se contenter de très peu:
Voilà bien le secret
qui ne soit ni naïf ni illusoire.”
~ frère Pierre-Yves, de Taizé, Le Souffle de l’Espérance
A welcome from Brother Elias!
"Oh my soul
Sometimes we don't know what to do
We work so hard
Being tough on our own
But now it's me and you
Let's give it up
'Cause we all fall on hard times
But you don't have to stand up all alone
Just put your hand in mine."
~ Shawn Colvin, Climb On a Back That's Strong
“Try to remember
that to some extent
you’re just the typist.
A good typist listens.”
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
A surprising and splendid acknowledgment has come my way, and I am very grateful. For my part, blogging grew out of journaling, and for the past 3 years has paralleled my daily handwritten journals. For years, I’ve been maintaining a kind of tandem journal: fleeting thoughts jotted in pocketable notebooks in pencil, and larger tomes for developing thoughts as time permits in ink. Carnets and cahiers. The nickname for the little penciled jottings has been my “life in graphite,” La Vie Graphite. The words and themes- even the tools I am fortunate to use- are open-ended means. The real subject is this life’s voyage, the pilgrimage of trust.
The award requires that I post a presentation- and very happily involves a celebration of other writers whose work I respect. The presenter of my award is the esteemed Olivander, author of Collapsing World. And here is the Kreativ Bloggers award:
I am very pleased now to present this award to 7 creative bloggers.
First, here are the rules for the recipients:
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo (above) and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. List 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting. (see below)
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.
And here are the winning blogs:
To all of you: Congratulations!
Bon Courage et Bonne Écriture!
Finally, 7 random things:
1. I commute to work with the bicycle I’ve had since I was 16.
2. My career in the visual arts began when as an 8 year old I saw the Chagall production of The Magic Flute at the Met.
3. I taught Benedictine monks to sing in Hebrew.
4. On formal occasions I wear real bow ties.
5. I have been published as a photographer, an illustrator, a historian, a book conservator, and a philosopher.
6. My first language is French.
7. My favorite food in the world is steamed and spiced kasha.
come softly down,
and touch the land I know.
come softly down,
and touch the land below.
is in my eyes
and in the places I knew
If a light can carry freedom,
let it shine on you.”
~ Frieda Morrison, Northern Light
As days are replete with images, words, and ideas, so are they textured. A recent journey to a nearby island brought to mind some of the dazzling textures in my midst. The view from the ocean presents a context of water, sky, and land in unity. Within these grand worlds are countless elements. Gazing from the boat, after having collected some thoughts about fragments and edges, textures began to surprise my attention. The ocean has constantly shifting characteristics. And these contours, these palpable experiences, like ideas and words, become reference points.
Tactile qualities are essences, and with this in mind it is easy to see the common root of the words texture and text. The Latin textus refers to cloth fabric- material comprising many intermingled threads into one gathering. In the textura of the broader journey are reminders and memories of essences. The sea air itself has a thick, salted, and chilled consistency; gusts of the airborne ocean. In turn, the rugged terrain encompasses numerous textured patterns. Observing sands and tides brings to mind the grander entirety within which I am a very small component. Considering the miraculously and mysteriously appointed order to the universe is a humbling assurance to me.
Being attuned to texture indicates awakened spirit. When I notice my appreciation of aspects often overlooked, there follows a welcome reminder to cultivate ways to perceive on many levels. Comprehending subtleties, essences, and beauty encourages by steps along this unpredictable voyage. Some shells and glass fragments, rounded my incessant tides, sit upon my desk as reminders of how the forces of creation can transform surface textures. It is the same Spirit that exalts valleys and makes rough places smooth.
Transitory chapters, liminal spaces along the way, cause the soul to be acutely aware of immediate textures. Whenever I have ventured out to the unknown, my senses have been noticeably attuned to surface and scent. The cool, ink black air of thick forests at night. The fearful, as well as the peaceful, has texture: it’s when we unavoidably sense our heartbeat. Freshened school buildings, with glossed floors and anesthetized halls that somehow enhanced our echoing steps and voices. My grandmother’s potato pancakes- coarse, then buttery, then spicy. A heartfelt Mass, after which I stepped from the cavernous cathedral, out through a frozen Montreal night, and down into the crowded subway filled with faces for whom I sensed a deep affinity. Standing in that crowded train became a prayer for all present, with the aftertaste of bread in my mouth.
Texture is woven into the pages of memory’s tomes. Just as there are immortal words meant specifically for an individual’s heart, there are indeed textures that we can each uniquely comprehend. Stored memories of essences remain with me as both reminders- and even as consolations. Curiously enough, in response to institutional eliminations of books, popular outcries cite the attributes of tangible volumes. We animate all that books comprise, with our imaginations and movements, and can hold them close to heart.
Compare fast food, and its consumption, with a savory meal- even a simple one- with aromas and strata of tastes. Memorable dining has always been an experience of ambience and spice; a totality of texture. My recollection of a deeply-appreciated dinner, after a hot day of wearily walking Burgundian roads, is ever colorful with the garnishes, sauces, porcelain plates, and paper lanterns of the outdoor tavern. I was on my dusty way to Taizé, and, knowing that, the waiter gave me an extra glass of wine. Within the textus of the moment there emerged the sounds of the environment beneath a night sky in eastern France.
