When Easter is the Spring

Quickening

Dead trees draw life
when the days expand and the sun
fulfills its promise, oft delayed
by the clutch of ice.

Clotted, gnarled, knotted twigs
on the trees sense sap and the death
of death. They stretch, begin
to puff green on the end.

We sing new songs
of a Life laid down for rebirth
when Easter is the Spring
and the branch is Christ.

— Mark A. Noll

**

Every new birth is a miracle. I saw two yesterday:

2 Owlets

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And To All, A Happy Easter!

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And The Word Was Made Homeless

Awesome Sky

The House of Christmas

by G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936)

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

*****

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” John 1:14

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(Photo taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, Sept. 2010. All Rights Reserved.)

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 MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

 
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Reading the Season: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

The brilliance of A Wrinkle in Time is that its author Madeleine L’Engle can convey scientific and spiritual concepts at the same time and in a way that young readers can enjoy. There’s no conflict between the cerebral and the spiritual; they co-exist comfortably in L’Engle’s work. Not only that, they fuse together and from that alchemy rises a whole new, inexplicable entity: Faith.

It’s that time of the year when I try to tune out distractions to dwell on the meaning of the Season, the reason why we have Christmas in the first place. I call these posts ‘Reading the Season’.

This time, I’ve selected four of Madeleine L’Engle’s poetry. ‘After Annunciation’ I have posted before. But I’d like to share it again here because the deceptively simple lines carry much depth and wisdom. Same with ‘The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973’. These two remain my favourite thoughts during Advent. 1973 or now? Ever timely. The poems are taken from The Ordering of Love: The New & Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle, published by Shaw Books, 2008.

The Ordering of Love

**

After Annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

**

Sonnet, Trinity 18

Peace is the centre of the atom, the core
Of quiet within the storm. It is not
A cessation, a nothingness; more
The lightning in reverse is what
Reveals the light. It is the law that binds
The atom’s structure, ordering the dance
Of proton and electron, and that finds
Within the midst of flame and wind, the glance
In the still eye of the vast hurricane.
Peace is not placidity: peace is
The power to endure the megatron of pain
With joy, the silent thunder of release,
The ordering of Love. Peace is the atom’s start,
The primal image: God within the heart.

**

Instruments (I)

The sky is strung with glory.
Light threads from star to star
from sun to sun
a liv­ing harp.
I rejoice, I sing, I leap upwards to play.
The music is in light.
My fin­gers pluck the vibrant strings;
the notes pulse, throb, in exul­tant harmony;
I beat my wings against the strands
that reach across the galaxies
I play

NO

It is not I who play
it is the music
the music plays itself
is played
plays me
small part of an innumerable
innum­ber­able
orches­tra.
I am flung from note to note
impaled on melody
my wings are caught on throb­bing fil­a­ments of light
the wild cords cut my pinions
my arms are outstretched
are bound by ropes of counterpoint
I am cross-eagled on the singing that is strung
from puls­ing star
to flam­ing sun
to

I burn in a blaze of song.

**

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

***

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

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Just another Easter thought

This Luci Shaw poem was read out in the Tenebrae service I attended on Good Friday.

***

P1000367

Judas, Peter

because we are all
betrayers, taking
silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out and hang ourselves

but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
clearly enough
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me

— Luci Shaw

***

A Happy Easter to all!

Reading The Season: Walking On Water by Madeleine L’Engle

It’s that time of the year when a quiet respite is probably the most precious gift. For the past four years since I started blogging, amidst the cacophony of December festivities, I would pick something to read that anchors me to the spiritual meaning of the occasion.  I call these attempts “Reading The Season”. This year, I took down from the shelf a long-time TBR, Walking On Water: Reflection On Faith And Art by Madeleine L’Engle.

After reading it, I went straight to her Newbery Award novel A Wrinkle In Time (another long time TBR for me). Amazed at its wisdom and depth, once I finished it I went back to reread Walking On Water, appreciated all the more L’Engle’s intricate weaving of intellect and spiritual insights.

At the very beginning of the book, these words jumped right out at me:

I sit on my favourite rock, looking over the brook, to take time away from busyness, time to be. I’ve long since stopped feeling guilty about taking being time; it’s something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don’t take enough of it.

And just a few pages after that, I found this gem:

Leonard Bernstein tells me … for him music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos.

Bernstein might have echoed a Jungian concept of the power of memory and the subconscious self, but there’s a spiritual reality in the thought.

It all began with the calling forth of light from darkness, splendor from void, life from nothingness, the Creation. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life comes to mind… the cosmic light and galaxy clouds, the molten lava that spews out of the earth, the roaring breakers of the ocean deep, and my heart resounds: ‘day to day pours forth speech, night to night declares knowledge.’

