Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion

“Four Quartets,” East Coker, V. TS Eliot

“Courage is the ability to cultivate a relationship with the unknown; to create a form of friendship with what lies around the corner over the horizon – with those things that have not yet fully come into being…” – David Whyte.

coverLiving in the Okanagan for the summer is an unexpected treat. It means more time with friends and family, and immersed in the geography (social and physical) that we call home. We know it is very likely transitional – but we have been making the most of it. A pilgrim walking in the desert doesn’t question the sudden appearance of the wadi; she knows it is grace.

So this weekend we participated the Lille Gard Festival. “Participated” is maybe a bit strong – we didn’t dance, sing, write poetry or serve food. But we certainly enjoyed connecting with friends, listening to many musicians who are friends and whose albums have occupied our collection for up to twenty years. And of course enjoyed hearing new musicians, and watching the artists at work (It was fun to watch that piano suddenly take shape as a living, flowing experience in the woods Dave!)

There are a lot of points of entry here – and I could make this a very personal post. But there are a couple of things that need to be said, and then I want to offer some reflections on this event in this time at this place. Because like other events that have risen up from the soil in recent years — notably the Wild Goose Festival but there are others like Greenbelt in the UK — there are reasons and seasons here. The Spirit is at work creating God’s kingdom future, in ways that are both obvious, and transparent to us. We know that the Institutions that have supported our faith in the West are crumbling, and we don’t know what will replace them.

So first, I want to comment on the character of those involved at Lille Gard.

I can’t say enough about this collective of artists, becoming artists, and art-lovers. The event was billed as “Arts, Faith, Justice.” There is a reason these three words come together here. While the event itself is exploratory, sort of an event seeking itself, the maturity of those involved announces itself at every point. These are people who come together from a gospel imperative. They are givers, seekers, and welcomers. They serve one another. They defer to one another, and are constantly encouraging, poking in fun and obviously in love in that rich family way. I’ve known many artists, and have often been surprised at the humility I’ve found. It speaks of a kingdom wealth and of a pilgrimage that has been long and deep.

Secondly, the level of performance was generally outstanding. These were a seasoned collection of artists. And the variety of musical performance was amazing. I heard many bands and performers for the first time, like Cod Gone Wild (a Celtic band based in Vernon) and Zerbin (reminded me of Coldplay).

And then third, I want to try and convey my sense of the depth of this event, and yet of its reaching toward something it did not achieve.

*** ***
That little phrase could be taken in this sense: “This event did not achieve its goal – in fact, the goal itself was not clear – therefore, this was a failure.” That is not what I intend. What I intend is to convey something about the nature of the tension between emergence and design.

Clearly, Lille Gard was a scripted event. While not operating exactly like clockwork (a nod to the thunderstorms that threatened to drown us all) artists and bands and speakers came and went more or less on schedule. As an observer, it seemed to me that the ten minute windows of spoken word were intended to be something like Gaston Bachelard’s “poetic act,” bringing speech to the event; weaving threads together then highlighting a particular thread; inviting the audience to envision the collective end; but also, and this is really important in the ethos of this sort of thing – responding to the surprising grace of God. Because when the ship left its moorings, there was only a vague sense of what might happen next. In this sense the rhythmic punctuation of the thunder and lightning on Saturday afternoon was maybe more divine than we thought.

“Hey! I’m at work here too! And in ways you can neither clearly see – nor avoid!”

This sort of event is experimental in the best sense of the word. The planners and facilitators are looking for something much more than a gathering of musicians and artists to share their work. They are looking for something almost collaborative with the wider community. They are beginning a conversation, and inviting participation. They are loading the ship with provisions, then loading the passengers and raising the sails, uncertain of the route, the weather along the way (!), and even willing to negotiate the destination. There are no maps on the ocean; so we hope that our navigation skills are adequate and that the clouds won’t obscure the stars. This kind of voyage is best undertaken by those prepared for adventure; who are confident that, as Bruce Cockburn put it,

“There’s roads and there roads, and they call can’t you feel it?
Roads of the earth and roads of the Spirit;
Best roads of all are the ones that aren’t certain —
One of those is where you’ll find me til they drop the big curtain..”

