Friday, June 27, 2008

Bishop Mallon's Sermon

My journal notes for November 17, 1989 run to two full pages. Some days entries are larger, perhaps occasionally up to four, but most are shorter, for in the journal format I am no essayist like Thoreau, mentally polishing every sentence and paragraph before I write it down. For one thing, at journal time my brain is usually in high speed mode, loaded like a river in spring flood, so I can only catch the high points, and a good deal of that is in code, as it were, symbols of symbols of symbols, and often for future reference weeks or months of years ahead, waiting on circumstances to make plain, yet significant from at least the spiritual point of view, what was either very matter of fact or utterly, at the time, undecipherable. Only an illiterate thinks that prose can never be poetry.
The night before the 17th, for example, I'd just had a phone call from John Stark, about his hopes for filming my Leacock script, with a footnote regarding our Doukhobor film. My wife was meeting with her old high school English teacher, navy veteran John Norris, regarding a history of Nelson he was writing and the museum was publishing. I was moved to be curious about former film contacts David Puttnam and Colin Welland, thought gratefully of men with capital who knew how to use it well, and recalled that my own acting career had begun with a little boy's role in Albert College, Belleville, Ontario. And I had thoughts on acting as Marianne's agent regarding getting her poetry published in Commonweal.
Just before lunch, the phone rang.
With the rest of the diocese, we were waiting for the news of John Paul's decision regarding the new bishop of Nelson, who would be the fourth bishop for our relatively young diocese, and the successor to Wilfred Emmett Doyle, who had reigned from 1958 until the beginning of 1990.
The first and founding bishop, Martin Johnson, I had known much about, from the first days of meeting my intended. She had know him well.
All of her accounts of him were positive, as he was truly a good priest and a fine bishop. The only" negative" thing I ever knew about him was from my own personal history, because he would not use his office to place me in a teacher's post in a Catholic school in Vancouver when he was coadjutor archbishop there, and that was exactly the decision God wanted him to make because God wanted me to come to Nelson instead. I was not especially anxious to teach in Vancouver, but at that point in our brief sojourn in Vancouver in the summer of 64 my wife was far from keen on returning to Nelson and I felt bound to try every possibility in the Lower Mainland.
Every possibility in the Catholic schools, that is, because though I was on the cutting edge of so much of what is now taken for granted in the leading schools of whatever stripe, I had neither degree nor teacher's certificate and so a public school would have been all but impossible in the south west corner of the province. Only in the Outback or within the independents can they afford not to be fussy about paper credentials.
When nothing suitable turned up, after almost a month of trying, Shawn gave in to my original visions of the Kootenays, and up I came to the land of continual surprises.
Nelson's second bishop, from 55 to 58, was Thomas McCarthy, and I think he must also have been a good man because my memory of flying into the diocese, to the Creston Flats during the floods of 56, when I was a Sun reporter, is of a journey into a climate of innocence. McCarthy was moved up to St. Catherine's, Ontario, and a new residence block at the university was named after him. The first block was called St. Martin's, after Johnson, and the basement thereof later housed all that lovely live theatre I had a part in.
Wilfred Emmett Doyle, I was told at some point in our mutual careers, but not by him, was the last episcopal appointment of Pius XII, who was actually dead before Doyle assumed his bishop's chair. I've always wondered what went through the Pope's mind as he was looking over the three names the head of the congregation for bishops had presented him with. How did he decide to chose Doyle? What would my life here have been like if he had chosen someone like Johnson, or the wonderfully clear, warm, and open missionary bishop, just passing through, that preached on one of my first masses in Nelson? Or the late Archbishop Dery of Ghana, who actually came here and when I talked to him in the back of the cathedral after his sermon had all the mood and the body language of a leader wondering how he could talk me into coming and working in his country?
But Doyle, except when it was politically expedient to make it seem as if he and I were getting along, was often wondering how to get rid of me. My body language and the things I said simply following in the Lord's tradition of telling stories - in a mystic these anecdotes have the most annoying way of becoming parables - always made it plain that I could not be bought, and as most of his priests could be, he didn't like my attitude. One of priests, on the university staff, went so far as to suggest that with my zeal I would be better off in South America. I said thank you for the compliment, but I was a poet incapable of leaving his native landscape, and would remain in it.
Years later I learned that this priest was a practicing homosexual, one of those who had made it through the gate before Rome's secret circular to the bishops telling them not to ordain such men.
There you are: Twenty-six years of either feeling like a pariah for my supposed inability to get along with the local powers of the Church or else being full of confidence in everything I understood except my wonder that Rome could keep such rascals in place, although throughout it all I certainly had a ring side seat of an opportunity to see how the old maxim worked: where sin abounds, grace yet more abounds. God seemed to delight in keeping his original promises to me not through the priests and religious in so many cases, but in spite of them.