But what’s most awesome is not just the forming of the cosmos, but the Creator incarnated, the infinite confined, the invincible made vulnerable in order to live the hurts, to share the pains. L’Engle writes:

To be alive is to be vulnerable. To be born is to start the journey towards death… We might paraphrase Descartes to read, ‘I hurt; therefore I am.’

The Creator demonstrated that behind the majesty, there’s the power of love, that driving force behind the willingness to stoop, to be made vulnerable, to be stripped naked, be born a babe. Utterly unfathomable. At one point in human history,  Cosmos entered and lived among Chaos.

And artists, those who write, who paint, who sing, who dance, who act… they are birth-givers. “An act of art is an incarnational activity,” L’Engle writes. Artists partake in the continuation of creation, bringing wholeness to a fragmented world, hope in the slough of despair.

As well, true artists live the vulnerability as the One who first took that cosmic plunge, taking the risk of birth because of love.

Here, take a 3:44 minute respite to enjoy some Seasonal reflections. Click on the video to listen to the music as you read Madeleine L’Engle’s poem:

The Risk of Birth 

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn–
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed & pride the sky is torn–
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle

***

Walking On Water: Reflections On Faith And Art by Madeleine L’Engle, Commemorative Edition, published by Shaw, 1998, 227 pages.

CLICK HERE to Reading the Season 2012: Surprised by Joy

‘Reading The Season’ posts in previous years:

Reading The Season: C. S. Lewis

Reading The Season: Fleming Rutledge

Reading The Season: Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

Reading The Season: Luci Shaw

The Tranquil Side of Vancouver

I’m not a hockey fan. I go to Vancouver mainly for the tranquility of forests, gardens and greenery. There are places where one can be utterly alone, in quiet solitude. Especially now after the ugly Stanley Cup riot, I must show you this side of Vancouver, the quiet gardens and forests that offer one a haven far from the madding crowd.

The flora on the UBC campus… the budding irises, hanging wisteria, exploding rhododendrons, and the unknown flowers and foliage (I’d appreciate your identifying them for me below the rhododendron)… and the sequestered Nitobe Japanese Garden:

  

The Nitobe Japanese Garden:

.

***

Art of gardening

nature reshaped, redesigned

 prune the riotous heart

***

All photos and writing by Arti of Ripple Effects, June, 2011. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Of Words and Spring

April is the month of empty dreams
Half the days gone
waiting for words and spring
still frozen ground
and on the screen
a frigid page as white as snow.

Brown could be the color of hope
After the white
for all I know
green is too much to wish for
I’m contented to see a patch
of dry and withered brown.

The sun is a perpetual sign
that there’s still hope
But it’s no herald of the seasons
for its presence comforts all year long
warming my blank and barren state
as I await for words and spring.

But Easter is an apt reminder
that The Word had come
spoken clear to half-frozen ears
His body hung on a lifeless tree
Blood and water flowed
onto parched and dusty earth

So what if no words come to me
That dreaded writer’s block
reigning the winter of sterility
numbing senses,
snatching thoughts,
seizing any sign of spring.

It’s not about a post or a blog,
Or even buds and melting snow.
The Word had come
lived and loved among us,
broken, bled, died and rose,
melting frozen hearts to greet
a new Spring and eternal growth.

Poem and Photos by Arti of Ripple Effects, April 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Reading the Season: Luci Shaw

Every year around this time, I try to stay afloat in the sea of chaos and consumerism.  My method of survival has been to seek a quiet haven where I can dwell upon the meaning of the Season.  I entitled my annual December post on this theme ‘Reading the Season’.

This year, watching the daring flash mob singing of Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall food court has jump started my quest for a spiritual respite.  In a time where the legitimate word is Jollity over Jesus, where Christ has been declared politically incorrect at Christmas, and where God is denounced together with Bigfoot and the tooth fairy in ads on buses, I want to mull on some subversive counter-reflections.

This time, I’ve steered my search towards poetry and found this collection edited by Luci Shaw.  It is the 1984 Regent College Publication of  A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation. (Click on link to read excerpts from Google Books.)


Luci Shaw has partnered with Madeleine L’Engle on her literary journey, including being her publisher, co-author, fellow poet and close writer-friend.  For years, I have enjoyed Luci Shaw’s poetry and her other works, and one time, had sat in her workshop learning the art and craft of journal writing.

A Widening Light is a collection of poetry by some of twentieth century prominent Christian writers and scholars, including C. S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, Mark Noll, as well as lesser known but just as inspiring contributors.  My favourite in the collection are those from Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

As a meager attempt to stoke the flame of faith and keep the Reason in the Season,  I’d like to share some excerpts from this collection here.

