Tag Archives: Life

“My Bright Abyss”: beautiful truth

Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer had me wanting to do something terrible: I wanted to highlight and underline my library book! That is what happens when a poet writes about those moments in life that are inexplicable, those soul moments that make time stop. Wiman is able to put into words the experiences that seem to transcend words.

Source: http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/marapr/edge-of-all-i-know.html

He has genius moments of clarity: “Be careful. Be certain that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us, whether as explanations for a life that never quite finds its true force or direction, or as fuel for ambition, or as a kind of reflexive secular religion that, paradoxically, unites us with others in a shared sense of complete isolation: you feel at home in the world only by never feeling at home in the world” (pg 9-10).

For me, he is able to see through all of the smoke and mirrors, and is able to speak the truth with grace.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that it wasn’t just reflections on his life, he also challenges himself, and his readers, along the way. He realizes that “you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you. These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion” (21). Beautiful reminders that have me believing that there could actually be some universal truths.

After writing about belief, doubt, death, and life, Wiman writes about faith: “But faith is not a new life in this sense; it is the old life newly seen” (pg 108). And then after writing about his horrible experiences with cancer, he is able to write, “The temptation is to make an idol of our own experience, to assume our pain is more singular than it is. Even here, in some of the entries above, I see that I have fallen prey to it. In truth, experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others” (Pg 162).

Wiman’s book is beautiful and challenging and heartbreaking all at the same time because it is full of clarity and honesty. He begins and ends with a stanza from one of his unfinished poems:

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing believe in this:

Source: http://www.mbird.com/2013/10/mondays-with-mandelstam-rough-draft-1937/

“Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us” (Christian Wiman).

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Source: http://nicolettelodge.com/truth-2/


“The War of Art”: life to the fullest

Steven Pressfield gives his own personal insight and advice in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I first heard about this book when I was out for coffee with a friend and I snuck a peak at a friend’s book while she was in the bathroom. I could tell that this book was important to her because it was full of notes and highlighted sections. Now that I’ve read it, I feel like I’m about to do the same. Pressfield has something to say to everyone who lets fear and resistance hold them back.

Source: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/the-war-of-art/

Resistance. For Pressfield, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work” (Pg 7). Throughout the book, Pressfield continually defines Resistance; he looks at it’s different forms and how we react to it. Resistance is powerful and is a life changer.

I know that I give Resistance a lot of power and influence in my own life. There are a lot of things I would like to try and explore, yet I allow Resistance to hold me back from listening to the Spirit in my own life. Just think of all of the things Resistance has destroyed. It’s staggering.

Source: http://sunnibrown.com/doodlerevolution/showcase/the-war-of-art-2/

My Mom lent me a book that talks about anxiety and I found some of the ideas really interesting and helpful. In the book, the author suggests that people write down their anxieties and put them into a box. Every month or so, open the box and throw out the anxieties that no longer matter and keep the ones that still produce that Resistance. It’s not entirely out of sight, out of mind, but I feel like this technique looks at the anxiety or worry, and moves beyond it while keeping it away from all positive things. I like that idea. It doesn’t allow the anxiety a place to live in the soul. It lives in a box.

Source: http://www.nottelevision.net/anxiety-box-speaks/

On a trip to an independent bookstore in Edmonton, I stumbled upon a local poet who wrote a book of poems for meditation as an invitation to prayer. To rid the body of Resistance, meditation moves beyond the Resistance and focuses on the positive. My favourite poem so far is this:

Release your grip
on this wheelbarrow
of words

Watch it roll away as you lift off

Free at last

(Antoinette Voute Roeder)

Free at last! Yes! Pressfield doesn’t just describe Resistance; he also shows ways to combat Resistance. It is the war of art! The war to allow yourself to explore and create without the dehabilitating effect of Resistance.

Source: http://sunnibrown.com/2010/05/the-war-of-art-visual-book-summary

In the final section of his book, Pressfield explores what happens after Resistance is beat. He looks at what happens beyond Resistance. Imagine a world where we noticed the fear of reject or failure, recognized it, overcame it, and then went on to accomplish something amazing. Something like writing a note of encourage. Like painting the chairs green. Like drawing the flowers we see in the garden. Like opening that business. Like writing that novel. Like finishing that painting. To end, Pressfield makes these remarks: “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got” (Pg 165).

Pressfield’s book isn’t just for artists or creative people. It is an exploration of the human spirit and what can happen when we listen to that still, small voice over Resistance. Living a full life is not easy. And as Pressfield explores, living a full life is hard work. In fact, it is war!

Source: http://thewellnessalmanac.com/2015/03/18/wellnessreads2015-the-war-of-art-by-steven-pressfield/

“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” (Steven Pressfield)

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

Source: http://iamembrace.com/message/still-small-voice/

“Searching for Sunday”: what is church?

This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.

Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday/

In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)

It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.

Source: http://rachelkingbatson.com/tag/rachel-held-evans/

One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)

No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)

Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.

Source: https://twitter.com/StStephenYYC/media

“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

Source: http://www.ladera.org/beliefs/openAffirming.html

“The Crooked Good”: telling stories

I can’t remember how I found Sky Dancer’s / Lousie Bernice Halfe’s book of poetry The Crooked Good, yet I have enjoyed reading her poetry the past few weeks.

