Saturday, 17 August 2019

Reflections on Celtic Wisdom




“May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.”

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, opening page
 By John O’Donohue (1956-2008)
 Irish Poet, Author, Priest

Over the last few days, I have been paying my annual visit to John O’Donohue’s engaging book, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (1997, HarperCollins). (The phrase 'anam cara' means ‘soul friend’ in Irish Gaelic.)


John O'Donohue (Unknown Photographer)


Sadly, John O’Donohue died far too young. But his books live on and testify to his wisdom, discernment, and muscular spirituality. Anam Cara speaks as powerfully today as it did twenty-two years ago when I first read it.

O’Donohue helped me reclaim important elements of the spirituality of some of my ancestors – the Celtic people of southwest England, along the Cornish coast. O’Donohue was Irish by birth, but he also recognized the power of other Celtic traditions: Galicia, Brittany, Normandy, Cornwall, Wales, and Scotland. These pre-Christian ancient peoples worshipped the power of the earth and the power of the ancestors. Their voices can still be heard today, sometimes just beneath the surface. O’Donohue brings their wisdom alive in very contemporary ways, often whispering profound alternatives to accepted understandings.

Here are some quotations from Aram Cara that speak most eloquently to me:

“The human journey is a continuous act of transfiguration. If approached in friendship, the unknown, the anonymous, the negative, and the threatening gradually yield their secret affinity with us...the imagination is the great friend of the unknown. Endlessly, it invokes and releases the power of possibility.” (p. xvii)

“Love is anything but sentimental. In fact, it is the most real and creative form of human presence. Love is the threshold where divine and human presence ebb and flow into each other.” (p. 15)

“True listening is worship.” (p. 70)

“The imagination has a particular rhythm of vision that never sees directly in a linear way. The eye of the imagination follows the rhythm of the circle.” (p.152)

“The Celts even transfigured the cross by surrounding it with a circle. The Celtic cross is a beautiful symbol. The circle around the beams of the cross rescues the loneliness where the two lines of pain intersect and seems to calm and console their forsaken linearity.” (p. 163)

To honour John O’Donohue and his writings, I’ve included ten images of Celtic crosses, all of them photographed this week in Kingston’s Cataraqui Cemetery – a fine place for meditative walking. I hope the photos are a calming and peaceful part of your day.















Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Practice of Daily Delight



“...the more you study delight, 
the more delight there is to study.” 
– Ross Gay, American Poet

My mind switched into gratitude mode this week. 

Several streams flow into the river: 

• wandering around what used to be my family farm and being reminded how beautiful it is;
• preparing for my family’s annual picnic and being reminded how blessed I am to be part of this remarkable group;
• having coffee with a dear friend to discuss a workshop I’m planning and being reminded that we’ve been meeting like this for 50 years;
• holding suffering friends and family members in the Light and being reminded how much they mean to me;
• reading an evocative essay by an Irish-Tasmanian friend and being reminded how much I love good writing;
• learning of the sudden death of someone I knew in high school and being reminded to never take my health or life for granted;
• watching my beloved husband enthusiastically solve household problems and being reminded how much I love him;
• and listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast interview with poet Ross Gay (link) and being reminded how much I appreciate the nurture I glean from her weekly podcasts.

In fact, it is Ross Gay’s philosophy of recording the daily delights of his life that inspired this blog post. I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of Gay’s latest book, The Book of Delights, from my favourite bookstore, Books & Company in Picton, Ontario (link). 

In the spirit of Gay’s example, I have begun recording the daily delights in my own life. And Gay is correct – the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.

The photos that follow all come from the Quaker Gathering I attended in Grinnell, Iowa last month. Enjoy –  I hope you find them as delightful as I do!

PS: And, no, Books & Company didn’t pay me to write nice things about them. They’re the real deal. A booklover’s paradise. Amazon doesn’t seem to have noticed that two months ago I switched my book orders to Books & Company. So much for their algorithms! ;-) 

"Russett" by Mary Merkel-Hess,
Bucksbaum Center for the Arts,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Quaker Grey Hair - in the Light

Exterior Wall Detail, 
Humanities & Social Science Center,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Lighting Fixture,
Rosenfield Center
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Roof Detail,
Office of Admissions,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Cherry Picker Operator,
Humanities & Social Sciences Center
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Meskwaki Woman's Beaded Vest (detail),
by Mary Young Bear,
Bucksbaum Center for the Arts,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Forgotten Aluminum Chair,
Noyce Science Center,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Construction Site,
Park Street at 7th Avenue,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa

Decorated Ford Ranger Truck,
Unknown Artist(s),
Entrance to Bucksbaum Center for the Arts,
Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa










Saturday, 3 August 2019

Wandering the Family Farm


“Keep your mouth closed,
and let your eyes listen.”
- Lil Wayne, American Rap Artist

One of the things that I like most about photography is letting my camera do the listening, especially if I’m not talking. I find that wandering in silence with my camera is profoundly calming and fulfilling. The experience is contemplative, even on a busy city street.

A peak experience in learning how to frame photography as a contemplative act was the “Photography as a Contemplative Practice” workshop I took at the 2016 Quaker Gathering in St. Joseph, Minnesota. The instructor was Peter West Nutting, a gifted photographer from Maine.

The great gift of this workshop, about which I have written before, was Peter’s request on the first day of the workshop for the participants to change our terminology for the week. Instead of shooting, capturing, and taking photos, he asked us to consider saying that we were recording photos or making them. Although it felt odd and forced at first, it soon became easier – and I began to realize that this small change of wording ushered in a whole new appreciation for the process of making a photo – it wasn’t just a smash and grab operation any longer. It was perfect for seeing the elements of photography – photographer, camera, subject – as being part of the same collaborative process. What a valuable insight this change of wording has proven to be. It’s now a permanent part of my photography process.

To read more about Peter’s contemplative photography, please check out his article, “Listening with the Eyes,” in the September 1, 2013, Friends Journal. (link)

Which brings me to the point of this post – my very enjoyable visit last week to the farm in Prince Edward County that used to belong to my paternal grandparents, Norah and Garnet Tayler. I spent countless hours as a boy wandering the farm, often spending more time there than on my mom and dad’s farm just down the road. The property features a picture-perfect location and includes an island, reached by a causeway. When I think of paradise on earth, this place comes to mind.

The farm is now owned and stewarded by dear family cousins. With their permission, I roamed the property for several happy hours last week – with my mouth shut, allowing my eyes and my camera to do the listening. I plan to create a slideshow of the photos for the annual Tayler Family Picnic at our home next Saturday. I hope the extended Tayler clan will enjoy the slideshow. And I hope you will enjoy a small selection of the photos below. 

As always, thank you for reading my blog.