces moving, each in an orbit and the orbits holding each other in their elliptical dances…aural choreography with cosmic effect.

Those hanging notes…the ones that linger afterward…augh.  They reach my ear... they draw me to themselves in unavoidable absolute captivation…I feel myself lifting with the sound and know the desire to be taken up by the sound…longing, somehow, to go to or give myself over to, the place where the hanging notes rise because that…that, is where the words of poetry have substance and beauty written into their syllables…it is a space within the sweep of the Muse’s diaphanous shawl, within the sigh of the Spirit...

It is a place of alone-together, of intimate concentration, of divine vulnerability…a harmony of waves, notes, giving light to the Word that lies within all that God has brought into being.