The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

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The small tidal island off the northeast coast of England, speaks of a history where truth and myth coalesce into the misty past.  Much like Atlantis, the Garden of Hesperides and Camelot, Lindisfarne is recognized as sacred, set apart from the mundanity of life.

The monastery of Lindisfarne, known as the Lindisfarne Priory, was founded by Irish monk Saint Aidan (590-651). Saint Aidan came from the Island of Iona, the centre of Gaelic monasticism, located off the west Coast of Scotland.

The pious Christian King Oswald, who became king is 634, had a problem. Anglo-Saxon paganism was replacing Christianity.  He reached out to his friends in Iona, at a time when he considered all was lost.

The first Ionian to respond was Bishop Cormán, an austere man, with a severe message. The people of Northumbria did not accept him.  The feeling was mutual. Bishop Cormán’s opinion on the matter was that people of Northumbria were too stubborn to accept his message.  It was very doubtful that their hardened hearts would embrace Christianity.

King Oswald was tenacious.  And his persistence was rewarded in the personage of Saint Aidan.

Saint Aidan’s influence was felt throughout Northumbria.  He ministered to all, whether slave or noble.  The people accepted him and his message.  To this day, he is known as a Monk holding a flaming torch so it comes as no surprise that he is the patron saint of firefighters.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne's modest population of less than 200 people welcomes over 650,000 visitors a year.  For many, it is a pilgrimage to one of the most significant centres of Celtic Christianity.

We designate special times and places in our lives as being separate from the ordinary. It is a way to seek order in a seemingly chaotic world that challenges our survival instincts.  We need a place that embodies a peaceful existence, a gentle retreat from the busyness of life.

Even so, there is a caveat.

If you find your way to The Holy Island, take heed, for a land causeway that links Lindisfarne to the mainland is covered by ocean tides twice in every 24-hour period. In the most sacred of places, we are still very much a part of a complex world that runs on time.

Stopping Time

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”  Anaïs Nin

I have often thought of this quote by Anaïs Nin – not in the context of a writer, but in the framework of a photo. Ever since Joseph Nicephore Niepce clicked the first photo in 1814, humanity has been beguiled by the ability to capture something important.  It is our only way to stop time, to remember our journeys, and proclaim that we have lived, felt love, endured challenges and sustained losses.

I confess that I am a “photo hoarder.”  Yes, even the photos that I consider “second best” remain safely stored on external drives in hopes that some day there may be an editing program that will be invented that will enhance and bring out their beauty. By beauty, I mean the emotional impression of that event.

Just last week, I went back to “taste life twice.”  The year was 2004.  I had purchased my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot A70, for a long-awaited trip to Italy to enroll in a 3-week Italian language course.  The reviews were as generous as I was enthusiastic: “The PowerShot A70 is much more than just a 3.2-megapixel version of its predecessor, the A40.”   I was convinced that this was an excellent purchase.

With a camera in hand, there is added emotional drama at play, more clarity, more interest in the “now.”  This awareness was most keenly felt when I walked the lush paths of Frederick Stibbert’s Garden.  It was a late October afternoon. A gentle light settled on the trees and aging walls, a faint wind tossed the leaves.  A quiet solitude lifted my spirits.  I had recently finished an arduous academic journey and was at a crossroads.

Looking back on these photos, I remember a pivotal decision, made with a recognition that we move in tune with the music of time, surrounded by those who came before and those who will come after. Our myths, our struggles, our joys are intermingled.  Perhaps it is in the retrospective, in knowing what happened afterwards, that reveals a greater understanding.  And with that knowledge, we move forward with profound resolve to embrace the next moment.

 

 

Conversations in the Sky

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“There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.”
Michel de MontaigneA GatheringThere is a stretch along the Vancouver Seawall where great conversations are held.  The voices, loud and impetuous, are heard from great distances.  But it is only in the winter that we are able to see the participants.  Every day, they gather to discuss the events of the day, their animated caws reverberating across the bare branches.  They are a community that allows for forthright discussions.  And then, in unison, they stretch out their wings and make their way home.

