When you love you should not say “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

– Kahlil Gibran


“real” beauty

So I have always been attracted to this Dove “Real Beauty” campaign thing… It really fascinates me that a cosmetics company decided that it wanted to deconstruct our society’s notions of beauty. The cynic in me says it is merely a clever marketing ploy aimed at women like me who are conscious of our distorted notions of beauty, a way to entice me to buy products because I align with their advertised ethics. I ought not get fooled into romanticizing their films or heralding the great work they are about because really they are just another player in the over-saturated market for “beauty” products.

But for women like me who were never the prettiest girl in class, rarely complimented on our appearance, and undeniably hyper-aware of image, even though we wish we weren’t, it is an incredibly evocative and alluring idea – that we could actually do something to make life different for the girls yet to climb into the ever-present judging eye (even if, in the end, it is only ever one’s own eye) and that someone out there refuses to let any girl be called “ugly”. (I’m focusing on girls here because it seems to be more of a problem for females, but it may very well be an issue for males too, just not as talked about)

I work with teenage girls at church camps and retreats, and try to stay in contact with them during the year, and it is always interesting, difficult, and sometimes inspiring to hear and see them struggle with image and body and perception, of themselves and others. Some days I wish they didn’t have to go through the torturous self-examination that searchces for imperfections and worries about desirability.

Image is so prevalent in our culture, the admonishments to perfection of self through outward appearance are shouted so loudly and boldly that they are impossible to ignore. And yet even as I critique it, I am inextricably implicated in this adversarial aesthetic activity; I like to look good. I like clothes that show off my curves. I like to creatively combine colour on my face, with my clothes, with accessories. I enjoy a well-tailored garment or one with both functional and aesthetically-appealing, quality design. I like compliments (even though I still don’t quite know how to respond, it’s only been within the last year or so that people have often complimented me on the way I look, it feels weird sometimes, and slightly foreign, so I don’t have much practise with responding). I enjoy seeing another person wearing flattering clothing.

So am I just another image whore? Another casualty of the cultural aspiration to perfection, having fallen prey to these ideas? I don’t know. I know that I do try to think critically, to maintain awareness that a person’s outward image is not their whole self, is in fact not who they are. And the way I look is not who I “am” either. I still marvel at the different self-images I can play with constructing each day. One day I can have street-cred with a black hoodie, jeans, and a t-shirt with a clever saying; and the next day I can have office-cred with a smartly tailored grey jumper, collared shirt, and hair swept into a tidy up-do. So which one of those images is Shannon? Both? Neither?

And I find just a smidgen of redemption in the photography exhibit that Dove put together, asking photographers to submit images of “beauty”, however they wanted to interpret it. The results are varied and wonderful, sometimes heart-warming, sometimes heart-breaking. And even if they are part of a marketing ploy, art is art, and I enjoy seeing beauty through the eyes of many different people: http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.ca/realbeauty/

PS – I should probably mention that I don’t actually use any Dove products. I use as many of Lush’s “naked” products as possible – no packaging, no preservatives, handmade. I find their ethics much more seductive and reliable.

new yak podcast

YAK logoThere is a new edition of the YAK (Young Adult Koinonia) podcast that I’m involved in, available now via iTunes or on the YAK website: http://www.youngadultkoinonia.org

I’m particularly pleased to share about this edition because it is all about the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. I had the opportunity to contribute to the podcast by interviewing someone I admire very much, Rod Downing, who is a member of my home congregation and a devoted activist on many social justice fronts. Rod shared about why we should pay attention to what is going on in Darfur and what people can do to help. His suggestions were varied and addressed the broad scope of the various issues at play. Rod has a real gift for seeing the big picture, seeing all the aspects of an issue, and not losing sight of the actual bodies on the ground, the people whose lives are affected on a daily basis by what is going on.

I hope you can take the time to enjoy the podcast, it also features a Community of Christ minister from Africa who provides insight into the issue from his viewpoint “on the ground,” much closer to what is going on.

YAK – Young Adult Koinonia – A community of young adults forming connections, sharing life, and inspiring transformation.

the fruits and vegetables that made me cry

firstvegetablesOk, so I have a confession to make. I have a new love. My new love will be arriving every Friday afternoon in a rubbermaid bin. My new love is fresh, organic produce.

For me, food is often an erotic experience. I’ve written about my love of food before, here and here, however, I don’t think those posts quite capture my deep love of sensual pleasures. My love of embodied sensual experience is the inspiration for the title of my blog erosophy and one of the main ways I experience the world sensually is with food.

You perhaps think I am a little crazy, and I probably am, a little. But I could not help myself, when my vegetable bin arrived for the first time yesterday, I was ecstatic. I opened it up and as soon as I started lifting things out, tears came to my eyes. Who cries over produce?! I’m not exactly sure why I had such an emotional response, but I did.

I think it was partly the beauty, the exquisite beauty of all of them. It was partly the anticipation, since I didn’t know what I was going find inside. It was the feeling of each item, cold, wet, dirty. It was the smell of dirt and farm that was still in the box. It was the feeling of having been given a precious gift.

This feeling of having been given a precious gift is one I want to feel more deeply, on an ongoing basis, in my life. In a deep, true way, each of those vegetables and fruits is a little bit of sacrament, a little bit of precious earth, taken for my own sustenance, held by many sets of loving hands before reaching mine. Food is one of the most basic elements and life, and therefore one of the most precious and holy elements as well. Just as life is sustained in making love, when we take holy food into ourselves it blesses us with nourishment and allows our lives to flourish.

