tenebrae service

In March my darkness rose with the temperatures
As crusted snow turned to slush and daylight hours grew in length,
Until here, at month's end, I find myself facing
An unforeseen Good Friday:

Hours turned from prayer and vigil, departing lighted hours,
Turn from the initiation of Our Lord's Supper, when wine in cup
And bread in hand became memorial, before memory was needed,
Turning towards hopeless hours.

To remember:
There, in the midday minutes, memory became necessary.
Tenebrae settled in darkest reality, the inexorable
Extinguishing of the Light of the world, snuffed down

To a single candle's trembling flame--
When all the world hung from a tree, dripping blood,
Water pouring out, spilled on the dusty soil,
Vanished in the lavish violence of love--

Gone, lamented, we are left bereft.
Old, withered hands, prominently veined, reaching out in the darkness
To steady themselves on pews and the sturdy shoulders
Of younger energies--still

We wander in the darkness,
Existential and utterly material. I reach
My veined hand out, hopeful despite its fearful self--
Do I dare remember?...

Easter came a week ago--risen indeed?--annually lily-white;
Yet these dark hours find me still, always,
Searching for perennial meaning, sifting through these
Ashes and palm husks in the fading light.


what about today?

Today is the day that comes once every four years, February 29. It is the hiccup day, the catch up day, like paying off a debt owed to Time itself, as though we'd overdrawn on our proper allotment of time. Or perhaps, as in a board game, we are held back a day like a penalty round spent in jail. Or held back like the schoolchild who couldn't quite get the hang of long division...

Perhaps that's not quite right at all--perhaps today is pure bonus, a reminder of the gift of life, that it's less like "putting in time" and more like "enjoying the view." Either way, it gets me to thinking about how today came about, when the monks realized all those years ago that they had the days in a year counted out all wrong, that the year wasn't (strictly speaking) 365 days long. And to right this wrong, back in 1582, the Julian calendar was scrapped in favour of the Gregorian calendar; they skipped 10 days to bring the year back to itself and get back on track. And to maintain this crazy scheme, they instituted a leap day every four years, arbitrarily, February 29, slotted in to keep the days and seasons and the human time table happening just like it should. These monks figured it out, that each year is 365.2425 days (which works out to be 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds), that the solar calendar repeats every 146 097 days, which works out to 400 years, which works out to be 20 871 seven-day weeks. So each year is cut short, in a sense, and then caught up again on the leap year. Precisely, it takes 365.2425 days to circle the Sun once, our own brilliant celestial event, Solaris. And we figured out a way to make our years match the physical universe...

I suppose all this is something of a salute to the Copernican revolution when we realized that we weren't the centre of the universe or even the galaxy, that our existence and our stories are all happening in this massive context of shuffling stars and shooting comets, and the grand ballroom dance of the ever-exploding cosmos! And then the question arises once again, whether we'll join in this mysterious and passionate dance...

Einstein said that God doesn't deal in dice, meaning that God doesn't leave things up to chance. And I guess if you consider his theory of relativity (famously, E=mc2), he's right. Some people hold that even life itself isn't left up to chance, and I suppose, in a way, they're right too. But if you get to looking at everything, if you think about a life lived honestly and earnestly, if you think about the grand gamble of love and trust, if you think about how you go through your days and nights with hope and fear-- Hold all that for a moment, unfocused in your mind like one of those 3D pictures with the chaotic backgrounds, and maybe something emerges there. Maybe a shape emerges out of the page, out of the chaotic pattern, but if you try to focus on it then it sinks away, receding into the unfathomable chaos, ripples in a pond.

Einstein had the celestial scale figured out, the speed of light and the vast interplanetary fields of gravity--but he couldn't make it work on the miniscule scale, not in quantum theory or on the atomic level (for more on this see Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe). There was some gap in theory, some gulf in knowledge, that prevented an understanding of how the physical universe operated--and this dilemma still exists. The cohesive and comprehensive theory of (the physical) EVERYTHING is still at loose ends (just like the metaphysical everything). The thing that seems certain in all this is that the cosmos is unutterably more complex, more finitely infinite, more minuscule, than we can possibly wrap our minds around.

