Friday, June 21, 2019

Photos in Words (Mostly...)

19 June, 2019...In the heady coffee-cinnamon humidity of No. 9 Coffeeshop. Paul Simon overhead. Your colours were a brief and glorious glimpse of flair this morning. The peach gradient on the horizon, rather spectacular. And the clouds and trees upon the water—as though they needed a reflection to adjust night flattened branches or to fresh fluff their vapor in preparation for the new day. And thank you for the company of the woman to my right who also has a book and seems quietly pleased for the caffeinated, sweet spiced, stillness we share. 

20 June, 2019... 7:50 AM Public Gardens on a bench at the Summer Street side point of a triangle using the large gazebo and Horticulture Hall as the other two points. Something I have noticed:  People stop to talk to the ducks who search out their breakfast in the dew-cool grasses.  And, I am one of them.  I am interested in the fact that these wobbly diners choose to walk beneath the benches and not around them.  So it was again this morning when two females brushed by my ankle with only a slight rolling crunch of pea gravel beneath their paddlers and the gentle-edged mur-mur-mur-mur  of each one offering aloud her private morning commentary without expectation of a response from the other.  The first one turned to look at me—She had a curly blade of grass across her beak.  Condensation had stuck it there like a handlebar moustache.  I thought to mention it to her as she tilted her head in assessment of my presence.  Apparently I posed no threat and she was content with her adornment because the two of them waddled out a place for themselves in the grass directly across from me.  When I stood to leave, I thanked them for their company.

21 June, 2019...Pouring rain...thought ‘Ugh,´ if I don´t leave the house now, I´ll never go out today... So off I went on a circuit of the Gardens and then into one of my favorite haunts.   I walk in to witness two of the baristas teaching themselves how to juggle with sweet potatoes. Me: If you have apples it’s easier... The two of them: You can juggle?? WAIT, Here! And they toss me three apples. The next fifteen minutes or so are filled with laughter and a lesson on the basic principles of juggling. And then I sat down and did some work... The world is full of fresh hells and is unraveling at so many seams...yet, there is still joy to be noted and simple good fun to be had while working to make it better for more. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Divine Octave

Several mornings of my recent retreat were spent on a wharf in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I was drawn there for the spacious quiet, for the water, the horizon, the creak of the pilings and cries of the birds, and, honestly, the comfortable chairs close enough to the edge to prop up my short legs and with arms wide enough for a notebook. The sun was warm, the boat traffic local, the peace expansive… It was a satisfying perch. The pleasing “protractor gone mad” angles of the boats, their masts, and their rigging; the angles of the wharf itself, the size and bright colours of the chairs, the warmth in which I was steeping…it all served to both ground and free me. This was helped along by the book I was reading—Saudade by Anik See. So far, each one of these beautifully bound essays has reminded me of the smooth pocket-stones I carry with me. Weighty, present, solid, company. Each one has a story to go with it, each one has its place. Just as my hand is sometimes drawn to hold a particular one of the stones at a given moment, I selected a particular essay to read one of the mornings at the wharf. Little could I have known ahead of time the ache of beauty and aha and YES! that would tumble my heart like ocean water burnishing sea glass. 

The essay, “Squeezing a Spiral into a Square Hole,” has to do with proportion, design, what is organically pleasing, and the artistry of that.

The easiest way to picture the golden section in nature is to imagine the cross-section of a nautilus shell, growing outward neatly; beautifully in proportion to the previous later of spiral. It is this relationship that is ever appealing to us, wither in the form of the human body or in musical scales, or in the relationship of text to a page. Bringhurst’s discussion of the golden section is crucial to the understanding of design, and why certain things work and others don’t. In other words, if double-square books (i.e. books whose width-length proportion us 1:2) look good to you, it’s probably because the relationship of proportion is the same relationship as found between the notes of a simple octave: a primary ‘visual chord’ has been created, according to Bringhurst. Anik See, “Squeezing a Spiral into a Square Hole” Saudade, P. 67-8

A ‘primary visual chord!’ How I delight in the mixing of the senses there! And, how easy to translate that into primary flavour chords in cooking; primary rhythmic chords created through sentence structure; primary aural chords in line break choices when writing poetry…. Again and again, the call to pay attention. To be absolutely present and keenly aware of the effect desired, the effect achieved… yet, 
In choosing the proportions of type and spacing, as well as the proportions of the page, a harmony should be suggestive, not obvious. Anik See, “Squeezing a Spiral into a Square Hole” Saudade, P. 69

Again, so broadly applicable. I think there’s a reason limericks are only five lines long. They can be wonderful nuggets of humour and yet are also exceedingly obvious in rhythm and rhyme scheme. Milk and mashed potatoes harmonize obviously. Paprika and balsamic vinegar in right relationship—who’d have guessed?? Yet, beautiful flavour emerges from that dance.