So – having said all this – a lot more than I wanted to say — I want to offer some thoughts on what was missing for me in this great adventure! And I have to add a final qualification – we missed the very closing event last night, the day had simply gone on too long for us and we needed to be at our daughter’s place before 11 PM. And we also missed Sunday morning – a community pancake breakfast and some opening words that I think would have added a few more supports to the frame, bones to hang the flesh on. I think I would have had a clearer sense of the journey that occurred had we taken in the full experience.

What was missing for me? How could Lille Gard have offered more — invited me deeper into the experience, and sent me away with a richer sense of the meaning of the good news of God’s kingdom, and my own place in the Big Story?

This is where I want to offer some reflections rooted in Gaston Bachelard’s work, “La poetique de l’espace” (The Poetics of Space, 1964).

The image, according to Bachelard, is the pure poetic occasion. Before a painter picks up the brush; before the poetic picks up the pen; there is a feeling, often accompanied by an image. This image is not properly speaking the creation of, or even the possession of, the artist. It comes unbidden. Yet neither is it completely unrelated to its parent. It comes through the medium of the Artist’s history and knowing and attachments.

And neither is this image only a creation of the moment, unrelated to the past or the future. It captures echoes from the past, and it hints toward the future. It exists in the present, and becomes incarnate with all the strength and the weakness of its host: the beauty and the flaws.

It is a logos, a word, born of the moment yet pre-existent; transcending the time of its creation. Bachelard writes,

“Because of its novelty and its action, the poetic image has an entity and a dynamics of its own; it is referable to a direct ontology.” (xvi)

From this point Bachelard begins to describe a concept I was not familiar with, growing out of the work of Eugene Minkowski, a prominent phenomenologist. Summarizing this part may only muddy the waters, but fools rush in…

Minkowski describes reverberation, and it is here that Bachelard finds the real measure of the being of a poetic image. He writes that is is in this reverberation, in the echoes of the distant past, that the poetic image has depth of being and richness of texture. “The poet speaks on the threshold of being.”

What Bachelard is working with here is not so much the poetic act itself, as something that underlies and roots it. The closest parallel we might describe as the action of the Spirit in the soul. At this place of poetic birth, language is born. The image touches the depth before it stirs the surface. His next words sound like they are rooted in grace.

cover“It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new language in us, by making us what it expresses [hints at incarnation]; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. here expression creates being..” (xxiii)

He goes on from here to talk about inter-subjectivity, something artists who work collaboratively understand. Expression creates being; being roots expression. In Christian faith circles we have been mostly concerned with action and transformation; and as a result have become largely pragmatic. Now when the external structures of our faith are collapsing, we find our inner world mirrors that collapse. We experience anxiety. We don’t know the way forward. We have lost our moorings and aren’t even sure we can locate ourselves. We don’t know the way forward, but we sense that the mystics are correct; the way is made by walking.

We do know a few things. We know that the future will be unlike today. And so we know that questions are our partners – they shouldn’t be answered too quickly but rather held alongside to aid our discovery. The right questions can help us move forward. But what are they?

We also sense, rightly I think, that no individual can show us the way forward. No single person knows where we are going. But we also sense rightly that the Spirit can take us there; and we know that the Spirit indwells the body. The way forward will require a level of trust and collaboration that we have rarely achieved before now. We need spaces to explore together, to converse opening, to dream and to imagine — and these places must be level places where we participate together regardless of our qualifications, our titles, our status.

“If we dream alone, it remains merely a dream. If many dream together, then it is the beginning of a new reality…” Elisabeth Fiorenza quoted by Rosemary Neave in “Reimagining the Church”

Let’s return to Bachelard. How do his thoughts on the phenomenology of the poetic act help us?