Some days that makes me feel so small and so fragile and so vulnerable. And some days, it makes me feel like a miracle; it allows me to be free...

So where does all this leave me? Well, today seems like a certain kind of day, a once-in-a-long-while day, which in the grand scheme of things isn't all that rare. The world turns on its axis and the elegant dance spins on and the random hiccups continue, and I ramble along still in the midst of this chaos and precision, perfectly imperfect...

Two weeks ago I decided a few things:
1) I am returning to school to finish my BA Honours in English (with a second major in Philosophy), which I will (hopefully) begin in Spring Term.
2) I will cease to live with any of the gnawing regret that paralyzes action, and I will take that regret to the interiority of reflection with the impetus to action.
3) I will give this life my all because there's really only one shot at it and it's far too precious and beautiful and captivating to be carried away on the waves of numbness...

Maybe all that doesn't sound like much--or much of anything to be making "decisions" about--but I tell you, it is.

We are all in this thing, just trying to live our experience and understand the truth of our existence the best we can, and while we try and try to shape the world to fit ourselves, really, we can only shape ourselves to fit the world. Not because we're purely determined or fated, but because we understand (imperfectly) that there is a grand image in the patterning of chaos, in the precision of the cosmos, and in the utter breathtaking beauty of encounter. We live in holy moments--or perhaps in the holy moment--in which the moment doesn't change but we change.

Here I stand then, as one naked and exposed--. There are some who know, who have walked through my waste land, this desert, this dark hollow of the land, with me. Friends who have offered a place to rest, a pool of refreshment, an open ear and an open mind--and slowly I have come to myself, as a man and as a follower of Christ, as a writer and a student, as one who realizes he's still on a journey and will not arrive until the moment of departure. And the deepest struggle in my life has proven to yield the deepest rewards: I am gay.

I've struggled with this fact as a man, as a Christian, as a scholar, and as a son/brother/friend. But perhaps this is what happens when order and chaos meet, when what we think and are given to believe conflicts with who we find ourselves to be and how we experience life. There is always a clash, an explosion, a struggle--but in the end, whether it destroys us or we somehow weather the storm and become (impossibly) better, the struggle is not the final word. Somehow we find our way, perhaps by the grace of God, perhaps by the will to survive; and we stumble through, usually with some scars and a few (un)healed wounds that will always ache, that will never fully heal, that give way to a limp or an arthritic joint--the metaphorical soul wounds that make us more beautiful. And when all is said and done, somehow these wounds make us all the more beautiful, like those portrait pictures you see of people with wrinkled faces and unruly hair and wild eyes and crooked, missing teeth--but underneath it all like a fine fabric made all the finer with the wearing, there is a wisdom and a peace there that shines through it all...

This, of course, is what I aim for--what, I think, we all plot a course towards--that somehow, at the end of the journey, we will be wise and peaceable and beautiful like we truly are. That somehow, whether at the end of things or along the way, we will realize how beautiful we all are, how worthy of love we are (simply because we are), and how truly we were these things all along...

If somehow we find these things in our deepest struggles or in our most brilliant glimpses, then somehow we have found the grace of God that gives way to forgiveness and mercy, that brings us hope and peace, that brings us Life and Love. With all our scars, with all our deep and dark secret struggles, we are becoming who we truly are: the Beloved Children of God, in the darkness and in the light...


juicy hearts

And so, another Valentine's Day is upon us...

