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The Spring Paradox

I am in Spokane now,  reading, writing, and preparing for two presentations at the end of the month. It is unseasonable here, but it is at home, too. Rain and snow go with the low temperatures.

I wrote this about the paradox we experience in spring. It is a time of rejuvenation and resurrection, literally and figuratively, yet it is not always easy to see, unless I watch closely. Each day, as I walk, I see signs that contradict each other: sullen skies, a glacial wind, flowers showing, and robins gathered to feed.

Leaden, sullen rain-heavy skies,

The wind glacial;

Absent a lover’s warm touch,

With precision, it cuts through cloth,

Touches skin with icy fingers.

Have faith the calendar counsels

Nature speaks in other ways;

Daffodils reach through the earth,

Robins find food washed up on the sidewalk,

I hear spring is here.

I took this picture of the first robin I saw last spring. There was still snow. The robin posed for me, more interested in finding food than fearing me.

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Where Words Fails

via Where Words Fail

Thank you to Misifusa for this wonderful post.

I have not posted for some time. This seemed like a good way to begin again, afresh. When I was growing up, we listened to a wide variety of music, including Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. I thought it was the norm and grew into a die-hard blues fan, attending concerts by Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and King Biscuit when they traveled to Canada.

As an adult, I saw BB King, John Mayall, Etta James, Ruthie Foster, Taj Mahal, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and others. An American friend told me this was not the norm in the US. He did not have the same opportunities to see these performers as I did or, if he did, it was long after they were in their primes.

The Hans Christian Anderson quote fits well “where words fail, music speaks”. Music breaks down barriers without realizing they are coming down. As a Canadian, I had freedoms I took-for-granted, like the music I listened to and the concerts I attended. When I taught, I played a wide variety of music each morning. It ranged from the blues to jazz to country to folk to old rock and to more contemporary music. Students enjoyed it and it surprised them when they heard me play old Johnny Cash, the blues, and rock-a-billy.

Music is colour-blind or, better yet, music is blind to colour.

I like this particular John Lee Hooker song, which I first heard in the early 1970’s. George Thorogood plays it in most of his concerts in tribute to John Lee. Enjoy.

 

Merry Christmas

I wrote this poem several years ago about the magic provided by the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and Christmas. What message was in those celestial colours and sounds? As a child, I thought the sky talked to me and told me a creation story.

I grew up in Northern Alberta and Christmas was a special time. I recall cold winter nights. I mean they were cold–almost minus 40 at night. Our windows upstairs were almost completely frosted over. On moonlit nights, the light kept me awake or that is what I told others.

During Advent, my mom and older brothers walked across the street for evening Mass. The younger ones, including me, went to bed. I did not fall asleep right away and would watch out the window for them to come home. I thought no one saw me, but my Mom would come up and tell me to go to bed.

At that time of year, I recall is the Northern Lights and how you could hear them as well as see them light up the sky as they danced across the sky. We don’t see them very often in Edmonton with the urban light.

When we spend time at the farm at Christmas, we hear and see them again. On cold nights we hear the train (about a mile away) and it sounds like it is coming through the house.

Small children–

Breathlessly awaiting,

Peering through frosted window

Soaking it in.

Heavens rippling–

Lights undulating;

A celebratory fury

An indisputable guide.

This old house speaks;

Nature answers–

Heavens crackle

Sweet symphonic sounds shimmering.

Earth’s floor–

Blanketed in white

Celestial colours speaking

Capturing young senses.

A vivid winter scene,

A sensual, sensory palette,

Reminding us–

Christ’s Mass is here.

pic_wonder_northern_lights_lg

A Book Lover’s Tag

via A BOOK LOVER’S TAG 

Diana passed on a tag and posed 13 questions to her followers with this re-blog. The best part of the her post was the John O’Donohue blessing about how our words make the invisible visible through our personal artistry and creativity.

  1. Do you have a favourite place to read? No, I read everywhere but in vehicles.
  2. Do you use bookmarks or random pieces of paper? I use both and more. I turn corners, highlight, and use sticky notes with notes.
  3. Do you eat or drink while you read? I drink tea, but rarely ever eat while I read.
  4. Do you listen to music or watch TV? There always seems to be music playing, but I find the TV distracting. Music fades into the background.
  5. Do you read one book or several at a time? I do both. I find reading one book helps me focus, but I cannot help reading more books.
  6. Do you prefer reading at home or elsewhere? There is a small coffee shop a few minutes from the house. The baristas and owners welcome me almost each day.
  7. Do you read silently or out loud? I read silently most of the time, but, when I read something of particular interest, I read it to Kathy. I enjoy reading to our grandson when we visit with him.
  8. Do you read ahead or skip about? I skip about. I like to read the index in a book and see who references are if it is a book I use for my writing. I cheat and read ahead in non-fiction.
  9. Do you break the spine or treat it like new? I buy many of my books used, so they come well used. If I get a new book, I mark it up inside, but treat it like new.
  10. Do you write in books? I mark them up with a felt marker and make notes for future reference. The exception is when I read non-fiction and poetry.
  11. What books are you reading now? I am reading The Company of Strangers by Parker Palmer.
  12. What is your childhood favourite book? I don’t have one, but I remember reading Little Golden Books and having them read to me as a special part of my early reading.
  13. What is your favourite book of all time? That is like choosing who my favourite child is. I think it depends on mood and time. I enjoy great poetry i.e. Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. I read books about spirituality i.e. Parker Palmer. I read about education i.e. William Pinar, John Dewey, and Madeline Grumet. I read about philosophy i.e. Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, and Paul Ricoeur. My favourite fiction writers are John D. MacDonald and Paulo Coehlo.

