Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Incredible Retirement

About this time a week ago, my beloved and I were strolling up Nelson's very own Ward Street, heading for home and supper, and ruminating over the just passed whoop up, in the main gallery of the new museum, concerned with her retirement as archivist and collections manager of the Nelson Museum, Art Gallery, and Archives Association. It had, of course, been nothing but a love-in, with lots of appropriate tears and laughter, the sort of thing that has to happen when you sort-of put out to pasture one of the greatest combinations of heart and brains you've ever seen and heard saunter through the universe at hand on a daily basis. This clambake, she hoped fervently, had finally brought to an end literally weeks of notice from the local news outlets, city council, and anyone else who could get into the act. It's one of the things we do in organized society - honour the souls who have served us well - but it's also a bit of strain on those who truly understand what it is to be useful. It's the job that counts and challenges and consoles, not the foofoorah that comes afterward.
Earlier than that, she had announced that we should attend the Nelson Choral Society's performance of Handel's Messiah, and I had bought tickets. This was before she realized, having her head down in the closing days of her work, that as she had two weeks of holidays coming to her, her first official day of retirement would be the Sunday of the Messiah performance. To tell the whole truth, it was not she that understood this simple principle of the ordinary work year, but her successor at the helm of the good ship Touchstones, who is very particular on all the management stuff, having a considerable bigger staff than Shawn used to have - except when Shawn had provincial and/or federal grants fueling activity at the old site - and also just super-efficient anyway, brought this particular revelation down to the archives basement.
Thus, 60 jubilant voices, four fine soloists, the twenty assembled musicians of the Selkirk Chamber Orchestra - containing two former members of the Vancouver Symphony - and a thunderously appreciative capacity audience were all on hand on the Sunday that marked her first official day of retirement. I didn't realize this myself until half-way through the first half of the performance, but when it did occur to me I was pleasantly struck by the auspiciousness of it all. God was not only good, but significant.
Later on, I realized that with the possibility of my wife being around the house a lot more, I was reminded of when we very first met, and felt as if I were twenty-two all over again, although happily a lot wiser. I hope.
And now I have just emailed the Columbia Basin Trust about its possible interest in the music publication aspect of the recent research. Some years ago, talking with a different government organization drew the most amazingly unintelligent response. It will be interesting to see if this group is more capable of actually thinking, especially with Herself around to help shed the light.
"And the government shall be upon their shoulders."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Capuchin Town Hall

Because I grew up loving anniversaries as much as I loved good old Mother Nature, when I discovered Catholicism I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Yet again. Being a mystic from three on means continual death and rebirth. Hollywood and even the Brits and the wise filmers of Europe remain light years behind my take on life. But maybe they'll get their sorry butts into gear. I read that Benedict invited the artists in for a chat. Like tea with the headmaster at Eton. (I'm currently, finally, getting into John le Carre and reading his book two, set in the environs of a "public" school in Dorset. Very upper middle class and full of British caste effeminacy, but a jolly good read from a very crafty pen.)
Not that Benedict is Eton, even thought Eton, given the current climate between some Anglicans and Rome, might become Benedictine. (Clever, right? But there is a hallowed community between artists and the debts they owe each other. I could never have pulled this off without Le Carre.)
Where were we?
Ah yes. A couple of nights ago our excellent bishop threw his second annual town hall meeting, looking for feedback on his proposals for livening up the faith in the diocese. In the spirit of the ex-troubadour who, along with Saint Dominic, saved Europe from going to hell for its attachments to the new prosperity, our newish ordinary is extraordinarily democratic. He is the boss, because he explodes in favour of decency, integrity, common sense, justice for all, in the manner which only bosses can do, given how the Almighty deals out the grace in organized societies, but he always does it in such a way that anyone with two real thoughts to rub together is confident of getting a good ear.
In my experience, he is profoundly unusual among Canadian bishops, which means that the diocese of Nelson, after decades of lumbering along with all the grace of a mountain troll (J.K. Rowling) might finally be able to spell PERFECTION. Remember the gospels? "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."?
Unbeknownst to me, as I have as yet never had any good reason in recent years to try to share Saint Thomas, John of the Cross, and the real Scriptures with diocesan organizations, and do not thus belong to the local think tanks, Bishop John's researchers have actually come up with a useful and interesting plan, by way of relating young and old in one viable faith community.
All this popped out on Tuesday night. So, naturally, as my studies of the modes are now at the stage where I know how to deal with the four voice keyboard parts of the old Saint Basil's hymnals without getting the headaches of frustration that come from inadequate technique, there would seem to be an opening for a youth choir that would be adequately trained in the principles of these skills. How these youngsters would overcome the appetite for slop - John Paul's words - that has built up over the decades remains to be seen, of course. Dogs do return to their vomit. But it's worth a try. And there have been signs of it working already.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Blogging Business

For some time now I have been ruminating on a comparison, turning over in my mind what precisely it is that this lovely new blogging process is similar to, at least in spirit if not in fact. There really is nothing new under the sun, as Hemingway said, following Ecclesiastes. The Greeks, the Hebrews, the Christians, really did get it all organized long ago, and the best we can ever do for ourselves is to figure out just how they accomplished it, then apply their rules to kicking the crap out of the distractions and deceits of our own time.
Science makes scientific advances, of course. Technology opens up wonderful new opportunities. Nobody knows this, for the moment, better than myself, who after decades of puzzled brooding over the fate of my novel, undeniably the first of its kind, yet much neglected or abused from a broad variety of publishers, not excluding certain tedious intellects in the Eternal City itself - as far as I can see - can now via the excellent and incredibly democratic services of, lecture, even totally trash, certain sinecures of pharisaical thinking.
From my own experience, we learn best how to do this at university, and this is what these early phases of blogging remind me of.
A university, of course, is a great collection of subjects, professors, students, and certain characters among the student body setting themselves up as authorities. Or, at least interesting characters. The very experience of the place simply boggles the mind, and with any luck at all, quite upsets the baggage of sociological, philosophical, and artistic preconceptions that a freshman bring to the campus. This does not mean that the much tumbled valises will not return in some recognizable way to their original positions on the great train platform of life, but they will at least have experienced a new depth of appreciation, and their contents, hopefully containing a classic or two, will be spirited aboard the train with deepened appreciation and gratitude.
Writers are exploding all over the place, on Blogger, just as new faces came at me in droves in my first weeks on the UBC campus. There were ten thousand students then, certainly enough to jostle the mind, with all their manifold passions and concerns, and that meant at least twenty thousand angels as well. Half of them good, half of them not.
In high school it was not quite the same free-for-all, because we were all much more subject in our will to our teachers and the ever looming presence of the principal. This was by no means a bad thing, but it was not the same thing as the great freedom of a university, with its lovely option of cutting classes for the sake of even more profound experiences than a lecturer droning on about elements of fact that any soul that could actually read could pick up for himself.
It was then, I would say, that I learned how to deal with the other blogs that now swirl around this terminal, actually more for Marianne's attention than my own, unless she calls me to one. There are a lot of them out there, and that is good. But I am reminded of the flash characters that showed up to dazzle freshmen, and, not infrequently, freshettes. As they laboured through their subsequent years on campus, they became identified as characters who could only survive because there was a new crop of freshmen - or freshettes - each year.
Out in Bloggerville, it is rather similar, and when some of the people you met at university announced themselves as poets, or novelists, you had to wonder if they really knew what they were about, or if writing in any of these or the other genres were just a temporary interest, something to try on like a new coat. Sometimes they even got themselves published, in the campus literary magazine, which was a way to find out how much they really had to say.
The problem with young 'literary' types, of course, is just how much they want to talk about themselves as opposed to how much interest they have in the world and its citizens in their immediate neighbourhood. Chances are that the more actual talent they have the more likely they are to be struck dumb by all the other talent they find around them. Certainly this happened to me, so much so that although I knew was living a very full life amongst my fellow students, I found it so full of inspiration that I was entirely lost over the possibility of finding a plot through which to detail my experiences.
But significant as this situation was, it was not the major problem. My greatest difficulty was that although I lived by a visible light, I had neither inspiration nor permission to use it as a factor in story-telling. When it came time to start pounding out the text of a novel, a few weeks after I had settled into my first year routine, I fled the campus entirely and set the beginning of the tale four hundred miles to the north, in a town I'd never seen, and quickly moved my cast to a boat. My one concession to a college ambience was a brief discussion of Milton among the three young men. I think that was it for purely intellectual give and take. The rest relied on the usual fodder of adventure tales, so I got my principal satisfactions writing about the outdoors and the water, which I genuinely loved and always had satisfaction from. And, as I have said earlier, I discovered that I could write dialogue quite easily. This was a hugely pleasant shock for someone who generally hated writing high school essays. It also took away any serious doubts that I had a genuine relationship with the Muse, although it was also plain that there were other elements of good prose I would have to work hard at to make that friendship stick around.
And this was the beauty of the university tri-weekly, the "Ubyssey". It was the perfect place for a student writer to learn how to work with words, and work objectively, as any real writer must do, by describing what other people are doing. Furthermore, I got to watch my fellow students, male and female, doing the same thing, although I can't remember much talk about their becoming novelists or even playwrights. If they were not moving on to academic or professional careers, they intended to be journalists, not a few of them eventually some of the best known in the country. I felt myself very lucky to be among them.
But I also learned very quickly, in no more than a fortnight, that most of the first years students who had initially shown an interest in the paper didn't have it to keep it up.
I remember vividly the first meeting of all the hopeful, the gathering in the dingy basement of the North Brock of those who had read in the first 1953 edition of the "Ubyssey" the call for new blood. The rooms were packed, and for a list of reasons I will explain in the next post or so, I beheld, coming in a bit late, the light of the angels telling me I belonged in this arena, mundane as it might seem to the uninstructed eye.
Good Lord, I thought, what a mob! Will anyone notice that I exist?
Within a fortnight, that mob had dwindled to a handful, of which, of course, I was one. Had the rest of them felt the threat of time against their studies? The scrutiny of editors destined for the hard-edged world of journalism? Or simply the stark ugliness of the basement rooms themselves, probably even more Spartan than any newsroom I have seen since, although the Nelson Daily News runs a very close second.
I stayed. I was accepted. I finished my assignments. I was quite quickly promoted to a minor editorial post that enable me to study the spirit of every university in the country, and some American campuses as well.
If this blog works on the world stage, much of the debt is owed to those most fortunate days. The more I see of the competition, the less I apprehend of that kind of experience.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Testing Hogtown, Testing the Kootenays

