I am an ant walking up a tree Traversing an unpredictable terrain Peaks and valleys over time I work together with others I solve problems as they arise I provide food for my family I am an ant walking up a tree And I do not know it is a tree I have not seen the larger body Of the landscape through which I spend my days But I know that the sun shines on it And that the rain waters it I know the shapes of its leaves And I know how I am to live.
I've built a home, Its center flue, Flows straight into the sky, Mix my body in the smoke, And through it let me fly Across the sky, And through the land, I'll lose this weight of time, No way have I, to think of them, My love, our pets, and I.
We often don’t know what the love of God really looks like, because we are looking to each other as examples of what love means. And those examples are often steeped in human pain, repression and trauma.
The love of God doesn’t look like the love of a disappointed parent. The love of God is not the love of an abusive spouse. The love of God is not a codependent friendship. It is not the love you feel for your dog. It is not the love of a nation. It is not spiteful or selfish or conditional.
It does not falter at your skin tone, your tattoos, the way you speak, your choice of lover. It does not ask loaded questions, it does not roll it’s eyes.
We see nothing like it, except the glimpses we can catch, in a moment of mutual understanding, a kind smile, an electric connection between strangers, the experience of being lovingly known, the feeling of singing together.
And that is but a candle to the sun of God’s love that surrounds us at all times.
In our wounded world there is no comparison, the only way to understand is it faith. To do as we are called to do, to love others as God does, we must challenge ourselves to love deeper than the love we’ve been given.
Went through an old journal and found this letter I wrote to my future self when I was 19, around this time 6 years ago.
I am writing this at 12:17pm on February 26, 2014, 7 days after my clavicle reconstruction surgery. I am 19 years old. I am writing this to myself.
I have no plans for you. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and with whom you are doing it, is fine. You could be successful or lonely or on the street and none of these things would surprise or disappoint me. Even the vague hopes I have now, I understand enough of the world to know that experience may very well render those desires irrelevant. I know that now, and I am content with that. Your life may have taken a direction I never in my wildest dreams could have foreseen, and that is great! My knowledge, my perspective is so finite, do not seek to pacify me as I am now. The moment in which I am writing this will have passed, and with it my self in this moment will be dead. Never to see, never to know another thing. But you, in the present, are so full of life lived and foods tasted that I could not have imagined! And it is the knowledge that you are not as finite as me, that you will change and grow beyond my limitations, that makes it so I have not died in vain.
So do not fixate on me. Behind you is death and in front of you is new life and infinite possibility! Already at 19 I have spent years fixated on the idea that I did not turn out as a younger me would have imagined. At 19! Do you see how ridiculous and hopeless this idea is? So this is me, trying to relieve myself by relieving you. Unfortunately I have no idea where you are or what you are doing with your life now, so I have no insight or guidance to offer you. You know yourself better than I do. I do not know you, we have never met. I am merely a piece of you, shaken off like antlers in the fall while you carry on. New ones will grow in the spring, and they will be bigger and stronger, so do not mourn for me. You will lose nothing I had, and gain so much more. My only desires for myself are to grow, and I’m sure you’ve got that covered.
Be strong. Be kind.
Yours in memory,
Lane Silas Patriquin
Today, the atmosphere is thin
The birds and squirrels are quiet in the trees
The sky, dense and preoccupied, hurries across the land
A slow, old grief is vibrating up through the soil
Through the bones in my legs
And it fills up the shallow basin of my heart
So that nothing else may be held in it
An ungrateful child come to a too-late appreciation
Of this woman's storied and weary life
I go and sit under the old spruce that raised me
I press a hand to her weathered trunk
And wait silently at her bedside
Neither of us having anything to say
Primordial as the ocean tide,
Seasonal as the butterfly,
All living things must chart through time,
Their paths to food and peace of mind.
Across the skies, waters and lands,
We move but by this one command,
That nothing stays in time or place,
Cyclical motions map God's grace.
So who are mortals to deny,
These habits which are old as time?
Brief lines and walls may pacify,
But vines, creatures, and people,
For the past three days
I have walked by a lily of the valley
Lying on the ground
Forged from the spinal fluid of the Earth
And every day
Though it lies
Trampled and dirty
It has not changed
What an honor it is to decay
What sweet, fertile release
What a horror it is
To create something beautiful
Which will never die.
This is a sermon that I gave for the feast of Corpus Christi on June 23, 2019 at The Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields in Toronto. The readings for this are Deut 8:2-3, 14-16; Ps 116:10-17; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58.
This Sunday we are celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, a day to honour the presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. This solemnity is the only feast which was added to the liturgical calendar by the efforts of a woman, Juliana of Liege, who, among other women in Christian communities at the time, felt a very strong devotion to the Eucharistic elements.
The historic devotion of Christian women to the Eucharist makes a lot of sense. Food and care work, the sustaining of the physical and emotional well being of others, has traditionally been considered women’s work for thousands of years. And so it makes sense that God would work through women to relay the importance of this feast.
