What’s Asking To Be Seen

I’m standing on the cusp of the seasons, now dressed for winter when I walk Annie. Gloves need to be swapped out for mittens, trail runners for Blundstones. Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for a new winter coat for Annie, as I think with age, we’re both feeling the cold more. Today there’s a skiff of snow on roofs and yards, the shallow pond froze last night, and during yesterday morning’s river valley walk, the shoreline was edged with ice. Yet, still the red, golden green and light brown falling leaves.

This autumn, one particularly resplendent in colour and warmth with sunshine most every day, I felt the invitation to “see” what was on display and unfolding while Annie and I walked. She, ever patient, and I, and with my early generation, single lens phone camera in hand, stopped in front of a red amur maple, reminiscent of my Niagara youth. Glowing, almost vibrating vermillion, I was awestruck and until now, never thought my phone could capture what I was seeing. It was the beginning.

“I take my camera out into the world, and it invites me to slow down and linger over these moments of beauty. It opens me to wonder and delight.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Then it was the roses, full blown blossoms and buds, still. And the sweet peas – always an irony for me with an April birthday, and them the designated flower.

The dandelion, harbinger of spring, peeking among the dried leaves. The golden ash against our signature blue sky. Ruby globes of crabapple, sun-kissed cherries, orange mountain ash berries.

Sunflower sentinels bordering a walkway. And the skies.

One day the clouds had me spellbound. Later that day, after I’d shared their magnificence on Facebook, friends said they, too, had noticed and appreciated I’d stopped to notice, to press, to share.  Another day, later in the season, I was smitten by treetops in their yonder backdrops.

And throughout, always that amur maple marking autumn’s reign.

 “…this is one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Framing these moments during our neighborhood walks has easily transferred into chronicling my weekly trek in the river valley. The “Camino de Edmonton,” a thirteen-week staged event to correspond in distance to a final leg of the Camino de Santiago, finds twenty or so hardy souls meeting every Saturday at various rendezvous points in the city for an 8:00 am start. There, I bring my Lumix “point and shoot” hung around my neck, tucked securely into the hip belt of my Deuter pack.

“the graced eye can glimpse beauty everywhere, seeing the divine at work in the hidden depths of things. It is so easy to let our senses be dulled and to settle for the ordinary.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Most often walking alone, safely distanced, I settle into my pace and breath, letting my gaze soften, slowing to see with eyes of the heart onto what is asking to be seen. Again, vistas full to bursting with autumn’s abundance. Yet, at the same time, growing more visible with every week, the giving way to emptying, the baring, the decaying and the dying that is winter.

“We don’t have to go out and try to take ‘beautiful’ photos. We simply need to pay attention and foster a different kind of seeing.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

And accept the invitation to see what’s asking to be seen.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camera shy Annie.

Praise Song for the Pandemic

Season's End, Perspectives with Panache, 2019

PRAISE SONG FOR THE PANDEMIC

Praise be the nurses and doctors, every medical staff bent over flesh to offer care, for lives saved and lives lost, for showing up either way,

Praise for the farmers, tilling soil, planting seeds so food can grow, an act of hope if ever there was,

Praise be the janitors and garbage collectors, the grocery store clerks, and the truck drivers barreling through long quiet nights,

Give thanks for bus drivers, delivery persons, postal workers, and all those keeping an eye on water, gas, and electricity,

Blessings on our leaders, making hard choices for the common good, offering words of assurance,

Celebrate the scientists, working away to understand the thing that plagues us, to find an antidote, all the medicine makers, praise be the journalists keeping us informed,

Praise be the teachers, finding new ways to educate children from afar, and blessings on parents holding it together for them,

Blessed are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, all those who worry for their health, praise for those who stay at home to protect them,

Blessed are the domestic violence victims, on lock down with abusers, the homeless and refugees,

Praise for the poets and artists, the singers and storytellers, all those who nourish with words and sound and color,

Blessed are the ministers and therapists of every kind, bringing words of comfort,

Blessed are the ones whose jobs are lost, who have no savings, who feel fear of the unknown gnawing,

