Body and Soul: Stories for Skeptics and Seekers

High time for me to say something about the anthology Body and Soul, edited by Susan Scott and published by Caitlin Press. I have a personal essay in it — “Mother and Child,” about my experience of our daughter’s came outing out — but that’s only one reason to mention the book. There are twenty-eight more, including contributions by writers such as Alison Pick (foreword), Sharon Bala, Carleigh Baker, K.D. Miller, Ayelet Tsabari, and Betsy Warland. And twenty-two others.

9781987915938Body and Soul takes on the daunting and often rather private concept of “spiritual.” As the back cover states, it breaks “that age-old code of silence to talk about the messiness of faith, practice, religion and ceremony…” Its writers emerge from contexts that may be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Indigenous, or nothing. There’s leaving and joining, leaning away from and leaning towards.

I confess that writing my piece seemed risky to me. Fear of judgment, I suppose it was. Fear it wouldn’t be enough of whatever for whoever. But putting it to paper was a powerful experience for me too, as writing can be when the very act of it traces through facts of the past to reveal a landscape seen as if in fog the first time round and now glittering with a kind of clarity. And editor Susan Scott was a marvellous (and soothing) guide and champion.

The seed for the anthology got planted when a panel on spiritual memoir at the Wild Words Festival in 2015 provoked surprisingly enthusiastic response. In an interview with Isabella Wang for Growing Room, Susan said:

“Let’s face it. There’s a lot of eyeball rolling when it comes spirituality, religion, faith—pick your word, they’re all words that make people uneasy. Real knowledge, understanding or empathy are often thin, and it’s no wonder. Canadians tend to keep such matters private, which is fine on the one hand; on the other hand, it means we lack a nuanced public discourse, a lexicon to reach for.”

Susan Scott

Susan Scott

I participated in two of the launch events for Body and Soul in Vancouver last month. As I listened to Susan introduce the project the evening we read at the Vancouver Public Library, as I heard her passion for what it represents and how unique it is, I felt myself pulled out of and beyond the personal experience of my own essay. I felt myself placed into a solid companionship — with the other women who happened to be reading that evening, as well as the others in the book, all of us beside the other in a fine alphabetized row. Companionship, yes, with the commitment to listen hard and well to each of them. I believed I could rest in the expectation that they would listen hard and well to me as well. 

“I liken the process of building an anthology to the practice of hospitality—another old word that’s misunderstood. The roots of hospitality are linked to care. In the writing community, a hospitable publishing process begins and ends with care. Care, as in deep listening and holding the space for writers. Care, as in I care deeply about what you have to say and I believe in my bones that others will care. Care, as in judicious editing that builds on trust.” (Susan Scott, interview with Isabella Wang).

You can look for Body and Soul at your local bookstore or library (if not, please request they order), or through Caitlin Press or Amazon.

My rush to judgment

I saw the short video of the Covington Catholic School student face to face with the drumming Indigenous Elder. I believed what I was told, and watched as it echoed around my social media chamber, read the comments as they piled up, agreed that it was reprehensible. I listened to what the Elder said he felt in those minutes of his song.

Later I read the student’s statement and watched a longer video with more angles and discovered there was a bigger story. As counter-claims emerged I sensed embarrassment settle over the viral landscape. Clearly there’d been a rush to judgment. My first reaction was relief that I hadn’t re-tweeted or shared the video, that apart from a single “like” to someone’s comment I’d kept quiet. But then I remembered that I’d believed everything I was told and was plenty disgusted at those boys with their MAGA hats.

I also remembered that watching the first video I’d wondered about the student’s face. I was puzzled by his strange smile which didn’t actually seem jeering, though it did seem nervous and stubborn and maybe uncomprehending. As that video panned to students behind the Elder, I thought they seemed unsure what was going on, laughing uneasily like adolescents caught in something stupid. I remembered these tiny doubts about what I saw but I’d kept quiet about them too, because I was afraid if I voiced them I would be shouted down by the Comments crowd, and that just makes me more unsure of myself. Besides, by then I’d abandoned all doubt as I rushed off to absolute judgment.

     Maybe the speed of viral is simply too fast. Too dangerous.

Is there room for judgment here? Of course. But oh that it could be slow and measured. Weighed. Maybe the speed of viral is simply too fast. Too dangerous. Some of the people I follow and most trust and respect are acknowledging their own rush to judgment and asking good questions. Some media are attempting to investigate further and thus add nuance. But it’s still pretty loud and lively out there.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not re-parsing this situation or rushing to some illusory other side, or even saying my doubts were right. Just that they were there, which might have been a signal to me to pause and wait! I’ve now seen both ugliness and dignity in this scenario, but I honestly do not know what happened. I’ve realized again how quickly I join the rush and wish I’d hung on to the “benefit” of doubt a while longer.