Made flesh
After the bright beam of hot annunciation
Fused heaven with dark earth
His searing sharply-focused light
Went out for a while
Eclipsed in amniotic gloom:
His cool immensity of splendor
His universal grace
Small-folded in a warm dim
Female space—
The Word stern-sentenced to be nine months dumb—
Infinity walled in a womb
Until the next enormity—the Mighty,
After submission to a woman’s pains
Helpless on a barn-bare floor
First-tasting bitter earth.

Now, I in him surrender
To the crush and cry of birth.
Because eternity
Was closeted in time
He is my open door
To forever.
From his imprisonment my freedoms grow,
Find wings.
Part of his body, I transcend this flesh.
From his sweet silence my mouth sings.
Out of his dark I glow.
My life, as his,
Slips through death’s mesh,
Time’s bars,
Joins hands with heaven,
Speaks with stars.

Luci Shaw

 

Some Christmas stars
Blazes the star behind the hill.
Snow stars glint from the wooden sill.
A spider spins her silver still

within Your darkened stable shed:
in asterisks her webs are spread
to ornament your manger bed.

Where does a spider find the skill
to sew a star?  Invisible,
obedient, she works Your will

with her swift silences of thread.
I weave star-poems in my head;
the spider, wordless, spins instead.

Luci Shaw

 

 

After annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d been no room for the child.

Madeleine L’Engle

.

.

The risk of birth

This is no time for a child to be born.
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born.
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle

 


 

 

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

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Photos:  All photos in this post except “Water drops on spider web” are taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, All Rights Reserved.

‘Water drops on spider web’ is in the public domain, please refer to Wikimedia Commons for further  details.  CLICK HERE to go there.

A Late Autumn Walk

What’s more pleasurable

than a late Autumn walk in the wild

Chopin as companion, ballade cinematic

Tonal colors streamed through earbuds

Sight and sound in perfect harmony

 

.

Stripped of adorning leaves,

the birches displayed their true essence.

Backbones strong against the wind,

Branches lifted to reach the remaining sun

Stoic elegance intertwined Romanze Larghetto

 

.

.

And then we met,

A surprise encounter, a momentary start,

Among the low bushes a deer, antlers majestic,

Eyes darted up from his quiet meal,

Weighing my next move.

 

I walked past without stopping.

It’s not polite to stare,

especially when someone’s eating.

His gaze held me a moment, then let me pass.

I sensed a mutual respect, nature shared.

 

And so we parted, unperturbed,

after just a split second of cautious exchange,

leaving each other feeding freely,

foliage in his mouth,

and Chopin in my ears.

 

***

 

This is what I was listening to… Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1, Second Movement, Romanze Larghetto.

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age!

Thanks to Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 4, I have the chance to explore the intricate world of Kenzaburo Oe (pronounced ‘oh-ay’, 大江 健三郎 ), Japan’s second Nobel Laureate for Literature (1994), after Yasunari Kawabata (川端 康成) received the Prize in 1968.

Like his earlier work A Personal Matter*, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! is an autobiographical novel dealing with the author’s experiences of raising a handicapped child.  A Personal Matter was written when Oe was young, describing an ordeal still raw from the initial shock of the birth of his brain-damaged child. Rouse Up was published in 1983, almost twenty years after A Personal Matter.

Rouse Up chronicles a more mature protagonist, the writer K, who has gone past the stage of denial and escape, to come to terms with the reality of fathering a handicapped child. Through the arduous journey, the writer has gained insights and pleasure from his relationship with his son Hikari, whom he nicknamed Eeyore in his novels.

Oe starts off the book with K’s plan to write a dictionary of terms for his now maturing son, to prepare him for his entry into the real, adult world.  This turns out to be a learning task in itself.  How do you explain to a brain-damaged person what the word ‘foot’ means?  Or ‘river’, ‘life’, or ‘death’?  He needs to deconstruct the realities of his everyday life before he can grasp the essence and meaning of his encounters.

It’s interesting to see how K get through to his son in defining ‘foot’. Eeyore understands it in relation to ‘gout’ from which his father once suffered. After the healing of the pain and swelling of the gout, it has turned into ‘a nice foot’.  So, the understanding of ‘foot’ comes in light of the pain it had experienced. K soon realizes that the definitions are more for himself as for Eeyore.

The author’s long journey of acceptance and self-discovery owes mostly to his love for the works of William Blake.  Rouse Up is a smorgasbord of selections if you are a Blake scholar. So admittedly, I have had a hard time ploughing through Oe’s use of parallels from Blake’s poetic and artistic symbolisms to reflect on his own predicament.  In certain parts, Oe’s writing is just as esoteric as Blake’s mythical depictions.  However, one thing is clear.  My enjoyment of this novel is no less, and the poignancy of a father-son relationship no weaker as I find my way through the Blake maze.  The book requires and deserves multiple reading.