Blessed are those in grief, especially who mourn alone, blessed are those who have passed into the Great Night,

Praise for police and firefighters, paramedics, and all who work to keep us safe, praise for all the workers and caregivers of every kind,

Praise for the sound of notifications, messages from friends reaching across the distance, give thanks for laughter and kindness,

Praise be our four-footed companions, with no forethought or anxiety, responding only in love,

Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who teach us to endure,

Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues they endured and survived, their resilience is in your bones, your blood,

Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,

Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,

Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead so one day we can breathe deeply again,

And when this has passed may we say that love spread more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this was not just an ending but also a place to begin.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
Abbey of the Arts
2020

As we head into our 7th month of living in the pandemic, I wanted to share this poem, now making special mention of all the teachers around the world, who as another lovely poet wrote this week: “To All the Teachers, we see you turning your hearts into classrooms where not even masks can block out your love.” bentlily by Samantha Reynolds

Praise be the teachers.

With love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Lost Together

Portland Fire Dancer, Perspectives with Panache, 2012

LOST

“The map is not the territory” —Alfred Korzybski

All the old signposts have fallen,
wood cracked and rotted,
atlases crumble, a pile of maps
flutter and dart like hummingbird
wings, the GPS signal is out of range.

Her compass slips from her hand,
the only thing she knows is that
she walks in circles now,
the trees ahead familiar
but really nothing is the same.
She wanders for hours, days,
weeks, loses track of the nights
as one tumbles into another.

Finally, she stops, builds
a bonfire from all the old maps
still in her pack, invites others
who wander by to gather,
each of them savor warmth
from flame and kindness,
laugh while they tell stories
of how they once knew the way.

Her eyes meet another,
hand outstretched, together
their breath rises in white spirals
into cold air and they
stay still long enough
to learn to love the quiet ache,
the old longing to be sure,
to see the country of certainty
as a memory receding
like an evening horizon until
there is only the black bowl of sky.

They begin to hear the whisper
of breezes, the secrets of birds,
follow the underground stream
that runs through each of them,
and they no longer ask
which way to go,
but sit and savor this
together, under night sky
illumined by fire and stars.

– Christine Valters Paintner –

Real Work

Marches have continued around the world this past week protesting racial injustice and police brutality. In my city, right now receiving the much-needed steady soaking from a weekend of rain, it is estimated that 15,000 people gathered during Friday evening’s sunshine and warm weather on the grounds of our provincial legislature. Wearing masks, carrying signs, “taking a knee”, all thankfully without the eruption of the violence other cities have recently seen, though social distancing protocols to stave off infection from the other pandemic, COVID-19, were hard to maintain.

Diego Romero, Digital Journalist for CTV News, “Fight for Equity: More than 10,000 people rally against racism at legislature”, June 5, 2020

Initially, I had planned to attend, but my best intentions gave way to accepting I was unable to put myself at risk due to chronic health factors, and a growing anxiety that signaled my need to pay attention. While I would miss the march, I would be in this fight for the long haul.

After concluding my participation in the eight week The Soul of a Pilgrim program this weekend, come Tuesday I’ll begin a twelve-week book study, reflection, and conversation of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, hosted by a small group of thoughtful, seasoned practitioners of The Circle Way. Together, we will create a safe and strong container to do our real, hard, and necessary work of identifying both within and without the systemic impacts of white supremacy and racism. It is a beginning of a long and real journey.

“It may be that when we
no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we
no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey…”

Wendell Berry

Mindful of so much that has been happening in the world around me, this past week had me thinking back to a year ago when I experienced my first Peer Spirit Wilderness Quest. Hosted and guided by the founders of The Circle Way, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin, with their quest guide colleague, Deborah Greene-Jacobi , the stars and my schedule had finally aligned to make the trek to the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. With “hindsight being 2020,” I’m grateful to have gone last year because this year’s quest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Months before my departure, I was thoughtfully and carefully prepared with packing lists, activities to discern my intention, clarifying conversations, and closer to the date, travel and weather details.  Once arrived, I joined a beautifully multi-generational, cross-cultural cohort of eleven men and women, some who had travelled from as far as Australia and Germany.  Once settled, we soon began in earnest, readying our tent sites and ourselves to fast solo on the Sacred Mountain for three days and nights.

