Friday, December 19, 2014

light inside the darkness

a blessing

May the blessing of light be on you,
light without and light within
and light inside the darkness within.
May the blessed sunlight shine upon you
and warm your heart till it glows,
like a great peat fire, so that strangers may come
and warm themselves; and that friends may come.
And may the light shine out of the eyes of you,
like a candle set in the windows of a house,
bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.
And may the blessing of the rain be on you—
the soft, sweet rain.
May it fall upon your spirit so that the seedlings of light
in your shadow may spring up,
and shed their sweetness on the air.
And may the blessing of the great rains be on you,
that they beat upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean,
and leave there many a shining pool,
and sometimes a star.
And may the blessing for the earth be on you—
the great round earth
who carries all; the great round earth
whose suffering has already become radiant.
May you ever have a kindly greeting for people
you pass as you are going along the roads.
And now may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly,
your kin and all creatures.


- adapted from a Scottish prayer by Robert Jonas, in Knitting into the Mystery
For a generally secular soul, I do seem to be attracted to blessings and prayers. I thought this one was worth noting for its appearance in the the book, Knitting into the Mystery.

I know many readers of CT are also knitters, and have probably thought about the contemplative aspect of it. The lilt and the rhythm and the repetition of knitting - these are also poetic qualities. I think I'm partly attracted to the rhythm of poems that happen to be blessings. 

What I've been thinking about this week a fair bit: introversion. Naturally, at this time of year articles on the topic will pop up here and there. I read "An Introvert's Guide to Surviving the Holidays," noting that it's written pseudonymously. I suppose introverts still risk offending extroverts.....

It's complicated being an introvert and I have to admit, I generally dislike articles explaining introverts as if the state of introversion is some big mysterious thing. I know many who have read and admired Susan Cain's book, Quiet. I haven't been able to bring myself to read it. I feel like I spend a lot of time living and navigating introversion and I don't need more. Her manifesto might be helpful for some though.

If all else fails, there's always wine.

Just kidding. Sort of. My advice for introverts this holiday season? Say no when you need to, lie if you have to. Don't feel guilty. Pick and choose. Read poetry. Knit. Write poetry. Paint a picture, or draw. Make something. Listen to music - just that - don't do anything but listen. Enjoy all the people. Leave early. Find a way to clear your mind afterwards. Watch a movie or read a previously read novel. (Jane Austen usually saves me at this time of year).  

What have I missed?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

a juicy bit of praying

Praying the Sunset Prayer

by Jacob Glatstein
Translated by Ruth Whitman

I'll let you in on a secret
about how one should pray the sunset prayer.
It's a juicy bit of praying,
like strolling on grass,
nobody's chasing you, nobody hurries you.
You walk toward your Creator
with gifts in pure, empty hands.
The words are golden
their meaning is transparent,
it's as though you're saying them
for the first time.

If you don't catch on
that you should feel a little elevated,
you're not praying the sunset prayer.
The tune is sheer simplicity,
you're just lending a helping hand
to the sinking day.
It's a heavy responsibility.
You take a created day
and you slip it
into the archive of life,
where all our lived-out days are lying together.

The day is departing with a quiet kiss.
It lies open at your feet
while you stand saying the blessings.
You can't create anything yourself, but you
can lead the day to its end and see
clearly the smile of its going down.

See how whole it all is,
not diminished for a second,
how you age with the days
that keep dawning,
how you bring your lived-out day
as a gift to eternity.

Driving home from work a couple of nights ago, I thought to turn on CKUA and listen to Bob Chelmick's show, The Road Home. Often I'm driving my co-worker home and we end up talking away. But this time I was alone, and Bob (you can't listen to the show and not feel like you're on a first name basis) presented the above poem. Perfect for the drive home, which is of course the point. 

At 9 pm the sun has long gone down. The sun sets here at about 4:15 right now! And so these photos are actually a little after sunrise. The low winter sun coming through the trees in the next neighbourhood from where I live. 

In winter, day arrives, also, with a quiet kiss. Your morning prayer will be juicy, too, as you open up the archive of your day, and wonder what will be lived. All day long you will receive gifts. Watch for them, smile at them. Be ready. Receive. 

Some bits and bobs:

Yesterday was the weekly posting of the Humans of EPL project I'm involved with at work. Please check it out, and 'like' it if you're on Facebook :)

Also, check out this rather beautiful mention of Asking on John Delacourt's blog.

Lastly, it's starting to seem real: my novel is coming out in 2015. Palimpsest Press, my publisher, has announced it in their latest newsletter.

I'm sure that's more than enough bragging for one day.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

winter kindness


by Stephen Dunn

In Manhattan, I learned a public kindness
was a triumph
over the push of money, the constrictions

of fear. If it occurred it came
from some deep
primal memory, almost entirely lost—

Here, let me help you, then you me,
otherwise we’ll die.
Which is why I love the weather

in Minnesota, every winter kindness
to obvious self-interest,

thus so many kindnesses
when you need them;
praise blizzards, praise the cold.

{source} once again thanks to the wonderful Writer's Almanac.

Dunn's poetry is well worth looking for, and I can also recommend his book of essays, Walking Light. It's long been on my book shelf.

From an interview Dunn gave some years ago:

"You need to let your poems get away from you a little so that they may find themselves."

Well, let's praise the cold, along with Stephen Dunn. At the core of the poem, the idea that if we help each other, we won't die, is something I love. Winter pares down the act of kindness. In a larger sense, it's the kind act that keep us all from dying in those myriad ways it's possible to die and go on living.