I reminded of my days as a journalist, learning how to write a news story so that in case of a sudden need to redesign the news pages, the story could be cut from the bottom up, leaving only the first paragraph or two and still presenting the essence of the tale.
Thus: A Kootenay-based writer and researcher into the modern history and problems of music education waits to hear results from his two most recent attempts to find intelligent readership in opposite ends of the country. On Wednesday of this week, K.B. Lamb contacted a major text book publisher in Toronto, and two days later he had provocative letter published in the very popular and much read New Denver "Valley Voice".Both contacts provoked a great deal of healthy spirit, Lamb said, and he awaits further developments, albeit with an eye on the parable of the sower. He also said that he felt enough encouragement from these contacts to be inspired to scrub two unfinished posts, which if published at this point, might have been confusing. Furthermore, he felt moved to add, he had recently been receiving some most interesting hits on his blog from Asia and Europe.
Meanwhile, Lamb spends his writing time most happily with his most recent blog, as it allows him to catch up with fifty years of backlogged adventures.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

One of the greatest mysteries in my life as a music student, which has been mostly in class with myself as the teacher, is the contrast between the initial inspiration and expectations I had in purchasing the complete Hanon. The "infamous" Hanon, as at least one teacher and writer has called him. I cannot say that he was totally useless, for I did get some good rattles on the Veritas School upright grand with his text, and learned that he had a theory for strengthening the fourth and fifth fingers on the pianist's hands, but neither did I find his doctrines sustainable. So why so much confidence in the first place?
Not long after Hanon I acquired the first of many copies of the Frederick Harris "Brown Book of Scales" and made better use of that, learning to do the crossing over of the middle finger and passing under of the thumb, with both hands together, over the course of two octaves, in a number of major keys. Initially I was quite proud of myself, and then puzzled when I realized none of this was any use at all when it came to studying anything more complicated than a melody line, and even then it was confusing, and in retrospect, profoundly damaging to the settling in of the necessary arithmetical relationships that lead to effortless and tuneful reading of the classics, or indeed anything else worth playing. I have not returned to Hanon very often, although I've kept the text, probably hoping that eventually it would make sense to me and I could not only use it myself, but show a student or two how to make it work.
But the Brown book I go back to regularly, not because I am afraid of being sued by Harris company for my contumely, but because ever since I took up the study of voice very clinically, thirty years ago, I've been fascinated by the process of solving technical and motivational problems in aspiring students, so I want to know the history of the decline in musical intelligence, whether for singers or instrumental musicians. And, in these days of economic recession, it is not a good time to waste or spend money replacing anything that can be made use of. Most family budgets need all the help they can get. And further, because I have a lot of other work to do, when I am not shackled to the demands of passive prayer, my own time for labouriously writing out my own scales designs is gravely limited. It only makes practical sense for everyone to find a way, if possible, to incorporate the literature in place, to the degree that it is possible. Building on sand, of course, is not the perfect answer, but even those who live by moving around in the desert know the virtues of temporary shelter.
It's interesting that the brown book ignores the study of fourths as an entity unto themselves. They do turn up in triad and four note studies, but only in part. Thirds get a treatment unto themselves, and sixths, and octaves in those puzzling escalator passages that introduce every second page. But the escalator passages are neatly laid out, so after you've simply gone up and down, one scale at a time, and then both together if you like, with one finger - it doesn't really matter which one, but I like to start with the third - then move on to using the ring finger in the right hand, and the thumb on the fourth note down, and plunk away. Thus you play G below the C, A below the D, and so on. As you doodle away, meditate on the facts that C is also doh, and one in the C scale. G is so and five, etcetera.
(The one finger thing is for studies in nomenclature. You have to know all the names of each note: letter, number, solfa. Thus, C is one and doh. D is two and re. But this is as long as you're in C. When you get to the D scale, either major or minor or modal, D is one. Some idiot nuns and others called it two, decades ago, and thus began the collapse of intelligence.)
Then do the same for the left, using the thumb on the C and the ring, or fourth finger, on the G. C is always doh, no matter what octave on the keyboard. The numbers, bless them, fly all over the place, as numbers were meant to do, but the letters and the solfa - in sane cultures - are constant.
Totally ignore the fingering set down in the brown book. The exercise those numbers dictate is not totally useless, but it is much less use than its publishers would like to think of, and any conservatory thinking them significant, or worthy of examination, takes a ridiculous position.
On some of these issues, I have finally written a letter, hopefully, for publication, to a local editor, to see what intelligence I live amongst in the general community. It is backed by some recent discoveries much more complicated than listed above, having to do with chord progressions on the scale of ritual enchantments such as the much too worshiped Eastern religions never dreamed of.
And probably no great rock guitarists either, although I would dearly love to be proved wrong.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Month of the Dead

No man, no matter how talented or learned, can fully appreciate genuine leisure unless he understands the after life. In heaven, we will have perfect leisure, and we need to know this in order to understand how to use our time here; and in purgatory we will have a kind of imperfect leisure, and in that we will realize how we failed to use our time on this earth.
Both in heaven, until after the general judgement, and in purgatory throughout, we will not have bodies. No senses. No eyes, no ears, no tongues, no skin. No imagination, either. In a sense, we get to be like the angels, finally: living, knowing, understanding, only through our intellects and wills.
Such a supposedly rarified modus operandi should be a cause for celebration. I mean, can we really be equal to all those spirits who have been around almost forever, nearly as omniscient as their Maker, and who, above all, have never been utterly stupid, wretchedly embarrassed, and in no need of the confessional? Nice work, if you can get it, that's for sure.
Well, nice work in heaven. Damned uncomfortable in purgatory, and unthinkable in hell, where, let me remind you, God once put my sorry ass, along with the rest of me.
Actually, he's done it more than once, although the subsequent immersions were brief, as I was by than no longer in mortal sin and the strict logic of His own thinking allowed Him to inflict only a brief participatory reflection on Protestant theology. (Brief, but still bloody uncomfortable) I was reading some Ralph Connor on of these occasion. Ralph Connor,although an entertaining novelist, and much featured on my grandparents' bookshelves, was a victim of the ridiculous excesses of Luther and Calvin and thus little qualified to be discussing the judgements of Christ. But the less theology men actually know, the quicker they rush to declarations more "infallible" than any successor of Saint Peter would dare to make.
This is the condition of living among the world, the flesh, and the devil that make novelists so useful, simply because no story can ever proceed well unless, through the dialogue among its characters, it reflects the reality of the human situation, caught between heaven and hell, limited day by day, even hour by hour, by the vicissitudes of life on earth, and reflecting on the passing of time and events with a depth neither historian, journalist, or film-maker/playwright can hope to equal. Each of the talents, or charisms, has its own special contribution, and the novelist's contribution is depth in its most profound sense, because only the novelist, being also a theologian if he is really up to the mark, has a full hold on silence. Journalism and film, for all their uses, are full of noise, and not even Henri Daniel Rops, and most readable and lovable historian of the Faith, can devote a full forty pages to the significance of a single Sunday afternoon in the household of a saint.
From the summer of 1959, in the weeks after my incredibly literate beloved and I were married, I mostly remember two writers: John of the Cross, from the copy of "The Ascent of Mount Carmel" she had given me as a wedding present, and Malcolm Lowery, author of a novel then getting a lot of notice from the academic community, "Under the Volcano". I actually never read the book in its entirety, although much later I did see the movie starring Anthony Andrews and company, and also the documentary of Lowery's troubled life. Like my late brother, he was an alcoholic.
But I did register great respect within myself for Lowery's opening lines, which were wonderfully simple, completely satisfactory according to the requirements of exposition, and referred to the Mexican way of celebrating November 2, the feast of the souls of the dead. Oh God in Heaven, I wondered, when will I ever get to write something so significant?
Twenty-one years later the answer came, and my author's field of observation had most definitely been moved up a notch or two: I opened my perambulatory narrative not by talking about souls headed for punishment, but about those in the short route to glory, those who knew perfection as well fitted as a pair of handcrafted boots, even up to possession of the Transformation in Christ, as the mystics know it.
And this time around, I am moved to get on with some pertinent studies of the angels and how they affect the life of individuals, especially individuals fortunate enough to be aware of the presence of these most interesting companions, counselors, rescuers.
This morning at the mass for all saints, I was particularly aware of how the angels are included in the reference to the holy men and women. I have never been more aware. This being the month it is, dedicated to the holy souls and their relief in, or relief from, the halls of purgation, I had been intending to concentrate on them. But the angels seem determined to insert themselves as well into my daily considerations of the parish, the town, the world, and the universal Church. The chapters of the latest blog are part of their reasoning for this richer than usual manifestation of the winged ones, but I suspect they have other reasons, perhaps even more concrete, for showing themselves so much.
All this confirmed, I think, by the Transformation coming for a lengthy visit at the end of Mass, although none of it was inspired by the external manifestations of liturgical music or clerical spirit.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Blog on Blogger