I sometimes think that love toys with me, sits and watches, bobbing its head like a cat to keep its green eyes on me. Occasionally, I glimpse love: I see it, fleetingly, as in the face of a passing stranger or in the wildness of a sparrow alighting on a railing not more than two feet from my hand--

More often, I see love in the faces of friends and family, in the gentle summer breezes that bend the upper tree branches stretched out towards the hazy blue sky, or in the odd lumbering gait of injured hearts--

Most certainly, I see love in my quiet moments, when I cease my striving and my activity and my frenzy, when I quiet my soul and stop comparing notes. It is there, in the moments when I stop trying to measure the things I've lost, the relationships I deserve, the places I hope to be, the ambitions I cannot achieve... Love comes in those moments, quiet and observed, like a deer pawing delicately in a clearing in the early morning dew, wet back and cautious eyes, and not a breath of movement as I observe its approach... Love comes truly in a quieted heart.

So, for all those in love,
for all those who wish for love,
and for all those with an aching heart,
I wish you all the joy of Love, unasked and unsought,
in the quiet realms
of newly born spirit...

* * *

Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,

You must be he I was seeking,

Or she I was seeking

(It comes to me as a dream)

I have somewhere surely

Lived a life of joy with you,

All is recall'd as we flit by each other,

Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me,

Were a boy with me or a girl with me,

I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become

not yours only nor left my body mine only,

You give me the pleasure of your eyes,

face, flesh as we pass,

You take of my beard, breast, hands,

in return,

I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you

when I sit alone or wake at night, alone

I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again

I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

-Walt Whitman

* * *

I suppose it's something like Rumi says:
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.

Maybe I'll begin to see a little more clearly in the coming year. Maybe I'll meet people that I didn't even realize I loved, the strangers who I've been longing for without even knowing about it. And maybe, somewhere along the way, that'll mean finding out how to be myself and how, in this wide and lonesome world, to love someone else without obliterating myself... If the coming year brings even a fleeting glimpse of these things--the connectedness of Love and the beauty of Being and the dignity of Self--well, I suppose it'll be a good time. So let that bleeding heart ooze and don't hesitate to embrace this moment of contact...


first fotos

These are my first photos of Ayvlyn, my dear niece, taken yesterday evening with my camera phone when I visited her and Gillian and Steve at the hospital.

You can't really see her face very well in this one and her eyes are closed, she's sort of slouched into her swaddle, but you can tell that she has a head and a bit of hair. You can also see a little bit of Gillian's arm there, too.

In this one I'm standing there and smiling, happy because I'm holding Ayvlyn. She's kind of sleeping, but there was awhile when I was there that she was looking around at different things (me included) with her 8cm sight range. She didn't smile, but I think she's happy nonetheless. In the background you can see a very pastel-y painting and the "Soiled Linen" container. But the highlight is her little sleepy face underneath the spotlight...

Ah, sweet life--. Some days it seems that only poetry or soaring music can hold the simple beauty and love of it all... But maybe all you parents out there feel a little differently. After all, you're the ones who deal with the cranky nights and sicknesses and tears and fears of these tender and fragile little lives. Though I suppose there's beauty and love in those things too, maybe especially in those things. In the end, the love born in the fullness of life, in the joy and sadness, in the triumphs and failures, in those easy moments and then the difficult ones--the love that is carried through thick and thin, and comes to its realization in all the various peculiarities of living together--this love is borne into Life itself...


a niece is born

I'm writing to you in a very fine and rather giddy mood because I have fallen head over heels in love. And I know you're thinking that it's pretty weird to write an email about it, but it's not and I think you're weird to think that it's weird. Because honestly, it's one glorious day since I get to say that only yesterday a baby girl was born to my brother Steve and wife Gillian. I love them very much and I love my new niece, the newest member of the Doucet-Campbell families. She is very small still, but I have a feeling that given a bit of time she's going to grow. And even though I think she's gorgeous right now, it's possible that other people might think she looks a little flat-nosed, long-skulled, and like a fuzzy alien. Either way, though, she's beautiful because she's a fresh furnace of life, newborn and in good health.

Her name is Ayvlyn Cora Doucet Campbell and she was born at 3.24pm on Sunday, January 6 (which happens to be the twelfth day of Christmas, also Epiphany Sunday in the liturgical calendar, and Eastern Orthodox Christmas Eve--Yowzah!!). She was born at 8 lbs. and 10.7 ounces, packed into trim 20 inches.

