Bruce Cockburn’s unconventional spiritual journey

Bruce Cockburn has been part of the folk/rock scene since the 1960s. My interest in his music dates to my university days in the 1970s. He has entertained and, especially, challenged me time and again. Many Christians have been struck by his refreshing lyrics, expressing personal faith in a manner less sentimental than much of Christian contemporary music.

cockburnHis autobiography, Rumours of Glory (2014), is not “your standard rock-and-roll memoir,” he says, which means it’s less about partying and more about physical and spiritual journeys and political activism.

He informs readers up front that, while Jesus Christ entered his life and music in 1974, he subsequently “let go of his hand.” Their relationship has since “ebbed and flowed,” but he has determined to live his life “somewhat in line with his Word.”

As a mystic, Cockburn has tried to keep both “Jesus the compassionate activist” and “portal to the cosmos” close to his heart. But don’t expect dogma and doctrine. As a free-spirited artist, he uses guitar and voice to portray joy, love, pain, beauty and mystery.

One of the strengths of Rumours of Glory is the context it offers for his celebrated songs, released on more than 30 albums. The lyrics “tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me,” he writes, “filtered through feeling and imagination.” An alternate guide to some of his lyrics is Brian J. Walsh’s Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (2011).

In “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (1983), for example, Cockburn counsels “Spirits open to the thrust of grace” to “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” Doing anything less, he intimates, is a vacuous pursuit of Christ.

When my alma mater, Memorial University in St. John’s, NL, bestowed an honourary doctorate upon Cockburn in 2007, deputy public orator Annette Staveley dubbed him “a grim traveller in a dawn sky,” whose discography “bears witness to the horror and the holiness of the human condition.” His intense “imagery offers us glimpses of the divine.”

His spiritual songs, he explains, “are about celebrating the Divine and our place in the cosmos, and doing so from a place of seeking, from a desire to know, as best we can, the heart connection with God, however one might define such an entity.”

Cockburn’s music reflects the unconventional spirituality of a postmodern psalmist who deserves a louder hearing in Christian circles.

Adrift on an Ice Pan

“It was Easter Sunday at St. Anthony in the year of 1908….” Thus Wilfred Grenfell began writing his gripping account of being adrift on an ice pan.

His booklet, which appeared in 1909, “turned into an outstanding publishing success,” according to Grenfell biographer Ronald Rompkey. It brought “a new generation of readers in touch with [his] exploits.”

adrift-on-an-ice-pan-161x250The most recent edition of Adrift on an Ice Pan appeared earlier this year from Flanker Press, in St. John’s.

Edward Roberts, 11th Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, contributed the foreword. Grenfell “wrote vigorously and well,” he says.

A frontier doctor risks his life to save a patient, surviving two days and a night, lightly clad, wet and hungry, with his dogs, on an ice pan in the North Atlantic.

“If Adrift on an Ice Pan had been written as a work of fiction,” Roberts suggests, “it would have been ridiculed as being literally unbelievable.” But it is true, if somewhat embellished; the heroic and extraordinary tale, even today, continues to attract readers.

This edition includes more than twenty illustrations and photographs, as well as an wilfred-grenfellaccount of the rescue, recited in the Newfoundland vernacular, by a member of the rescuing party. The book ends with a biographical sketch of Grenfell, written by Clarence John Blake.

“Faith, courage, insight, foresight, the power to win, and the ability to command – all of these and more of like qualities are embodied and portrayed in Dr. Grenfell,” Blake comments.

Victoria Booth-Clibborn Demarest

The following is a revision of an entry which I wrote for the Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador Biography in 1990.

DEMAREST, VICTORIA BOOTH-CLIBBORN (1889-1982). b Paris, France, 31 December; independent world-renowned evangelist; preached significant Newfoundland crusade 1919; d St. Petersburg, Florida, 4 April.demarest-victoria-booth-clibborn

Demarest was a granddaughter of William (1829-1912) and Catherine (1829-90), co-founders of The Salvation Army. Experiencing the born again experience at the age of six, she claimed to have received a supernatural call to preach at fourteen. She began accompanying her mother, Catherine Booth-Clibborn (1858-1955), aka la Maréchale who, with her husband, Arthur (1855-1939), had disassociated themselves from the Army in 1902. In 1918, she married Cornelius A. Demarest (1895-1970), organist and choirmaster at the Second Presbyterian Church at Louisville, Kentucky.

In the winter of the following year, the Demarests responded to an invitation by the Methodist (later United) churches in St. John’s, NL, to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in the capital city. The meetings convened in Gower Street Methodist Church from 5 January to 10 February. (Meetings were also held in Carbonear.) demarest-letterIn her unpublished autobiography, Rays of His Splendor, Demarest wrote: “The response [to the St. John’s meetings] became an avalanche. Sometimes people could not wait to get to the seekers’ room; they fell on their knees right in the aisles.” Estimates of converts range from “many hundreds” to 2,000. A newspaper reported 684 Methodists, 126 representing other denominations, and 190 giving no church affiliation. The Demarest crusade helped consolidate evangelicalism in St. John’s.

In the nearly six decades after leaving Newfoundland, Demarest continued her worldwide crusades, in 1946 founded the World Association of Mothers fro Peace, and was ordained by the Congregational Church (now the United Church of Christ). She became a pianist, composer (of over 100 hymns, including Jesus is Calling the Weary), linguist (she spoke four languages), author (of over six books, including Sex and Spirit: God, Woman and Ministry), playwright (including King David: A Drama) and monologist. She earned the appellation, “Prophet of Ecumenical Christianity.”

Colouring Newfoundland and Labrador

“You know you’ve gone back to a second childhood when you….” How would you complete this sentence? These days, I finish the statement with “…open an adult colouring book and get to work.”

Adult colouring books have taken the world by storm. Why are we so enamoured of them?

Tom Roston, a blogger, explains it this way, “Anyone who has appreciated a meditative mental drift while knitting or mowing a lawn knows that there is something calming about engaging in a familiar, low-impact activity that requires minimal thought and bestows a clear sense of progress.”

Visual artist and children’s writer Dawn Baker has sharpened her pencil to produce a baker-dawnbook of “line drawings ideal for colouring.”

She knows a thing or two about writing and illustrating, for over 80,000 of her books are in print! Each is known for its bold, eye-catching colours.

In her latest work, Colouring Newfoundland and Labrador, she depicts “images that represent our people and culture.”colouring-newfoundland-and-labrador-small-165x165

It might be a moose, an inukshuk and Northern Lights, a homemade jam, a view of the Rooms, capelin rolling, a button accordion, Jellybean Row, or Purity products.

The colourer will be entranced by the seventy-six scenes represented.

Baker admits that “it was quite a challenge to adapt to a method that stopped short of adding any colour whatsoever.” But she has succeeded admirably.

She started each page with a pencil outline, which she adjusted until it looked realistic. Then, she “completed the illustration by using a variety of sizes of pigment liners.”

In an amusing twist, Baker herself is eager to “finally fill the images with the bold hues for which our province is famous.”


A detail of one of my attempts to colour this book

Whether it be with coloured pencils, pastels, markers or watercolours, the final product is left entirely to the imagination of the colourer.

Which reminds me, I need to sharpen several of my coloured pencils.

Colouring Newfoundland and Labrador is published by Flanker Press of St. John’s.