One of the principal narrative problems of the spiritual life is the fact of each significant moment seeming so much more significant than the last significant moment. After all, in this age of the lean style, certainly not without its merits - like the Gospel of Saint Mark - too much unrolling of the thick red carpet of superlatives can seem tedious, like the Blockbuster claims of Hollywood, leaving us titillated for the moment, but in the end as disturbed, and eventually flattened, as the child who's been fed too many sweets.
Yet, it does happen precisely and without the least real suspicion of exaggeration that the infinitely generous Lover of mankind insists on outdoing himself, so that as grace piles upon grace, the receiver cannot help but feel that no matter how awesome the then, the now is even greater.
I speak of a new novel and a new blog to facilitate its distribution.
Not Without the Angels started its haunting of my creative imagination two or three weeks ago and I think it fair to say that for all the angels had necessarily to do with all my literary inspirations from my teens on, never have they had so much to do so manifestly. I don't go into these things lightly. After the rigours of the dark night, I'd say that writing good fiction is the hardest bloody work I've ever known, and I have not been inexperienced in the ordinary trials of physical labour, especially with a questionable lower back to bring to the fray. There is only one kind of work I've never been able to do when exhausted, or even tired, and that is: write readable fiction. To go to the typewriter or, now, my lovely computer keyboard, in any other condition than the pink, is to go to fail. I have to be at my best, my absolute best, because the spiritual novelist's brink of observation, his field marshal's command of the field, is so filled with the original battle of the good angels versus the bad ones, that he cannot afford to be anything but on the complete top of his game.
I wrestle with the Almighty over this situation, scared crapless of getting there too late, equally terrified of coming up to the study too soon. The pen is now, always has been, and forever will, be mightier than the sword, and writers work under conditions generals would be most fortunate to understand. It is the words that send out the armies, not the other way around. Lincoln and Churchill had made this plain. I was, after all, in the army. I left it for the word.
Well, words and music. And the blackboard. All of which is being put together nicely by Providence for the sake of some form of comeback, now that the Pope is moving heaven and earth to restore chant to the ordinary practice of the liturgy of the parishes.
But there has also been another mighty restoration project, closer to home. This is our Capuchin bishop's decision to refit the cathedral rectory, not so much for himself as for the ordinary parish personnel and the return of the rectory chapel. Because of population changes since the 30s founding of the diocese of Nelson, most of the bishop's clergy live in the Okanagan, two hundred miles west, leaving him pretty much obligated to spend at least two-thirds of his time in and around Kelowna rather than Nelson, which was the major interior city at the time the cathedral church was built, with a view to the obvious future. Nelson was then at the heart of the biggest mining centre of the world, after the diamond mines of the Transvaal. But the mines died in a matter of decades, at least in terms of the initial volume of ore taken out of the ground, while the Okanagan boomed first in the orchard industry once irrigation was introduced and then in tourism with its summers so little discomfitted with rain.
There was a chapel in the ample quarters of the cathedral rectory, when and quite a while after the bishops of the time resided in the building, but in the latter years of Emmett Doyle it was removed, apparently for the sake of office space. Apparently, where there is neither love nor faith, put administration. It covers up a multitude of negligence and chicanery. Also, at that time, we had a nun for a chancellor. Thank Christ I was by then able to relate to the Vatican on a professional basis. As MT has said more than once, in those days the only parish or diocesan post we could have filled in good conscience was assassin, and as we all know, this is not a job description the Church endorses.
But all that has been swept away at the top, for almost two years now, and lower down the mopping up moves along at a leisurely but inexorable pace. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and Christ comes to judge the living, a little, before he has to deal with them dead.
It was in that gruesome time, the last days of WED, that a humble little widower named Paul Dixon was inspired to persuade the cathedral rector of the day to institute a weekly exposition of the Host. The rector thought Exposition a good idea, but was not confident the faithful could man the past more than once a month, even for a simple eight-hour shift of one hour per man, or more accurately, per woman. But Paul stuck to his guns, and a weekly business it became, and has been in place now all but twenty years. Perhaps it was simply this operation which influenced Christ to inspire Benedict to send to the armpit of the universe such a wonderful catch as Bishop John.
I got to know Paul through my elder son, found he had a taste for good writing, and lent him Cardinal Newman's autobiography. In return, he tried to insist that I had to show up every week at Exposition. I retaliated that I could very easily cover all that ground in my own house, being a mystic, and, furthermore, that God had for some time put the ban on our belonging to any special groups. He was not immediately buying my excuses - having been sucked in by Medjugorje he played with a shrunk deck - so I was forced to tell him that God had also made me a spiritual director to John Paul II and finally quietened him. We also had a great meeting of minds over Padre Pio, and that may have done even more to help him see my point of view. He's long gone from Nelson, but now, just about as long as it took Ulysses to get his wandering butt back to Ithica, we are, in a sense, responding to his initial inspiration. This is not because I'm a slow learner, but the recent unfolding of the universe makes our hour at Exposition an efficient use of time.
But it took until this recent Thursday for the Host itself to settle down to an exchange of ideas. Up till now the Man has been awfully busy either complaining about the sins of this and all parishes, or reminding me of all the old devotions I used to exercise in the various churches of my history with the Church. Mary, the Crucifix, the Sacred Heart, the Little Flower, and so on, and the Stations of the Cross, which remind me so vehemently of my days as a school teacher.
And there are always various publications to thumb through, as recently referred to regarding Our Lady of Kibeho. It's been a ripping good time, actually, quite putting the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl in their places. But not the simple stare at the Host that has been axiomatic in so many other circumstances for so long.
And this is merely in the cathedral.
It will be even more interesting to see what the Host gets up to in the new chapel, especially now that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has been confronted, in his own quiet way, with our new bishop, a Capuchin, at the annual meeting of these worthies. And just at the time, as well, when my guardian angel, and the guardian angels of literature and spiritual writing, have conspired to bring about The Third Blog. Contemplatives is about a diocese that might have been. It was constructing and writing this which kept me sane. Not Without the Angels is about the diocese that was. That is what, without the angels, that would have driven me insane.
Graham Greene should be chuckling in his grave.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Conversations with the Crucified

I am most certainly not a numerologist. The worship of numbers seems like a total waste of time, a preoccupation for profoundly minor intellects, of which the world is unfortunately too much endowed. Only idiots think the created more significant than the Creator, and numbers are of course part of the created. Not only that, they are even inferior, as quantity, to the metaphysical predicament of quality, a factor which makes metaphysicians and poets superior to mathematicians, for all that society has to reckon with their essential necessity. But therein lies the lesson. If mathematicians are necessary, how much more the other chaps posted above them?
And yet I have to acknowledge that numbers do have significance. It was the Lord who said, "I have ordered all things by number, measure, and weight."
So now we have Post 100, and I must think that a significant milestone has been reached. Of course, it is not every day that one has a brother die, and thus it was that Wayne packed it in as I was cruising into the 100th. He would probably like that. Once again, he is significant in his brother's life. The tenth predicament of metaphysics: relation. Moving from Aristotle into Pauline Christianity, this gives us the Mystical Body, and a great deal of trucking with angels.
It was in the middle of September, 1957, that a major part of the crew of the great BC Power Commission attempt at damming the mighty Homathko flew by Beaver float plane out of Tatlayoko Lake, down Bute Inlet to Campbell River. It was a radically sunny day, with an utterly cloudless sky, vivid blue, an unforgettable comment on a radically useful summer. In all modesty, given Western Canada's paucity of mystics and general mediocrity in regard to the best theological company, it was an unforgettable day, marking the exit from the Biblical desert of the contemplatives, which had produced profoundly significant fruit, to a purposeful and irrevocable engagement with the One, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church, without which, it follows as a matter of the simplest logic, no mystic can be totally fulfilled in his vocation.
From Campbell River we bussed to Nanaimo, where some stayed on the bus and headed for Victoria, while the rest of us caught the CPR ferry, either the Princesses Marguerite or Patricia, and set off for Vancouver.
I'd already known my share of adventurous and romantic travels on that pair of boats, but once again sailing into my home town created a whole new level of significant experience. Once we had crossed English Bay and passed under the Lions Gate Bridge, the vessel slowed for the approach to the dock, and I beheld the city before me and naturally pondered my thoughts and feelings on returning to the neighbourhood of my birth and upbringing and education. Now as I've said before, I'd already become accustomed to fairly regular ad-ons from the Almighty, interjecting himself into my observations and thought processes, sometimes darkening the inner and/or outer landscapes, and scaring the crap out of me, or doing quite opposite and making me feel outrageously favoured. Coming home, of course, was quite the parade, and He didn't want to rain on it, I suppose, so as we glided toward Vancouver under what was already a wonderful sunset, it seemed like the lamps had been turned up a notch or two, and the entire prospect, sky, sea, and city, glowed like nothing I had ever seen in a painting, or a film. Naturally, or, more accurately, supernaturally, my soul hummed accordingly. Clearly, I was returning home in triumph, and the year ahead simply had to be more of the same.
We docked, we disembarked, saying goodbye to each other, and promising to meet again when the academic year got under way the following week, and there was brother Wayne waiting, grinning, on the dock, as planned, with my little car standing by in the parking lot. He had driven it down, but of course I drove it home, as we started swapping stories.
The scene shifts, reeling off the decades.
For some years now our cathedral parish has held the public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, one eight-hour shift, one day a week. Thursday. A small but constant band of the faithful sign up for an hour each, and up to the beginning of the summer, we had never been part of this. It had not been at all necessary to our contemplative life, as we have a house that is profoundly quiet and prayerful, anymore than daily mass and communion has been necessary for years.The mature contemplative already lives in heaven, to a large extent, so he or she has no need of these otherwise helpful means for getting there somewhat more quickly than the average. (The Sunday obligation, of course, is another matter.) But as we did do the month of July on a daily basis, having the opportunity to hear sermons from an African Capuchin, we were approached by the lady in charge of the exposition schedule. It was summer; some of her people were on holidays; would we fill in?
We did, although I found I had to hold the line at one hour only from our household. God would not allow two, at least not more than once. And even for the one He was rather blunt about the sins of His people, here and around the world. So it was not an entirely pleasant time, although not as unpleasant as had become the occasions when I would drop by in the manner of the good old days, when so often the persons represented by the cathedral statues were some of my most necessary sources of support and information. But week by week it became more pleasant, spiritually, and less disturbing, spiritually.
In fact, the Thursday two days before my brother died held only one uncomfortable moment, with the life-sized crucifix that hangs over the side door, the northern entrance from the rectory car park. That image rises above the beginning of the stations of the cross, and I was just about to begin making them when I realized I was damn good and scared of Jesus on the Cross. I stared up, puzzled by the sensation, because it is by no means a normal one with me. The Lord had much more reason to be afraid of my doing something ridiculous than I have of his punishment. His lash I've known for too long in the dark night, and He knows this as well as I do.
But, as I said, I was frightened. I do not exaggerate.
I made my stations, all fourteen of them - a lovely habit I began early on, and practiced especially in Ocean Falls and Terrace, at the end of the teaching day - and went back to my pew for the rest of the hour. I habitually begin with the stations.
When our time was up and we were leaving, I was profoundly struck, coming out on the front porch of the cathedral, by the wonderfully luminous quality of the light lying over the town and the forest above it, lying to the south of us. It was remarkable, the most radiant I'd seen in probably some days. I spoke about it to Marianne, and at the same time recalled vividly the evening back in 1957, sailing into Vancouver Harbour. And then I thought no more about it, until my nephew Chris, Wayne's oldest, called just over forty-eight hours later.
A quick sketch of my brother's life would have to conclude, I think, with the decision that he never actually got to that lovely spiritual disposition known as "Fear of the Lord", the seventh gift of the sacrament of Confirmation. He did not receive that sacrament after his baptism, as far as I know, and even if he did, he did not do all that much to make it operative. But that, for some, is the reason for purgatory. So, as so much of the East believes, we can start all over again. Nothing so easy as wandering about as a cockroach, of course. Purgatory is no jog in the jungle. But it is much better than the other place, thanks to the prayers of the Church, so one perennially anxious brother and godfather was heartily relieved by those signs from on high. There were, of course, tears of relief.
At the next week's Exposition, at the beginning of the stations, I said, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," was the reply.
Always courteous, that Man, as well as infinitely forgiving.