The key…the struggle…the fun of the process…is the right relationship piece of artistic creation…
A good design will mix math and spontaneity, exactness and free-hand proportions, because the eye needs to be directed, but it also needs to have room to wander so it doesn’t feel manipulated or stuck. Anik See, “Squeezing a Spiral into a Square Hole,” Saudade, P. 69

So too the ear, the tastebuds…and it occurred to me out there on the wharf…so too the heart, the Spirit…And Glory, doesn’t God provide for that…the golden section that is the spiralling out of life, of gift, of experience, wonder, awe, challenge, Love, pain, suffering, discovery, revelation, giving, receiving, dying, rising…. And sometimes we need to find ourselves somewhere other than where we usually are to notice, to take that in…to again tune our senses to the divine octave at play in creation.

This came to me just before I put the bookmark in, packed my bag, rose from the bright green chair on the wharf and noticed that there was a jellyfish in the water…. I can’t tell you for exactly how long I knelt there, captivated, watching it pulse, scrunch, move…pulse, scrunch, move…rest…rest…rest…pulse, scrunch, move… making music I could see and making it with calculation and grace alike...with no discernible direction and undeniable purpose.

The precision has to slip away so that what matters most is the text or image on the page. It is exactly like jazz. It bops and squeals and roils and you play or listen and beam, but you never, ever, ask how it’s done. That knowledge—that part of the process is long past and you are entirely satisfied just being there to put your fingers on it, to listen, or look, or read: to appreciate it. Anik See, “Squeezing a Spiral into a Square Hole” Saudade, P. 71-2

And I thought about the Psalmist who wrote of the Inescapable God… What I know is that you made me, you are with me, you encircle me, no matter where, no matter what, you Are…the holy and mysterious golden proportion of Love…and that knowledge is beautiful and just a bit overwhelming. And I am grateful.

Monday, June 17, 2019


We come as we are—no hiding, no acting, no fear. We come with our materialism, our pride, our petty grievances against our neighbours, our hypocritical disdain for those judgmental people in the church next door. We come with our fear of death, our desperation to be loved, our troubled marriages, our persistent doubts, our preoccupation with status and image. We come with our addictions—to substances, to work, to affirmation, to control, to food. we come with our differences; be they political, theological, racial, or socioeconomic. We come in search of sanctuary, a safe place to shed the masks and exhale. 
Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, p. 71


Sanctuary of place and person-
neither containing, 
neither constraining,
All embracing:
A refuge of perspective
on infinite You.

A new slant of light,
a peripheral humming
toward which I bend in bright fascination
of always and everywhere You;
of the tousled and wild diversity
that is You;

You who named each one,
who claims each one,
who loves and loves again and loves still.
You who knows each contour, texture,
and elemental specificity of creation
and calls it all good.

You, whose beckon and draw
is the metronome by which
I rest and journey.
You, the moon and sun alike—
You, whose shadow
is both cross and wing.

Sanctuary people, sanctuary spaces:
both respite and threshold
from the journey and between forgetting and remembering
that you named us Beloved;
that all you made is Blessed;
that this is enough, and we are not alone.

Kimberly M. King, RSCJ

Friday, June 7, 2019

...or on the pavements grey...

Here in Halifax, and elsewhere, it has been a grey stretch of time, these last months. Grey and rain; grey and fog; grey and something between rain and fog; Grey.