And I don't have any pictures yet, but I hope to soon, and when I do I will post them here. And I will post other things too, like any proud uncle would. That's right, I have no shame in saying that I'm going to be a proud uncle, with tears in his eyes with every baby milestone, from first poops to first steps to first words and so on... I'll be keeping (possibly sporadic) updates on my blog about uncle-y type things. But be assured, even if you don't read about it here, Ayvlyn is on my mind and in my heart...

So, all this to say, I'm now officially a proud uncle to the most beautiful baby I know (sorry to all you other babies--you're all cute too, but just not quite as cute as my niece)...


winter days

straw hats and apple cores
left in the street
snow falling like white flowers
flying through the air
bringing an enduring bloom
to icy streets
eventual thaw in brown tones
(decomposed winter garden)
a fertile colour
gives way to green
birthed in the white darkness

departures and arrivals

In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going.

In another sense we have already arrived.

We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light.

But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!
-Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence


bad promises

I'm afraid I must apologize and renege on my promise to post previous Nog's Eve posters and pictures... In promising these things, I have spoken rashly and succeeded only in making a fool of myself. I have raised your expectations unnecessarily and then dashed them on the rocks of my inability to fulfill them; and for this, I am sorry.

But as a sort-of consolation, please enjoy (and by "enjoy," I mean, "feel free to react any way you like, even with mild disgust") the following cartoon regarding our beloved Egg Nog...


nog's eve: a brief history

The Nog’s Eve Historical Society is pleased to present “A Brief History of Nog’s Eve”:

The origins of Nog’s Eve are shrouded in mystery. Doubtless, the reasons for celebrating Egg Nog are utterly transparent—after all, a tasty holiday beverage deserves all the respect and celebration one can muster. But how did Nog’s Eve come to be celebrated in its current tradition?

Up till now, there has never been a concentrated inquiry into the origins of Nog’s Eve, but as far as we can tell, the Nog’s Eve tradition followed a rather circuitous route into Winnipeg via Regina from Vancouver. In tracing these origins, we have relied on second hand accounts and, admittedly, unverified sources; as such, this brief history serves only as an overview. In years to come, this account will be expanded and updated. However, let us now turn to the history of Nog’s Eve, which begins with a fellow by the name of Craig Cadwell.

At the end of the last millennium, a fellow by the name of Craig Cadwell attended Canadian Bible College, located in Regina. One of his degree requirements obligated Craig to complete an internship at a church; he ended up in North Vancouver at North Shore Alliance Church. Legend has it that Craig encountered Ben Taylor, a fellow from North Vancouver who had celebrated Nog’s Eve for years, refusing to partake of Egg Nog until the beginning of December each year; as a result, November 30th, the last day before December, became Nog’s Eve, and a vigil was held to observe the first nog of the season at midnight. However, at this point, it is unclear how exactly Craig encountered the traditions of Nog’s Eve or from whom he learned the ways of Nog; but we can be fairly certain that he took them to heart, bringing these learned traditions back to CBC and Regina with him.

Some years later, in the year 2000, a year filled with all the hope of an entire millennium, an American lad by the name of Colter Diehl moved to Regina to begin attending CBC. There he met Craig Cadwell and while decorating for the annual Christmas banquet Colter was introduced to the traditions of Nog’s Eve. On this early Nog’s Eve, Craig and Colter, as well as Dave Coutts and Aaron Gerrard, toasted the commencement of the 2000 Nog Season precisely at midnight. The basic rule of Nog’s Eve, firmly established at this early stage of Nog history, was to refrain from the consumption of Egg Nog until the month of December had officially begun. And the toast at midnight officially begins the Nog Season and celebrates both Egg Nog itself and the good holiday cheer of the Christmas/Advent season.

At this point, Nog’s Eve history becomes less opaque, moving from the realm of second-hand information to the more familiar territory of personal experience. It was in the autumn of 2001 that I (i.e. Chris Campbell) moved to Regina and began attending CBC, at which time I met and became fast friends with Colter. And it was through this friendship that Nog’s Eve has come to such fabled notoriety.