When Push Gets to Shove

It was Keats who said it:

"but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end."

He did not mean those lines to apply to death. He was not talking about his own end, but the finish of his poem, Endymion. Yet the first time I read those lines in such a mood that they had any memorable meaning for me, I instantly applied them to the end of an individual life. Shawn's mother had just died and not long after we arrived for the funeral and other matters at her house in North Delta, after traveling all night on the bus from Nelson, I had looked through her little stack of books on the table in her room, taken up the volume of Keats and later leafed into that particular poem and somehow noticed the lines. We were late in the month of October, and there was all sorts of sober gold that year, both in the Kootenays and at the Coast.
As my wife said to the me the other day, I love the fall, not simply because of the natural elements Keats catalogues so well in much of his poetry, but because as a theologian and a mystic with my brains so completely re-tooled by the deeper poetry of John of the Cross, I see in the time that follows summer the symbol of the ultimate harvest, that which God calls home to heaven, no matter what time of year. The thought of death is also the thought of God's love and mercy, for those whose work is prayer and contemplation, and no season of the year is more remindful of these relationships, as God took the trouble to start teaching me when I was still quite young, even then in His omniscient way preparing me generally for my life work, but also with a very specific task in mind, this one, a commentary on the death of my middle brother, Robert Wayne, gone this past week at sixty-nine, largely due to severely alcoholic habits. He was basically a strong-bodied man, from generations on both sides of long-livers. But he insisted on doing in his own liver. He was physically tough enough, his doctor told him a few years ago, that if he gave up the hard stuff, and simply get swizzled all day on beer, his organs might make it through. His son pleaded with him to go that route, but to no avail, even after he lost the ordinary use of his legs and could barely make it under his own steam from his chair to the bathroom.
Addictions, the abuse of substances created to be useful in appropriate circumstances, are always mysterious. How can an intelligent, adult, literate, physically capable human being keep on swallowing or injecting or sniffing something that he knows will do him harm in the long run, and perhaps kill him? Why does he go on, year after year, and why is no one who knows him able to change his way of thinking and acting. Or, more to the point, not acting.
He was not always an addict, of course. Once upon a time he was a small boy, lively and cheerful, with a mop of curly red hair, blue eyes and a ready grin, and not a bitter bone in his body, four years and five months younger than myself. And smart. I taught him to read in a matter of weeks as he was turning six, a few months before he started grade one, and this meant they had to skip him a year ahead just as he was streaking through grade two. The reading thing might not have happened if we had been living at the time in an ordinary large community, with a lot of friends each within our respective age groups, but by the time of his sixth birthday we had been two or three months settled into the little paradise of Lasqueti Island, one of the northern components of the Gulf Islands, living in a house quite isolated from handy neighbours and children our own age, barring a fairly extensive effort. Wayne and I were thus made to be our own best friends for eighteen months, with only occasional, although meaningful, changes to this routine.
His inquiry into reading began, I think, with the backs of the cereal boxes - Kellogg's was doing a thing on wild animals from far away places - and continued through simple story books we found in the small library of the house we were renting. I had never heard that phonics were not the "correct" approach - idiocy is always intruding itself into educational methods somewhere, but not into Vancouver in the early 40s, when I was taught to read - and he caught on swiftly. We both had a good time, and I was quite unaware that I was doing anything significant, but we did our work in the kitchen, in the breakfast nook, so our mother heard us. In particular she heard me, and it was probably then that she realized I was a teacher, a useful grasp on my behalf when my basically less educated father became ambitious for me to become a lawyer. She told me later that she marveled at my patience, something she felt she would not have had for the task, and no doubt she also understood, in a way she could not express, that I was also thoroughly enjoying myself, as if I were playing a game. Because of my brother's eagerness to learn to read even before he went to school, she was given a glimpse into the future and the keeping within the family a sense of the fitness of things, not the least of which is that each child should be free to utilize the talents God gave him or her, and not be expected to fulfill a parental fantasy. This was all very critical when the rows came upon us, over my choice of vocations and religion, for my mother's attitude toward vocation generally came down on the side of doing what made you happy.
For some years forward, Wayne was content to follow my wake. As I was a habitual reader, so became he. He also joined the same scout troop, the same cadet corps. As the city was building new schools after the war, he attended a different high school, but he came on to UBC and also spent time with the campus paper. He was another of the incentives for my deciding against Toronto. As the new family home was then twenty-five miles from the campus, my car was handy for the ferrying.
And that car, a little 1950 Vauxhal I'd been able to buy from my afternoon shifts at the Port Moody pipe mill, in the early months of my first year in law school, figured in the signage from Heaven that indicates that in spite of Wayne's moral failures, those events and habits that legitimately bother family members, godfathers, and theologians, he's not in Hell. He is in Purgatory, a working member of the Church Suffering. Not too long into his university career he also followed me into the Church, becoming baptized and therefore eligible for eternal bliss, albeit delayed according to God's good pleasure.
How can I be so confident of a fact, and not merely caught up in theological speculations? Certainly any Calvinist faithful to his own convictions within the errors of those horrid doctrines would have to assume eternal damnation, from a variety of directions. And even a Catholic full of mercy and the lesson of the Pharisee and the Publican would have to ponder the Divine view of a divorce from a Catholic marriage and subsequent liasons, including a second marriage.And then there was the puzzling contempt my brother fashioned, within a mind that so often preferred to root itself in the mentality of sophomores, for our mother, blaming her for his own defects, of which he was well aware but not interested in correcting, as far as anyone else could see, and apparently refusing to see how many family attitudes lay in the regularly ridiculous positions of our father. In fact Wayne was first taught the practice of dumping on his mother by our sire, who from time to time vehemently attacked our grandmother's reputation. As ye sow, so ye shall reap.
It sounds like a Greek tragedy, does it not? Or even a Christian tragedy, for as I happened to see last night as I bedside read the Gospel of Saint Mark, family members do rise one against another. (I had also watched the concluding episode of the BBC's most excellent production of Anthony Trollope's Palliser series. Interesting timing, and I thought of the bullheadedness of our father, and the softening influences of our mother. Susan Hampshire was such a wonderful actress, as she and Trollope and the scriptwriter thundered on behalf of the heart.)
And yet, through all this contradiction to what good Catholics find in the orderly unfolding of a universe according to Grace, the avoidance of eternal damnation.
To be continued, although not without some testing of the reader's abilities to deal with spiritual

