Saturday, April 30, 2016

Waiting on the Season

These last days of April, these first days of May, what I most need to cultivate is patience.

The garden’s awake, and something new is stirring every day, if not from hour to hour. The clumps of Tulipa tarda whose buds  I first noticed just this morning had started to open in the sun by early afternoon. Two days ago, I wondered what had happened to the lily-of-the-valley. Today the shoots are coming up everywhere, reminding me they’re an invasive species, and the last thing I have to worry about is that they’d ever die out. I didn’t even remember planting wild ginger by the front walk last year,  until yesterday I saw the leaves an inch above the soil, looking like the wings of a pale green moth still unfolding from the chrysalis.
The longing for new life is almost more than a dedicated gardener can sustain, once the winter is truly over and past. The nearby nursery is already stocked and waiting. I can’t bear the suspense until it’s clearer, two weeks from now, what’s come through, what’s flourished, what didn’t make it and needs replacing. Three years after moving into this house, I still don’t completely understand what will grow in this soil, in this much shade, between the roots of long-established trees. Every season thus far has involved trial and error. My impatience is equal parts eagerness to see what’s in store and a fantasy of what I want to do next with the tiny front and back gardens of a downtown Toronto house. Thank God I don’t have an American Midwestern quarter-acre to contend with.
My unwillingness to wait on the garden around me reminds me of the impatience we’re capable of showing toward the garden within. When I hear friends who long for personal growth berating themselves over their lack of progress, over their loops back into earlier patterns and habits, over their inability to map a clearly defined path forward, my prayer is that they can offer themselves a little more of the lovingkindness I’m confident they'd extend without hesitation to someone else.
Like I should talk--like I’m not equally capable of smacking myself for not becoming an overnight boddhisattva.
Patience in the garden is like the balance of Wisdom and Compassion that we need  in order to thrive, and in order to allow others to thrive.
It’s also like the patience called for in Matthew 13:24-30--the parable of the weeds among the wheat. There, the owner of a field tells his servants not to risk pulling up the crop by mistake before harvest time. The subsequent explanation of that story, ascribed to Jesus by the Gospel writer, reads like a judgmental othering of the people on the wrong side of a moral divide. I’m inclined to think of that exposition, though, as a later addition that obscures, even reverses, the real point. At its core, the parable is a story of the garden of our souls, and we’re cautioned not to fuck up the process of growth and unfolding by trying to exert control. We don’t need answers before the fact. We just need respectful curiosity and the patience to wait--and gratitude when the results manifest themselves in their own time.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

In the Wake of Resurrection

I began making Jerusalem Cross drawings a couple of years ago, during mornings when I hold space at a drop-in art studio for guests of a daily lunch program at the Church of the Redeemer, Toronto. Whatever project I'm working on there, my attention is bound to be distracted--by requests for advice, by the constant task of putting materials back in order, and, once in a while, by the need to dial down the level of anxiety, manic energy, or conflict that comes into the room. These drawings gave me a pre-determined basic structure to work with and a freedom to play within. I could walk away from them and come back to them easily and quickly.

During a retreat to an Episcopalian monastery about a year ago, I learned something important about how my spirituality has shifted over the years: I've never felt great about much of the Psalms, but this time around, I learned just how low my tolerance has become for incessantly chanting vindictive, paranoid Bronze Age poetry. So during my days there, I needed a practice of prayer that  could also serve as an antidote to too much "Forgive Me" this, "I Am Not Worthy" that, and "Crush Everyone Who's Constantly Conspiring Against Me" whatever. These drawings were that alternative prayer.




Saturday, April 2, 2016

Hand in Hand

In bright, early spring sun--the kind of day that reassures you, when you live in Canada, that we've all survived another winter--as I coasted my bike up to the door of my office building, just ahead of me, a family of four was walking south: mom and daughter in front, father and nine-year-old son behind, hand in hand, the son a step behind his dad but not, it seemed, in any reluctance at this public show of affection. It caught me in the throat, in the chest, in the gut, as such scenes so often do. I was riveted, and I lingered on the steps for another minute, watching them as they continued on down the street.

I wondered how many months--or perhaps a year at most?--before the invisible wall will most likely start to rise--before it will seem uncool to the boy to do something so childish as hold his father's hand; before it will feel to the father that it's time for his son to man up.

The depth of my reaction had everything to do with my own history, with my own wounds around an emotionally crippled father incapable of reaching out, let alone making it count in a way that I in turn could hold onto. Such a history means that a scene like the one I witnessed yesterday morning sticks to me emotionally, spiritually, and erotically like velcro. It triggers a longing for paternal connection, for receiving nurture from other men and, just as importantly, giving them nurture. It energizes the satisfaction I find in mentoring my graduate students. It goes a long way to explaining why I find it so fulfilling to hold space for another man (or woman) to explore his /her interior life more deeply--and often find it easier than having such a space held for me by someone else. (To borrow a term from our lesbian sisters, you might describe me as a spiritual "soft butch.") It's bound up with my desire to find intentional community among men.  (As when I was mesmerized, and incredibly turned on, at the age of seventeen, watching a documentary about--wait for it--Episcopalian monks in Michigan. Monks. Episcopalian monks. In Michigan.)

There’s an odd way in which I can access the depth of the wound around my father’s unavailability only through the strength of the longings stirred in me by a scene like yesterday morning’s. Someone reminded me earlier this week that somewhere, Freud says something like this: that what cannot be endured is sexualized. Perhaps it’s fair to say as well that what’s too painful to acknowledge consciously is spiritualized. To say that isn’t to undermine the legitimacy of either our spiritual or our erotic longings. But it is an invitation to know ourselves more fully, and to turn our wounds into gifts--as we must, if we’re to live out our calling to the repair of the self and the healing of the world.