Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Shape-Shifting: The Metamorphic Rocks

Thin sheets of sediment,
amorphous phyllo,                  
acres in extent, are
buried under flows
of gravel, mud or lava;

each horizontal layer
descends beneath the
weight of new deposits
and in the process
sheds its water and its air.

As pressure forces grains
together, coats them
with a fine cement of
minerals emerging
slick from their dense solutions,

new rock begins to grow
like baklava, placed
down in sheets of phyllo,
honey, butter, nuts
in shallow pans of salten sea,

and even as the rock
is formed, the sea with
its encompassing land
moves gently forward
to converging boundaries,

where continents collide
with oceans, islands
form and disappear, where
sheets of rock slide down
to fiery depths, are shaken,

torn, and softened so the
sheeted layers of rock
can now be pushed and pinched
and pleated into
vast accordions of stone.

There, too, in infinite,
slow, furious, tumult,
the very substance of

the rock is changed, its
molecules and atoms shift,

bonds break, decay, re-form
on microscopic
dancing floors where atoms
waltzing, reeling, twirl
new substance into being.

Limestones turn to marble
then, and shales to slate
and schist; new rocks emerge,
new stones are born as
matter glides to sleeker form.

Immensities of rock
are sunken, twisted,
cooked, like crumpled sheets of
baklava, which baked
in subterranean stoves, will

someday rise and rising
shake the very earth
which they create and then
in geologic
time, dissolve and start anew.

Shape-shifting stone that slides
into fresh form and
essence new, as heat and
depth and time supply B
this is metamorphic rock!

Sr. Sue Elwyn, SSJD
St-Lambert, QC 2005

Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō Eruption 1983 . USGS

Friday, October 5, 2018

Emiliania Huxleyi

Emiliania Huxleyi 
a tiny one-celled alga so small
it takes five thousand lined into a
row to fill a single inch of space  –

contain within each single cell a
mitochondrion, Golgi body, 
nucleus and chloroplast, all that
it needs to feed and reproduce

and at the last to die – essential
elements of life as we know it;
infinitesimal perfection,
pulling nourishment from watery light.

And more – a coccolithophore, it
builds within itself exquisite shields,
fretworks of calcium and carbon
known as coccoliths, astounding shapes

produced inside a tiny globe by
means half-understood, for reasons
quite unknown, these oval wheels with spokes
and rims and two-tiered delicacy,

extruded whole and lovely from the
cell, garnish their maker, sitting rim
to rim or overlapping, twenty or
more around the sphere’s circumference.

Emiliania Huxleyi
are insignificant alone, but
in their billions stain water milky-
white in blooms a hundred miles across.

Thus their life; and when they die, they sink
for weeks through ocean depths to come to
rest at last on the abyssal plain,
sit softly on limey sediment.

Then over countless spans of time, the
slimy mass grows thick with age, sly
cementation fills pores between each
microscopic block, and in the end

it turns to limestone, dolomite or
chalk; a million years may pass as one-
celled algae live and reproduce and
die and in their deaths build depths of stone.

Then sheets of sedimentary rock are
carried on the tides of earth and rise
by gentle increment to make the
underlying crust of continents,

or galvanized by cataclysmic
force build mountain ranges standing tall –
wondrous, one-celled, earth-shaping algae,
Emiliana Huxleyi!

Sr. Sue Elwyn, SSJD
Toronto, March, 2006

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Poem for Eastertide

Did you see him in the garden there, beside the empty tomb?
Did you meet him by the Galilean lake?
When he suddenly appeared that day within the upper room,
Did you worship and adore him?  Did you say:
Jesus Christ, my Lord, Messiah, you are here and everywhere,
Jesus Christ, my Risen Saviour, you are all.

Do you see him in the faces of the people you despise?

Do you feel him in the hearts of those you love?
Do you know him ever-present, ever-loving, ever wise?
Do you worship and adore him?  Do you say:
Jesus Christ, my Lord, Messiah, you are here and everywhere,
Jesus Christ, my Risen Saviour, you are all.

Our Risen Lord is with us, when we love and when we fear;

Our Risen Lord is with us in the dark.
Our Risen Lord is with us when the Light of Easter’s near,
As we worship and adore him, as we say:
Jesus Christ, my Lord, Messiah, you are here and everywhere,
Jesus Christ, my Risen Saviour, you are all.

May you know the love of our Risen Saviour this day 
and always. 
Happy Easter!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Rabboni By C. Russell Elliott

Easter 2018

Easter mornings were once filled with joyful greetings such as, “Alleluia, the Lord is Risen”, with the joyful response, “He is Risen indeed, Alleluia”, a word that had not been heard throughout the sombre days of Lent. In my private prayer and devotions through Easter my heart spends hours with the faithful beside the empty tomb, and I hear or feel the almost-breathless, almost-unspoken, loud whispered “Rabboni” of Mary Magdalene, a dear friend of our Lord. Some have suggested, or wanted, something sexual in that word, but there is far too much profound depth of love that touches one’s soul to imply anything less. How very much I pray that my Saviour may look upon me, call me by name—then I may know that all is well between us once more.