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Innocents Aloft: Canto Four

Although they were not bosom friends, Toby had from the beginning recognized Terrence McLynn as one of the people he had come back to the university for, instead of going off to Toronto journalism. In fact the entire Toronto plot - except for the possibility of it being the tyro contemplative's initial exercise in praying for the future of all his journalist friends who actually did go to the presses of that city for the rest of their working lives - had been something of a joke, inasmuch as he had only been in the bush a few days before he knew he would return to the campus for a year of all sorts of things he knew he had to catch up with. His year of partial removal had had its uses, but there was still much of the academic the novelist needed to explore.
And Terrence had been an excellent academic, a thorough reader, but not at all a recluse in an ivory tower, and ultimately enormously useful as an editor.
McLynn had been evident around the offices of the Pub Board, those utterly dingy basement rooms relying utterly for their architectural significance on the brains and hearts that frequented them, but Toby had never really seen him in action until he spent a lunch hour auditing a debate, over the relevance of the Queen, between the Brit and a Canadian student - ultimately destined for the diplomatic corps - whom he, Toby, already knew from another association.
It was a rollicking affair, in good old Arts 100, the scene of Toby's half-time auditing of Canadian history, in first year, and the much endured Economics 200 in second year. Terrence had acquitted himself in a sound parliamentary manner, immediately securing Toby's confidence in his basic literary competence, and then his protagonist had roundly accused him, in a manner quite stolen from John Diefenbaker, of taking his entire text from a recent article in Maclean's Magazine. Toby had simply enjoyed the whole thing, being impressed by skills he was not at all sure he possessed, and felt mightily confirmed in his decision to come back to the campus. There had been a good house, and Toby had also come away impressed by the energetic contributions to general society of his own nation, but equally convinced that it was no time to get rid of the monarchy.
So when Terrence showed up in the north Brock basement, or elsewhere on the campus, Toby always found something to say to him. The lad was enviable, in a way, finding purpose in the literature courses the university offered, and clearly radiating a co-natural relationship with them, unaffected and realistic, making it obvious to those sensible enough to appreciate it, that such study was the obvious road to intelligence: irreplaceable and not to be avoided. Terrence also wrote poetry, but not in such a way as to use it as an excuse to avoid the need of reading the classics. McLynn had annoyed him on only one issue - not bad for a fellow undergraduate - he had assumed that Toby was a socialist. He had pronounced this epithet as the pair of them were unfolding their umbrellas on the steps of the university library.
This pronouncement had come in the autumn, after Toby had turned over to Terrence his short story, Terrence being the editor of the student literary magazine and Toby having been oddly inspired to write a tale for it, subject, of course, to editorial approval. The story was plainly influenced by Toby's summer in the woods, and was undoubtedly a kind of pastorale in that respect, but it was also violently ant-establishment, one could say, because in it the principle character kills his boss by throwing at axe at his head. Toby knew only a little about Terrence's own position in the establishment of the British Isles, but he knew enough about it to think of the lad as quite broad minded in accepting such an explosive piece for publication. And yet it felt odd to be thought of as a socialist, after he had spent so much of the recent months pondering himself as possibly a Conservative, from the political point of view. He had most certainly not been anything of the sort before he went into the wilds, but the reading there had registered enormous sensibilities for the classics, and that seemed to him to include a conservative way of looking at all sorts of things. And yet if that were so, why had he admitted to himself that one of the biggest parts of his rationale for coming back to law school again was to study labour law, and read, with his head full of riotous anger, a substantial booklet on the Winnipeg General Strike of 1920 or so? It could all be very confusing, this swinging back and forth between points of view, and yet he had not enjoyed being labeled as a socialist. For himself at least, he had habitually thought that an honest novelist looking for a world-wide audience had to remain free of a specific political allegiance, for the sake of objectivity, just as he had to remain free of specific religious organizations for the same reason, although this latter position had somewhat altered, in the spring, when after his winter of studying the social sciences he had found himself quite sure he would become a church-goer when he acquired a wife and children.
And then there was that concept of perfection. This had come upon him on the bush job, as if he had been called away into the wilderness to be spoken to about something unusual, or, more accurately, about dispositions to the unusual further down the road. It had followed his running into Saint Thomas and the other classic writers Mortimer Adler was on about. He had not totally rejected the idea, but he had put it aside for later consideration. Perfection seemed to demand more than mere detachment, the concept that had been dangled in front of his nose as he entered university life. And as the obviously integrated Aquinas, the man who knew how to combine head with heart, was a Catholic, possibly this meant that he, Toby Skinner, would have to become a Catholic as well. But all in Somebody's good time, one day at a time, and probably not before he had accomplished certain goals.
There remained, for one thing, the problem of interior suffering. Was there too much comfort in Christianity? And then there were those who did not, could not, believe. Starting with his father,
reaching back into a very long list of thinkers and artists, and well spread around his campus contemporaries.
And, furthermore, one of those contemporaries, now, was his freshman brother, who, in fact, was another of his reasons for deciding to come back to the campus instead of heading off to j0urnalism in Toronto.

Friday, September 4, 2009

New Kid on the Blog

It was only a matter of time, but what time?
First, from everyone's point of view, there had to be a family reunion, and perhaps there even had to be a golden wedding anniversary with all the sprawling horde happily milling about in the mood that can only come from at least the heads of the outfit having had the grace to live all that time in the mind of the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church, with, in easy attendance, long term friends who, while not necessarily tucked under that maternal wing to the same degree, at least have some recognition in their hearts of where all the love came from in the first place.
It really was a party, and it went on for days, and not for one second could Mary say, "They have no wine," simply because she was there in abundance to ladle it out, in spirit, while other willing, laughing, cheerful hands poured the vintages of the lesser reality, and certain world class cooks fed the hungry mouths in four different hosting households, functioning as motels, while a fifth house, that of old friends, a restaurant deck belonging to other old friends, and the incomparable beaches of the Kootenays were staging the general gatherings.
And then there was the Sunday mass, where the family handled all the liturgical functions except that of the priest. No mindless hymns, no altar girls, and finally, after all these years, the language of the readings and the mass almost free of the modern gender stupidities over language.
And a lot of music throughout the almost fortnight. Even I came off research mode long enough to sing and play a little, although my main concern was to get the sense of the modes and solfa into the grandsons who are already quite conversant with the numbers, thanks to last summer's music camp.
Those were some of my agendas.
But my youngest daughter, the one who amongst the other writers in the clan has essayed the most, other than her Papa, into fiction, plainly had the possibility of inspiration for some scribbling in the back of her mind. For the first days after the long party broke up and the family clusters returned to their spaces across the western provinces it was the photographs that poured in via the computer. Printed out the ordinary way, the albums should weigh pounds, and of course provide an entertaining and moving record of it all. But then along came the announcement of one more family blog, "Letters to the World".
I think Rebecca was about twelve when one afternoon as she sat in the living room watching me write in my growing shelf of hard-backed scribblers she said, "Dad, why don't you just publish your journals?"
I told her that journals did get published, although usually after the writer's prose or poetry had made him famous, and often after he was dead. Usually after he was dead.
She took it all in rather solemnly, and it was at that moment that I began to suspect she might be a writer. She was already a great reader, like the rest of our girls, and not long after she was twelve began exhibiting a capacity for witty comment on her peers and others that earned her the title, within the family, of "Nelson's Dorothy Parker". That's the New York writer who said so many things like, "If all the girls of Vassar were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
Becka's wry comments were often of that calibre.
She's written at least one novel, but as if often the case with writers who actually think deeply, that part of her is so far unpublished. That book is really her mother's domain, not mine, but I have read a passage, on music, that handled the subject as well as Robertson Davies ever did in a proportionate space.
And she has one enormous advantage over her competitors. Because her father is not published in the ordinary way, she is one of the few, along with a couple of Popes, who have had the opportunity to read the photocopied version of "Contemplatives", history's first fiction to deal with the ultimate stages of the spiritual life.
The rest of you should be so lucky.
Enjoy the kid. I know we will.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our Lady of Kibeho

Given that my dearly beloved but occasionally exasperating father had no use for organized religion, and further given that he had even less use, formally speaking, for the concept of a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is a wonderful piece of Divine irony to employ a favourite phrase of his in application to the happiest discovery of the past week.
"This is the one we're looking for."
I first heard this meaningful sentence at the end of a long, hard, Saturday of digging in the back yard of our new home at Vimy Crescent, in the veterans' rental housing project of some 600 new homes built in the wake of World War II. We were a three man team: Dad, my next brother Wayne, and myself. Dad wielded the mattock, my brother and I the shovels, and we had dug from east to western end of the yard in the spring in preparation for the vegetable garden. A mattock is not a usual tool in a back yard garden, but in this case it was necessary, for our grounds had never been gardened before, only existing as bush forever, and then as the trampling ground for heavy equipment used in the construction. The dirt in the wake of the construction was next-to-bedrock hard, utterly insensitive to the ministry of a mere shovel, so my father went ahead with the mattock, to loosen the soil from hell, and my brother and I followed with the shovels that would render the ground fit for planting. And some of the time Dad and I traded: I too used the mattock.
As I recall, it was raining by the end of the day, but we wanted to see the job done, for even though Papa was not a churchgoer, he had a profound sense of Sunday as a day for the family to relax as a family. It was as we got to the last row of this team effort that he uttered the immortal phrase, "This is the one we're looking for." I did not then know I was a writer, but something in me delighted in the profound humour and common sense of my father's invocation. The "Ite, Missa Est" of the labourer at the end of his daily contribution to the world of work.I was thirteen.
My father, now dead and in purgatory, at last understands the purpose of organized religion, and is rather much aware, I imagine, of the Virgin Mary's irreplaceable office in regards to it.
And he is also aware of the follies of his life-long dedication to racism. This one must really sting for the moment, because his excellent phrase is being applied to his eldest son's discovery, in just the week past, of the Virgin of Kibeho, not only an African apparition, but an apparition in one of the poorest countries on earth. My father was too much of a materialist to have it easy with the poor, and the needs of the poor.
And such an apparition!
The BVM certainly did cut loose. Coaches, presidents, bishops, whatever, really should study the Boss' Ma's techniques! This was indeed a ball game. Scoring from the red line be damned, ninth-inning home runs go wash your face. When you want to see a real world class performance, just call up the Lady among Ladies Auxiliary Redemptor.
I am a little picked, I must admit. After all, we theologians, we Thomists, we back-and-forth-with the Vatican chit-chatters like to be in the loop. And we poor bloody victims of the prophets' periodic 'things that go bump in the night' like to have an explanation of what's going on. So how come I had to wait until now to hear of the real and true Marian performance of the early 80s?
From the simply spiritual point of view, I have always to insist, just to know the dialogue of Juan Diego with Our Lady of Guadalupe is enough. The soul melts, the spirit is forever yoked with the lightsome easy burden. I am of the western hemisphere, and no one over here could ask for more than Mary's initial visit to those sorry shores and the domain of Aztec blood craze. Any apparitions after that, as lovely as they are, can only be icing on the cake, the additional accidentals that John of the Cross talks about in the Canticle.
But that is in the spiritual sphere, and the contemplative ambience. There is also the active zone, damn it, which confronts the world as it is now, and into which I am occasionally inserted.
In 1995 I finally connected with the novel Gone With The Wind, as I have mentioned before, and came out of that mighty epic about neighbourhood with a few musical sketches for an opera. The creative juices flowed for three months, in my head, in my conversations - especially with a pair of puzzled and frequently annoyed agents - and even on to the page. But never the stage.
The contemplative's life is always full of intellectual adventure, and no small part of this mental smash, crash, and dash is the mystery of it all. Every image, every inspiration, has a spiritual value, but what does it mean in the visible world as it trundles along its habitually foolish, insensitive, and mediocre way?
GWTW was unquestionably a rocket. But why do much angelic activity for something that could not come to be?
In retrospect, I have to think that one of the major reasons I was moved to take up the book and make so much of it was the undoubted and very significant presence of the black culture in the South, and the special point of this is coming clear with the facts of the 80s history of Rwanda, thus preparing, a little better than I might have without it, for the phenomenon of black clergy turning up in our diocese. Especially black clergy who understand the importance of good instruction in music.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gently Down the Stream