Despite the convoluted reasoning of how exactly bread and wine can be physical body and blood, the acceptance of these realities offers a reassuring simplicity. Christ came to serve, to care for others, and each time we participate in the Eucharist we are invited to do that. This message, and this action, is quite simple, demonstrated throughout his whole life: Serve others. Feed others. Protect, heal, and care for others.
These holy tasks we are called to, are women’s work. Jesus was a man who did women’s work. He is a deacon, a role in the church for those who serve their community, which has commonly been given to women. Despite all of the ways that scripture has been abused to attack the image of God as manifested in gender-variant people, Jesus was a man who undeniably transgressed the social gender norms of his day in order to exemplify and venerate the holy work of women: to feed, to wash, to heal the sick, to care for the children.
The Eucharist reminds us that we have not been asked to look for God up in the sky, or in some transcendent realm of higher consciousness. Though God certainly exists in the cosmos as much as anywhere else, that is not the site of God’s creation of us. We were created here, on this physical Earth, specially shaped for this land, which has all we need to care for ourselves physically and spiritually. Christ’s physical presence in his vulnerable human incarnation, and his remaining physical presence in the nourishment of bread and the joy of wine, asks us to look down to the soil and to the plants and creatures, and forward into each other’s faces and open hands, to see the life of God and what is being asked of us: to be mindfully and persistently present in our physical lives and our relationships to one another.
The two parts of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine, serve different but equally important purposes. The bread is something very practical and easy to understand: it is that which fills us, it is the gift of food brought forward by the Earth, and shaped and cooked by human hands, that provides us with physical life. Without bread, without food, we could not live. Wine on the other hand, being something without significant nutritional value and certainly not a basic physical necessity of our bodies, is also recognized as a key substance that we are to partake in, in order to live in Christ.
My family, very much people of food and wine, taught me at a young age that wine is something you drink with others. By the nature of the beverage and it’s historical use, it has always been something brought out to partake in together. I remember my father jokingly referred to it as a “social lubricant.” Often in conversations about community organizing, we talk about the necessity of going to the pub with your neighbours and coworkers, because friendship and trust is built over drinks and laughter.
Like any psychoactive substance, alcohol has the potential to be used in harmful ways, and I think that the fact that alcohol is a medicine that must be treated with respect is something needs to be emphasized in our culture. Certainly the liquor companies that will be showing up on rainbow floats this afternoon, advertising an addictive substance to an already psychologically vulnerable community, are doing nothing to show respect for alcohol and it’s purpose on the Earth. But I’ve always found it very interesting that in the Christian tradition, one of our sacraments is wine: a substance whose purpose is to relieve our anxiety and make us more sociable, to make it easier to talk and laugh, to allow us to lean across the aisle to someone who may seem unfamiliar, and crack a joke. That Jesus asked us to partake in this substance, with equal importance to the bread that sustains our physical bodies, highlights the inextricably social nature of Christianity. The bread: the caring, feeding, washing, housing, and healing – and the wine: the talking, organizing, joking, scheming, and celebrating – are the two sides of the mission we must enact as followers of Christ, inextricable from one another.
Often times when we are seeking to act in solidarity with those who are more under-resourced than ourselves, to feed people just makes plain sense. We feel called to share our resources, our food, and our money, to ensure the physical well being of those less fortunate. And while these actions are definitely in alignment with that aspect of Christ’s mission, in many charity contexts this doesn’t always accompany being invited to sit at the same table.
How well can we know exactly what someone else needs, if we are not in conversation, speaking to each other as equals? How do we act in the best interests of others if we are focused only on providing a service, one that depends on one party remaining as the decision-makers and the resource-holders, without building relationships based on trust, mutual understanding, and even joy?
Bread is incredibly important, it is the gift of life on this Earth and everlasting life as embodied in Christ. But we must also remember to bring the wine. Amen.
The practice of “radical vulnerability” has made it’s way into social justice communities over the past 5 years or so, and it’s something which I first encountered on Tumblr.
The premise – as I’ve seen it applied within my social context – is that candid public disclosure of trauma and other personal struggles is a radical act that fosters transparency, connection and trust within community.
I definitely think vulnerability can be a powerful thing in a therapeutic context, and that it is necessary for intimacy and emotional connections to form – which is important when we’re talking about nurturing relationships within community. But over the past few years, there’s something that’s been bothering me about how I’ve seen the concept of “radical vulnerability” applied. I’ve been thinking about how vulnerability operates within social justice spaces – who is comfortable being vulnerable, in what ways, and to what ends? In what circumstances is vulnerability healthy or appropriate, and when is it not?
I’m not sure of the original intended application of radical vulnerability, and so I don’t want this post to be a critique of the full potential of this concept. However I do want to critique how I have often seen it used in (mostly online) social justice spaces in recent years, specifically by white middleclass women and nonbinary people.
