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

Happy Earth Day – Thank you!

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Thank you!

Thank you!

Whenever I look at the world around me, I feel gratitude to those who share the wonder of our world and work together to preserve it for those who come after us.

Thank you!

Thank you!

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.”  W. H. Auden

Thank you!

Thank you!

World Art Day – A Declaration of Spirit

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Today, it is World Art Day (WAD).  And what better day to celebrate than the 564th birthday of Leonardo da Vinci.  Why WAD?  After all, we are surrounded by art and creative accomplishments on a daily basis.  But to set aside a day for the whole world to participate, to party, to enjoy – that is an entirely different happening. It is collective resolve to become involved in the full measure of artistic expression. It is offering art to those we love.

Dr. Elizabeth Elliott - Declaration of Spirit

Dr. Elizabeth Elliott – Declaration of Spirit

Art is a profound reflection of what we hold dear, symbolizing our values and belief systems.  When we experience art, we enter the whole of human experience.  Today, I want to offer a glimpse of this thought with art that celebrates the memory of Dr. Elizabeth Elliott,  Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Restorative Justice at the School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University.

The corridors of SFU have a peaceful reverence on Sundays mornings.  This is when I visit the totem pole that is dedicated to the “compassionate and courageous spirit of Dr. Elizabeth Elliott.”

Carved by two First Nation men in 2011, nearby signage describes the symbols that are embodied in this remarkable artwork:

“A single female figure is wrapped in the wings of an eagle, whose strength and wisdom guide a journey honouring social justice and human dignity. Leading the way is a tiny hummingbird, whose grace and tenacity opens our heart in the face of injustice.  The figure holds a bowl of water for the hummingbirds, who with a single drop, and then another and another, can make a difference.”

I have never met Dr. Elizabeth Elliott, but I feel a connection through the creative endeavour that honours her memory.

Let us continue to offer art to those we love.

Acknowledgements: Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Men of Ferndale Institution who honoured Dr. Elliott; Correctional Service of Canada; Alex Paul, Spiritual Elder