Let's hear it for the Greeks.
They knew the joy of running, they knew the joy of rowing, they knew the joy of poetry and music.
I remember three assignments for memory in Grade Twelve English. Something from Macbeth, something from Wordsworth, something from Tennyson. The Macbeth bit began "We've scotched the snake, not killed it." and that always reminds me of the evils still running rampant in the Church Militant. The sonnet from the bard of the Lakes district was Ode on a View From London Bridge, which I chose not to memorize the night before, and then at lunch chose a pick up soccer game on the school grounds instead of memorizing, thus infuriating my English teacher - that was a surprise - but Tennyson carried the palm for unalloyed usefulness with his Ulysses, from which I conned about a dozen lines beginning with "Push off, and sitting well in order, smite the sounding furrow . . . ."
This was, of course, a profound homage to Homer and the culture he came from, and that culture included a great deal of wisdom on the subject of staying fit. Aristotle liked nothing better than to discourse on his elements of genius while strolling about the garden of the academy. Well he knew the students' infinite ability for going for an imaginative meander, at whatever point they lost touch with what was really going on. And what is more real than a walk?
Ah. A row.
Well, perhaps not more real, especially when you journey no farther than the walls of your attic, but definitely more efficient when it comes to burning calories and getting rid of the annoying little bulge in the middle that wasn't there when you were in high school and memorizing poetry.
In those high school days, utterly wonderful in so many respects, thanks to excellent friends and teachers, I became absolutely convinced that the one profession I was in no way cut out for was sales. I couldn't think of an object that was so necessary for the well being of a fellow human that I could have the energy to convince him or her to buy it.
But now, after a week on our immensely well-designed erg, or rowing machine, a Concept 2, I can actually see myself rapping on doors all over the bloody continent, filled, street by street, with people packing the obesity that is so much a part of that which threatens to bankrupt the health sphere.
Can there be an easier way to shed ounces by the day, pounds, even, by the week?
I doubt it.
There can be no doubt that I love walking and running. Earlier pages are a testimony to that fact. But those pages also give evidence that the chap in his early 70's was having trouble with his feet and his knees, and all those images of the extended Kootenay lope began to emerge as so much pipe dreaming. And the lard, although on a holding pattern, was not disappearing quite as it was supposed to, and indeed had done so in the best days of jog-walking, back in the warm summer of '06. Well, too much music research, for one thing, and definitely the foot problem for another.
The rowing might, of course, give new strength to the feet, and make them nimble once again on the high road. But even if it doesn't, no matter. The calorie burning is in place. After a week on the erg, I burn as many calories in a half-hour of rowing as I did in an hour of walking, and sitting in the attic, surrounded by the books of choice, a gallon jar of water, and a baritone ukulele for mode practice, who could ask for anything more totally productive? Stand by for unbelievable bulletins on weight reduction.
From the end of June, 06, until late in August, I had wonderful success with running against the bulge, managing a daily distance on the waterfront of anywhere from 5.2 to 6 miles. But then the right knee became a problem and I had to upgrade my grasp of stretches. And there was always the music research, thanks to no one in modern times understanding the relationship, in music, among math, the modes, and solfa. Just think of Inspector Morse and his two pint problems. Then even the walking sprung sore feet, so that cut down the early morning rambles.
But hah hah hah. Them days are gone for ever.
I guess I had to find out first the virtues of in house walking and solo dancing with a Walkman and Emmylou Harris. Not everyone can afford the thousand bucks for a rowing machine, at least not right away, without thinking about it and realizing that cars are inclined to retard health rather than advance it.
In the first week of a fitness program, of course, you gain weight. Water retention, because the body reads all that sudden activity as an assault on its skills for retaining health. I've been through this a dozen times, and still have trouble accepting the rule of nature. So I kept my mouth shut until today, when the scales this morning finally showed results, at 172.
In a completely unconnected area there is another bulletin. For the anniversary reunion, the Saturday night at the Royal Hotel has been canceled. The gathering at the beach at Sandspit will simply continue into the evening. We've been very good at this in the past, with the first two generations of musicians. The presence of the third lot will make it even more of an event.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Touched by the Uncreated

It has been recommended that I write some explanation regarding the two streams of creative recollections now emerging. My fondness for jumping from subject to subject in conversation is showing up as an appetite for equal unpredictability in time, place, and character notes. It's all wonderful fun for me, and, I suspect, just one more Divine ruse for keeping the reader's nose to substance rather than style, but if I can inject a little order and simplification, that's all right too.
I think it is fair to say that of all genres of writing, stories about the spiritual life depend the least on plot. The spiritual writer has to be concerned much more with the sheer facts of spiritual happenings in themselves, without too much concern for their external wrappings, simply because the interior events, in their substance, have little to do with the external, least of all in terms of causation. The external, at best, is no more than an occasion or a setting, and very often its effect on the mystic will be the precise opposite of what a citizen of the world is looking for.
The editorial input is timely. As I said a post or two previous, the winding down of the music research had led me back to my old contentment in the dark night, the normal day to day landscape for the contemplative's puttering about. So, naturally, I have been browsing John of the Cross' text of the same name, and then finding particular relevance in the very last chapter. I'm going to quote and footnote at least some of it, by way of casting a little light on the reason for the two streams of recollection.
The principle intent in this scheme to bringing us to the principle incident of the spiritual life, that is, the experience and recognition of actually being given contact with God Himself, rather than a mere manifestation of created grace. The latter is, of course, wonderfully useful on a daily basis, and necessary to salvation, but it is also most certainly not the same thing as the intellectual "seeing" and spiritual "feeling" of a brush with the Uncreated.
As I was saying recently to a rather wonderful new acquaintance, a Capuchin priest from the Congo, from the Ubaka tribe, the only line of the Our Father that puzzled me as we stood up every school day morning and recited with our home room teacher was "Thy kingdom come, the will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The rest of it made obvious sense, even though I was still not empty of sin, by any means, but just how did Heaven take over the earth?
Grade Twelve, of course, was an interesting year from the spiritual point of view, full of all sorts of special thumps from the Great Beyond, and this puzzle was only part of it, stirring the pot, as it were, in an educational system excellent to a certain degree, but woefully lacking in providing the theology that teenagers have a potential for. The intellectual curses of the Reformation, the babble of the Renaissance, still laid their perverse and disturbing hands on the hearts of the young.
It is true that the Lord's prayer and the Bible readings were much better then than the nothing they have now in the public schools, but they are still not fully efficient without formal theological instruction. Otherwise, how could a youthful mystic, particularly nailed by the extraordinary actions of Almighty God at the age of three, and specially pursued by the Hound of Heaven thereafter, require a full six years at a so-called world class university before he took up the writings of the mystics - specifically John of the Cross' Ascent of Mount Carmel - and only then because his wife gave it to him for a wedding present?
How indeed. Did false humility have something to do with it? Lack of a learned example? After all, for all our bold claims to originality and independent thinking we do inevitably only follow one sort of model or another, growing in wisdom - if indeed that fortunate - precisely in the proportion that we learn to bow humbly and gratefully before the classics, especially the classics in, and connected intimately with, the Scriptures, and rare it is that we have the fortune, when young, to find mentors who have taken that journey to its fullest lengths. And even when we are so fortunate we still have to make their wisdom our own, and in that come the trials that few will take the road through, as much as they might like the blessings that come at the finish.
So, because of the disproportions in my inner and outer sources of education, the tales of youth must be told in different modes. Obviously a man is one thing when God has special ways of hammering him into shape that he has no names for, and a different rational animal when he starts to collect some names, and then something else again rather angelic when he somewhat finishes that course of realization.
Thus, all the tales now coming forth under the heading: The Last of the Almost Natural Summers have to do with a youthful mystic happily cranked up several notches above the older moods of teen-hood by honest study of whatever genius took his fancy, yet still unaware of the proper language and texts for what was happening to him beyond the levels of the social sciences and philosophy; and the stuff after that has to do with the arrival of Catholic doctrine and practice, God bless them.
All this, of course, is speaking only of Toby Skinner's younger days, when the faults he had to look to were primarily his own. It has occurred to me that when we get to some later years, and the very senior levels of the spiritual mansions, the faults of others will make for some not unsensational Lives and Times of our present society.
Just to think of one field of cultural endeavour, let us consider publishing. But not quite yet. I have just in the past five or six days come to grips with the delightful rowing machine, a Concept 2 production we have had in our beautifully refurbished attic almost three years, and I shall be swanking out on that for a bit, if only because I am incredibly mystified as to why it has taken so long to get around to finally taking on to what is so clearly the ideal workout situation for a contemplative.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roadhouse Madonna Two