It seems to me that events like Lille Gard always happen on multiple levels. There is a parallel to this sort of experience in the Scripture itself. When we open the Bible to Romans 1, we are reading at the immediate level of argument and proposition, the poetic level. But the larger flow of the book of Romans, and then Romans set in the New Testament itself, is the narrative level. It’s the larger Story of what God was doing in Israel in the first century. Lille Gard itself, from this view, existed at three levels (and even four, but three is good for now!)

1. the immediate poetic level, one band or speaker following another.
2. the short narrative level of the event as a whole
3. the large narrative level – the event in the context of God at work in the Okanagan, for 25 years and more

The immediate poetic level of the experience, hour by hour, was what it was. It was cumulative for those who could continue and invest the time. Because the event was also highly social, people connecting with friends, many of whom they may not have seen in months or years, very few would have taken in the flow from the stage moment by moment for the entire event.

The immediate poetic level was set in the context of the scripted frame of the whole : faith, arts, justice. The speakers were the main fulcrum to weave the parts into the whole. But to me this weaving was the most happenstance of the event itself. They were all more-or-less successful at relating the parts to the whole. The intention was unlike Bachelard’s poetic act. The intention was not so much poetic as scripted: to relate the parts to the whole; to remind us why we were all gathered. It felt slightly jarring to me; as if the implicit offer was to set sail on an adventure, but then the explicit intention was to keep us grounded, remind us where we already were.

Another way of saying this was that the sense for me was of two different agendas, and that they conflicted. It wasn’t clear which was the true intention, or whether it was possible to accomplish both at the same time. On the one hand we will go on pilgrimage together – where will God take us? On the other hand we know pilgrimage is risky – we know what the kingdom is all about. Both these journeys are important – but for me the event suffered in trying to manage both these journeys.

“You will facilitate emergence by creating a learning culture, by encouraging continual questioning and rewarding innovation. In other words, leadership means creating conditions, rather than giving directions.” Fritjof Capra, “Creativity and Leadership in Learning Communities.”
The Center for Eco-Leadership, 1997.

If the real desire was emergent – to let be what will be – to raise the sails and trust the Spirit – to journey to a new place (none of us has been there before), then Lille Gard could take a cue from Gaston Bachelard. Instead of scripted speakers relating the parts to a predetermined narrative whole (arts, faith and justice), we would need poets who would listen for the rhythms occurring below the surface (the skiller listener that Hewlett-Packard employed at a key point in their history, related in Surfing the Edge of Chaos). They would function more like David Ruis did in the closing session on Sunday – incorporating parts that have gone before, sensing a meaning beyond the surface, and pointing to a future that might be only partially unveiled. The kind of person who does this well is a poetic- prophetic type, coming with no agenda of their own – and without a need to prove his/her competency in a creative act. I know – a John O’Donohue, Richard Rohr or Margaret Wheatley don’t grow on trees.

Perhaps Lille Gard is just fine as is. It was an inspiring, encouraging and renewing experience. Perhaps the event I am describing, where an unknown future emerges from pieces that are both scripted and free, is something new and different for Kelowna. But these were my thoughts on the day after, helped along by Gaston Bachelard.

In “Presence,” Senge, Scharmer, Flowers and Jaworski detail the seven movements in the process of transformation.. of what many of us would now call “emergence.” They write that a new spiritual path, or a new vision of leadership, will emerge “from building three integrated capacities:a new capacity for observing that no longer fragments the observer from what is observed; a new capacity for stillness that no longer fragments who we really are from what’s emerging; a new capacity for creating alternative realities that no longer fragments the wisdom of the head, heart and hand.” (p 218)

My apologies if I have misinterpreted Bachelard, I am reading through another lens, that of Dorothy Sayers writing on the creative trinity in The Mind of the Maker.

1 Comment on Lille Gard Festival – a poetic act

  1. Sandes Ashe says:

    Very nice, very nice.
    See Arthur Lipsett