And then, finally, on the morning of the 17th of November, the telephone rang. I was the nearest - we had only one phone in those days of frugality, four now - so I answered. Just as well, it was for me anyway.
Suzie Hamilton, living in Nelson but stringing for the Vancouver Province. We had known each other well for over a year, when she had called me for background on Father John Frederick Monaghan, the first priest from our diocese arrested and jailed for predatory behaviour. I seemed to be the one member of the diocese that would talk to the press, and the word had got around.
She wanted to know my opinion on the appointment of our new bishop.
"Who is he? You're the first to tell me about it."
"Father Peter Mallon, from Vancouver. It was official yesterday."
My yell of happy triumph must have hurt her ears, and, for a bit, I kept on hollering. I was that excited. I knew that Rome had needed to listen up, but I couldn't believe, after the decades of nonsense we'd had to put up with locally, that it had listened well enough to send us not only a priest from the happily orthodox archdiocese of Vancouver, as it then was under James Carney, but that it had sent us someone that our old friend Father Desire Potanko had years ago said would be a bishop. It seemed to good to be true.
And is some senses, it was, for Mallon turned out to something of a modernist, like most bishops these days, but for the moment the world of faith was rose coloured and some months later, when we were at daily mass and Mallon was preaching, he mentioned a spiritual formula, to the effect that twenty-one, the result of multiplying the very spiritual number seven by the very spiritual number three, was a sign of wisdom.
So, as I have reached twenty-one posts, it seemed like something I should mention, even though there was no such thing as a blog at the time of that little sermon. A few years later, Mallon was kicked upstairs, being made archbishop of Regina. He died, of cancer, after a relatively short tenure, but I'm more than confident he has a much nicer view of his time here, and how he met his responsibilities, than Doyle has. Doyle never had any interest in wisdom, and Mallon at least would try to acquaint himself with it from time to time.
Peter Mallon was a graduate of Christ the King Seminary at Mission, in BC, run by the Benedictines. In order to think on him and the differences between us with mercy I am inclined to credit his professors of ascetical and mystical theology with some of the faults in his formation.
This, however, raises the question: are there any seminaries in the entire Catholic world of our time that actually know the first thing about this all important subject? Just the other day God reminded me that he sometimes has to punish because of the lack of interest in perfection.
In the entire history of the Catholic church there has never been a saint who challenged that principle. How accurate is my wondering if God is about to challenge the current widespread indifference toward it?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Turtles

The next time we passed the spring flood turtle pond, the entire pair was in view. This has to be a sign, I thought. But of what? And what aspects of this possible symbol are the key? Is it the two-ness, as in "Two heads are better than one?, or is it the fact that their backs are such a dull, mud, gray, while their undersides are so colourful?
I had recently learned, thanks to the appointment some months ago of our new, Capuchin bishop, that the original colour of the Franciscan habit was gray, the colour of undyed, therefore the cheapest, wool cloth from which these monks made their habits. Thus Greyfriars, of medieval Oxford and John Duns Scotus. I had assumed that Franciscans had always worn brown and wondered if Greyfriars had indicated Cistercians or some such order.
Anyway, it was neat to see both the turtles, because this year, for some weeks, we had wondered if we were going to see any at all, thinking that they might have been scared off by the regularity of the dog traffic. We had in fact noticed a few dogs nosing through the trees and shrubs around the pond this spring, whereas we had not seen this in previous years.
Might it mean I had to be more patient with my stump? Well, cross that one off, because one of my long term neighbours, who over the years has often turned up with help without my even thinking of asking him, this time came through my gate with a power saw. Two sessions with that instrument, making strategically placed cuts, and the principal massif is now gone. The saw is a personalized model, meaning only he can get it started, but it still felt good to hold one of those effective little beasts in my hands and remember the mighty Douglas Fir I dropped across the raging gray foam of Moseley Creek the same summer I discovered Saint Thomas. Our particular spruce stump, because of the way the main roots have somehow grown, has a strange grain, horizontal rather than vertical for two-thirds of the eastern side, which meant there was still a lot of work to do with sledge, wedge, axe, and crow bar. I'm still only good enough for a half-day's work, and at that I don't think I've done more than two days in a row, but I have that feeling dear to every man who's known it, of sensing the growing strength in my shoulder girdle and other muscle systems in my upper body.
Will I be able to keep this happening when the stump is done?
Yes, for a week or so longer at least, for this morning over breakfast MT informed me that our yard's plentiful supply of large rocks will need attention because of the new rock walls she intends to build once the stump roots are gone and the area is filled up with the extra dirt she needs for the new garden beds.