Many years ago I heard a soloist sing, in Handel’s Messiah, the aria ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’—my soul was lost in awe and wonder by her voice. Every Easter since then, in my meditation and devotions around Easter morning, I stand at the empty tomb with the faithful that includes Mary. I hear her whispered Rabboni that touches my soul; and in that precious moment Mary and the soloist become one voice pressing upon my heart and soul: I know that my Redeemer liveth. Rabboni, My Master!

My Easter is rich in glory. May Christianity’s triumphant Easter Alleluia bring its glory into every soul.

Canon C. Russell Elliott  is a long time SSJD Associate 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reflection for Good Friday Evening and Holy Saturday

The pain is ended now.
The sharp anguish of each strangled breath,
the nails that stab like knives through mangled flesh
as he shifts, now up to breathe, now down
to ease the torment of his poor, pierced feet,
and up again to slake the burning
in his hands, and all the while his back,
torn flesh aflame from recent flogging,
rubs along coarse wood, each grate and splinter
but a minor hurt within the greater,
yet each contributing its little share
to an all-encompassing agony
which fills his senses, fills the world – 
all these are ended now
in death – 
in gentle, kindly, peaceful death.

The pain is ended now.
The bitter loss of friend turned hateward
betraying with malicious kiss;
betrayal too by loving men who,
weak in body, sleep, unwitting of a
brutal fight:  to keep the faith brings painful
death; to turn and run is death in life;
more bitter still to heart that’s breaking,
after bloodshed, panicked flight;
those who boasted love undying
turn to deny him in the night,
the wounds of treachery unintended, that
sting no less than those of measured wrong –
all these are ended now
in death – 
in gentle, kindly, faithful death

The pain is ended now.
Gashes sliced into a spirit come
to bring good news of freshened faith,
by righteous folk who blind their eyes
and deafen ears, blockade their hearts and
minds and souls against the Word of God
out-poured from loving lips; a soul
new-minted, shining in the light, is bruised
and cut and wounded near to death by
fickle crowds who once cried out “Hosanna!”
but now shout “Death!  Death!  Crucify him!”
The jeers, the taunting mockery that bite
into his soul as if a crown of thorns –
all these are ended now
in death – 
in gentle, kindly, loving death.

The pain is ended now.
The first to go, the cuts and scrapes of
stubborn words from hardened hearts,
subsumed within the bone-deep bruises
of love gone wrong, of trust betrayed;
and piercing sharp to break his heart,
sword-strike of purpose seeming unfulfilled;
yet even these are lost within his body’s
pain – the soldiers’ lash, the nails struck true,
the stabbing pain of tortured breath, until –
the deepest hurt of all – he calls aloud
“Why, God, have you forsaken me?” but
following swiftly then, that saving grace –
all these are ended now
in death – 
in gentle, kindly, Godly death.

Sr. Sue Elwyn, SSJD
Guelph, ON
June, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Blowing Sand

Once I lived 
in a world of
solid rock.
Blocks of rock
formed the borders
of my world,
square rocks,
round rocks,
rough rocks,
smooth rocks.
Domes of rock and thrones of rock,
limestone, sandstone,
granite and basalt –
rocks formed 
the centre 
of my world – 
centre, edges, all around
was rock,
bed-rock, solid rock, trusty rock:
you can depend on rock.
It’s good stuff!

Once I lived
in a world of
green –
of green and
brown and
flowery hues.
Grasses and bushes filled my world, 
reeds and flowers,
and tall leafed 
lavender spikes
bright red sprouts;
deep rich 
soil with
worms and mites;
lush green life
set firmly 
on earth,
growing, dying
decaying, nurturing,
cycle of life, 
set firm 
in the deep
You can trust in 
It’s good stuff!

Now I live
in a world of
trickling sand,
blowing sand,
rocks eroded,
blocks all gone.
Sandstone crumbles
at a touch,
granite shatters
at a glance,
limestone leaches, 
basalt breaks
and all that
is left is
blowing sand.
Plants cannot grow 
on blowing sand;
I cannot stand
on blowing sand.
All that is solid,
all that is sure,
blows in the sunset,
blows in the air;
Can you depend on sand?
Is this good stuff?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Grammar and the Enneagram