Despite its complexity and denseness, the essence filters through Oe’s meticulous descriptions.  Further, John Nathan’s translation navigates effectively through Oe’s nuanced and sensitive narratives.  I’m just curious as to what the original Japanese version looks like since there are numerous references and quotes from Blake.  Are they in English or in Japanese translation?

Two lines from The Four Zoas seem to have outlined K’s personal journey:

“That Man should Labour & sorrow & learn & forget, & return
To the dark valley whence he came to begin his labours anew.”

It’s a perpetual striving, not unlike Sisyphus’s effort, and yet still leads from one path to the next, prompting a renewed acceptance and offering novel discoveries on the way.

Aside from the esoteric passages of Blake’s visions, some very simple lines shine through, and they are the ones that are most moving for me:

… healing the rift with my son, I became aware of his grief through the agency of a Blake poem, “On Another’s Sorrow,” which includes this stanza:

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrows share,
Can a father see his child,
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d.

One of the “Songs of Innocence,” the poem concludes with the following verse:

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

In his attempt to know more about Eeyore, K explores the power of dreams and the imagination. Using Blake’s mythological poetry and artwork, he tries to understand Eeyore’s internal world. Both he and his wife know Eeyore does not dream, but that does not preclude he does not have imagination.

Subscribing to Blake’s conviction that: “The Imagination is not a State:  It is the Human Existence itself.”, K strives in earnest to cultivate Eeyore’s imagination. Eeyore has an almost instinctive response to bird calls, distinguishing them even before he adopts human language.  As he grows older, he is drawn towards the music of Bach and Mozart.  His imagination soon finds a channel of expression in composing, an amazing accomplishment nurtured by a highly supportive and loving family.  In real life, Oe’s son Hikari is a composer.

Adopting Blake’s vision, K sees a future for father and son together in a state of grace, from Blake’s Jerusalem:

“Jesus replied Fear not Albion unless I die thou canst not live
But if I die I shall arise again & thou with me
This is friendship & Brotherhood without it Man is Not

So Jesus spoke! The Covering Cherub coming on in darkness
Overshadowed them & Jesus and Thus do Men in Eternity
One for another to put off by forgiveness, every sin.”

From coming to terms with the tragic reality of fathering a brain-damaged child, to ultimately, almost symbiotically, sharing his life with his son, is a process not short of a personal epiphany.  At the end of the novel, Eyeore has grown to be a twenty-year-old man. While still having a limited mental capacity, Eeyore has his way of exuding his own humor, love and care for those around him.  The story is a poignant tapestry weaving real-life and the visionary, through which an imagined world of reality is beautifully conceived.

As for the source of the book title, it comes as a moving episode at the end of the book.  I should keep that for you to discover.  A heart-warming finish to a poignant chronicle.

John Nathan’s Afterword is an eloquent tribute to the father, son, and the nurturing family. It is also a helpful annotation of the novel.

Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by John Nathan, published by Grove Press, NY, 2002.  259 pages.

***

* A touching review of A Personal Matter has been posted recently by Claire at Kiss A Cloud.  Also, Mel U’s A Reading Life has posted extensively on Oe and other Japanese writers.  Of course, there’s Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza, who has hosted Japanese Literature Challenge all these years, now in its fourth term.  I thank them all for their inspiration.

Greening of a Calgary Street

April 23

.

May 23

.

June 23

.

Waiting

He could have said
Let there be life
As in the beginning
But He made me wait.
For three months
I went back to the same spot
and watched
slowly
green bursting out from bare branches
fighting storms and snow
into full bloom.

.

I had waited before
Nine years, nine months
He could have said
Let there be…
But He had made me wait
and watch
slowly
like time-lapse photography
the gestation of a miracle.
He could have just said,
But He made me wait
and watch.

***

Pictures and poem by Arti of Ripple Effects, June 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Power of Aloneness

.

Before the resurrection was the death.
Before the death, the long path of suffering.
Before the suffering, the lonely struggle,
Agonizing solitude.

The Garden of Gethsemane,
Epitome of aloneness.
Even the closest would fall asleep
But one kept watch, awake for all.

Sweat dropped like blood
A heart pierced before nails were hammered in.
The soul cried out no, not this cup
But oh, not my will.

Not fear of sinews tearing from the joints
But the searing pain of separation
A Father who would leave totally alone
the tainted Son of Sin.

A prostrating prayer, a yielding spirit
The power of aloneness thus transformed.
As He got up from that rock, He had risen
Ready to accept the kiss of death.

I would never know the nailing pain
nor the bitter taste of that dreadful cup
But let me feel the power of solitary rest
To stay awake and rise and conquer death.

.

***

Poem by Arti of Ripple Effects
On the Eve of Good Friday, 2010.

Photos taken by Arti in Israel, 2007.
Top: Via Dolorosa, Bottom: A Garden in Jerusalem

All Rights Reserved.