Sitting and sleeping alone, with the sun and moon, the stars and the clouds, the wind, groves of aspen, spruce, pine and fir, birds and bugs as my companions, created a mighty connection and opened a portal through which I felt the wisdom and life giving and saving gifts of Nature. I did not return with answers to questions, nor even clarity as to first step directions to take. Instead, I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and reverence for all and everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I felt a deep appreciation that was beyond words, with no regrets. And I experienced an inner consolidation of hard l/earned presence.

The wilderness quest is very much akin to the pilgrim’s journey. Both are predicated on a final stage of “coming home” to oneself and one’s community, and to incorporation (in corpus – in body) of lessons learned, questions discerned, gifts received. (Again a synchronicity with this first year anniversary is that this last week’s eighth and final practice in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “coming home.”) This to then to awaken to the next call to begin again. Last year’s quest still reverberates and compelled me to follow the energy to The Soul of a Pilgrim. Now both call me into the work of dismantling my racism, taking guidance from this kind and compassionate wisdom:

“What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me
is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into
the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment.
I’m learning to trust in the unfinished nature of things.
This calls me to give my heart to my work,
as I always strive to do,
and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility
to honor my own limitations.”

Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim , 2015

Tender Mercy

I’m at a loss for words.

There is nothing I can write today that isn’t already being penned by those more astute, more qualified and more proximate to the rioting south of me in the United States, this time catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. To say the collective outrage is palpable would be a gross understatement. As I write, headlines appear on my screen reporting increased aggression and violence from police towards protesters. And all the while, the nation’s “leader” resorting to his m.o. – ironically one he tried to shut down this week – tweets with the effect of throwing gasoline on fire.  To say these already volatile scenarios in American cities are being intentionally and strategically inflamed by bands of out-of-state Neo Nazis and white supremacists, taking their lead from the one in charge, might be speculation bordering on truth.

So I borrow from the words of others to help me find my own.

And a perspective I heard yesterday in a zoom conversation.

“We need to connect the demand for justice –
which is an outpouring of love –
with tenderness.”

Omid Safi
Islamic scholar and teacher of The Heart of Rumi, May 30, 2020

Over the years at summer folk festivals across my province, I’ve heard American songwriter Mary Gauthier sing one of her most memorable songs, Mercy Now. Released in 2005, its relevancy persists as a poignant anthem for these times. Reading the lyrics over at her website for an excerpt here, I realized, with a heavy heart, that every word is as pertinent today as then. Maybe because her gift is to write with a sparse honesty about our human condition.

“…My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom
He’s shackled to his fears and doubts
The pain that he lives in is
Almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, and he could use some mercy now

…Yea, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don’t deserve it
But we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance
Dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground
Every single one of us could use some mercy now…”

Mary Gauthier, Mercy Now, 2005

I’ve completed the seventh week in The Soul of a Pilgrim with its practice of “embracing the unknown.” This, too, a reality of the human condition, despite our best efforts and delusions to think we know one moment beyond this one.  An early morning practicing the art of contemplative photography, framed by this theme, bore these ephemeral gifts of tender mercy in image and word.

Please, can I have a God who
within me
beyond me
enboldens, encourages, enthuses
me and we

to be better
to do better


for self and kin of
every tribe and colour
every love and gender


so that me and we
may always love, live and breathe


free.

(inspired by “Please, Can I Have a God,” by Christine Valters Paintner, in The Soul of a Pilgrim, 2015)

Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon

Photo from Dr. Eileen Villa, Twitter, May 23, 2020, Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park

In a Dark Time

Do not rush to make meaning.
When you smile and say what purpose
this all serves, you deny grief
a room inside you,
you turn from thousands who cross
into the Great Night alone,
from mourners aching to press
one last time against the warm
flesh of their beloved,
from the wailing that echoes
in the empty room.

