Monthly Archives: August 2016

After Rivendell



“Walking the Labyrinth, Rivendell” DS

Contemplative prayer is about waiting. It is an interior kind of waiting that is practiced on the outside too on a regular basis. This kind of waiting – like Godot perhaps – makes way for other more specific types of prayer. Contemplative prayer acts as a spiritual default position.

This attitude in prayer I experience mostly in contemplative knitting or collage. The rhythmic movement of my hands keeps the rest of my body at rest. Often I start with just repeating the Jesus Prayer brought back to us by eastern Orthodox Christians. Sometimes I will just mention a name of a loved one or situation as a way to petition for God’s specific help. Other times I just let my mind wander and then have a sentence or two that I read out loud – a poem or verse.

Once in a while I have the opportunity to pray as I walk a labyrinth. I did this recently at Rivendell. The switchbacks in the path of the Chartres style walk comfort me. They echo my life and edify my prayers. Sometimes when I walk away from the direction of the centre, I find that I was actually quite close but could not see it. As I walk to toward the centre, and an answer is right before me, the path turns away again. It leads me to return home to trust that I am being led no matter what I see.

Since my decision to live a contemplative style of being in the world, I study and practice the habits of the early church, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and the ancient monasteries. My relationship with a loving God through Christ is the foundation of my existence. The Spirit works in the background of my life with practices of faith and creativity. In this way I prepare for the future, whatever may come.

Such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.

Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”




Rivendell Retreat in July


“Labyrinth at Rivendell” DS 2016

In that space between sleeping and waking, in this blue green breezy world of Rivendell, I became aware that I felt held, like lying in a hammock. This retreat place on top of a treed hill looked down it seemed over mountains: white, green, blue. In my imagination I began to move out over the sky. The hammock now felt like I was lying in a blanket similar to what must have come down from heaven in the story of St. Peter and the un/kosher animals. I felt peaceful, even exhilarated.

My overworked, overstressed exhaustion seemed to drain from my mind and body. The blanket then seemed to harden into a sieve, like an old bed with no mattress but bendable. On every updraft and landing, something fell from me through the sieve. It was like the junk from my life was falling away. I now turned and seemed to take a more active role in my movement.

It felt like I was gliding like a bird among the trees, looking down upon the distant mountains and ocean. I felt purified. I felt free. I unclenched my jaw and arose to write, shivering from the cool wind coming in through the window over the desk. A net of peace fell over my emotions. Everything would be OK in its time. I felt held.

Musings about the New VAG while on Retreat at Rivendell

Weeds or Wildflowers.JPG

“Flowers at Rivendell” DS – Weeds or Wildflowers?

The proposal for the new gallery was not widely accepted. In fact contrary to the enthusiasm of the VAG, civic leaders and architectural critics, a local radio poll, in September last year showed “80% of the respondents voting ‘No’ to the design.”

Should an art gallery be ugly? The title of an article in art guide, Preview magazine, last year by M. De La Giroday was titled “We are Art: a new narrative for the Vancouver Art Gallery.” It read, the architects “aren’t obsessed with winning an architectural beauty contest.” They said, from an artist’s point of view, these would be the best galleries in the world. In fact, artists would want to be revived from the dead to show here…” These are strong words.

The design is of wood – “a nod to Vancouver’s history as a logging town but with modern internal structures. Although not stated in the article, it reminds me of the shape of the First Nations’ Inukshuk, a symbol of welcome.

Behind the scenes (barely), are concerns about the wood being able to stand up to the weather and the ugliness of it rotting over time. Although there are few cities as treed as Vancouver’s province, apparently there are concerns over whether the correct size and type of water repellent wood could be produced here (so much for using local materials and saving the environment). The other worries are of course, how to raise the funds for this expensive venture, but this would be necessary for any design. However, some say it would be better to renew the old gallery and open several new small ones as the funds are raised.

I find myself debating whether it is reasonable for a gallery to be ugly. Is that not an oxymoron? Why would people be attracted to an ugly gallery? Who would want to walk along the street and look at it? Tourist might even come, not to see what will be the tallest wooden structure in the world but the ugliest gallery in the world.

That said, I know that some think Antoni Gaudi’s “Sagrada Familia” church, Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Museum in Spain, and even the ‘new’ ultra modern Scottish Parliament building in old Edinburgh are ugly. I think now not of humankind’s great creations but of God’s – humankind. Let’s face it; all were not created with equal beauty. Not even God’s own Son, Jesus, in essence God himself, is not of any particular ‘comeliness’ as Scripture describes him. I feel confused now, how can that be? Surely God must be the most beautiful of all? It only makes sense. I am going to have to wrestle with this ugliness business a bit more.

Part Two

What must come into my thinking is that there are different kinds of beauty and various perceptions of ugliness. What comes to mind right now is the way that the appreciation of women’s beauty in art has changed over the centuries from the high foreheads of the Renaissance period to Rubenesque figures, to the anorexic look for today’s model for real women to emulate. There is also natural beauty, but that has a continuum of appreciation too.