 

Take a Knee

I begin this post with two points. First, I am not American. I spend time in the US and enjoy my time there. One thing I enjoy, and I shared with my students, is the way Americans respond to their National Anthem. Second, Canada, where I live, has social and historical skeletons in the closet i.e. residential schools.

My aim is not to pass judgment, but to cast a different light on what it means to take a knee. In a world that is increasingly secular, perhaps I lose my way in what it means to live in a spiritual way and it can mean many things to different people.

The image that comes to mind when I think of is people kneeling and standing at the foot of the cross of the crucified Jesus. We were not there, but we are told his friends, family members, and followers knelt and stood. It seems there was no one right way.

When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, I thought of it as praying. The etymology of prayer is to ask earnestly, to beg, and to entreat. Prayer is asking someone i.e. God or something bigger i.e. Universe or a nation than I am to intercede in a concern to me.

To genuflect is to kneel, usually with one knee. It is an act of worship and respect. Parker Palmer wrote about fidelity as something other than mere loyalty. It is loyalty to an obligation, cause, and idea one holds dear.

Who or what one asks depends on one’s spiritual and religious background. What I understand is that there are no fixed answers when I take a knee and pray. I have to listen. Part of praying is silence, listening to what Parker Palmer calls my inner voice. It is only in moments of silence, whether kneeling, standing, or walking, that I hear that inner voice.

I pray in various ways and have since I was a child. When I enter a church, I find holy water, bow to the cross, and complete the sign of the cross. I stand. As I enter a pew I genuflect, taking a knee. I do so with two surgically repaired knees. At times before, during, and after service, I kneel, I pray, and I listen to what my heart says. Other times, I stand. During the Lord’s prayer, I stand and join hands with others asking God to intercede on each of our behalf. As I receive communion, I walk slowly and quietly, bowing my head as I accept the host.

For me, kneeling, standing, and walking quietly show my fidelity to a cause and purpose larger than me. In this case, it is plight of people and our shared humanity. I make a point of being quiet, because it is a time of thoughtful meditation and mindfulness of how the world and I are broken. I beseech someone or something larger than me to intercede and, as Parker Palmer says, to make whole the broken.

 

 

Joining the Circus

Yesterday, this poem by Mark Nepo found me. I was checking some emails and a site I subscribe to had this poem on it.

For the first time in 30 years, I will not teach and/or learn in formal way this fall. It crept up on me. Yes, I want to teach. I prefer that to joining a circus. In a sense, I am joining the circus. The theme of the poem is how to deal with ups and downs in life. I applied at several universities and received one interview, but came up short.

My challenge is what will we I do in lieu of teaching in some conventional way? As Nepo says, I ready to kiss anything as I hover like a mystical molecule between one stage and another. Like the dozen beginners, I am learning how to juggle and have to begin somewhere.

Each day, I focus on reading and writing and hope to publish in academic journals.  A colleague suggested I write and shed a different light on teaching. As well, I may take some of my poetry and bundle it together in a book. Perhaps, my smile will be so magical I will asked to teach something I did not expect.

I just saw a handwritten note from

Galileo. He was under house arrest

for believing we’re not the center of

everything. Now behind me, in the park,

a dozen beginners, of all ages, learning how

to juggle. We have to start somewhere. The

young man who’s so magical at this is asked

to instruct. He smiles, “You have to keep

trying. Just not the same thing.” Earlier,

I leaned over a letter from Lincoln to a

dead soldier’s mother. This, just weeks

after losing Susan’s mother, sweet

Eleanor. I keep saying her name to

strangers. You see, we all have to

juggle joy and sorrow. Not to do it

well—we always drop something—but

when the up and down of life are

leaving one hand and not yet land-

ing in the other, then we glow, like

a mystical molecule hovering between

birth and death, ready to kiss anything.

 

The Poet’s Obligation

I am back. I found it difficult to write a poem and turned to others who might offer me something today.

Pablo Neruda wrote about the poet’s obligation to those cooped up in an office, away from the sounds of nature, and the foam of the sea. Poetry brings the world and its text to people who for whatever reason they are no present to that part of the world.

The poet brings the sea, the thunder, and the foam to the reader in what Neruda called a perpetual cup. Poets share and are part of the world others cannot always find.

The poet is mindful of the world and reflects on it to capture its essence and meaning in ways each person can experience and interpret what that means to them. They pose questions without ready answers to structure each person’s with the world and the poem. The poem becomes a medium to interpret the world as a text.

To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to who ever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weigh of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.

So. Drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea’s lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of the windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking “How can I reach the sea?”
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the gray cry of sea birds on the coast.

So, though me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.

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