When you proclaim who caused this,
I say pause, rest in the dark silence
first before you contort your words
to fill the hollowed out cave,
remember the soil will one day
receive you back too.
Sit where sense has vanished,
control has slipped away,
with futures unravelled,
where every drink tastes bitter
despite our thirst.

When you wish to give a name
to that which haunts us,
you refuse to sit
with the woman who walks
the hospital hallway, hears
the beeping stop again and again,
with the man perched on a bridge
over the rushing river.
Do not let your handful of light
sting the eyes of those
who have bathed in darkness.

– Christine Valters Paintner –
2020

Have We Learned?

I’ve been pondering for the past week what to write for this post. I’d thought of taking a pass, but I made this promise to my writerly self that I’d show up twice a week to post in this space devoted to writing. I may have copped out a bit, using the Friday posts for a poem – occasionally one of my efforts – accompanied by one of my photos. Pretty simple, leaving only Mondays for something more creative .

Right now I’m feeling “written out.” I just finished the first draft of an important email. One of those brave and necessary, fence mending, relationship tending emails. The kind that takes a lot of time, mental focus, heart connection and honesty to find the right words, to convey right tone. I’ll let that sit for a while before pressing “send”.  And for the past three weeks, I’ve been journaling and writing a bit of poetry in response to prompts from the online course, The Soul of a Pilgrim. I’ve mentioned it in a couple of recent posts, remarking on its timeliness for these times, its resonance with my contemplative nature.

This course, derived from the host Christine Valters Paintner’s book of the same, features weekly one of her eight practices of pilgrimage, each grounded in scripture, and then brought to life each day through several creative processes – lectio divino (reflection and writing to words that shimmer in a reading); Midrash, an ancient Jewish tradition of writing what’s imagined, or as a character in a reading, akin, I think, to Jungian “active imagination”; visio divino or contemplative photography; and Midrash movement, free expression movement or dance, with or without music, inspired by the reading.

Week 1, “Hearing the Call and Responding” evoked my poem, Hearing the Pilgrim’s Call, as the week’s integration. In Week 2, the practice of “Packing Lightly,” the visio divino process inspired the closing poem in my post, So This Is The Camino.

Last week, Week 3, the practice of “Crossing the Threshold,” I finally overcame a curious resistance to the movement exercise, odd for one who danced before she walked and as a young girl intuited how to use dance to move through stuck times, ground in turbulent ones. During the lectio divino, despite the scripture selection (Miriam at the Sea of Reeds, Exodus 15:19-21) immediately calling forth wonderful memories of walking a small pilgrimage of ceremony and celebration in Andalusia in 2017, my own experience in Midrash movement was anything but celebratory, as my exterior reality collided with my interior journey.

Despite my photos that captured that celebration, and resonated with the scripture reading, I journaled:

“Today, I danced Miriam, with an actual tambourine. And I simply could not let go into the celebration, as my exterior world, where my province has just announced its staged ‘re-opening’ plan – to begin today – is creating deep unease and grave concern. ‘Too much, too fast, too soon,’ I posted on Facebook last night, adding I hoped my concerns would prove unfounded, though much time would only tell. Many replied, mostly women, in agreement. So, a figurative dance with women…with my tambourine of caution, not of celebration.”

That caution carried through into my contemplative camera walk. A series of images of thresholds. This one. These words. Outer world amplified by the inner life revealed.

A well worn path abruptly ends
opening onto an expanse of space and sky.
Trees, like sentinels, guard against distraction.
Gravel now becomes greening fairway,
dry gold patches reveal winter’s hardship.

An urban golf course, my off season nature walk and refuge
whose birdsong and cloudscapes invite
my reverie and prayer.

But today this medicine must give way to golfers,
who, like so many, have bemoaned
a long winter, a late spring, a country-wide lock-down.

Too much, too fast, too soon my province’s plans for 
a re-opened economy, 
to say nothing about we the people, the citizens, the communities, the society.
Prevalent paradigms persist
that what’s good for one is
de facto
good for the other, 
without naming me, asking us.

Threshold crossed to
get on with it,
get it over,
get it right.

But have we learned? What?
Will we remember? How?
Will we get it right?