A Conversation

What are Angels?

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“Poets are born knowing the language of angels.” 

 Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light

November has turned over time to December, a month of deepening frost, and merry celebrations.  It’s the festive season when all the twinkling lights brighten up the city and give even a rainy Vancouver sky a mystical glow.  This is the time of year for joy, good-will, Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and the appearance of an angel or two. Angels come in many forms and are found in shop windows, holiday cards, and frosted Christmas cookies.

Angels have been part of human history since ancient times, dating back to the long, long ago Mycenaean era (16th to 12th centuries BCE) Throughout the centuries and mythologies, there is a common theme of “messenger.”  Angels are intermediaries who have knowledge to share, teach, or warn. They bear tidings of destiny.

What are angels? I have the answer, or rather I was sent the answer by way of the marvellously gifted experts at The National Gallery, London.  I am learning that creative endeavour, whatever form it takes, whether it be art, poetry, music, dance, literature, oration, allows us to explore the unknown and make peace with the unknowable.

“If instead of a gem, or even a
flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a
friend, that would be giving as the angels give.” George MacDonald

Three Goddesses & A Garden

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The Bandstand

The Bandstand and Sir William Young’s six urns.

There were once three goddesses who watched over the elegant Halifax Public Gardens, a gift from the estate of chief justice Sir William Young.  Born in the year 1799 in Falkirk, Scotland, a city situated at the junction of the Forth and Clyde Canal in the Scottish Lowlands, Sir William Young immigrated  to Nova Scotia with his family in 1814 and went on to become the Premier of Nova Scotia in 1854.  He lived during the Romantic Period when there was a increasing awareness of ancient Greece and Rome, which was reflected in his private garden.

Flora, goddess of flowers, spring and youth,

Flora, goddess of flowers, spring and youth.

On his passing in 1887, three goddesses and six urns were given to the Halifax Public Gardens.  The three goddesses left Sir William Young’s estate to take their place along the Petit Allée.  First there was Flora, the Sabine-derived goddess of flowers, spring and youth.  Next came Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, the moon, nature, woodland and wild animals.  Last came Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, and fertility. These statues embodied the quintessential characteristics of the Victorian age.

Ceres

Ceres, goddess of agriculture, grain crops and fertility.

Alas, in March 2012, Diana was the victim of vandalism, knocked to the ground by unknown persons.  An outcry went throughout Halifax for Diana was a 138-year-old Haligonian cultural icon.  Year after year, families would gather around Diana to take wedding and graduation photos.  Memories were built under her gentle gaze.  Now, the garden is in the keep of Ceres and Flora.

Our Memories of Diana 2003

2003 –  Our Memories of Diana, goddess of the hunt, the moon, nature, woodland and wild animals.

All is not lost!  There are whispers that she is merely resting, waiting to be placed inside a public building.  Myths have survived centuries; they do not stay silent for long.  They live in our music, poetry, dance and literature.  And especially in our gardens…

Nike

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Nike stands vigil on the Cordova Street median at Thurlow in downtown Vancouver. Daughter of the Titan Pallas and the goddess Styx, she comes from a distant past. Sister to Kratos (Strength), Bia (Force), and Zelus (Zeal), she represents Victory.  Endowed with speed and agility, she took her place as the divine charioteer, rewarding the victors of battle with glory and fame. Her name has endured over the centuries, along with her companions Zeus and Athena.

Nike

Nike came to Vancouver, a gift from the Greek city of Olympia in honor of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games hosted by our fair city.  Designed by Pavlos Angelos Kougioumtzis, who lives and works in Athens and Delphi, there is a remarkable strength embodied in Nike’s abstract beauty and elegant lines.  Bronze, four-metre-tall and placed atop a 2.5-metre base, Nike presides over a busy city intersection, a profound reminder that ancient ways are embedded in our modern societies.

We are defined by our mythologies. In turn, our mythologies keep us focused on universal themes that have been embraced and handed down through the generations of human history.

Nike