Oh, goody, and fond memories of the really big rocks the 12 pounder was originally bought for, back in 1995. My neighbour to the west asked me if I were in training for a chain gang. That was another nice work out session, and certainly a valid symbolization of turtles, for busting granite boulders as big a championship pumpkins need as much patience as it needs strength and a heavy steel hammer. I'd never done such a thing before and I think that on my first rock I was just about ready to give up when I saw the first crack begin to open.
Ah hah. I think the meaning of my little pond friends is beginning to open up. Between 95 and 08 lies a quite useful period of events for analyzing my search for the fitness attitude prescribed especially for me. A nicer mixture of trial and error, success and falling away from success, useless or even harmful false assumptions, hope-inspiring corrections, and finally some events, some study, and some coaching that seems to be bringing it all back home.
After the sledge-swinging episode, torso training fell off. I still owned dumbbells, but I had never grown into a good working knowledge of how to enjoy using them, although I had managed to annoy some little muscles along my left ribs. So the main pursuit of science went in the direction of running, which still did not produce any of the exceptionally long runs I had once assumed I would make, and finally, in 98, actually began to refuse to produce the old regular schedule of even moderate jogs, of from 5 to 8 miles. I think I did fairly well in the spring, but July and August were not good months, with up to ten-day gaps between outings.
Then, as the young were preparing to go back to school, so did I. I was suddenly inspired to change my attack. Instead of trying to make the most distance out of three or so runs a week, I decided to limit myself to as short a run as I could justify and try doing that lesser distance every day. I was astounded at the results, and the shortness of time it took to bring them about.
Twelve laps around the old civic track was a little less than three miles, taking me just under a half-hour. At that distance and that pace I could feel myself recovering in a day and I could feel myself getting nimbler. I might even have done my calf stretches more correctly than became my later, lamentable, habit. By the end of two weeks, with no more than two days off, I knew I was making real progress, and I realized that I had done it in exactly half the time I expected to. I had "reasoned" that because I was 62, it would take me twice as long to limber up as used to happen when I was 19 and faced with army camp phys ed after a winter at university.
But the winter and the following year were undistinguished by any further excursions into prowess, and looking back I think of that fortnight of illumination as the providential precursor to the day I would go to the gym, in 2000, and find John Douillard's "Body, Mind, and Sport" and thus begin to get smarter via the older, wiser, understanding of Asia.
And speaking of 2000, that was the year in which an old Ubyssey acquaintance published her autobiography. This was/is Pat Carney, recently retired from the Canadian Senate, and the book is her autobiography, "Trade Secrets". I think I have mentioned earlier that my usual approach to reading a book is in bits and pieces, often spread over years. I have done much to keep the manufacturers of book marks in the black. But every so often I find a text I am happy to plunge into like a rider urging his horse through a powerful river, and Pat's book is one of these.
Pat is not only a former member of the Pub Board and part of my youthful formation, but she and her twin brother Jim spent their last years of high school in Nelson. They were both emphatically musicians, as at that age I was most emphatically not, except by desire, and my wife-to-be had actually sung with Jim's band, the Campus Kings.
I think I knew about the book when it came out, but I did not then read it, and for very good reasons. My researches into music and fitness were by no means concluded - in so many ways they were hardly begun - so there were so many books in those areas I had to try to digest and analyze. And furthermore, while I had forgotten few of my university acquaintances, especially the writing ones, various contacts I had tried to reestablish for practical reasons had never amounted to more than a recall of fond memories. My only real working relationships with forces outside Nelson were entirely ecclesial, and at a level no journalist or politician I had ever known could discuss intelligently, with one exception of a Nelson Daily News reporter who wrote a very long piece on me and then went back to Toronto and the more leisurely pace of a bi-weekly. Pat and I would have had a very good time swapping memories, but my perceived missions of the moment did not allow such luxury.
But now I have both luxury and satisfaction for the work ethic, since a few days ago when my wife spotted the book in Nelson's unique cafe, record, and used book store, Packrat Annie's, and I realized in my occasional Machiavellian fashion that a retired senator and member of parliament might still know people who were interested in Ontario's new found respect for something the medievals took for granted. Moreover there would be notes on the town she left and I adopted, as well as a big study of the journalists we both knew at UBC and the Vancouver press. These are not areas I have yet written much about, partially because, as I can see now, I needed her book to help me do a proper job. As Saint Thomas says, there is beauty in honesty, and Pat's book is nothing if not honest.
But there also a very pleasant surprise. I knew Jim was a musician, a trumpeter, because he brought his shiny axe to the first Ubyssey party I attended, in the autumn of 1953, and jammed with a pianist and maybe a stand-up bass player. I did not recall that the female twin was also such, a clarinetist. But the government of Ontario no doubt knew this, because one of its prime arguments for making music compulsory are the statistics that show that so many successful people have had music training in their background.