The word enneagram comes from two Greek words:  ennea = nine, and gramma = line or scratch.  Gramma is a derivative of the verb grapho, whose original meaning was scratch or engrave or etch.  Since a lot of the earliest Greek writing was scratched onto tablets of wax or stone or wood or clay, eventually grapho came to mean write and gramma came to mean writing.  In English, gramma is the root from which we derive the word grammar.  And it is grammar, along with its partner, rhetoric, as I have come to understand them, which reminds me of the enneagram.
My thoughts about grammar go back in part to my junior year of university, when I took Classical Greek and Latin in the same year.  Taking the two together meant I had not two but three languages to compare with each other, and that gave me a wonderful view of how the three functioned, where they were similar, where they were dissimilar.  It seemed to me then (and still seems to me now) that Latin was a like a great Gothic cathedral, carefully structured with every course of stone in its proper place to support the soaring arches and lofty roof.  Greek was far more flexible, in grammatical construction and vocabulary, and reminded me of the coastline of an ocean, where the tides pull the sea in and out of pools and grottoes and beaches, each one filled with its own sort of life and being.  As I write this, I find myself asking “What about English?”  And in some ways English – being my first language – is the universe itself, in which both cathedral and coastline have their place, for without my knowledge of English I would have no milieu in which to place the other languages.  But then I ask myself “What of English as a language to itself, rather than a foundation for other languages?”  And what comes to mind is a river – more flexible by far than the Gothic cathedral that is Latin, but calmer, more sedate, far more predictable than the moving, changing, unbounded ocean-shore that is classical Greek.  That’s the first piece.
The second piece came more than 20 years later, when I taught Greek grammar and literature at the university level for three years.
I had spent the intervening years translating Latin and Greek for my classes and my dissertation.  It was an intriguing, often confusing, sometimes difficult, frequently joyous process.  It was always a laborious task of figuring out the meaning of the words, then figuring out the grammar of the sentences, then putting the two together in a translation.  During my first year of teaching, it came to me that I was doing it the wrong way round.  Instead of beginning with what the individual words meant, I began to look at how each functioned within the sentence – in other words, I began to sort out the grammatical structure first, then slot in the meaning of the individual words. 
I don’t know if you’ve ever studied ancient Greek or Latin.  In case you haven’t, a word about how different languages express function.  In English, function is most frequently determined by the position of the word in a sentence.  “The dog bit the man” doesn’t mean the same thing as “the man bit the dog.”  While “dog” and “man” are the same words and have the same shape/spelling in each sentence, their different positions give them different functions – subject/object, object/subject.  In Greek and Latin, the changing shape/spelling of each word (in technical terms, the morphology) is what determines its function, rather than the position.  If you use the object form of the word “man” and the subject form of the word “dog,” you can have a sentence where “man” comes before the verb and “dog” comes after the verb, but it still means “the dog bit the man.”)
So – I began to look for these grammatical clues to tell me how each word functioned in the sentence:  subject, object, verb, modifier, etc.; the more I did this, the more I found that instead of  translating the Greek or Latin, I was actually reading it.  It was wonderful!
At the same time that I was learning (and teaching) how to read the ancient languages, I learned about rhetoric from a colleague who had studied it extensively in the modern as well as the ancient world.  The standard definition of rhetoric is “the art of discourse” or “the art of persuasion.”  While I don’t disagree with that understanding of rhetoric, I would expand it to mean “the art of language.”  While grammar tells us how language does work, rhetoric takes us further, to how language can work.  While most of us (I think) think of style as something special that only “good writers” make use of, the fact is that every sentence written in any language has style.  It may be an elaborate style.  It may be a simple style.  It may be a good style.  It may be a bad style.  But every sentence has a style.  Rhetoric is the art that tells us both how to recognize and how to manipulate the style in which we speak or write.  As I learned from my colleague and taught my students to read the languages instead of translating them, I became ever more entranced with the myriad ways we humans have of expressing ourselves in different languages and different styles.
When I heard you speaking about the enneagram, I was reminded of my experience with language.
In language, the individual words have definitions in and of themselves, but depend on grammatical structure to give them meaning in context.  “The dog bit the man” means one thing, “the man bit the dog” means something else, and “the the bit dog man” doesn’t mean anything.  Grammar provides a web, a network, a framework, invisible to most people (who simply take it for granted), that allows for a meaning beyond the strict definition of each word.  The application of rhetoric takes that framework further beyond the meaning of each word by allowing style to inform the simple sentence.  “It was the man who was bitten by the dog” means the same thing as “the dog bit the man” but provides nuance and emphasis which the simple sentence does not.
Our lives on this earth are made up of individual events – big ones:  birth, death, conversion, rites of passage; and small ones: taking a shower, eating a meal, grocery shopping, tea with a friend.  The events are strung together by the invisible network we call “time” – chronos time—but as we look back and reflect, we can see other connections which make for deeper meaning.  Perhaps grocery shopping reminds of the meal we had at a funeral, which leads to conversation over tea with a friend, which brings us to a sense of new birth which is conversion.
The enneagram seems to me to function as a combination of grammar book and rhetorical study.  The definition involved in each word or event is innate, provides meaning, is real.  But to express and understand  the meaning requires the equivalent of a grammar book to bring to consciousness the invisible network which gives the contextual meaning, and a rhetorical handbook which allows us not only to understand our lives but to live them more fully, more healthily, more consciously – to find our true selves and to live always toward God.  This is what the enneagram can do, in the right hands.