Many women of colour such as Rudy Hamad and Sherronda J. Brown have written articles within the past year about the weaponization of white feminine emotions in interactions with Black and Brown people. While this is a phenomenon that has been discussed and theorized about for years, awareness of a racialized and gendered emotional power imbalance finally seems to be making it’s way into progressive white consciousness.
These ideas about the weight of white emotion got me thinking: does the practice of radical vulnerability necessarily facilitate open and accountable discussion, or can it be another avenue for white people to center our emotions and shield ourselves from criticism?
The first thing that strikes me about acts of self-described “radical vulnerability,” is the often public nature of these disclosures. Vulnerability is generally something that happens between individuals in a form of mutual intimacy, but in a context of a broad-reaching social media post, there is a relatively low cap to the level of intimacy or reciprocity that can be had in that context.
Because of this public nature, radical vulnerability can feed into trends of obligatory disclosure, establishing an idea that those who publicly share their trauma or difficult personal realities are inherently “radical,” and “approachable,” and those who do not are not as friendly or open, have something to hide, or must not have their own traumatic experiences. This kind of thing is what lead to the 2013 Tumblr norm of (often extensively) “listing” points of privilege and oppression on one’s profile, which of course lead to many awkward interactions where someone who hadn’t listed some aspect of their identity would be assumed to be privileged by default.
We need to talk about is how the ability to disclose personal information safely can be a mark of privilege in itself. Survivors of sexual assault, for example, are not always safe or comfortable outing themselves to others, especially publicly, and have no obligation to do so. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a survivor talked over in conversations about sexual violence, because they’d never publicly disclosed their experience, and were thus assumed not to have had such an experience.
Among the white middle-class there is often a failure to appreciate the mundanity of oppression. Because many queer or disabled white people come into our experience of oppression later in life (even if that’s childhood), it often strikes us as something jarringly abnormal. We often don’t understand that for many people, the experience of violence is so commonplace that it doesn’t elicit the kind of public indignation that middle-class white queer people often demonstrate. For many low-income and racialized people, oppression is so pervasive it could not be expressed in a post, a zine, or a slam poem. Acts of self-disclosure are not inherently liberating – for many they can be emotionally draining, triggering, or the things that could be disclosed would be seen as “too much” for social media.
People avoid vulnerability for justified reasons, and we need to remember that we never really know who someone is just by what they say – or don’t say – about themselves on the internet or in public. In order to be vulnerable, there needs to be an expectation that you will be listened to, that your experience will be honoured, and that the disclosure will not negatively impact or re-traumatize you. For many people this is not the case, or they simply just don’t feel that they would get anything positive out of such a disclosure. No one owes anyone else their trauma or their life story, and likewise, the disclosure of intimate details of one’s life is not always an inherently positive thing.
It’s important to look at what exactly is being disclosed when we’re practising public vulnerability. I can recall instances over the past few years of people “vulnerably” disclosing times they enacted racism or transmisogyny, and then refusing to engage with the criticism that resulted. If potentially critical responses are not factored into the decision to disclose, then it’s not really vulnerability, so much as it is centring ones own emotions in situations where one has caused harm, and seeking to be absolved of guilt or negative emotions through performative disclosure.
Perhaps rather than vulnerability, what is really needed at times is to develop the radical ability to receive criticism, hold space for negative emotions, self-regulate and process them privately or within our close circles, so as not to rely so heavily on public validation.
White people can also use experiences of oppression to obfuscate our whiteness and class privilege. Marielle Devereaux points out that, “some white gays believe that their status as a ‘minority’ translates to being worse off than straight people of color, which erases the experiences and oppression that people of color face.”
In social justice spaces where we are attempting to centre the voices of the most marginalized, it’s a lot easier to feel like your opinion holds weight as a neurodivergent queer person (for example) then as a middle-class white person, even if both are true. The “radically vulnerable” disclosure of an experience of oppression can, in certain contexts, be used to distance ourselves from whiteness by centring our identities along other social lines.
True vulnerability is an important part of establishing trust in relationships, and trust is essential to building community. But when it comes to the normalization of intimate public disclosure, we have to be sure that building trust and accountability is actually what we’re trying to do. While I don’t think that this practice is always necessarily harmful, it is a tool that can be used in different ways depending on the intentions of the person using it. When those who practice radical vulnerability tend to be white middle-class people, we should be critical of whether this tool is being used to build connection, or to center the emotions of the privileged.
At some point, I hope
You will see yourself
through another's eyes
and feel like a stranger.
At first glance
They are a distortion
Culminating all that is not you.
You catch a glimpse of yourself
reflected in their gaze
And you become a distortion
of all that is not them.
And we could get trapped in this hall of mirrors forever.
But if we surpass this
To cross our borders of self
We are not looking into a reflection
But staring out across an ocean together.