The practicality of metaphor


July, 2014, I buy several books of poetry in a Belfast booksmith, including “Selected Poems” by Belfast’s son John Hewitt. I pack the book into my luggage and take it with me on the next leg of my journey; a pilgrimage of sorts, a homecoming, and a mysterious gathering of strangers walking and tale telling and music-man healing and Guinness tasting, in Kilkeel and Cultra. The book remains packed for several days.

July 10, 2014, and I cozy in to a little Kilkeel cottage with my fellow pilgrims. I take note of the country walls about us, invisible lines of heft and pull and balance, boulders gathered from the fields and lifted into place, and the walls find their way into my psyche.

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Sunday July 13, 2014, we begin a time of silence and solitude, from 1 pm until the following day at 11:30 am. We are asked to choose a slip of paper or two with words ‘that serve.’ I choose a Thomas Merton quote, then find myself seeking out the Hewitt book of poetry and a phrase that sticks;

I am the green branch asking for the flower

John Hewitt, ‘The Green Shoot’

I take a walk, chewing on the words, repeating them over and over in my head. I walk along the county roads, bounded by country walls. Again the walls. I look. I listen. I return after a couple of hours and write;

The walls, always the walls, my eyes drawn equally to the spaces as much as to the weight of boulders. At first I think it is the wind they must build for, a feat of engineering with revelation built in. If they build and leave room enough for the wind to pass through, the walls will stand forever. But the more I look, the less I see of stone and more evidence of green invasion, seed and wayward bits of bracken carried by wind or wild beast finding cracks and crevices rich with possibility to root in, find purchase. And so a transformation takes place in the spaces, created hollow where light and rain and soil collect. The wall does what the wall does…encloses, defines, stands firm with unquestioned ownership. But is is also a catchment for transformative work, where green shoots take root and thrive, become saplings, become trees, where ferns and grasses fill margins, where moss softens hard surfaces and wild vines climb, and poke through. And slowly, the stones, displaced from the field and placed by hand, become unified by green…and then, small creatures build their homes, raise young, trust in the shelter of the green mass that is slowly enveloped by the earth.

I am the green shoot asking for the flower

I am the green shoot asking

I am the green

I am…

This line of this poem in this place for me becomes a prayer as I consider my life and my ask for the flower and a feeling that change is coming through the angst and doubt and struggle I find myself in. I believe in my purpose. I believe I ask God and he hears me. So many of the things I previously held true are dropping away, and yet the truth that I exist and I ask and God hears and gives good gifts remains. This God is close up. This is a new way of being. Can I dare ask this…yes, I can.

I am the green shooting asking for the flower

I chew on this for the entire time of solitude. I write and write and write. I cry. I sleep. I wake and write again. I have other encounters that impact my spirit in a deep way. I return to Kelowna. I live my life differently than before I left. I make difficult decisions. I withdraw from church. I have written of this before. The journey before Northern Ireland, and after.

TODAY: Thursday, May 26, 2016 I recall the line of the poem, almost two years past, and so much since then. The metaphor of the walls still speaks, but I return to this other metaphor of the green shoot and…suddenly I see flowers…maybe not the flower but maybe, just maybe there are more than just one?

How audacious flowers are, how heady and lovely and unnecessarily necessary to the life of the plant, or not? Why else do we green so, why else does the sap flow, if not to some glorious showing of what is happening in us, and the possibility that the flower comes before the fruit. I don’t know what it all means, but I know some things…

like this…

My part of messy belonging within the Metro Community, the gift of bearing witness and holding space for the beautiful broken ones on the streets and how they are just like me, has become vital and fragrant to me, like a flower

and like this…

a community awards nomination has been gifted to me, unexpectedly, and with humility and surprise I see it is also a flower, whether I win or not, I am opening to this possibility that who I am is who I am supposed to be

and like this…

that while there is so much I can no longer say for certain, and while some of my theology is deconstructed or rebuilt or may be forever lacking structure, I only need look at the glory of the natural world and all God’s creatures and at this incredible life I get to live, and my heart bursts open like a flower, the fragrance of gratitude

Back to the wall…and I have to wonder what it is about the wall that matters now, aside from the perspective of the green shoot and the flowering, I mean? And why must it mean anything at all, rather it is helpful for me to find meaning. I do think there is something to be considered in this wall, still something in the placement of the stones and the spaces, and still there is something about the shoots rooting in the spaces, finding a nurturing spot to grow and yes, to bloom.

What is the stone wall? I don’t know. Perhaps my core belief in God, or a foundational structure that is required to root in and cling to? Perhaps. Or the idea of inert stony places in our lives coming alive, assimilated into an ecology of plants and creatures and all living things connected when there is room enough to believe it so? I don’t know. I leave that to you to consider.

Many years ago my then very young son Malcolm told me there were messages in the winter trees that God wanted him to hear. What a gift that he knew that then.

And so, I wonder…

Lesley-Anne

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Of Bugs and Bones ~ Part 1


English: color isolation photograph of Patty a...

