Retirement has allowed me, in a way, to go back to the work I had to let go when at 40 I needed to settle down. I had followed a question that began a study leave from my diocese that took me on an adventure, an adventure that turned out to be something quite different to the intention I had stated in my study plan with the bishop. I can only say the question and the journey carried me along; no way I could have anticipated any of it. Any of the remarkable serendipity that revealed what I could never have imagined myself.
I’ve always trusted the muse, the Celtic Guardian Angel, my unconscious, our collective unconscious, quantum particles flying about -whatever term might represent some kind of intelligence in my sorting through life. As in chaos theory, there seems to be a clear pattern only seen when looking back, I couldn’t see when looking forward. I was carried along by necessity and serendipity. Can’t account for it all any other way. Looking back I see a clear direction that didn’t come from my figuring it all out. I was and am very blessed. Don’t ask me why.
Circumstances and personality forced me to learn an approach to life that brought me to a place of gratitude. As I learned with photography, if I begin the day asking what gift the world might give me that day, the world has something for me. However, if I go out wanting to take a great photo, something for others to admire, I get nothing. If instead, I say to myself, I may not get a photo today, then am I open to what is out there, what the world has for me, not what my ego wants from the world. With this approach, I am able to receive a gift of what I had no idea of, couldn’t have imagined for myself. What I came to understand; kind of forced on me. A gift given me.
Since retirement, I have been surprised in remarkable ways with many gifts tgiving me some insight into life. Other than Covid years, each year an opportunity has fallen out of the sky into my lap. how did that happen? Magically I can only say. Retirement began with two months teaching in Nunavut -how did that happen?- which set a course for what was to come.
2022 Surprise Event
Next, after Covid, was a week on an artist retreat with photographer Freeman Patterson. When a young man struggling, feeling something missing in my life, wandering a bleak wasteland from age 12-27, photography opened for me a way out. Freeman’s books, from the outset, were a guide to a way of seeing, for photography, and for life. By magic, in the summer of 2022, I got to spend a week in his company with 5 others.
2023 Surprise Event
This summer past I unexpectedly ended up at a seminar at the Shaw Festival. The path there began with a quote from Shaw which intrigued me, that became 4 days and 7 plays at the Shaw Festival. The Shaw Seminar included presentations by and conversations with directors, designers, academics and actors. How did I end up there? I had never studied Shaw. I have a very different taste in theatre. When occasionally attending a Shaw play at Niagara-on-the-Lake, I never really got the plays. I did a lot of reading in preparation for the seminar and found myself drawn in to his world. I had no idea about Shaw. Now I was seeing a way to my troubling Irish identity, and somewhere hearing my own voice. July arrived. Here I was, 10 AM, Rehearsal Hall 3, at the end of the first presentation by the director of the play we were seeing that afternoon, me sitting in the front row on the right side, and it came to me, a knowing that is felt right through my body, that I was home.
Oh yes. Now I’m a member of the International Shavian Society! God help us! Where does this come from?
2024 Surprise Event
A couple of weeks ago was this year’s surprise event. A PhD candidate was looking for interviews for her research. I fit the criteria and her question mirrored my previous study interest. She is examining how a creative activity might help clergy to cope with challenges that lay ahead for their profession. She herself is clergy.
My work had become over time how liturgy could be a healing experience which I came to after ten years. Again, after a lot years working on it, and a lot of serendipity, I saw my work ahead in the work of a small theatre group in the south of France. The work of Pantheatre was a way into my own work. Pantheatre explores myth and imagination, inspired by the work of psychologist James Hillman who also took an active part in developing the work of Pantheatre. The serendipity for me to have ended up in the south of France is quite beyond me.
Volunteering to be interviewed took me back through the course of my life, to see the poem of my life, now, from this perspective of the other side. It was a good exercise. The PhD candidate and I got along well and have much to share.
My first qualifier to begin our interview was my acknowledgemnt that one has to assume in the telling of one’s tale, the unreliable narrator.
How could I justify my credibility? I don’t have any status or credentials to point to so I showed her these notebooks.
When beginning my study leave I took two summer courses at UVic that were prerequisite for their counselling program. They were a follow up to the training and volunteering of the previous three years with the Victoria Crisis Line. the Crisis Line model, that became a model for Crisis Lines across North America, was designed and created by the UVic counselling program. That work had changed everything for me, was the open door out of the wasteland.
One requirement for the course was to keep a journal. I loved the act of recording my experience so much, I have kept a journal ever since. It’s my way to think. My first stop after UVic was a school year in Israel. I had my journal and my camera (the photos above) with me the whole time.
While I am my own unreliable narrator, the journals represent the retelling of my story to myself over and over again, over the decades. So the story is either finely honed to some truth or the fiction so deeply embedded, what does it matter which?
I was quite intrigued with the investigation of this candidate. I feel she can take it somewhere useful that I couldn’t.
What she would need from me is my personal perspective on how I integrated the arts and the clergy profession. Not successfully I’d say! But the experience of looking back over my exploration, in part that it was being recorded and in part that the interviewer honoured my insight, I felt for the first time I could close that experience, felt if just in this way it was recognized, valued. Strange all this.
While I was relaying my experiences to the interviewer, some of my interpretation and perspective of my own work came out. In fact, with retirement I get to indulge in the work again, though not with any endgame.
While the two of us shared insights, my tack is a bit different to hers. She seems to be looking to ‘art’ that is creative work as an ancillary activity that could help clergy cope with demands of work. A valuable study. My perspective, which I have to say had no currency with the church institution, hence my settling down elsewhere at age 40, was about applying a creative discipline and a practised craft to the clergy work itself, in particular with the conducting liturgy. I held that a discipline of craft would help give more meaning to the work of clergy, and that meaning to make for a healthy profession, and perhaps, give a bit more relevance to the clergy’s work.
What It Comes To
So I’ve been away from you experiencing what all this means for me in my last years of life. As you can tell reading this, my way seems to be to a lot of reflection on life, and what appeals to me is the sharing with others a particular view I’ve come to, a truth revealed in tree branches blowing in the wind, an unexpected smile, a bit of light on the side of a building. How life is there, we in the middle of it. For Pantheatre and Hillman and others in their vein, we are not so much soulful creatures looking out on the world, but in fact the world itself is soul, that we are immersed in, if we but see how all is soulful and we are a part of it all.
In the last year I’ve been building a new base for what is now a personal retirement activity, finding a way to spend my time in my last years. Some reading, some walking about, some conversations. I’m not building a future; but am so privileged to have the chance to indulge my interest. And key to that is conversation, having conversations, which this newsletter aims for. Specifically, I’m reorganizing my home space and my online space to better allow for this. For us, I feel I want to continue with the idea of sharing questions, to make the questions more explicit, to allow for good conversations. As in theatre, action, what is going on, what has value, is in the space between us.
A Neighbourhood Photo Box
Our neighbourhood has many library exchange boxes out front people’s homes. I had the idea to make a photo box, for me, another exploration to suggest the possibility for sacred space. The world seems to have gone mad for the screen, endless scrolling and constant stimulation. Lost seems to be the ability to reflect and contemplate the world itself, one’s place in the world. Some of us know the difference because of our age; there are generations who grew up with screen culture and don’t know anything else. The photo box attempts to encourage reflection, in quiet contemplation to find oneself and one’s wholeness. As Hillman and his colleagues pointed to, aesthetics in its root meaning is not so much about beauty as it is perspective; to see that our being alive is not as individual souls making it in the world but the world itself is soul, in which we are immersed, if we could but see, find a way to see and know, the way within, how our life is a part of all life, inseparable.