So I took each item out of the box and laid it all out on the dining room table, so I could take it all in. Again I was moved to tears. I took pictures. I marvelled at the purple carrots and their 2-foot-long tops. I held each item to my nose so I could smell its aroma. I didn’t even think about what it would all eventually become, I just felt gratitude for their beautiful colours and textures and scents and flavours, for the perfection of each atom that makes up the complexity of a single fruit or vegetable.pomegranates

The most pleasant surprise in the whole box were the two pomegranates that I found hiding inside. Yes, I am easily amused. Yes, I can be a little emotional sometimes. But I would not trade a single moment of the awe and wonder I felt yesterday; for my soul was at rest in the perfection of the moment.

PS – yes, the pictures are of my produce and my pomegranates. You can get home delivery too, maybe you won’t cry, but maybe you will allow yourself to feel some awe and wonder, even for a moment, at the beauty of the earth: http://www.greenearthorganics.com

earth teach me

raincloudsIt’s getting to be that time of year where the days get darker and colder and wetter and windier and the brightness of faith and hope can sometimes seem so dim that I’m not always  sure how to go about living. Winter, which is what this is the beginning of, really, is, for me, a time of being on autopilot a lot. I find myself having to trust a whole lot more and be a lot more vulnerable when I can’t see the mountains, when my body is more vulnerable to the elements, when my independent way of moving about the city on foot and on public transit becomes just a little bit slower and more careful.

I am learning about appreciating this time. I am learning about the gift of darkness, silence, cold, discomfort. I am learning how to willingly submit myself to the perfection of these moments as much as the perfection of a sunny afternoon. The earth is my teacher in much of this.

And so I want to share a poem I heard sung last weekend by musica intima. The poem is from the Ute First Nation in North America

Earth Teach Me

Earth teach me stillness
as the grasses are stilled with light.

Earth teach me suffering
as old stones suffer with memory.

Earth teach me humility
as blossoms are humble with beginning.

Earth teach me caring
as the mother who secures her young.

Earth teach me courage
as the tree which stands alone.

Earth teach me limitation
as the ant which crawls on the ground.

Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle which soars in the sky.

Earth teach me resignation
as the leaves which die in the fall.

Earth teach me regeneration
as the seed which rises in the spring.

Earth teach me to forget myself
as melted snow forgets its life.

Earth teach me to remember kindness
as dry fields weep in the rain.

love in the hallowed halls of the CBC

CBC logoSo yesterday my friend Tara and I had the honour of attending a CBC Radio recording session of an interview with 2007 Massey Lecturer Alberto Manguel. It was for the Studio One Book Club and will air on BC’s weekend morning show North by Northwest starting on the 27th.

It was an exciting experience! As Tara and I walked down the long basement hallway to “Studio One” we grinned at each other and exchanged the sentiment that we both felt as if we were on holy ground. I have only recently fallen in love with CBC Radio (CBC is Canada’s public broadcasting network) and I am totally smitten, so to be there was thrilling.

alberto manguelAdded to the thrill of just being there, was that it was actually a really fascinating, inspiring, interesting interview with a very sweet and quite brilliant writer. Manguel spoke of the importance of literature because it allows questions and ideas to remain open. He spoke with sadness of the commercialization of language and the tendency in that commercialization to tie down dogmatic meaning and remove ambiguity. The beauty of stories, of literature, however, is that they defy quick and easy succinct readings, language itself is ambiguous, fragile and open. Books grant a sense of freedom for our minds in a world where we are, in Manguel’s opinion (a well-founded opinion I think) educated to be stupid. We are educated to not question, to not allow for openness of meaning and ambiguity.

Manguel acknowledged the difficulty in leaving things open to diverse interpretation, but was adamant that no idea should ever be censored. He laid out the challenge of allowing ourselves to be “prey” to all sorts of ideas, be they dangerous or banal, and as part of that to accept the responsibility that comes with being intelligent, self-aware, imaginative human beings. These are the very qualities that make us human, and yet we are so afraid to accept responsibility for the power in our own thinking.

Most fascinating to me, however, was a comment he made about freedom of thought, and learning to think better, leading us therefore to love more deeply. My imagination caught on this idea although he hardly said anything about it. And so, since it was an interactive radio show, I got up near the end and asked him to say a bit more about what he meant by this. He said that when our minds are free to really get to know someone (the ‘Other’) we cannot hate them. Hate, he said, is a failure of the imagination. Love, on the other hand, is perhaps the most beautiful thing our imaginations can dream up and then live out.

In the context of our diverse cities, a posture of openness to the unknown, no matter what it may bring, seems to be the one that holds most possibility for that which is perhaps the essence of Christian practise: love of neighbour.

a side note on books and curves

Just a short reflection on one of the lighter moments in Tara & I’s Monday night pilgrimage to the CBC:

So we were there for a show that is a “Book Club”.

Have you ever seen what the majority of women at these sorts of events look like? While we stood in line to meet the author, we surveyed the room and were interested by what we saw. One general conclusion was that I must have missed a sign that told me to park my curves at the door. Tara and I both felt like our breasts were just a little too large and our bodies in general a little too bootylicious for the literary crowd.

The kicker, though, was the noses. Now, I’m a big fan of my own nose, I like it very much, and normally I don’t particularly notice noses, but I could not help but notice that most of the noses there were pointy and bird-like. How does that happen? Do people forget to eat when they are so engaged in book reading? I myself am a big fan of snacking while reading, so I’m not sure how one could forget such a thing.

Anyhow, since part of the theme of the night was about diversity and variety, I felt like I definitely did my share of bringing diversity through representing the non-booky-looking book-lovers, in my own rubenesque style. Here’s to Tara and I transforming the literary world, one curve at a time.