The First Sunday of Advent

I am so rarely ‘in time’ to post happening things but some kind soul out there in the internet wilds posted this poem a few days ago and I love it so I’m sharing it with the lot of yiz. From one of my heroes, the poem:

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

© Rowan Williams

Notes from a Sunday Morning Walk in Autumn

Amid the glowing foliage, sparse, red and rusting leaves hang on the Sakura trees. At the edge of a small dark, still pond an old man unsteadily playing ‘Ode to Joy’ on a silver horn. Sitting on a rock below him, a little boy, his grandson, is reflected, holding a fishing pole. Overhead, the azure sky, the giggling trill of a hawk, sunshine. The splendors of the day, the season, enrobe me.

A flash of blue darts at the stream. Is it, was it – all of a sparkle, a trice, – a kingfisher?

A pair of white herons flap across this blue Okayama sky, the hills laid out before me, all decked in gold brocade. Something softly breaks in me that reminds me of exultation. Whether or not it has meaning, it is beautiful, this world, this here and now, and I think/thank God.

Gingko leaves
Have fallen now.
A band is floating
Upon the river,
Ephemeral
Kintsugi

Kintsugi Tea Bowl

Kintsugi

Peering (‘earing) into the Darkness, or Modern Iconography

My last couple of posts have been concerned with the emergence of ugly things but I find that if i can sit long enough and wait and allow my fists (literal & figurative) to unclench, stillness ensues and comfort comes.

Once upon a time I was a student of Joanna Macy’s (if you don’t know her, you should. Start here.) We were, as it happens (see previous posts), learning to mourn. Everyone feels sad every now and again, but this exercise was aimed more at facing the arrogance of humanity & its complicity in the degradation of God’s creation, specifically of the natural world. Each of us was to choose an object from nature with which to dialogue, just the kind of exercise that, while seeing, in principle, the value of, I must confess to finding, personally, utterly cringeworthy. I chose a rock. Joanna signed the book Thinking Like a Mountain, ‘To Dear Rock’.

This came to mind a few evenings ago crossing the bridge on foot on my way home. That day my mind had been blown by the images of Young Tau, that precocious little million year old star, 450 light years* away, with its flamenco skirt swinging around it, a disk positively shining, made up of a series of bright, concentric rings, separated by gaps .

young tau

This is what I read from the press release from the European Southern Observatory site:

“Stars like HL Tau and our own Sun form within clouds of gas and dust that collapse under gravity. Over time, the surrounding dust particles stick together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger size rocks, which eventually settle into a thin disc where asteroids, comets and planets form. Once these planetary bodies acquire enough mass, they [and please note the striking collection of verbs that follow!] dramatically reshape the structure of the disk, fashioning rings and gaps as the planets sweep their orbits clear of debris and shepherd dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.”

I was remembering the stone, the living stone, the stone becoming,

becoming

part

of

a

planet.

Will you ever look at a stone again in the same way? Will it not be illumined?

The science–the knowledge–is amazing enough but what particularly interests me, aside from the sheer poetry of creation and humanity’s participation with it, is the fact of the image(s). A new image. Something never before seen. We are saturated in imagery in this age. Can we take it in? This is something that humanity has never before seen! This plays wildly in my mind.

High on a plateau in Chile, in a large desert expanse, there is what looks to be a little field of mushrooms with their domed caps turned upward.

Image by Babak Tafreshi

By Babak Tafreshi

This is Alma, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array. Alma is very clever and I would say synaesthetic for she can take even better pics than Hubble, but she is not in the business of capturing light. Alma tunes in to radio waves instead and these, it turns out, are like the X-ray specs I used to read about in comics. Word is that the radio sky looks quite different than the visible sky. If you ever looked at the sky with a radio telescope you wouldn’t see pin-prick stars, you’d see it looking perhaps fuzzier, filled rather with distant pulsars, star-forming regions, and supernova remnants. Alma can see right through the massive cloud of dust and gas Young Tau is dancing behind and she does this by cooperating with another antennas in the field. Mostly antennas are a couple of kilometers apart. Alma is considered one of the greats because she plays with others at a distance of about 15 kilometres to make her gorgeous ‘radio images’!

I confess I don’t really get it all in a scientific sense. I don’t know what it means that radio waves are longer than optical waves and I don’t know whether that is even of importance to understand. I know what I see. But these images are iconic in the true sense: a sign of the presence of God, something that travels a path from the visible to the invisible, the material (pixelated) to the spiritual. They are images, sacred doorways indeed, to pray with.

—–

*what is a light year really, you ask? See here.

Still Grouching (Modern Architecture Projects in Japan)

Michael Ende whose book Momo we are reading in class talks about the way that wrong relationship with time negatively affects the shape and liveability of space.

Last but not least, the appearance of the city itself changed more and more. Old buildings were pulled down and replaced with modern ones devoid of all the things that were now thought superfluous. No architect troubled to design houses that suited people who were to live in them, because that would have meant building a whole range of different houses. It was far cheaper and, above all, more timesaving to make them identical.


 Our man in Rome in his celebration of the Good Word [222-225]  writes about ‘the politics of space’ and describes it as:

  • utopian,
  • driven by a sense of urgency,
  • seeking to achieve instantaneous fulfilment (and therefore)
  • always short-term,
  • frozen in time and
  • vulnerable to abuses of power.

The politics of time (that cannot be separated from space), by contrast, allows

  • for transformation through growth,
  • for change as a process,
  • for acceptance of limitation and finitude,
  • for the seeding of ideas and their gradual nourishment in people’s hearts and minds, and in our institutions.

Time, writes Pope Francis, is greater than space. I think this may be some kind of koan. I have it dangling on my prayer rope.


New buildings will help define our future cities, but what do people want from them?

A recent survey from design company Sasaki asked people from six different US cities what they loved and hated about their urban environment.

It revealed a passion for old buildings – 57% of those surveyed looked at old buildings when walking down the street, compared with 15% who admired skyscrapers. Only 17% wanted more shiny, iconic buildings. 

[Source: BBC]

I’d be interested to know what the results of a similar survey in Japan would reveal.


Don’t get me started on Olympic architecture slated to happen in one of the capital’s most beautiful parks (and one of my particular, favourite green spaces).

I was relieved at least to see Professor Maki’s objections.

“I’m saying it’s just ridiculous,” he said. “We are raising our voices, but they don’t listen.”

. . .

He has accused the sports council of bureaucratic arrogance and leading Tokyo down the same road that Beijing took in 2008.

“Somebody at the decision-making level wants to do it again, just like in the case of China,” he said.

“They want to show off shining technology so that people will marvel at it. It is exactly the same mentality in our government.”

“We have a very modernised country but we still have a bureaucracy that governs everything,” the designer of the 1964 gymnasium added. “We are not a civil society where citizen voices can be critical.


Which makes me wonder: what in the heck am I doing in Higher Education in this land if as, Rowan Williams, our former man in Canterbury wrote: “The academy’s greatest gift is in cultivating a critical citizenry who cannot be treated as fools?” But that’s for another time.