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What I’m about to say will polarize. There may be those who immediately write me off, label me fanciful, delusional. And there may be those who allow within my tale, a tiny inkling of the possibility of truth, because they have experienced something similar in their own lives. I share my story anyway because is what my spiritual journey looks like. It’s complicated. It doesn’t always make sense.

I’ve longed for the audible voice of God, like Bible giants Moses and Abraham heard, but for me that’s never happened. I read The Book, not as often as I might do. I listen to wise ones teach on The Way/Truth/Life. I pray, somewhat hesitantly. But to hear God’s audible voice, not yet. Instead, I’ve had thoughts come to mind, found my attention drawn to seemingly inconsequential things I couldn’t ignore. The experiences I’m about to share are examples of this way of finding God. Bugs and bones and the natural world have opened up spiritual pathways to the divine. In the fullness of the glory of the earth, I  recognize God’s hand.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I feel like God’s taken a long vacation, and doesn’t write or call or text me a thing while he is gone. Usually this coincides with times of discouragement, or depression, or when I’m dog tired and need God but can’t find him. But other times, I ‘try’ to see God and feel a disconnect no matter what I do. So I wait. It’s hard, but I do. ‘Cause I believe he’s going to show up, or my eyes will open up, my ears will unplug, and he’ll have been there the whole time. I’m sure it’s me, not him, breaking down communication (hint of deeply engrained childhood guilt). The past few months have been this way. Silent.

In any case, here’s what I want to tell you. Well, the first part anyway.

In April, 2005, I went up to the Seton House of Prayer, a Catholic retreat centre high up in the hills above Kelowna, B.C.. This short physical journey to retreat was stepping way out for me.  I’d never practiced solitude before. I went to Seton House with a healthy dose of curiosity and cynicism. I set aside four hours to read The Book, pray, seek God (whatever that meant), and as is typical of me, I had a schedule neatly laid out, with lunch break, and plenty of time to pick up my kids after school.

I retreated to the Hermitage/Poustinia, a rustic little cabin perched on the edge of Okanagan Mountain, with a chair, a bed, a sink, a kettle, a selection of teas, a porch, heat, and a single bed (for overnight solitude experiences).

I was ready. Only problem was, time went by very slowly. I read verses, unearthed gut wrenching answers to all my preselected questions, prayed heartfelt prayers, took notes, grew tired, took a nap, and finally, with only two hours gone, and not much in the way of even the smallest epiphany, I took a walk around the grounds.

It was a chilly Spring day, and from the height of the property I could see 360 degrees, Lake Okanagan coursing north to south, the embracing ranges of Columbia and Cascade, dwarfed City neighbourhoods below me, the bridge, roads, forests, all under a tentative blue Spring sky.

I walked along a gravel pathway, lingered by the stations of the cross (which I’d never seen up close), and then I sat down on a large rock. I sat still and quiet, listening to the wind, watching a Bald Eagle float on an updraft, listening to the sounds of birds nesting and singing. It was very peaceful there. I sat for a long time, wondering about God, wishing he would speak to me, confused about what this time of solitude was really for. Wondering, wondering… and then…

Her small red body caught my eye as I sat waiting to hear from you, God. And then…

“Lesley-Anne, look at the little bug scurrying about.”  

Yes Lord?

“She’s busy working.  But Lesley-Anne, I also made her to fly!  You are like this bug – busy, madly working away, but you’ve forgotten I made you to fly.”  

But how Lord, I asked?  What do you mean?

“First you must unfold your wings – they are folded tightly against your body.  Your wings are what I have equipped you with – your talents and passions – open them up, then let go!  I am like the wind – I will carry you where I want you to be.  Trust me.  Like the eagle and the ladybug, you will soar and not grow weary.  I’ve given you all you need to rise up.  You were not meant to remain in deep solitary places. Yes, you will go there sometimes, but you cannot stay there or you will drown.

“Rise up, my child.  Fly!

Coccinella quinquepunctata HE e01

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So, at this point you may be thinking I conjured this, imagined it, and how convenient for me if I did. Suddenly, I have this ‘experience’, justifying my time of solitude, and more importantly, giving me something impressive to talk about when I come down from the mountain. Did it really happen? Did I really hear those precise words? Did I imagine it? Embellish it? Did I find the ladybug, or did she find me? Coincidence? Illusion? And why is it even important?

Truth is, it took me seven years to tell this story. And I tell it now with a mix of reservation and conviction. I know I can’t prove it. All I can tell you is it happened. I ‘heard’ word thoughts in my mind. Not a voice speaking out loud, but a thought voice, rushing these words into my consciousness. Was it God? Well, was it?

That day in April, 2005, marks the beginning of a narrative of ladybugs in my life that continues to be written to this day. I told you my story is about “bugs and bones.” My bug experience does meld with bones, but several years later. I’ll tell you about that another day (click HERE).

Fast forward 10 years, to last weekend, April, 2015, Vancouver, B.C., a 7th floor balcony… and God ambushes me again, in this never ending story that surprises, mystifies, and bolsters my often fickle faith. I will tell you more about that too sometime, I promise.

Watchful,

Lesley-Anne

P.S. The story continues at “Dem Bones, Dem Bones ~ Of Bugs and Bones, Part 2”