Louise Bernice Halfe is Cree and she is from Two Hills, Alberta, so I have enjoyed reading a local poet. Based on a brief biography from the Banff Centre, Halfe has had a life full of experiences, both good and bad. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed her book of poetry so much: it had something of her real self in each word, both English and Cree words.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi2jQZO5U5k

The beauty and pain in her poetry is so clear, as seen in the opening of the poem “Listen: To the Story”:
We lived in tents, teepees before the four walls,
before the ugly, broken years.
Ears witnessed this story my mother, aspin,
unfurled. (Pg22)

To hear her reading this poem, forward to 22:55 on this video.

Recently, one of my favourite albums has been Tanya Tagaq’s album Auk/Blood. (Listen here on YouTube for the album.) I have never seen throat singers perform live, but I can imagine it through the words of Halfe. She writes a poem called “wepinason” that describes throat singing:

Two women stare at each other.
Grunts, groans, rippling, meowing and cawing,
they sping these songs:
Of a brook searching. A crane meditating
A frog croaking. A mantis sucking on a fly.
A beaver caught in an iron jaw.
Thunder shuddered. A pair of lovers parted under a treed.
Lightning smiled through one’s heart.
Dew rolled into the woman’s basket.

The Inuit voices bounced, echoed against
their lodge, wet with death.

A deer rubbed her nose into her mate,
pranced into the meadow,
fell as an arrow flew.
Her robe sliced with fluttering hands.
Her bones become the scraper, skinning knife, needles
and flute. Her sinew thread, rawhide bowls, folding boxes,
drums and medicine bags.
Her skin a lodge of sticks and hide. Her hair, a mattress.
Close by, fur-covered men sat drumming.
This I saw, e-kwekit–Turn Around Woman. I am she. (Pg 2)

Source: http://www.arcticphoto.co.uk/supergal/ba/ba20/ba2080-25.htm

Throughout the book, her poems are so private. She speaks about her life and the lives of those around her, always connecting to the land and the animals as if the two cannot be separated. She includes stories intertwined with her poetry. This collection of poems is vulnerable and heart-breakingly real. Beauty, truth, fear, anger, love. She writes about it all. From Residential School to picking up a dead moose on the highway. The cultural clash between round dancing and answering a cellphone.

pow wow
Source: http://samsoncree.com/2013-samson-cree-nation-powwow-results

Sky Dancer / Louise Halfe is a voice to be heard.

“I write because I love. I write for the survival of self, my children, my family, my community and for the Earth. I write to help keep our stories, our truths, our language alive” (Sky Dancer / Louise Halfe).

“Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3).

Source: https://creeinfo.wikispaces.com/Religious+Practices

“Learning to Walk in the Dark”: take back the night

Ever since I picked up Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor I have been a fan.

As I sit at home exhausted and spent from late nights of marking midterm essays, the stress of parent/teacher interviews, and the pressure of writing meaningful yet inspiring report card comments, I am thankful for the quiet hours I carved out to read, uninterrupted, Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.

Source: http://harperone.hc.com/barbarabrowntaylor

I am a night owl. If left to an unscheduled chunk of calendar space, I will slowly revert back to what I think is my natural state of being: late to bed, late to wake up. Do you know that feeling you get when a fresh snowfall mutes the city? That is how I see and experience the night. Everything is still present, but the world seems less demanding and bright. Instead, it is muted and luxurious.

In her new book, Brown Taylor challenges the binary we have created between light and dark. Light means good. Dark means bad. Light means hope and happiness. Dark means evil and despair. Yet, there is magic in the night and I appreciate the research, reflections, experiments, and thoughts Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book. She challenges us to learn to walk in the darkness instead of assuming that we already know the darkness.

Source: http://farmfolly.com/2009/01/brightest-moon-ever/

Most people think of darkness as the time when our minds torture us. When life is at it’s bleakest. When fears reach at their zenith. Yet it is the night that allows us to sit into those valid human experiences and not push them away. The fear, the pain, and the depression are in us even in the light. One of my favourite sections of the book is when Brown Taylor is writing about John of the Cross and his writings on The Dark Night of the Soul: “God puts out our lights to keep up safe, John says, because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest” (146-147).
It is not the dark that is bad, but it is only that we think it is bad because in the dark we have time and space to think of all of the things that we were able to ignore and suppress during our busy, bright, light-filled day.

The whole purpose of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark is just that: as humans who live in constant light, we need to take the time to learn, again, how to walk in the dark.

As a kid, I was lucky. I have great memories of night time. Where I lived in Central Alberta on a farm, we often saw the Northern Lights, even in August. I saw stars light up the sky. I saw the Harvest Moon in it’s fully glory. I love to camp, especially in the second weekend in August so that I can see the shooting stars and meteorite showers. I love the cool air. I love the crisp, refreshing cooling of the earth. I love that I don’t have to wear sunglasses or worry about sunscreen. I don’t have a lot of fears that lurk in the dark.
Source: http://www.mikeisaak.com/blog/?p=1754

So, when I experience what feels like the absence of God and it feels like I am lost in the dark, I need to remember what Brown Taylor also realized in her journey to learn how to walk in the dark: “In the absence of any sense of God, I wish I had known that it was still possible to trust God” (162). As she notes, creation starts in the dark: in the womb, in the ground, and in the tomb.

As Barbara Brown Taylor discovered while she watched the moon rise, the change from light to dark is not as quick or as distinct as we might like to think. It is time to let go of the binary of light and dark and to start living in both. We need the darkness as much as we need the light.

“The real problem has far less to do with what is really out there than it does with our resistance to finding out what is really out there.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

“God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Genesis 1:5)

Source: http://www.massingenuity.com/2012/08/27/aligning-your-stars/