Yet still the Public Gardens green and bloom in technicolor because that is what trees, flowers, and plants are called to do. And in fact, the grey watery light helps those colours stand out in greater relief. I believe that an awareness of that, the salvation of that, has been important these weeks, locally and more widely afield.  In this world that is such a mess globally…a little grey-light dampness helps highlight even the smallest shoot or bud or action or person that holds the startling promise of contrast, beauty, life, Spirit. Trees, bulbs, seeds, acting out of their fullness of purpose, make that manifest. Humans too…

The difference being that we need to choose it: choose to act out of that fullness of purpose. And it seems to me, as a person of faith, that purpose is Love. Which looks like decency; justice; compassion; solidarity; honesty; respect; openness; and more… toward God, toward Earth, toward one another.

I was thinking about that this morning as I left the house in the droplet thick half-light to walk through the Public Gardens. I thanked the trees for my breath; I thanked them for the shelter they provide; and for their steadfast solidity. I admired the rose vine’s gentle embrace of the light pole and the way that the begonias held onto fine mist, leaving each petal laden with prismatic jewels. 

And as I walked I gave thanks for the people I know and those I haven’t yet met who wake up in this world and decide that even a few slogging steps forward toward something other than the current miasma is, in fact, forward, and that making a positive difference is possible…and can look like a world-wide movement or a smile to a stranger…can be radical protest or scratching the ears of a dog who decided to sit on your feet.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Neither a Failure nor Uninformative: Or, anybody seen a Mousse?

     The role of repetition in prayer is long standing across different traditions. 
Sometimes it is a repetitive action or movement, sometimes it is linguistic. Mantras, rosaries, sets of yoga poses...all assist both in focusing and in letting go... The act of repetitive behavior itself has a role in that way. Any prayer that happens while we are participating in that act may or may not bear the desired...or even tangible, recognizable...fruit. The good is sometimes simply in the practice. We are calmer and more engaged because we have participated in something that allows us to lift away a bit, loosen the bonds, and recalibrate. The practice takes us to a place of freedom. How that place is decorated is unique to each of us... And can’t people around us tell when we’ve spent time there?

Decorative touches for me include pens and paper, books, sometimes bowls, an apron, and a clear countertop.  While ambling in that particular arena this evening, I made a lovely batch of chocolate...mortar. The unrealized intention was mousse. And yet, my time was not wasted nor did my efforts fail. 

Never had I pictured exactly how much 7 ounces of rock hard chocolate is until the time came to chop it. It was more than I imagined...and as it turns out, deconstructing it was one of the most meditative thing I’ve done in a good while! The rocking of the knife, the shaving off of chocolate curls, the two handed scoop of the airy accumulating pile to put it in the makeshift double boiler...both wonderfully repetitive and decidedly satisfying. The amount to chop meant that I could take my time...adjust the ways I did it...I could pay attention...enjoy the process and the purpose.

I also whisked egg whites into mountain tops. By hand. The determination to get there kept me going, as did the stages along the way...liquid whites to bubbles droopy summit worthy. All along the way, I had questions about the method, about the efficacy of one way of doing this over another, about how much and which particulars of the process were ultimately the most important... The answer I learned? All of it. The paying attention was what mattered.

I did not wake up thinking about nor have I recently seen, a mousse. I recently read a memoir about a pastry chef in Paris, the chapters had recipes as illustrations, and there was a tucked away box of baking chocolate in the cupboard, unearthed in a search for something else. I have been keen of late to master different basic recipes and here was an opportunity! Twenty minutes until I was looking at goodness in a bowl! Except, funny thing... the recipe was wrong. The prescribed formula had me add water to melting chocolate. 5 tablespoons of water based liquid, to be precise. Which caused the chocolate to seize up and yield a bowl of bricklayer’s paradise. 

Disappointing for sure, but not a failure nor uninformative. When I doubt my own instinct or am bound solely to a specific formula and there is no room for either further consult or adaptation, it could be problematic. And the same when I put paper above people with knowledge based on the doing of a thing—to her credit, a friend did try and suggest that based on her experience I might want to look into another recipe; and a different friend said Remember the movie, Like Water for Chocolate? There’s a reason it’s called that!

Regardless, it was an evening of time spent loosely. Of time put into activity that allowed me to relax, smooth out interior wrinkles, let go, open, and focus.

Not unlike the best fruit of prayer.

I will return to that place, for sure, and bring what I learned along the way. And I might yet see mousse in the refrigerator. Or not. It’s the attention given and the doing of the thing that yields the most long-term discernible results.