Friday, August 26, 2011

On Coming Home

So I've been home for a few days now.  I wanted to blog several times when I was in Dublin, but my access to the internet was somewhat erratic; the hotel where we stayed wanted to charge an outrageous amount even just for a couple of days' worth of access, and we were there slightly over a week, so that didn't really work out that well; the few times I managed to hop online, it was generally to check my e-mail and it was with the not-strictly-legal use of an unprotected wireless network provided for the patrons of a café around the corner from the hotel.  So I do have a few ideas for posts that came from my time abroad, but for now I'd like to meditate a bit on coming home.

I looked forward to it while I was away, of course, but I was travelling with a great group of people who I see fairly often at home anyway, so I have to admit that while I missed my mother and my cats and my friends who weren't with us, I was far from being homesick.  I've always had a knack for getting settled in to most new places like they were home anyway, and because of all my walking and careful map research, within a couple of days I knew the immediate area close to where we stayed in Edinburgh and Dublin very nearly as well as I know most of my own city, and actually blended in so well that I got asked for directions several times.  But coming home after being away for so long is always a bit of a shock, and this time it contained a few more actual surprises than usual...

The first big one was finding out that Jack Layton, who had been leader of the federal branch of Canada's New Democratic Party (which, along with the Green Party, is the most progressive political party we've got at the moment), had died of his cancer.  I wasn't terribly shocked; I'd wondered if things were progressing in that direction when he resigned so soon after his party became Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.  But it was an unpleasant surprise nonetheless.  I didn't always agree with his policies, but I had a tremendous amount of respect for the man, and I hope that his successor as the head of the NDP is capable of continuing the work that he began; the NDP have been my country's conscience for eight years thanks to him, and with Stephen Harper enjoying the power that his majority government gives him, we are dearly going to need a very strong voice to say, "Hey, this isn't right!" when the Tories inevitably do something else that will not only weaken our social safety net, but hand even more money and power to those who need it the least.

The second was that my brother has rather suddenly broken up with his girlfriend of nearly six years (not a surprise because out of necessity she moved to another city last year, though they tried to keep their relationship together) and moved in with his new girlfriend.  Furthermore, he and one of his friends are hitchhiking from Thunder Bay to Toronto.  So I'm a little worried about him, but at least he's with a friend and there's some safety in numbers there, and I'm glad of that.

There are a few other personal surprises that I ran into, and I'm still recovering from a slight cold that I seem to have picked up in Ireland, and my sleep schedule is still kind of messed up, so coming home has been a little less pleasant than I had hoped that it would be.  But if that's the worst that I can say, then I suppose I'm doing all right.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Another Conversation With Another Evangelist

So I'm walking down Princes Street today when this tall older gentleman (I'd place him in his late 60's at the youngest) offers me a Gospel pamphlet.  I politely decline and he goes on his way, offering other people his pamphlets as he goes along.  And then I stop for awhile to look down at some of the gardens, which are really very beautiful, and he (apparently forgetting that he'd already spoken to me) offers me a pamphlet again.  I still decline, but this time, we talk.  I'm not entirely sure that my point (that most people are looking for wisdom in whatever way makes the most sense to them, and that people have to reach their own conclusions about what to believe or it just won't sit well with them) really gets through, but it is a pleasant and interesting chat nonetheless.  We part ways again, wishing each other a good day.

I have a habit of attracting people who want to talk about God, for some reason.  I'm not sure why.  (Maybe it's just a logical extension of my tendency to get drawn into conversations with random people.)  I know that a lot of these people tend to talk to anyone they can get near enough to say "Have you heard the word of the Lord lately?" to, but in general I seem to get more of these people talking to me than most people do.  Even though my own perspective on spiritual matters is inevitably different from theirs, and although I usually feel that I have to be quietly subversive rather than totally open about what I actually believe, I've always come away from these conversations with some form of  insight, and hoping that I've been able to give the other person the same thing.  

Actually, this tendency of mine used to drive my mother absolutely nuts before the JWs stopped coming 'round our place; I'd talk to them, but I'd always steer the conversation in whatever direction I wanted to go in, not following the JWs' planned spiel.  I have a feeling that it drove them a little nuts, too, which I have to admit was the main reason I did it...but then, since JWs tend to be the sort of proselytizers who really annoy me to begin with, I figure that the sheer entertainment value of de-railing their conversion attempts was a fair exchange for the annoyance of having them there in the first place.  Besides, even in those conversations, I usually came away with some new understanding, even if it was only a further understanding of the sort of belief that leads one person to arrogantly assume that their beliefs are the only Truth, and that anyone who doesn't believe what they do is wrong and should be converted and/or shunned.

Today, though, the insight, more of a gentle reminder, really, was that sooner or later, those of us who look for wisdom in the spiritual realm are generally looking for the same thing.  It doesn't matter what path we're walking, whether we're following an established one or blazing our own trail; as long as we hold on to the concepts of compassion, respect, and love for each other and the world, then what we're looking for is a way to build a better world altogether, and I'm not talking about the possibility of life after death, but this world, but with less poverty, corruption, and greed.

I know it's not going to happen in my lifetime, but as far as I'm concerned, that's no reason not to work for it anyway.  If humanity is to survive what's coming at us, we'll need that kind of a world, and people who are willing to work for it.  My conversation with that gentleman today reminded me of that, and for that, I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walking in Edinburgh...

This will probably be a fairly scattered collection of thoughts; a kind of mental potpourri, so to speak, so there won't be much structure...