I had put down the book an hour ago, so I could finish this entry, just where Pat had left off paying her dues to the high school band teacher, Don Cowan. I'm done with these notes for today, so now I can go back to Pat's book.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Best Laid Plans

It was all so calm, and apparently certain, half-way through Sunday morning Mass. After our post-church stroll along the lake shore, to enjoy the frolicking dogs and hopefully catch sight of the pair of turtles that show up every year at high water, I would come home, ascend to the study, and tap out the twentieth post, about how in a farm house near Point Petre, my father's ack ack gun site on Lake Ontario, I was mightily affected by hearing a piano played live. I have mentioned the effect of the guitar piece on the radio, back in Falkland two years previous.
To get this second experience right, I for some reason had to think a lot about the art of painting, because the effect of the music was very much wrapped up in at the same time being profoundly aware of colour and light. This was the factor emphasized and clarified at mass, to the point that I had to wonder if I one day might try to paint a picture of the event.
My mother had taken me with her while she visited with a new acquaintance. I was eating something while the grown ups talked adult stuff and someone came into the room - or perhaps a next room - and started to play. From where I sat I could see the lake, brilliantly blue in the morning sun, and I was also aware of the whiteness of the interior walls of the room where we sat. Marian hues, of course, heraldic as all get out, although of course I then knew nothing about heraldic colours, and no one had ever let me near an image of the Virgin Mary.
The music was played well enough and I was very conscious of the texture of the chords, but, again, had no idea of the method of putting so much pleasant sounding art together. It was not painful this time; I simply assumed that I had no ability in such matters.
As I said, all this was very clear in my head by yesterday morning, if only because I'd had a satisfying few hours at the spruce stump on Saturday. I'd bought a reciprocating saw, with longer blades as well as the standard short issue, and this and the sledge and wedges had made comfortable progress, all under a clear sky, on our very green street with its view of the lower town and the arm of the lake. With the big spruce gone, taking its water-sucking habits with it, the west side of the privet hedge is already making a valiant comeback, and this too is lovely to look upon.
I always feel good when I have the grace to stop and study the immense variety of greens this earth can boast. In our first year of marriage, when Shawn was teaching on the North Coast, I happened to remark to an aspiring young painter, returning home on one of the coastal ships from his year at teachers' college at UBC, that I missed the richer palette of the lower mainland foliage, and found the northern lack of reds and yellows a little grim. He exploded, quite bitterly, actually, for he had grown up in the latitude of green predominance, and learned to make a good canvas out of it.
I was on the ship, by the way, because of my first visit to Nelson, a quick foray into Notre Dame to see if I could get a job teaching English. Luckily, I was turned down and spent the next four years at the elementary level, where I even learned about varieties of green in the process of making myself capable of teaching art. Thank you Gerald Vann, also a member of the Order of Preachers. His "The Water and the Fire" made me feel sinful about not upgrading my art education skills, for the children's sake.
You'd think all this would be head of steam enough, right? That's a real image, by the way, as the BC 150 celebration steam train was just about to pull out of the old CPR grounds as we crossed the tracks and headed for the lake shore.
Well, it wasn't. I climbed the stairs, fired up the blog, and went creatively numb. Not a hint of Wordsworth, even though I had seen one of the turtles, my first sighting of the season, as he warmed himself on the sun drenched bank above the flood pool.
So, a snooze to catch up on the night owl's research schedule, lunch on the porch above that million dollar view of the arm, a perusal of a newly acquired biography of Leo XIII, and then scratching the skull of inspiration for the next step, in lieu of a post, which turned out to be an email to Yamaha, which in the clumsiness of my personal computer skills I assumed was a note to Toronto.
But oh no. Not Canada, our home and native land did it go to, but to good old Blighty. And by this morning I had received a most interesting answer, containing some remarkable questions. I was much encouraged and replied immediately, and then subsequently realized that the last time I sang in public other than in church was in Nelson courthouse, at the celebrations marking our city's first century, when I was asked to lead "God Save the Queen".
And now I'm on my way, hopefully, to utterly torpedoing Miss Glover of Norwich. You know, movable doh?
Nor is the continental method going to fare any better. I recently had the opportunity to talk with a young violinist educated in Quebec. He was taught the solfa names for the staff lines and, again, was initially puzzled by my stressing the numbers, but then became interested as I talked about my success with my students. With piano, with guitar, with the octave mandolin, bass, and cello.
Now, those well up the instructional food chain, from what I have been told in a few private conversations, might insist that there is already an employment of the numbers, that in some harmony classes for example, students are even encouraged to sing them. I can only say, too little, too late. Way too late. In fact, one of the reasons this blog began to fly was because I was thinking out loud about trying with a three-year old at the piano a repeat of the great success I'd had with a granddaughter of five. The agent at hand marched me to this computer and the rest, as they say, is history. And so is my spruce stump, almost, so we need to ponder its symbolism. The tree was planted around 1970 I think, five years before we moved in. It stood on the west side of the front lawn, with a companion that occupied a spot on the east, just below the living room window. Once the eastern tree grew tall enough to threaten the view, I chopped it down. But the western tree carried on, its life suffering only a minor setback for a lot of years in our first winter when, in the attempt to ski down the yard, I had to manage the two foot drop of a break in the slope, then instantly nip to the right of the little spruce. But I missed the nip and slammed the toe of my left ski into the trunk. Ouch. A sore ankle for a couple of weeks and a setback in the tree's growth cycle for a couple of years.
