Every creation story I know starts with water and mud, spring no different. Slippery footing, sudden ponds, dirt in snow banks, grit in the street and a warm wind. The night freezes and the day thaws. For a couple of months it’s a see-saw, wild ride, back and forth, up and down the thermometer. It’s messy.
Sometimes the messiness in our personal lives looks a lot like this: we take on too many commitments, our home suffers fire or flood, we have to have surgery, a relationship comes to an end, a loved one dies. One thing at a time or all at once. Our life looks like a disaster from which we think we’ll never recover, from which nothing will ever grow again. Our public lives too, when someone’s fear and rage chooses “the other” as target; when we reject the stranger among us, the “alien” within us.
Have I ever been through a disastrous time? A rough patch? I was asked that recently. Oh, yes: Self-doubt, check. Discouraged, check. Worried sick, check. Falling, skidding on the seat of my pants, head first, head-over-heels. Yes, I’ve been and I’ve passed through as we, the living, all have, year after year, as we learn a little more each cycle of the seasons about what it means to be fully human, as we amass corage, as we gather heart.
Every year for the past four years, a lantern parade has made its way through my Boyle Street neighbourhood. It’s called GLOW. Every year there’s a different but connected theme. This year’s theme is Outer Space. Like the contours of spring, Boyle Street’s a tattered neighbourhood in places, a little rough and worn around the edges, but full of a youthful buoyancy. Boyle Street has a proud Chinese heritage and a strong arts presence in the Quarters Arts Society.
Lantern festivals have their origins in Asia where, for example, they are traditionally associated with the Lunar New Year (in China) and with mid-Autumn harvest festival (in Japan). In the Netherlands, Germany and Austria lantern walks are associated with the feast of St. Martin, another harvest festival (Martinmas or Old All Hallow’s Eve, November 11th). In modern times artists are sparking a revisioning of lantern parades around the world: Lismore, Australia; Atlanta City, USA; Palmerston North, New Zealand; to name a few. The lanterns themselves are usually made from paper, fragile and fitting stuff for an ancient and a Green Age. But the act of processing, a community filling the streets with light to celebrate a season or a saint has been part of human history for millennia. There’s something infectious about a parade, especially one at night, with a warm (or cold) west wind blowing in your face and an emblem in your hand. And something infectious about a maintaining a tradition, no matter what’s going on in our very complicated and troubled 21st century lives, that celebrates the earth’s cycles and invites us to rebirth. We still need rituals, perhaps more than ever, that bring us together and remind us of our common humanity.
Outer space invites me to think big, to look up, to see beyond what is known in my small world, to make me curious about aliens (other beings), the alien parts of me, the unexplored spaces in my psyche about the “other” and “outer spaces” within. Yes, if there are aliens then I am one too. Paradoxically, never more than when I am skinning my knees on a rough patch.
This year, because of vacation plans, I will miss the Saturday parade. But you can join. Anyone can. Check it out: https://www.todocanada.ca/city/edmonton/event/glow-festival/ and hold up your lantern for all to see.