Cracks Festival

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The first Cracks Festival is just a few days away.  Helping to plan and organize it has been a 14 month journey of creativity, inspiration, and nail-biting stress.  But that’s all over now; now the fun begins.

Its hard to believe that a casual conversation in a church hallway last year has turned into this one-of-a-kind event.  It is going to be an amazing weekend.  If you haven’t got your tickets, HURRY UP!

Check out the concerts and the workshops and the worship, then buy your tickets here.

Don’t miss it!  It really  is going to be great.

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The Soul’s Language: Creative Writing as a Spiritual Practice

“I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.”

Anna Quindlen

Everyone is looking for something: security, adventure, peace, excitement, wisdom, love. We look all around us for the things we need. We look to nature, to people, to technology, to art, to God. But some things we cannot find outside of ourselves, no matter how hard we look. There are some questions that can only be answered from within. Most of us know this, instinctively, but we don’t know how to do it. How, exactly, do we turn and look within ourselves for the answers we cannot find in the world around us?

Anna Quindlen, and most every other author, might say, “by writing.”

Writing – thoughtfully, creatively – is one of the great spiritual disciplines, often overlooked because it has become so common-place and is used for so many other, less profound, purposes. So, please join us as we reclaim creative writing as a spiritual practice. Faith and Arts Ottawa is about to offer a four-week creative writing workshop, open to anyone who is interested in exploring how writing can be a path to connecting to the sacred within. Here are the details.

THE SOUL’S LANGUAGE: CREATIVE WRITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

WHY: Our lives are so stressful and full of activity that little time remains to connect with the voice of creativity within (our essence). Spiritual practices free up our internal voice so that our lives become more grounded and centred.

WHAT: The practice of creative writing (including poetry) can reveal our fullest capacities of heart and mind. This four-week workshop explores a variety of activities for accessing your most intimate and unobstructed voice. It is open to anyone who would like to explore writing/poetry as a path to connecting with the sacred within.

WHEN: Four Thursdays, 7:00 – 9:00 pm, November 15 – December 6, 2012.

WHERE: Southminster United Church, 15 Aylmer Avenue (Bank and Aylmer) in Room 5.

Registration fee is $50.00 for the series (or sliding scale). To inquire or register: info@faithandartsottawa.org or http://www.faithandartsottawa.org.

Here’s a link to a poster with more information: Creative Writing as a Spiritual Practice

“L’estran”

Only a few were able to come to our contemplative photography event on the shores of the Ottawa River, such is the nature of our busy lives.  But many (perhaps most?) of us have powerful memories of walking along a shoreline and being moved to think about the larger questions of life.

David Lee wasn’t able to attend the event, but he shared the following poem with me and has graciously given permission for me to post it.  Thanks David!

Here is David’s introduction to the poem:

In summer 2008 my wife and I did a 400 km ‘pilgrim walk’ along the St. Lawrence River south shore below Quebec City, similar to our previous ‘Camino’ pilgrimage across northern Spain. This is a beautiful and historic region, deeply rooted in francophone language and culture. I found myself enthralled by the coastline including ‘l’estran’, the strand–the area along the shoreline which disappears at high tide but is fully visible at low tide. It raised questions as to what really exists, and evoked images of the high and low tides of our lives. The result was the following.

(L’estran : n. m.  Terrain entre la marrée haute et la marrée basse.  Métaphorique : endroit qui n’existe qu’une partie du temps, ou qui—partiellement ou entièrement—n’existe point une partie du temps.)