Pilgrimages and daily routines alike provide chances to gather. And the collecting varies from artifacts and addresses, to words and experiences. The ancient emblem of pilgrimage is the scallop shell, and I never remove mine from my backpack. The shells reflect roads, skies, lightness, and friendship back to me. A few of the smaller shells were tied in place by children wishing me well on my way. Such treasured tastes abide, and descriptive words seem insufficient. Similarly, there are only so many expressions to attempt to give an accurate sense of the millions of steps in a life’s pilgrimage. Rather than to tire myself by trying to describe infinity, there are more intimate and intricate ingredients to meet my finite understanding. Beginning with shells- and the very lines I inscribe in my notebook situated on my oak table.
“Who would dare to go nameless
in so secure a universe?
Yet, to tell the truth,
only the nameless are at home in it.”
~ Thomas Merton, The Fall
Edges and ledges ceaselessly captivate. Writing these words, I am aperch near the ocean. To consider a vantage point as a perch bespeaks a fascination with precipices. Edges take many forms- and formless aspects, as well. Changes of surface and texture are seen, sensed- even tasted. And when a corner is turned, revealing a new landscape, from within come reminders in our own language of our transition. The soul’s geography surely has a gazetteer, with words either preceding, paralleling, or following human steps. An edge indicates where events connect, and how one person’s sphere must be overlapped by a much more universal fulness. Turning an edge, in itself, has an extraordinarily intrinsic energy; striking a match to light a candle brings this to mind. Edges can be sparks, instances, and even margins of space between symphonic movements that anticipate a change of timing. Drawing a line on a piece of paper, threading lines and letters, brings an idea across an edge. Observing a photographic image materializing in developer, even for the millionth time, never loses that mysterious amber-bathed sense of threshold.
An edge can be felt as well as seen, and aspects of place are both material and spiritual. Visiting a physical marker is as tangible as recollecting a thought. The moment of transporting insight is itself an edge. But these less-visible edges are for me to recognize, and although not easily delineated these are indeed indelibly felt. An interior edge can be recognized as surely as a road’s sharp turn. But there are many grades of hard and soft edges, often keeping it a mystery to know when one has actually embarked into the unknown. Thankfully so: I am grateful for the unobstructive unknowing.
Even the self has the aspect of edge. But rather than to venture out to the generic sense, I’ll speak for myself. There are perimeters of knowing still to be found. A lifetime of discovery won’t be enough. But it seems the profounder comprehension begins at the ends of self. The plural makes more sense to me, as I believe the self has many ends. These edges seem more to me as perforations, ready to be torn away. Ancient monastic thought pointed the aspiring individual to “lose themselves” in Christ, and to desire a kind of edgeless life of immersion. Thinking of this causes me to wonder where and if self-distinction can dissolve, in this culture of endurance and survival. What are the distinctions worth preserving? Thomas Merton’s many definitions of the “false self” revolved around the rejection of immersion into the divine. Moving beyond all-costs striving to self-immortalize, to traverse the ends of self-ness. It is reminiscent of the rabbinic sages’ image of diving into the “ocean of divinity,” and to cease focusing exclusively on oneself. Merton wrote of his struggles to get out of his own way, and that reminds me of releasing the results for which I irrationally hunger.
Last week, I brought a couple of close friends to the Weston Priory for their first visit. What a rare privilege, to guide loved ones through a place that means so much to me. And to listen to their first impressions. The monastery is a simple array of barns and wooden structures, blended into the mountain landscape of the monks’ environment in central Vermont. Simply arriving there is the beginning of an unburdening- and untethering from material anchors. Even after 15 years of sojourning there, it continues to impress me to realize how little is needed to live to the full.
With my friends exploring the pine-scented terrain, I found a perch of my own. The familiarly medicinal silence returned consolingly to me. As if I needed to ascend a mountain to find what should be with me in the city- and always. Then I began to notice edges: sloped meadows and untamed fields, the brothers’ plain structures angling into the trees, the rotation of silence and sound, the earth and sky. Even the latter presented a soft edge amidst thick mountain fog. Where one edge ends, another begins. I hadn’t been to the Priory since the winter, and wanted to visit Brother Philip’s grave. What I found was unexpected- considering how previously the community used individual grave markers. Upon the occasion of Brother Philip’s passing, the brothers created a group gravestone, with each of their names and respective dates of their monastic professions- all engraved next to their brother’s “completed” inscription. It was at first astonishing, then it seemed a bit morbid to me. But then I realized how very deeply affectionate this gesture is- not just for the brothers, but for anyone else reading the memorial. The community of brothers communally felt their own lives’ edges.
Part of the fascination with edges is to contemplate their very definitions. An inadvertent tendency of mine is to leave objects too close to edges of surfaces. Then when I knock them over, I berate my own clumsiness. When I’m a little more present to the moment, I notice myself pushing things like coffee cups and cameras closer to the centers of tables and shelves. Today, my thoughts turn to what lessons are in ledges. Looking toward the layers of crags and ocean waves causes me to wonder about what is forming, what is on the verge, and what might be burgeoning. Obviously, over the edge is some kind of risk. Beyond spiritual edges is the unexpected, and the invitation to confront what has intimidated me. The wish to see around corners is the desire for knowledge, the spirit of inquiry. Ends of terrain at my feet are meeting the enwrapping arms of the ocean. Horizons and margins only appear to me as edges, but these are simply directions. Even the sunlight lands at a changing edge. The season at this threshold is at once timeless and new.