But it finally grew huge, got topped for a Christmas tree, and then came last autumn's decision to have it brought down entirely. It had not only utterly robbed the old view to the west, but I had realized that it was also not much use as a shade tree, because in its geographical relation to the house, it provided shade only just before evening, by which time the sun had done all its overheating damage to the upper floor and the attic. The skill of the two lads who did the job was happily admired by three small grandchildren who happened to be visiting at the time. They sat in lawn chairs at the top of the side yard, much entertained by the sound of the power saw and the thumps on the ground of succeeding falling rounds, while their father captured the drama on his digital camera.
As I had started this post before I headed out to the stump, I pondered, while I worked, Miss Glover and the French. Like the tree, neither one of them are as useful for keeping the student's brain cool as the numbers are.
In the autumn of 75, I was playing and singing Matthew Cuthbert in the NDU production of "Anne of Green Gables", running into difficulties with the technique for one of the songs. A reviewer nailed me for it, too. This was the beginning of the provocation toward stronger disciplines than those I had assumed would do for folk singing. But in the nice weather, I would
sit on the top of the front steps, admiring the view and reading, in those weeks, Wheeler-Bennett's biography of George VI, pondering writing a play about the king, Allenbrooke, and Winston Churchill. This I did not do, but I enjoyed thinking about England, almost as much as I do at this moment.
At the stump, just before lunch, I managed to chop out one of the big roots. It was shorter, and easier, than I had expected.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Ligature

Things are getting very, very, very, serious.

The Almighty has put his foot down, which in my case means that he has been interfering with my feet, with my walking. I have no objections; it is basically a very pleasant experience, this sensation of various degrees of inoperativeness that moves into my limbs; it's only annoyance to me, if that occurs, is momentary, while I adjust my mind to a change of intention.
There is more than one name for this predicament. The Reverend A. Poulain, SJ, used the term 'mobile ecstasy' in his 'Graces of Interior Prayer' to describe actual physiological interference with the motor faculties, and it was Marianne, when she was not quite thirteen, who was able to find the phrase while browsing in just that text. I had lent this book to her, after some five or six months of the letters between us, because it was more modern, and to a degree, simpler than John of the Cross or Teresa, although she would of course be reading those saints' and mystics' texts in her own good time. The more general term is 'ligature of the faculties', which includes effects on the mental powers as well as the physical. Poulain's other subject of expertise was mathematics, which he taught in a Jesuit seminary in France at the turn of the century.
It was on a rainy evening in the then diocesan children's summer holiday place, Camp Lourdes, while we were chatting after supper in the quarters assigned to Shawn and me and our four small children, that she saw my right arm suddenly stalled in motion as I was gesturing over some conversational point or another. Camp Lourdes was on the south side of the West Arm, 14 miles east of Nelson. It had been established in the 30s by the legendary Bishop Martin Johnson, founder also of the university and a nursing home for, at first, aging retired miners and prospector who had no one to look after them.
Up to that point I had been well versed in various invasions of my inner faculties and feelings, and since the beginning of 1965 my vocal abilities had begun to experience divine interventions.
And God seemed to have made a special point to my wife about Sunday afternoons. Only after I had collapsed on the couch for a good hour or more of passive meditation would He let me up for the customary family walk, simply by lifting the very evident clamp from my soul.
But no discomfitting a particular limb, until that wet night at Lourdes before 'George', as she signed her letters to me, boarded the Lourdes launch to go back to the highway side of the West Arm and then home. Her father and the older brother who had given her the nickname operated a garage half-way to Nelson and also kept the launch's engine up and running. During the war her father had maintained the engines of air force planes used by the Commonwealth training plan. We had both been quite struck by the event of the immobilized arm, so when she got home she dug out Poulain and found the explanation. When she wrote about it a subsequent letter, I was not a little impressed. But then this was the kid that had one noon hour come marching up the sidewalk above the school yard - I was on lunch duty - to demand to know more about the late medieval philosopher William of Ockham, whom some historians blame for Martin Luther.
In subsequent years the invasions increased. As Teresa teaches, once we reach the prayer of union, we are never as habitually strong again. The prayer life is of more use to mankind than even the greatest physical labours or athletic achievements. But in the Easter season of 1973, I was really nailed, to my complete surprise. I mean, I had read of such events, but found it impossible to believe that I myself was worthy of such attention.