L’Estran
L’estran se révèle petit à petit
Comme le sourire de ma belle
Quand l’amour se dessine
Sur son visage révélateur.
Et voilà : l’espace libérée
De ses contraintes liquides,
Les poissons disparaissent
Les andouilles sinueuses aussi.
Mais, dans la lumière croissante
D’un soleil prometteur
Les crustacées s’étendent et réchauffent
Et les pierres-joyaux flattent les yeux.
C’est le printemps qui s’ouvre
Devant nous, comme dans un théâtre
Quand le rideau se lève
Et tout est possible, tout est à croire.
L’eau descend toujours, créant ainsi
Un nouveau monde, un monde à nous,
Domaine à merveilles, domaine d’espoir,
L’île s’approche. Peut-on s’y rendre?
Dans l’été de la marrée nous avançons forts
Toujours main dans la main, l’eau montant
Inaperçue sur les hanches.  L’île nous invite —
Vierge, mystérieuse.   Insaisissable?
Persévérer?  Ou renoncer?  Les buts,
Les idéaux de cette saison dans la vie
Sont-ils aussi vains
Que des papillons vacanciers?
L’eau monte.  Nous hésitons.  L’île
Nous accoste toujours, sa mine théâtrale
Nous offrant aperçus alléchants
De secrets ne dédiés qu’à nous.
Mais, voyons donc, l’automne a ses
Gloires – belles, même spectaculaires
Quand la marrée, envahissante,
Surmonte les derniers rochers en flèche,
Nous accaparant, nous ravissant, et apportant
Dans ses bagages des aquarelles, des aiglefins,
Qui, fluviaux donc jadis chassés,
Sont maintenant de retour en force!
Glissants, mouillés, les sourires graves mais satisfaits,
Têtes hivernales, mains entrelacées,
Leur remontée se joigne au retour de l’eau :
L’estran de la vie se ferme.

Exploring God Through Poetry – Again!

Rideau Park United Church – Tuesday, July 10th, 7 p.m. – 9 .m.

A few weeks ago 17 of us: men and women, young and old, gathered at Glebe-St. James United Church to have a conversation about poetry and God.  It was a wonderful evening, with lots of insightful and thought-provoking comments.  We’re thrilled that Daniel has agreed to lead another evening of reading and conversation, this time at Rideau Park United Church (1103 Alta Vista Drive, at the corner of Alta Vista and Cunningham).  Everyone welcome, no previous experience with poetry needed!

Daniel wrote an introduction for the first workshop, here is it …

What, exactly, does a poet do? Does she do anything, or is it rather that something happens to her? In what sense is she in control?

One of the very few arguments that I had with my roommate in first year university revolved around this question. He was a poet. I was not. He insisted that the best poetry could not be controlled or thought out – it was something that happened to you. That made me uncomfortable. I like to analyze things. I liked the definition of poetry as “the right word in the right place”. The perfect poem is a triumph of order – an extraordinary piece of thinking on the part of a master word-smith.

The wonderful thing about poetry is that both of us are right. For every great poem that has been edited 800 times, there is an equally great poem that was written in a drug-induced blur of feeling. For every sonnet that conforms perfectly to a complex and rational pattern, there is a post-modern poem that conforms to no pattern at all. Sometimes, the poet really is a word-smith, tinkering and toiling until the poem is exactly right. Other times, she is a medium, barely even touching the ideas as they flow off of her pen.

Neither of these experiences is limited to poetry. For me, the most obvious metaphor is sports. Sometimes I’m barely even involved. Instead, I’m “in the zone,” reacting to the game before I have time to even think about it. Other times, I’m practicing – trying to train my un-thinking body how to shoot a basket-ball in the smartest way possible. Sometimes I control my body. Sometimes my body controls me.

There is a lot to be said about this dichotomy – about the way that words sometimes enclose meaning, and you like a writer because it makes you feel like you understand exactly what he is saying. And sometimes meaning explodes out of words, and you like it because it makes you feel like you’ll never know what he means. About how sometimes music makes you think about your life, and sometimes it makes you forget about it. Living life is an exercise in being pulled into and out of things. There is the feeling of control, of knowing and succeeding and resting; and there is the feeling of a lack of control, of failing and trying and learning.

God, it seems to me, is in both of these feelings. God made a world that we could understand, a world that we could succeed in. But he also made a world in which we fail, in which we never get to stop trying.

 

An Invitation to Think about God and Poetry

Exploring God through Poetry – Glebe St. James United Church. Wednesday, May 30, 7-9.

What, exactly, does a poet do? Does she do anything, or is it rather that something happens to her? In what sense is she in control?

One of the very few arguments that I had with my roommate in first year university revolved around this question. He was a poet. I was not. He insisted that the best poetry could not be controlled or thought out – it was something that happened to you. That made me uncomfortable. I like to analyze things. I liked the definition of poetry as “the right word in the right place”. The perfect poem is a triumph of order – an extraordinary piece of thinking on the part of a master word-smith.