In the second place, as far as ordinary catechetical education goes, Toby had known very little about the Virgin Mary. Singing Silent Night at Christmas, or browsing the minimal references that occurred in English literature were extent of his formal education on the subject. No family rosary, no holy cards, statues, or the preaching common to any Catholic parish that knows which side its bread is buttered on, and all his formal contacts with Christianity, his biblical grandparents, his occasional brushes with Protestant Sunday schools had taken place in regions firmly dedicated to decrying and ignoring anything that smacked of Rome and the Pope, with all its happy and natural relationship with the ultimate expression of the feminine side of the Almighty and his first spoken word. Thus, where the women in his life fell short of perfection, and on occasion far short, he could not fall back on a good schooling in the automatic recourse to, and refuge in, the Woman among women.
That is to say, not in the dial-up of the spiritual life that he was conscious of and could practice as a life-saving habit.
Nonetheless, as it is the common doctrine of the sensible faithful that there is no grace that does not come through the mother of God, where Jesus has struck in plain fashion, she, although utterly hidden and unheard of in the ordinary way, is part of it. So she must have been around for Toby's childhood visions, albeit unknown and unacknowledged, nor could his great affection for nature have existed without some input on her part.
And in fact there was a special signal of this sort of intervention, around the same time as the Lord had dropped into the Baptist Sunday school.
One Saturday morning Toby's father and grandfather had found they had some business at a nursery, and they took the lad with them. At a point where the adults were talking business in the green house with the owner, Toby, left outside to admire his magical surroundings, heard a bird warbling the most heartbreakingly beautiful song he had ever heard, at the top of some ornamental conifer he was standing by. The beauty of it pierced his soul most keenly, and left a fair amount of painful longing when the song was over. Never had he heard such a song, never had he seen such a tree. Not even a Christmas tree, full of lights and ornaments, with its foot surrounded by wonderfully wrapped presents, had ever seemed so lovely. Nor had it seemed to break his heart with longing for its presence after it had vanished.
He said nothing to anyone about the experience, nor would it have been within the norms of grace to do so. If no one in his family could deal with the Virgin Mary in the literal sense, they would be even less capable of doing so in the symbolic.
Later, as a full adult in the Faith, and professionally conversant with the rules of the mystics, he came fully to understand that visions, locutions, and all other manifestations of special attention from the Almighty required absolute coughing up to one's spiritual advisors. But by that time he had truly spiritual company, souls who had grown robust and frightfully clear-minded over such events. In those early days and for long after he only knew the untrained and the only partially experienced, if that, and God was quite content to shoot from the hip and then immediately bury the body so no one, not even Toby, could tell about what had happened. The Lord gave, and the Lord took away, looking cheerfully ahead to the day when all could be revealed in civilized company, not only because of the company but also because Toby's education would finally catch up with his experience.
Nothing is more peculiar to the acquisition of wisdom than the fact that the principal route toward it is so hidden. Given that Jesus is a man, one could almost be justified in giving Him three or four good smacks up the side of the head for his manner of hiding his mother away from the great unwashed. You don't think this is realistic? Well, just look at the history of one of the most useful books ever penned, Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary. Anyone who knows this book well has to be horrified by the fact that Divine Providence allowed it to be buried in a bloody trunk for nearly a century-and-a-half. This only makes any kind of sense when you stop to realize that the coming of Christ was held off even longer, much longer. That's how valuable, how essential to a fully realized faith, that book is. Happy the man with the grace to read it at all, even happier those who would never let it wander from their bedside shelf.
But I digress.
The girl was, indeed, like a statue in a church. God help the fools who think He does not like images in His buildings. She was tall, blonde, long legged, and beautiful, especially to a dozen men about to say goodbye to ordinary society, wherein half the actors on the stage of their immediate world would be female.
The little cafe held only four or five tables, and bar with stools for half-a-dozen souls. The tables were empty, before the surveyors arrived to take over most of them, but the bar was all but full, not only for the sake of conversation among those who sat to it, drinking coffee or tea, but also for the convenience of the men who had come to eat their last meal in civilization.
As with his evening in the pub north of Sechelt, the westering sun shone through the windows, and Toby once again felt the magic of a place where all came together by accident, or at least seemed to. Later, again, he was to learn that there is such an enterprise along that westering road called The Moccasin Telegraph, and he would realize that the girl and her company would have known they were coming, and come down to see. Why not? She was . . . . fourteen, maybe sixteen at the oldest, and somewhere in the midst of all these lads she might have caught a glimpse of a face that would suggest her future husband. He could, of course, actually be amongst the crew, and moved by the spirits of the moment, take her hand and declare himself now. Stranger things had happened. Not that she favoured any of them with a specific glance. Iron willed, she spoke only to the older woman that was beside her, and or to the man behind the counter. But always in a low an softened tone, as Mary would have spoken to the men of her household.
The surveyors, chattering as they emptied their vehicles and stumped up the stairs, fell wonderfully silent as they entered the room and beheld what awaited them. It was a total shock. The other inhabitants, those who gained the place before them, were prepared for what was coming. They were as cool as the soft drinks in the refrigerated display unit. The road west was thinly populated, and the daily truck driver carried all the news of the weeks ahead.
The proprietor hustled forward, order pad in hand, and the surveyors got to it. But all went forward in the most subdued tone. It was as if the girl had to be included in the conversations, yet not in any obvious way. She was one of them, but she belonged to all of them, and no one had the right to single her out as his own. They talked out their day, they inquired of Mortimer and Gorman the details of the rest of the night and the next day, but always in a mood that knew she was in the room.
By the time supper arrived, Toby had an interesting thought. Was it his ego, or had he divined something particular to the relationship between musicians and the female. Had the word got out that there was a musician in the group? Had she come to lay eyes on him? Interesting, because if there was anything he had steadfastly refused to take advantage of, it was the belief, in some quarters, that musicianship granted an automatic right to special considerations. Perhaps he was imagining things, of course. What novelist was incapable of making mountains out of molehills? But there was a possibility, and therefore there was a responsibility to go with the general mood of the evening and make no special concessions. He would be simply one of the crew, and not break ranks, not sidle up to the coffee counter for a singular conversation. If she had been older, perhaps, just to be polite, given that she'd made the effort to show up. But she was too young, intellectually, unlikely to be a conversational match for the girls he had known and still knew at university, so in the present circumstances she worked best for all of them simply as an image, especially as she kept her voice down and did not shriek or giggle at the sight of so many males incapable of being unaware of her radiant presence.
Toby actually sat with his back to her, which lost him his view of the girl herself, but augmented his observation of the effect she was having on his fellows, and possibly it was his deliberately selecting the blindest seat that dictated the tone of the evening meal. None of the young men shrieked or giggled either. The room was full of a very pleasant mood. The meal went forth in a tone that would have done credit to a monastery. With another hour's drive ahead of them they did not linger, and the girl was still at the counter when they left, filing out as thoughtfully as parishioners who have just heard an usually effective sermon. No one really spoke about the girl, back on the road, and when Toby and Nikos were settled into their room in the Alexis Creek Hotel, Toby borrowed one of Nikos' books, a Penguin paperback introduction to calculus, to spend a pleasant hour with it while night fell and Nikos tried to find a seat in the hotel's taproom, very small, and jammed with local natives.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Chariots of Fire

This being the Saturday of the fifteenth week in ordinary time in the Church's liturgy, the first reading for the day was about the prophet Elijah's being taken up into heaven. The assumption of Elijah is in fact the title given to the event, thus making the hoary old nemesis of Ahab and Jezebel the precursor of the Assumption of the Virgin. That feast, of course, we will be celebrating in a month, a week before the big family clambake in the Royal Hotel and elsewhere, and the date by which both my recent batches of beer will be in utterly prime condition. And as if that weren't enough jollification, precisely half-an-hour from now - it is 6:30 a.m. as I write - three of the older grandchildren will be, like Santa's elves, running about our basement and kitchen following my directions as they begin their apprenticeship in Grandpa's brauhaus with current batch #3.
Phew! Finally I get to my own answer for Marianne's cousin, Massachusetts Jack Tremblay, who from a recent reading of the blog seemed to think I thought there was no beer in heaven! Good Lord! Does he not know what Saint Benedict's initial band of followers did to their own revered founder when he suggested there was to be no wine at Monte Cassino? "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" also runs the other way, in the best circles.Yes, there is most certainly beer in heaven, and even though my brew is always praised to the skies, we all know it's nothing on the stuff we'll get to drink up there. With, bless us one and all, no closing time. Rest assured: all the best theologians understand the term inebriation as a positive thing.
But I digress. Film is the big item for the moment. Film and the music system, and a new generation.
And I think this must be hard news, as the journalists say, and not just optimistic speculation, because the Muse last night yarded me right out of all artistic and natural science situations and plunked me down where I am most content, because most secure, in the the literature of John of the Cross. Honey, I'm home. Folded in the arms of passive prayer, of the dark night, the soul is incapable of mistakes and the only stress comes from keeping the will facing into the headwind, which, when you know what's good for you, would be no stress at all if it weren't for the devil, who is so often trying to knock you off the puck, as we say in Canada.
There is a natural element or two in all this relaxation, which is often the case. Not only am I, finally, at rest in the eight modes, and therefore know the boundaries and the general divisions of the real foundations of music, but in some relatively new arrivals in Nelson I have the ears to hear about, and help me do something with, the most efficient processes for sharing this information.
And, just as it used to be in the glory days of Nelson theatre, there is something to advertise.
In other words, I have run into a real film maker, internationally known, who lives in dear old Nelson. His movie, Camille, has done well at the Seattle film festival and is also much appreciated in Russia. As I said to Greg Mackenzie, at our recent and first meeting in Nelson's Oso Negro coffee shop extraordinaire, Russia owes me a bundle, and it seems it has started to pay off.
Russia is watching his film, Greg has an open ear on my music theories, and I was also able to say to Greg and his wife well placed in the midst of Nelson's run for the brass ring, that I have an African ear on the wisdom of my music research.
My my my my my. Just imagine the power of the film industry yoked to the power of Africa.
Remember Paul Simon's magnificent album: Graceland? I finished out Contemplatives to that disc, descending to my then basement studio as the music roared out on the kitchen speakers, as MT settled into the preparation of supper. Ladysmith Black Mombasso was such an integral part of the process, and wasn't little old Paul clever to include them? It reminds me of an expression I had for Nelson from the beginning in this very white town. Not enough blacks, not enough Jews.
Well, in recent years we've acquired quite a nice complement of the children of Abraham, who all take their part in most of the facets of civic responsibilities, not infrequently with outstanding success. But the black faction has been minimal until recent weeks, at which point it has come with that kind of impact that can be provided only by the Catholic Church as founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ in His unique function as Son of God and Redeemer of the world. Jesus is such a gentle fellow, slow to wrath and condemnation, but from time to time He really does kick butt.
The grand news of Pope Benedict appointing a Capuchin as bishop to the diocese of Nelson was only days in the works before I asked a long-established member of the diocesan clergy if our new bishop would be able to bring some of his fellow reformed Franciscans to our part of the world.
"Oh, no," said this cleric, with all the assurance of the complacency that has dominated this diocese for so long.
I knew immediately he had missed the boat, although it has taken a while to prove me right. It was only in the month now ending that we have had the benefit of a Capuchin from the Congo, not only a profoundly substantial priest in his own right, but a sign of better things to come. He's a doctoral student at San Lorenzo in Rome, out of class for the long summer and thus available to fill in over here for the local priests' well-earned vacations. We have him for the month of July, and not only do we go to daily mass, but he is available for supper once a week, and has taken a lesson in the music system, with another to come before he moves on to his next temporary post.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Roadhouse Madonna