The young woman who had introduced me to yoga, by showing me the method for standing on my head, had carried on with the ashram community at Kootenay Bay. Aware to some degree of the being kicked upstairs that I had experienced over the 72-73 winter, she was insistent that I now make another visit to the ashram, especially for the purpose of talking with one of the young male founders. I said I would go.
But I did not go. I could not go. When it became time to set out, one April morning, I felt my legs become totally incapable of movement, and they stayed that way, most unmistakably, until I explained the situation to her. We were at the kitchen table, sometime after breakfast, no doubt lingering over coffee.
This happened again, in the fall, when I was asked to step into the university's production of 'Fiddler on the Roof'. One of the actors in a small part, an older man, had suffered a minor heart attack. I walked up the hill to the campus theatre for a morning rehearsal, then returned home for lunch. When I went back for the afternoon session, I actually managed to walk, and climb the slope, but my legs felt like lead. Moving them was a huge effort. Nor would the rest of me co-operate with the rehearsal session. The director and I had a talk. I did not go too deeply into the spiritual physiology of it all, but she respected my general reputation and said the situation could be remedied because of a young man who, while all along helping with scenery, had been dying for an acting role.
This particular ligature of the faculties has never ceased to appear at interesting times, either in my legs or arms or both, and therefore interesting times must again be upon us because yesterday morning my legs were cut to half-speed as MT and I were on the uphill pull on the return from a morning stroll along the lake shore. Although not uncomfortably, I had to drag myself over the last half-mile to home.
I actually had been pondering, I must admit, some discussion of the facts of these ligatures, because they have been a curious part of my entire post-1982 researches into fitness, and I knew I needed to say as soon as possible that the most significant factor in the supposed 230K would be divine co-operation. When the jock's Muse wanted me to head out, even though I was in my mature years, well over 40, I could no more resist the inspiration than I could as an adolescent ignore the lure of the ball diamond in spring. Nature has always had a liturgy of its own, as any religions worth mentioning have always been very well aware. But on the other hand, I have also suffered from surprising restraints or removals, including the withdrawal of the mystic's daily bread and butter, the inner sense of touch, in my first eighteen months in the weight room.
This most recent use of the leg irons struck at an interesting spot, in interesting circumstances. Just before I started this blog some weeks ago, I was booting along the very same city block, in the early morning, when I was beset with the most profound sense of drabness. This is a common enough experience, part of the daily work load for a contemplative, but I could not remember it being anywhere near so smothering during the recent months of early morning walking. It certainly has not been there during the walks since. These solitary forced marches are generally pretty cheerful.
Part of the answer to the puzzle might be Rudolph Steiner and his Waldorf system of education. At the beginning of yesterday's walk I had dropped into the International School of the Kootenays office and borrowed a couple of books of Steiner's lectures. It would seem to be time to come to grips with the similarities and difference between us.
Twenty years ago to the week, God dropped this locution on me, even though I had not been at the blackboard in an ordinary classroom for 21 years. "Your job is to teach." I've always suspected that he had more in mind than the voice and instrument classes I was already occasionally giving, but I've yet to find out precisely what it would be.

Friday, June 6, 2008


As Saint Augustine says, you never know from one day to another who will be your ally. Old enemies become new friends, and vice versa.
Take for example the Frederick Harris people, the music publishers, who produced the famous - or infamous - "Brown Scale Book". For some years, as I plugged away at changing from a 'stride' player to a competent interpreter of Bach and Beethoven, I wondered if the conservatories that license teachers and not only Harris, but all the publishers of scale and studies texts, were in a conspiracy to keep the cottage keyboard teaching industry alive and well by deliberately blinding students to the actual facts of the arts of music. My puzzlement might strike some as extreme, but as the logic of applying numbers became more and more clear, as well as more and more essential to my musical peace of mind, it was not easy to find a loftier motive. Everything seemed to focus on memory, and I've never been very fond of memorizing for its own sake.
Not that I understood the art and the science of music all that well myself, as these pages indicate. Plainly, I have been feeling pretty cocky about the irreplaceable need to understand the unique genius of the third finger, but it is only in the last 48 hours, since my last lesson with the remarkable Hayley, who is this week-end also graduating from high school, that I can start to swagger over my finally grasping the basic discipline of genuine five-finger exercises. And, as always, the swagger is actually a joke, because I basically find myself amazed at how long all this has taken me to sort out. It is, in the last analysis, so damned obvious, and so well understood by so many working musicians, that it is amazing that to a man - or woman - they have been unable to put it down on paper.
But, of course, most musicians are dedicated to performing, not to writing text books. It is peculiar characters like me, who find audiences highly questionable, and individual students, delighted to get it, the real satisfaction.