On November 30, 2001, Colter introduced me (as well as Joel Gorrie and Tom Mulhern) to the tradition of Nog’s Eve. But due to a mishap in timing, this Nog’s Eve was celebrated in a bus shelter on Fourth Avenue between the CBC campus and Kline’s, the local convenience store. We huddled in the glass booth with a litre carton of Egg Nog each, toasting the commencement of the Nog Season in the cold and snow. But this cold celebration proved to establish the seeds of a warm tradition, these cold roots grew to produce many branches.

The following year, 2002, saw the beginning of Nog’s Eve celebrations in Winnipeg under the guidance and careful planning of Chris Yorke and Steve Campbell. This first annual Nog’s Eve celebration in Winnipeg took place in Fort Garry at a common, shared house and was met warmth and acceptance. Unfortunately, although I had brought the ways of Nog to Winnipeg, introducing both Steve and Chris to its traditions, I was unable to attend the first annual celebration; I was on a trip to the very small town of Munich, North Dakota, with Colter and Dustin Hrycun where we celebrated with a very warm family and several friends.

At this point, Colter and I parted company and I have attended Nog’s Eve celebrations each year in Winnipeg. It has been hosted in various households throughout the city of Winnipeg, from its original celebration location in Fort Garry to a house in Fort Rouge and, most recently, the West End. Today marks Winnipeg’s Sixth Annual Nog’s Eve, the commencement of the sixth season of Nog. And I suppose we are all better for such a celebration of friends and family, of the holiday season, and the warmth and joy of Egg Nog.

Over the last five years, subsequent Nog’s Eve celebrations have occurred throughout Canada and the United States. To my knowledge, Colter has celebrated Nog’s Eve each year in California, but ever since 2003 in Redding, Colter has not thrown a Nog’s Eve celebration; rather, he has marked the commencement of the Nog season in private observance.

Dustin Hrycun, who was introduced to Nog’s Eve in 2002, has gone on to celebrate Nog’s Eve each year in larger and greater celebrations in Regina, Calgary, and Edmonton. This year, Dustin threw a Nog’s Eve celebration in Edmonton and, in future years, hopes to expand the commencement of the Nog Season to include philanthropic enterprises, such as, for example, an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for non-profit relief organizations.

Each year I receive several emails around this time of year letting me know about the spread of Nog’s Eve, about a party here or there, and always wishing me the very best with the commencement of the Nog Season. I have no knowledge of whether Nog’s Eve is still celebrated by any at North Shore Alliance in Vancouver or whether Craig Cadwell still partakes of the tradition. I don’t know whether other celebrations have picked up or begun freshly across this continent or perhaps some other. I don’t know whether the Nog Season thrives with greater recognition and widening notoriety with each passing year, or whether the years pass by simply in the minds of those key figures of Nog history. But whatever does or doesn’t happen each year, I remember those early days of Nog’s Eve and I remember these last few years of Nog celebrations, and I feel a burgeoning hope bloom within me that Nog’s Eve will grow in the fecund soil of goodwill and hope, peace and joy.

So on this, the commencement of another season of Nog, I wish you all a happy Nog’s Eve 2007!!! And a most holly jolly Nog Season!!! Here’s to you and to all your friends and family!!!

ps- Past Nog's Eve photos and email poster adverts will be posted to follow... If there are any you wish to contribute, please email them to me with something like "Nog's Eve memories" for the subject label. Many thanks and much fond feeling...