It's hard to believe that there are months left of winter. So far, there are plenty of berries left on the trees for the birds.

It's amazing to me that there are still leaves holding their colour on certain trees.

The way these leaves hold on so tenaciously, right through to the end, fills me with admiration.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

a sure winter

Winter Trees

by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

There's something so powerful and silent about winter trees. Yesterday, I walked on slippery sidewalks to the little forest in the next neighbourhood. It calls to me from time to time. Regular readers of CT will recognize the tree above. The tree I can never quite capture properly, to my satisfaction. I actually like the above photograph, even if it's not, you know, quite. I do like the juxtaposition of the 'city' tree, against the wild, leftover, country trees. There are a few city trees in that area, and workers had recently groomed them, and so there's more flotsam on the ground than usual. This tree of mine so splendid, as it stands alone, before its audience. Pretending to be wise before the wild ones.

The usual bird. Whose attiring and disattiring is also complicated. Taken yesterday, no snow, slight frost. A strange and unexpected winter freedom.

You set yourself tasks in life and in art, and the thing is to see them through, no matter how trivial they might seem to others. The important thing is to persist.

Below is a screen shot of the set of my recurring bird photos. I'm not sure of the 'why' of such a project, only that it reminds me to persist, to continue in whatever season, whatever weather. It reminds me of ebb and flow. That things will swing around again. That light comes, always, if you wait. Quietly, quietly. Thought at times your wings will feel like breaking from the weight of snow, brittle in the cold.

Monday, December 15, 2014

get close to the things

Love for Other Things

by Tom Hennen

It’s easy to love a deer
But try to care about bugs and scrawny trees
Love the puddle of lukewarm water
From last week’s rain.
Leave the mountains alone for now.
Also the clear lakes surrounded by pines.
People are lined up to admire them.
Get close to the things that slide away in the dark.
Be grateful even for the boredom
That sometimes seems to involve the whole world.
Think of the frost
That will crack our bones eventually.


So yesterday - the discovery of a new poet, Tom Hennen, thanks to the Writer's Almanac.

As it so happens, I've been working on loving what's difficult to love. The crusty snow and the slippery sidewalks. The midwinter melting of snow which leads to uncertain footing, unevenness on the path. The days when the sky is dark or grey. It was such a drab week, last week, I only took my camera out a couple of times. And this particular day, I'm not even sure why I took it.

The low grey sky was oppressive. The ice was tricky enough to walk on without having to think about taking photographs.

But then this pretty cloud appeared above it all.

"Get close to the things that slide away in the dark," says Hennen, and this cloud did slide away.

I walked toward it and photographed it as it moved, changed, slowly. Then I stood and watched it, standing by the fence in deeper snow. It was not at all difficult to love, but then it was gone.

Friday, December 12, 2014

one winter day

One winter day
something will shine out
from an everyday object
and the darkness will flood with light.
Something we have seen
a thousand times
suddenly becomes
the sentinel of
another world.
- Marv and Nancy Hiles


Apparently I took many photographs on the frost day. It's been melting steadily since, which feels strange for December. Spring-like.

"Bliss - a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious - lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you've never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom."

- David Foster Wallace

Looking for bliss in the boredom. In the sameness of life, the sameness of the paths I walk. The world now, drained of colour as it is, also seems rather alive with colour. We're seeing the soft pinks on the horizon, the thin orange glow, the blue shadows in snow. We're looking at things we've seen a thousand times. Trying to remember the 'instant bliss in every atom.'

Thursday, December 11, 2014

daylight, warmth, silence

"It has seemed to me for some time that beauty, as a conscious element of experience, as a thing to be valued and explored, has gone into abeyance among us. I do not by any means wish to suggest that we suffer from any shortage of beauty, which seems to me intrinsic to experience, everywhere to be found. The pitch of a voice, the gesture of a hand, can be very beautiful. I need hardly speak of daylight, warmth, silence."

- Marilynne Robinson

It seems Brainpickings has sold me on yet another book. This time, it's The World Split Open, an anthology of lectures, and you can read from Robinson's essay on the site and follow the links for the book there. 

"It is the nature of grace to fill the places that have been empty."

- Goethe

It's true that there's no shortage of beauty. Readers of this blog know my refrain well. Some days it's easier to see than others is the thing, depending on one's state of mind. Our ability to see beauty depends on how busy we are, how worried, how open, how at peace we are.

Looking at the world, I'm pulled out of myself, away. I slow down, my breathing slows.

Frost is such a beautiful occurrence. Nature's highlighter - it says, this line is important, this gesture. Look here, first.

We feel we must keep up on world politics, the local news. We should know what's happening in the world, we should know the numbers and understand the backroom deals. But this is news, too:

There was frost on December 8th. The weeds were glorious. As were the rose hedges in the suburbs near the highway.

Lastly, a heartfelt thanks to those of you who had the time yesterday to read through my essay (link above), Transactions with Beauty, and took the time to comment. Most appreciated.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

transactions with beauty

Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
with beauty.
 - Rumi
This is going to be a rather quiet post today. I'm going to point you to the essay that I've added as a page to this blog, which you can see above and read anytime. It's titled, Transactions with Beauty, which is taken from the Rumi poem Would love to hear your thoughts on it. 

As well, I've been thinking about one of my usual topics, and thought I'd share this video from The School of Life, titled, Calm.

Wishing you a calm and lovely Wednesday.  

~ Shawna