"Mr Lamb, can we sing 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain'?" Thus little Miss Bergermann, grade two. Or was it one? Long dark hair, big brown eyes that got bigger, when I said "yes" and began to strum the relevant chords. When you've known this, who needs 80,000 drugged up punks, or an audience at the Arctic Club? I once enjoyed a jazz musician at the Arctic Club very much but he up and committed suicide.
On the other hand, if 80,000 young people came docile to learn something I would thoroughly enjoy showing them how the pentatonic scale was made for the 5-string banjo. And just imagine that number of voices singing the scale to the numbers after a few good lessons in diction, which means, to a singer, resonance and 4,000 pounds per square inch pressure from the diaphragm.
They would be even louder than the Welsh at a rugger match in Wembley Stadium. But the latest info on some research poll indicates that this younger generation has grown up without the sense of guilt. Hah hah. The young are by definition guilty, and so are we all until we've figured out all that irksome stuff about sin. Original sin, venial sin, mortal sin.
Interesting things, numbers. Seven notes in the diatonic scale, seven deadly sins. They were horsing around a few months ago, the public journals, trying to avoid calling social sins plain, old fashioned, greed. Avarice. "The love of money is the root of all evils." Thus the downside of multi-nationals and all those people fiddling with the food supplies. Or herb supplies. Or water supplies.
Listen, jerks, I've been in hell. Got put there in May of 1957 by the Almighty. It's a real place. Indescribably agonizing. I wasn't there long, thank heaven, but long enough to get the point and pick up a further boost in the direction of reformation. A raging fire in the middle of one's being, and there's no way to put it out. It only goes away when God takes it away. Not that I was reformed immediately, but it was a marker along the journey. The start of the final phase came a year later and was called the Virgin Mary. I had a vision and got a scolding. Very kindly, very maternal, but still a reprimand.
Meanwhile, back to Frederick Harris. Today I dropped them an email, inviting discussions on music teaching. A decade or more ago, when I was starting to get more and more convinced that there were some pretty terrible gaffes in the business of teaching music, I started to think of computer devices that might help. But so far no one has invented any replacement for an old-fashioned book on an any-fashioned piano, so perhaps Harris may get interested.
You never know with establishments, which is why we need our so-called radicals. Actually, radicals are not necessarily all that exciting, as radical is from radix, which simply means root.
Well, not that exciting to the frivolous. For those who have the sense to honestly pursue philosophy, roots are profoundly exciting.
And speaking of philosophy, I today found a useful quote from a philosopher I never read, Schopenhauer. It resides in the spring 2008 edition of the "Kootenay Carnival" a magazine dedicated to art and culture in the Kootenays, and was offered up by the editor.
"All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
Schopenhauer died in 1860. I think this is more or less the time at which printed scale studies relying on the primacy of letters instead of numbers were just coming into their own. Unfortunately, they were not realistic enough to run into the second stage, after which they would not have been accepted as self-evident. Now there's some Zen for you.
I was sent out at noon to take instruction and scout equipment in the shops that have to do with the stuff we need for our studio. I actually still need instruction more than we need equipment, but with knowledgeable countermen, I'm catching on. For example:Don't get too sophisticated, as the present state of broadband can present delivery problems. It's nice to feel the Muse unlocking within my brain all those compartments he's kept sealed up for so many years. I can actually listen and take some of it in! (Spiritual Canticle, 2nd redaction, stanza 26, n. 13)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What's in a Mantra

By now, readers experienced in eastern forms of meditation will have probably begun to wonder if all this talk about the great Nelson via New Denver to Nelson jog is much more significant in its status as a training image than in an actual goal that has to be accomplished. Westerners, as I understand them, are more likely to feel that my actually pondering such a feat without caring whether I actually do it is only a lamentable exercise in ego.
My longest trot so far, and this took place just over twenty years ago, was fifteen miles. But also, around the same time , I picked up in my contemplations the sense of someone wishing he could say he had run that far in one go, but without actually doing it. As John of the Cross points out in his commentary on the 20th and 21st stanzas of his "Spiritual Canticle", the mature contemplative is forever carrying the burdens of those less proficient and even downright sinful. So why would I even think of something so ambitious as a week of twenty-milers? Because of the mantra, the koan. Mantra in India, koan in Japan. A mantra is a phrase, an image, a concept, given either by the soul's spiritual guide, or by God himself. It is first of all mysterious, somewhat in the tradition of the poet Browning's words "A man's reach should exceed his grasp", to help us get our thoughts heavenward, or at least for the purpose of deepening our insight into our own particular need to go deeper, to get out of our own shallow approach to something.