Ugliness, I guess, can be about the way we value certain looks. We have standards. A gallery must be made of a certain material. A man must be close to a particular height. Even, my favourite: paintings must be of a realistic style to be beautiful.

Perhaps real beauty and real ugliness are intrinsic. Then I remember that humanity once created in the image of God has become tarnished and even tattered. Even real beauty can be diminished. The future state of the decaying wood of the gallery must be considered on the one hand yet what seems ugly now could become such a meeting place of meaning for Vancouverites and tourists that it becomes beautiful in its aging patina.

Some say of a baby, it is a face only a mother can love. Others are afraid of the onset of facial wrinkles and grey hair. Yet is any baby truly ugly? Is there real beauty in wrinkles? It comes to me now that picture of a dog with amazing wrinkles. You must have seen images of it somewhere. Many think that type of dog is absolutely adorable. So, is beauty in the eye of the beholder then? We can also gain beauty some say, by surgery, by body sculpting, by dressing a certain way. Are the celebrities caught by the camera without make-up genuinely ugly or if so just temporarily indisposed? What about redemption? Is there really something called a ‘bad seed’ making some people evil from birth? Are ugliness and evil, beauty and goodness correlated?

This may be an ongoing topic for thought. The Preview article ends with: “Art, the pursuit of art, and how we support it is a grand enterprise. In a sense, we are all art, and what is chosen will set the arts environment in Vancouver for the foreseeable future.” Do we find more meaning in beauty or in the reality of history and experiences, of love, of hate? But that is a topic for another day. Still exhausted, I am tiring myself more with trying to figure out both life and art. Which parts of this blog post are beautiful; which ugly? I cannot edit anymore.

Rivendell Cross


“Window at Rivendell” iPhone photo DS

On retreat at Rivendell this morning, I particularly noted the 18” wooden cross on the centre table. It was smooth and brown. I felt like holding it but I sat on my gold and pink textile bench and looked out over the fuchsia foxglove and tall trees to the white clouded sky. It was 8:00am and the spiritual day was well on its way.

I thought that in my burned out state I would be recovering passively but already a choice was upon me. The words: take up your cross and follow me, arose unbidden from my heart. I thought: this table cross would not be hard to carry. I remembered the movies I had seen with Jesus carrying his cross along the Via Dolorosa and this one in front of me seemed so easy.

The things that were my cross to bear came to mind. They were heavy – too heavy for me. I was on the verge of panic.

I began some meditative breathing, eyes closed, repeating the Jesus prayer. My thoughts went to a situation that had gone badly before I left home. It was not solvable as there was no cooperation. I sensed the words, let it go, and felt an opening of possibility. It came to me that in this area I was trying too hard. I was trying to control the outcome. What I needed to do was to support the process.

A bicycle entered my reverie. There were training wheels on it. You are the training wheels, I thought. The training wheels do not decide where the bicycle is going. They merely provide subtle yet strong support for the rider.

It became clear now, that I had gone too far. The situation that had brought me to the edge was actually not mine although I was required to play a part. I had fallen into the leading part, perhaps like the handlebars on the bike. I need to change my position, my viewpoint and get back to being the training wheels. The outcome was not mine.

Others at the retreat entered the round holy space sitting around the perimeter one by one. A candle was lit, a bell rung. I resolved to pick up that small hefty cross but it would have been disruptive. I would lift it; perhaps cradle it, another day this week. This is my cross, lighter than the one Jesus carried.

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. 

Book of Luke


Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Book of Matthew


MAKING AN UP-CYCLED COLLAGE JOURNAL 2016 (Shellseekers Art + Soul, Deborah Stephan)


“Gone Girl” DS (page in collage journal)

This is an economical way of making a journal that will help save the environment. It will also provide a way for slow de-cluttering of your bookshelf/library in the re-purposing of some of the books that you like but will not re-read or passed on.

Images and text will be used randomly throughout – unlike a regular notebook or journal. The idea is to promote freedom of expression and an acceptance of ‘mistakes’, poor penmanship and ‘primitive art’ as happy accidents or random acts of everyday art. The book will be messy, hopefully so untidy that others will not be tempted to read it as they would with a bought diary. It may look like a piece of junk – indeed like some of our lives do at times – yet in the messiness, patterns of beauty begin to emerge for the one who notices.

The spiritual quality of the book is hidden in the everydayness of its creativity. The purpose of the Shellseekers Collage Journal is to discover both our own selves and God as in the prayer of St. Augustine: “Lord let me know myself; let me know you.”

Making in 3 easy steps:

  • Select a pre-read book, either soft cover or hard cover, preferably one from your own collection or at least a book that you somewhat resonate with
  • Obscure the cover with collage materials glue-sticked on, either wrapping paper, newspaper or magazine images, tissue paper, foil gum wrapper, bus tickets, anything around your home that has been used before
  • Place a ruler along the inside of the right page rip about 3 pages out using the ruler as a guide so that when finished you have about a 1 inch remainder of the pages and do this every 30 pages or so intermittently to the end of the book (this is so when you start to collage the book will still be able to close)


Feedback comments and questions are always welcome.