The wonderful thing about poetry is that both of us are right. For every great poem that has been edited 800 times, there is an equally great poem that was written in a drug-induced blur of feeling. For every sonnet that conforms perfectly to a complex and rational pattern, there is a post-modern poem that conforms to no pattern at all. Sometimes, the poet really is a word-smith, tinkering and toiling until the poem is exactly right. Other times, she is a medium, barely even touching the ideas as they flow off of her pen.

Neither of these experiences is limited to poetry. For me, the most obvious metaphor is sports. Sometimes I’m barely even involved. Instead, I’m “in the zone,” reacting to the game before I have time to even think about it. Other times, I’m practicing – trying to train my un-thinking body how to shoot a basket-ball in the smartest way possible. Sometimes I control my body. Sometimes my body controls me.

There is a lot to be said about this dichotomy – about the way that words sometimes enclose meaning, and you like a writer because it makes you feel like you understand exactly what he is saying. And sometimes meaning explodes out of words, and you like it because it makes you feel like you’ll never know what he means. About how sometimes music makes you think about your life, and sometimes it makes you forget about it. Living life is an exercise in being pulled into and out of things. There is the feeling of control, of knowing and succeeding and resting; and there is the feeling of a lack of control, of failing and trying and learning.

God, it seems to me, is in both of these feelings. God made a world that we could understand, a world that we could succeed in. But he also made a world in which we fail, in which we never get to stop trying. The first poem that I want to look at on Wednesday, “Christus Paradox,” makes this point beautifully. It’s not that God is a warrior, nor that he is a peacemaker, but that he is both. Activity and rest. Everlasting instant.

I’m not sure where we will go from there. Rilke’s “Autumn” focuses on an image of God as a stabilizer in the midst of a tumultuous and disordered modern world. The poem “God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box” by the Sufi mystic Rumi shows how God is in all the little things – and beyond them. Wordsworth’s Prelude focuses on the paradox I have tried to bring out here, and (I would, somewhat controversially, argue) presents a vision of God as precisely that miraculous thing which holds both sides together.

Below I’ve linked to those four poems. I invite all of you to attend the event “Exploring God through Poetry” which I am leading at this Wednesday, May 30 at Glebe St. James United Church from 7 pm until 9 pm. My hope is that the event will be casual – I will briefly present my thoughts on each of the poems, and then moderate a free-flowing discussion. We might cover all four of the poems I list here, or only two or three, or maybe one or two that I haven’t mentioned. We might develop the themes I’ve outlined in this post, or we might go in entirely different directions.

I encourage you all to use this blog as a forum for discussing both the poems and the issues they raise. Please feel free to post your thoughts both before the event, to get the juices flowing, and especially after the event. It is almost impossible for everyone to share every insight they have in the course of a two-hour workshop. Rather than letting those insights go unexpressed, I encourage you to continue the conversation by posting them here.

Daniel Sherwin (Son of David)

Christus Paradox

You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd.
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and swordbringer
Of the way you took and gave.
You the everlasting instant;
You, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain,
Stripped of might upon the cross,
Shining in eternal glory,
Beggar’d by a soldier’s toss,
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us,
Sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
Have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and vict’ry.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
You, who are our death and life.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
You, who are our death and our life.

Sylvia Dunstan (1955-1993) graduated from Emmanuel College, University of Toronto, in 1980. She served as a United Church minister and women’s prison chaplain. She was working an a metrical Psalter when she died at age 38 of cancer.

Autumn by Rilke:  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/autumn/

Unmarked Boxes by Rumi

God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flower bed.
As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open

Poetry Workshop – May 30, 2012

Exploring God through Poetry

Wednesday, May 30th, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m

Glebe-St. James United Church

650 Lyon Street, Ottawa

This workshop is about the ways in which our relationship to God can be enhanced by reading and reflecting upon poetry. Daniel Sherwin will lead us in a careful reading of three or four poems which present distinct ideas about God’s relationship to humanity. Specifically intended for people who do not usually read poetry, but expert poets are very much welcome!

For more information, contact Faith and Arts Ottawa at info@faithandartsottawa.org, or (613) 883-4757.