In the first place, it was not really a roadhouse. In those days, still in the wake of the strange legislation that arose out of the hysteria of the temperance workers on our continent full of confused pioneers, the natural combination of food, live music, and alcohol was not often found under one roof, in the province of British Columbia, especially in the rural communities, even in a rural community so full of legend and romance like the Cariboo. In the founding decades, in the gold rush days, these blessings existed side by side, of course, for even in Toby's heritage there had existed a grandmother who had played her violin in the hotels of the Klondike. But subsequent legislation by leaders educated in systems other than the cathedral norms of good old Europe in the Old World and the southern hemisphere in the New, had left the heart of man puzzled and at a loss. Toby had grown up assuming these were universal standards, until one of his immediately recent roommates had told him how things were in his younger days in England, where his father took his beer in the same place as his young son took his lunch, while they were traveling and had stopped at a pub, and Toby had been hard put to figure out the morals of the difference, for all that his own father had usually taken his evening pint in the same place where Toby ate his supper.
So, there was no live music, nor any hope of any, unless Toby were to illegally take his banjo out of his duffel bag, and there was no booze. There was only a clean, modest, small cafe on the north side of the road west, an hour or two short of Alexis Creek, where they were to stay for the night in the lone hotel there. The Alexis Creek hotel had a dining room, and a pub, so it was said, but the dinner hour was upon their stomachs at the nearer location, and the three vehicles pulled at the humble cafe.
This decision had been made somewhat earlier, overlooking the spring green valley of the Chilcotin River. David and Toby had been leading the pack since they had left Williams Lake at noon, loaded with groceries, leaving the spotty rain in the valley for the gradual clearing and then utterly clear skies above the Cariboo plateau, and they had been chatting all the way on all manner of subjects - including the rising young film actors sketched in a magazine David had picked up along the way - until well on in the afternoon when the truck had bent a sudden left in the highway and emerged from behind a wall of jack pines to suddenly behold, to their left and behind them, the awe inspiring surprise of the valley, some few miles wide, lying hundreds of feet below them and extending east for almost as far as they could see. moreover, on the top of the hills to the south, lay the buildings of the fabled Gang Ranch. In Toby's mind, this historic institution was not quite on a par with Rich Hobson's wilder location further north, but it was still a striking sight, a mightily poetic connection with all the westerns he had read in his younger years. David had all but slammed his laden vehicle to a halt, and leapt out with his camera, to shoot and shoot again, and in his own habitually quiet way wonder in amazement at Toby for his lack of a camera.Toby laughed. "I'm a writer. I have a memory. If I can't recover this scene on my typewriter I'll have to get a different job. When I write my book, however, I might ask you for a photo. That is the most profoundly wonderful view, and all the more for being so goddamned unexpected. Behind those trees, we didn't have a clue. Not a clue! I've never seen anything like it!"
The jeep and the sedan drove up, and likewise disgorged all the other camera owners, and Mortimer said they would stop for supper something under an hour further along the highway, instead of waiting until they reached the Alexis Creek hotel and its dining room. There was a unanimous murmur of approval, then they got back into their vehicles and rode into the sunset.
So the view of the valley, you might say, had set them up for what was to come. And of course they were a group of men, mostly young, now stopping for dinner on their third evening on the road, which has to bring to the situation a certain sense of the special. All of their meals together had been lively celebrations, with the jokes and the stories flowing, and no one relying on reaching into the gutter to get a laugh. They were all too busy getting to know each other, for the sake of the long isolation ahead of them, and none of the university men were the least bit interested in being snobs about their educational good fortune. To a man they came from working class families, even if Toby's father had somewhat risen to higher levels through the education he had received during the war, and they all had enough sense to be grateful to have well-paying, well-fed summer jobs, and to respect the trade skills of the professionals at their sides. To respect and to learn from them. It was a very nice mixture of men, Toby had thought from the beginning.
And he had been mightily prepared for the experience, although by spiritual and literary experience more than by formal doctrine. The concept of "the common priesthood" he would not actually hear in sermon form for three or four years, but the actual practice of it had been banging through his mind and sensibilities all his life, in quieter fashion, and at least in the last year, simply as a bloody riot. Mentally speaking, no running with the bulls in Pamplona could have done more for his psyche than the shocks of the spirit, sometimes aesthetic, ecstatic, and otherwise all the sensations of the soul the poets look for; sometimes downright brutal and annihilating, the things the real mystics look for, even when a big part of them doesn't really, naturally, want to.
And yet - and this was a contradiction he would be enduring for several months ahead - he had no vocabulary for these events, no index or glossary at the end of his life-book of the moment. It was true, of course, that like anyone educated up to and beyond the high school level in his culture he had been somewhat informed about those earlier cultures when the saints purportedly exercised all sorts of fantastic privations in order to acquire perfect unity with God and the universe. One simply read in history class of the rigours of anchorites and prayerful men at the top of poles. Everyone knew of such things. But at the back of Toby's head lay a prejudice against outward show, and whatever actual hard core spiritual life he had, he preferred to keep it undiscussed. This was just as well, and in no way ungrateful or disrespectful of what he had already been given, simply because he knew no one at that time qualified to give him spiritual direction. And in fact he would later find that out that such ability was in great shortage in even the Catholic culture of the city of his birth and most of his education. So the common language for the spiritual life, which is, of course, much different than the ordinary devotions of both Protestants and Catholics, and indeed any religion, he had no awareness of, for all that he had already been given a good deal of it. Nothing is more desirable, for instance, than a regular dose of aridity mixed in with all the consolations that come from nature, good reading, reasonably virtuous friends, and even the slightest contacts with organized religion, and particularly from his adolescence on, he'd known the beginning skirmishes of the dark night of the senses with enviable regularity.
But, as I said, he did not know that he knew this in the way a formal and detailed theological education would have given him, nor did he talk about these events with anyone he knew, and the light that came and went, had in fact been coming and going throughout his conscious life, even before the aridities he assumed were something everyone else experienced, and just didn't talk about, or else somewhat unique to him but still not a subject for conversation.
It was in so many ways a ridiculous situation, but man must pay for heresy and rebellion against the order God intended, and so Toby was, in those days, a victim of his heritage as well as a benefactor by the divine will to overcome it.
And, on occasion, that will manifested itself with remarkable effect, sometimes sheerly on its own, sometimes through persons or things. So far, from the landscape of the province as it flowed by on their journey, things had led the parade of instruction, as in the fourth stanza of John of the Cross' Spiritual Canticle. Something of mankind was about to take over, and the sometimes remarkable play of the intellect and even the spirit to manifest themselves.
In retrospect Toby was to remember that the little cafe lay in terms of the points of the compass pretty much as had the inn, as it called itself, that lay high above the strait on the road north of Sechelt. Both buildings thus faced enough to the west to get the full effect of the declining sun, and both had full windows to make the most of the opportunity.
There were a couple of significant differences: Toby was by himself when he'd driven from his grandparents' place on the Inlet, to down a couple of draft on a gorgeous evening just less than a week previous, in a pub with the most expansive view, of the strait, that he'd ever seen from the windows of a beer parlour. The clientele, however, was utterly humble: a few local whites, a few local natives from the nearby reserve. Not a high roller in a fancy suit in sight. Having just spent an entire year being out and about in high society, with a car and money from two different jobs to bank roll his writer's sense of research, he'd hit some of the best leisure locations on the Coast, on both sides of the strait, where the drinks were priced accordingly. But none of them, for all their furnishings and classy entertainment, could boast of the view at hand, to be had for the price of a couple of bier ordinaire.
The other difference was that nothing of an especially spiritual nature had happened while he sat in the pub. True, his painter's eye - such as it exists in a novelist - was mightily filled up by the light of the falling sun and the green of the forest below and the blue of the strait beyond, and the more faded green-into-blue of Vancouver Island beyond that, and perhaps there was an extra slice of metaphysics, a brush with the intuition of being that had been coming now so regularly and intensely since he had started to get serious about philosophers, but nothing to shock him, pleasantly or otherwise. It had been a peaceful thing to sit quietly in the pub, absorbed by the view, the convivial quiet, the sense of adventure awaiting in the upcoming job.
But just as he drove back into his grandparents' private road and was parking his car, something odd, and not at all pleasant, had come into his soul.
It was more than a mere interference with the process of ordinary thinking. This he had known at least since he became something of a frustrated Latin student, immediately on his first day of class, and then known much more thoroughly from the time he began law studies. As he was to learn later, the ligature of the faculties, that impediment which simply hurls a soul on to a notable rung of the ladder of perfection, had taken an irremediable hold on his mind. But this had hardly been unpleasant. Indeed, it was more like a comforting, quietly joyful, stupidity that still let every form of life about the campus, including the law school and its populace, be utterly acceptable and the only place to be, yet without any indication whatsover that he was about to become a scholar of the Law. His sense of the intellectual life continued to come from literature.
But this intrusion was unquestionably a bitter thing. It was as if someone was quietly filing on his brain and ragging his spirit, so that he felt that there was nothing worth knowing and nothing in all of life worth tasting. He was puzzled, and somewhat frightened, and on re-entering the house, not much comforted by rejoining the company of his grandparents. It took something of an effort to relate to them, and he was relieved that they, like he, were off to bed.
But he was only relieved for a little while to find comfort in the sack. His youthful imagination had just nicely gone somewhere it did not really belong, when he found himself in Hell, although not in his body, but in his soul alone. For as long as the exercise took, he did not have a body. He only knew his spirit, and that was unquestionably something he really did not want to know as long as it was in the place it was. He had neither read of nor imagined any pain or horror or darkness like that he had been plunged into, and it seemed to be going on forever, although it is unlikely that it lasted for more than a minute, if that long.
Then it went, and Toby lay quietly for a while before he fell asleep, yet not actually thinking too much about what he had just gone through. It had been a winter and spring of things he had never really read about, or heard about, more joyful and inspiring than otherwise, so this must have been just one more first exposure to the whole story of what it meant to be his kind of writer, whenever he could figure out what that was. When he started back to the city in the morning, he was especially conscious of how beautiful the forest was along the highway to the Gibson ferry, and really did not remember at all what had happened to him during the night, so high and wide and appreciative of creation flew his soul for the moment.