I first looked into the East on Christmas Day, 1957, when I found a book on Buddhism, written by a Westerner, in my uncle Alf's house in North Vancouver. At the time knew I was hurtling toward formalizing my relationship with Christianity and had begun the study of Aristotle's "Ethics", so the eastern text was not fascinating. (I was in fact only 48 hours away from turning up at the same party as my wife-to-be. Not for the first time, but for the first occasion of a thoroughly meaningful encounter.) But by the school year of 63-64, I was teaching introductory lessons in both metaphysics and meditation to my grade eights, as I have said, and within the year, after landing in Nelson, I found myself reading a magazine article about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and knew I was not alone in my determination to get students familiar with the prayer life before, and outside of, the seminaries and novice schools. Then, in 68, by now a spiritual director, I found myself near a bookshelf with a copy of a Jesuit's observations on Zen Buddhism.
Hugo Meyer Casalles had spent a year or two in a Japanese monastery and wrote about his time with the monks in a clear and useful fashion, celebrating silence, simplicity, obedience, and firmness. There was a very nice spiritual light in his text and I quite noted the custom of the roshi tapping those who nodded off with a stick. Furthermore, with a view to the year around the corner when I would finally come to grips with Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises" in a finalized way, I appreciated the Zen approach to those who held images and concepts and words to be of a higher order than the being beneath them. That's where the stick seemed really useful, especially in my case. And I read about the koan. It was not quite the same as the locution, as it was described in such complete detail by both John of the Cross and Teresa, for a genuine locution can only come from God, but it was related, especially in the aspect of mystery.
So why the great 230/140, which on some days I honestly "feel" that I will be able to do, and on others think of as preposterous?
It may be the Almighty's cunning way of having me pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, for one thing. I mean, only a complete fool, or someone constantly buoyed up by an unfailing schedule of consolation - profoundly unlikely - could always think him or herself easily capable of meeting all the challenges of such a calling without difficulty. And under the category of "the needs of the Church" lies one of the daily obligations of the soul who works long shifts at prayer and meditation, and of course the Church and all mankind needs celibate priests and religious. Then, at the Sunday mass previous to our most recent, our retired bishop, back in town to receive a convert into the Church, spoke of his pilgrimage on foot to the shrine of Saint James of Compostella, in Spain. 260 K he hoofed it, and as a retired bishop he is of course no spring chicken. Ah, thought I, is the great Kootenay ramble simply the image by which I meditate on behalf of those pilgrims? Our new bishop has a favourite phrase, "other centred love" and of course it's no real contemplative whose primary focus is on himself. The convert, by the way, is retired teaching legend and, coincidentally enough, formerly a Buddhist.
But if I do focus on myself for this supposed week of running, I realize that it's all about being well enough prepared for such an arduous undertaking by a thorough grasp of my physical structure, both general and particular, and the recovery methods necessary to keep it on the road for a week. Thus I've had to figure out what goes wrong with various joints and muscles, especially those grouped around my right upper leg and lower back, knowing I can't set out on such a sustained programme without knowing how to spot and deal with signs of trouble. I've had to study nasal breathing, as taught by Dr. John Douillard, and I've had to make a massive effort to come to grips with the origin and inserts of the muscle groups, simply to understand why the medial side of my right knee - the inside - is usually the first spot to complain. As a result of, hopefully, pegging the source, I've actually invented a new asana.
Can you cross each leg over the other with equal facility, when you're sitting in your armchair?
No? Shame on you. But neither could I, for decades. The Loyal and Ancient Fellowship of Western Half-tracks must have a huge membership. Let's shake up the club.
Sit in your chair, after you have pulled up a stool or a coffee table close enough to rest the heel of the loose leg on it. Now lift the tight leg and place it over the horizontal leg so that the lower leg of the tight leg hangs straight down and the upper part of the tight leg, along with all the gluteus muscles on the tight side, feel moderately stretched', from knee to hip. Do this regularly for the Chinese 90 days it takes for real physical change, and you should feel much more flexible on the troubled side.
The real goal is to be able to cross the tight leg over as the loose is in its ordinary position, with the foot of the loose leg flat on the floor. But if your stiff leg is as tight as mine was, this position is initially impossible to hold with any comfort. So the easier version is necessary for some weeks if not months. All real change is slow. Besides, Patanjali"s rule that the asana must be comfortable as well as stable is never to be broken.
My meeting with the principal of the International School of the Kootenays went very well. We simply talked for three hours in an organic bakery/restaurant that is an example of the healthy reality that our little city has been all about for some years now. The length of the conversation was possible only because she had a genuine interest in the spiritual life, and we did not talk all that much about music, which I had assumed was the main reason for her interest. I was reminded of what my life became after I left the ordinary teaching profession, forty years ago, with the difference that no one I talked with in those days could consider offering me a job.
And yesterday my faithful assistant started collecting camera and recording equipment, so I could study my own fingers on the neck of the baritone ukulele that hangs on the study/studio wall.
This also means that one of these days there will be a photo of the writer.