The last time I was here, I was seventeen years old and not nearly as streetwise or as confident as I am now.  I wasn't quite a nervous wreck, but I did tend to stay close to my mother, and I spent most of our day in Edinburgh trying to assure her that, contrary to all expectation, we actually would be OK and we wouldn't be completely lost in a strange city without finding anyone else from our group ever again, or having a way to get back to where we were staying in Glasgow.  With that kind of memory to deal with, I'm not surprised that my experience with Edinburgh so far has been much more positive this time around.

I did a lot of walking yesterday.  So much, in fact, that when I traced the route I'd taken on Google Earth when I got back to the hotel, it told me that I'd very nearly walked ten kilometres.  I'd had a definite destination in mind, but my walk took me to some unexpected places (including Calton Hill, which I'd intended to see anyway), and I started thinking about how much had changed in my life since I'd last seen a number of the places that I saw yesterday.

When I was seventeen, I hadn't yet come to terms with the idea that one could be both Pagan and Christian; I was still very much an either/or type of person, and I'd chosen Paganism, even looking down on what I thought of as my Christian past, even as it still existed in my present.  I had self-defence skills, thanks to my years of judo class, but not the observation skills that are so valuable when you're in a big place with a lot of other people.

I was silly enough to forget my umbrella yesterday.  Naturally, the rain was absolutely pouring down.  A total stranger offered to lend me her umbrella for a few minutes; I declined, because there was no point in pretending that I wasn't already completely soaked, but I appreciated the gesture anyway.  We had a nice little chat, though, before we each went our separate ways.

This is my fourth trip to the UK, and my third trip here to sing Evensong, though it's my first with my church choir (the other two were with my community choir, which is directed by the same person as my church choir), and the first time we've sung in Scotland.  I know that it might seem that I should feel more casual about it; after all, I've done similar things before.  I've even been here, in Edinburgh, before, though it was only for a few hours and I didn't get to see much more of it than a tiny bit of Princes Street and the Royal Mile.  But every day I've been here so far has been full of new experiences and things to wonder at; in such a short time, I've come to know at least this small-ish section of the city very well, and I love it.  It's such a different type of big city than what we have at home; I have yet to see a single skyscraper, and there are trees everywhere.  I can't ignore the existence of poverty and inequality here, of course; as much as I've loved being here in Edinburgh, I have not deceived myself into thinking that this is some magical faerie city where nothing ever goes wrong and where nothing bad ever happens to anybody.  (I'm pretty sure that even a real magical faerie city probably wouldn't be like that, anyway.)  Even I'm not that naïve.  But I am very glad to be here, and the past few days have been wonderful.  I fully expect that when we return home after our time in Dublin next week, we'll be jet-lagged but mentally and spiritually refreshed, and we'll be better musicians for having spent so much time singing in unfamiliar spaces.

You know, I absolutely love Evensong.  There's very little preaching and a lot of singing.  But Evensong last night was particularly wonderful; there's a lot of room for enthusiastic and powerful singing in the Sumsion Mag and Nunc* in A, and our choirmaster was evidently having a lot of fun with it, signalling a lot of crescendos (crescendi?) and sudden bursts of high volume by mouthing "Come on!" at us. :D  I'm not sure about some of the other singers, but the Gloria from that particular Mag and Nunc (Sumsion used the same one for both, but many Mags and Nuncs have two different settings for the Gloria) was so much fun to sing that I almost felt like dancing for joy...which would not have been appropriate behaviour for a singer in an Anglican choir, alas.

And that's where my thoughts have been leading me today.  It's only a little after 10:00 AM over here, though, so there's plenty of time for more unusual lines of thought. :)

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*Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.  In brief, the "Magnificat" is that "My soul doth magnify the Lord" bit that Mary is supposed to have said after Gabriel told her that she was going to have God's baby, and the "Nunc Dimittis" is a prayer that starts with "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word."  They're both followed by the Gloria: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost..." etc.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Meditations of a Travelling Christo-Pagan

So, here I am, sitting in a surprisingly comfortable chair at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.  If all goes well, in a few hours, I'm going to be boarding a flight bound for Heathrow Airport, and then travelling to Scotland (Edinburgh, to be precise) for a week, with a week in Dublin, Ireland, to follow.  It's the first time I've gone on such a long trip to such far-away places since 2005, and while i've noticed that there have been a few changes in the way that air travel is conducted here, for the most part I still feel as nervous-comfortable with it (if that makes any sort of sense) as I ever did.  Nervous, because there is always so much that can go wrong with any given trip, but comfortable because I'm something of a gypsy at heart (apparently some of my ancestors a long way back actually were Gypsies, by the way); I love to travel.

But then, I'm a white person travelling with a group of other white people, so that's bound to make a few things a little bit easier.

This isn't going to turn into another one of my long rambles about privilege, by the way; I know you're probably getting a little tired of those by now!  It was just an observation that I felt was worth making.

Anyway, the reason why I'm travelling is that my church choir is going "on the road," so to speak; we'll be singing at churches in Scotland and Ireland while we're away.  I anticipate, as I have experienced on other, similar trips, a good experience overall, spiritually and otherwise.  I love singing in old churches like the ones where we'll be; somehow it helps me to put so much into perspective.  In the next couple of weeks, I'll probably be blogging about this in rather more depth than I am now  But I'd like to note, at the beginning of the journey (sort of, anyway; I flew to Pearson from the airport near my hometown this morning), that although I am understandably nervous about being away from my own country for so long, and about having decided to bring my laptop with me, I'm also very much looking forward to seeing Scotland again, and to seeing Ireland for the first time.  I have roots in both countries, after all, and besides, I'm with a great group of people.

This is going to be fun. :)