Climb aboard the bus. Sit on the second tier to feel the wind, rain, sun, and snow on your face; see the slums, the streams, the searchers; smell the exhaust, the latrines, the spring flowers; hear the choir sing, the train hum, the lion roar; taste the disbelief, the sorrow, the revelation. Don’t forget the map to grapple with when you stop.
And always remember, no matter whether you’re descending a rollicking hill, struggling to climb a mountain, stuck in murky depths, or transported to another place and time, to be ready for the surprising gifts that come in places you least expect them.
On the day the above photo was taken, just an ordinary day on my way to work, I watched something unexpected materialize on the horizon. The further I walked on Spadina Avenue in Toronto, Canada, the bigger the castle in the city got. Though I had taken the subway to work many times, it was not visible from the closest station. This sunny day, I had some time and decided to walk north from Bloor Street and Casa Loma bit-by-bit revealed itself, my first sight of it even though I had lived in Toronto for many years. Amid the din of traffic and tourists, I was lost in the surprise.
It is dismal to imagine enduring life without comic relief, the beauty of a painting or perfectly executed poem, the opening scene of a long-awaited movie, the rationing of a book to prolong the time spent with it, the binge of an intriguing television show, the swell of the heart that comes from music we may never have heard before, or the appearance of a castle in the sky.
Such an empty world conjures up the greyness of Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The main character, Offred, says, “I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.” Daily we are confronted with the challenge of resisting what deadens the soul. Daily we are confronted with the play of dark and light, the puzzle and mystery of paradox.
When Andy Dufresne locks himself in the prison office and lets loose classical music over the PA system in The Shawshank Redemption, he gets a look on his face that says this gift of music withstands any punishment the warden can impose. For a time, being imprisoned loses its power. For a time, hope flutters nearby.
A theological quest awaits you. Your mission, should you choose to climb aboard, will take you on a search for God, theology being the study of God. There lies within steps for navigation. Travel chapter by chapter taking as much or as little time as you want to delve into the provisions. I make no apologies for offences you might take at the material you will meet. All are welcome here. May you find sustenance for the journey.
It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
–Wendell Berry from “The Real Work” in Standing by Words
Off the Beaten Path:
A view of Casa Loma: https://youtu.be/GL7T-pQVCjY
One of the TV scenes I laugh at even when I only think of it, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show: https://youtu.be/Q8EKTrRrU0o
A painting I cherish, Ode to Joy, by Maca Suazo, based on the Pablo Neruda poem. An article about Suazo can be found here: https://thecord.ca/local-chilean-artist-maca-suazo-connects-her-culture-to-her-paintings/
A poem that has made a home within me: The Lonely Land by A.J.M. Smith: https://allpoetry.com/poem/14374765-The-Lonely-Land-by-Arthur-James-Marshall-Smith
Each movie long awaited, The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The rationing of a book to prolong my journey with it, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The binge of the intriguing television show Borgen, a struggle to stay principled when power tempts
Music that makes my heart swell, Handel’s Messiah: https://youtu.be/SXh7JR9oKVE
No doubt you have your own list.
Interrogation of Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale: https://youtu.be/i15iQ4oFyLU
The Shawshank Redemption opera scene: https://youtu.be/Bjqmg_7J53s
Wendell Berry’s poem on hope and place with an introduction by Bill McKibben: https://youtu.be/mJN7zb0oCvc