my daily bliss

Today at work I heard a Christmas song. I think it was Bing Crosby's version of "Frosty the Snowman." It played over the Christmas satellite radio station that gets piped through the whole store, through tinny speakers, usually all but lost in the ambient white noise of the vents blowing dusty, recycled air. And for anybody that has to listen to it--if you do hear the music day-in and day-out throughout the Christmas season--it becomes rather tiresome. An understatement perhaps. So I might say, without much fear of contradiction, that it becomes the retailer's incessant irritant, the straw that all but cripples the camel and makes for the longest and most tiring days. Of course, there is always the constant customer pressure, which undoubtedly begins to wear on the nerves, but it seems that Christmas music bears the brunt of the retailer's wrath during the Christmas season. It spills over to taint Christmas parties and tarnish those warm, holly jolly moments at home around the tree--any place where that dreaded music begins, it seems to echo and amplify within the hollow chamber that used to fill with warmth and good cheer by the same auditory stimulus. It used to be that there was a sense of magic and awe that surrounded the Christmas season--I suppose partly due to the legendary Santa Claus and partly the grace of all those gifts. There was a time when the music was like magic, when it would conjure brightly coloured packages and reindeer and a gilded evergreen from the very bare air. But I suppose the utter bliss of Christmas fades, partly when the legend becomes myth and partly when the joy of giving begins to outweigh the anticlimax of getting. Or perhaps that's not the case at all and what really happens, as happens with almost everything else, is that we simply lose our sense of wonder, our awe at the intricate delight of all things as we grow older. The beauty, the mystery, and the majesty of springtime rains and fresh buds, slow-falling snow and visible puffs of breath, the cycles of seasons and the cycles of life... All of it begins to fade into the background, becomes taken for granted. But every once in a while, wonder still bursts through our pragmatic vision of the world and ripples our easy understanding, our blase attitude. And then we wake up. And then we remember...

Well, today I remembered. I heard through the white noise, the background music that had become (at best) un-notable or (at worst) willfully disregarded, and I heard the wonder and awe of Christmas in a burble of emotions and a swelling of memories and sensations. I wouldn't have expected "Frosty" to bring all that back to me, but suddenly and unexpectedly, he did. And if you remember that old cartoon with the crank magician who threw away his hat, then you'll remember the kids who used it for their snowman and how he came to life; and you'll also remember Frosty's gentle voice. I guess it's something like that, some chain of recollections, that finally reminded me of what Christmas used to feel like. And it's not just that it's changed feelings, but it's changed associations. Now when I think of Christmas, I don't think of the magic of softly falling snow or evergreen trees, or even that ancient manger that made history (quite literally). I think of piles of junk and adverts and someone trying to sell me something. That's worth some mourning, I think. But today, as I said, Frosty reminded me, in his gentle and impossible snowman's voice that there was some magic left. That it had never really gone anywhere.

I guess this could come across as a big farce, as some cheesy, feel-good attempt at heart-warming sentimentality, but I don't mean for it to come across that way at all. I hope , rather, that it conjures some sense of loss and some sense of found. I hope that it reminds you what it did feel like--not simply in a nostalgic way, but in a real and significant way--and what it could feel like again. I hope that you can see, for one bright and golden moment, that the magic hasn't really gone--it's just that our vision to see it has been dulled with time.

And it's not just a call to return to the "spirit of Christmas" or to meditate on the joy of the true meaning of the season; it's a reminder that all of life has become the same, all of life has become rather dull. And maybe it's just that today was lucky, but I found myself wandering home in a bit of a wonderland--cool and still, snowflakes seeming to hang in the air, almost as in a snow globe, with bare, black branches tangled against the gray sky, and all around the soft and crunchy fresh fallen snow. In that moment, walking along Rosedale Avenue, I realized the magic and wonder of the moment. I remembered what it felt like to be delirious in a wonder-filled world.

As Emily Dickinson wrote:

I had a daily bliss
I half indifferent viewed,
Till suddenly I perceived it stir,--
It grew as I pursued,

Till when, around a crag,
It wasted from my sight,
Enlarged beyond my utmost scope,
I learned its sweetness right.

And there it was, laid out before me, a daily bliss--half-forgot in all the shuffle of things-to-do and places-to-go... Suddenly, it grew beyond my imagination and I glimpsed Eternity, touched down in a moment, telescoped through all temporality... Suddenly, I was filled with wonder.