We have begun the slow amble of spring here on the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Unlike other parts of Canada spring usually arrives at the speed of a turtle, slow and steady. The subtle changes in the world of nature, from the growing of the grass on the lawn to the blossoming of the crocuses and daffodils, call me to slow down and to notice life as it unfolds around me.
This week I paid special attention to the back yard plum tree. The buds on the plum tree have given way to white blossoms, which are now in full bloom. In fact, some of the white petals are beginning to fall, covering the lawn with whiteness, akin to snow. What surprises me is to watch the petals fall for they fall so slowly. I’m used to maple keys in the east falling in twirls as they plummet to the ground. But, the white plum petals seem to float on the air as they fall. They are carried by the slightest of breezes that pass by and then ever so gently are laid upon the ground. And throughout the whole time there is no sound at all.
The experience of watching the plum tree shed its petals upon the good earth was on my mind on Tuesday evening. That evening I joined with hundreds of others who gathered at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in Vancouver to hear the award winning writer Arundhati Roy speak. It was an inspiring event. Arundhati Roy is the author of many works, most notably the Booker Prize winning novel ‘The God of Small Things‘. She has also written extensively on social justice issues. Good examples of her thinking can be found in her books ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ and ‘Listening To Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy’.
Roy read from some of her works and then elaborated on these selected texts giving her listeners a real insight to how her critical mind works and whose perspective she advances in the ongoing struggle for justice in our world. One position she firmly stated was that she considers herself a writer, not a writer-activist. But she considers it inconceivable to write without questions of justice entering onto her pages. This is an author who knows who she is and why she writes.
The work of writing is, if taken seriously, hard work. It is particularly hard if one’s aim is to explain rather than entertain, to expose rather than legitimate, to challenge rather than to soothe. In all this Arundhati Roy is a hard working writer. She constantly calls attention to the perspectives of those on the margins of society and those who are overrun by systems of commerce and politics. I think that she shares a lot in common with Pope Francis who calls people to be with and act for those who are poor and marginalized.
Roy sows ideas, ideas that are to be taken up by the reader and acted upon in the world. She knows that she cannot act alone and that solitary action, noble as it is, is rarely as effective as communal action. Indeed, justice making is communal work. Her work as a writer is to clear a path through the jungle of lies and propaganda that threaten to block the truths of human experience.
The ideas that Arundhati Roy sowed continue to weave through my thoughts like white petals falling from a plum tree. If the Jesuit saying “ideas matter” is true, and I think it is, then I need to let these ideas settle on the ground upon which I live and move and have my being. And I need to allow for silence so that I can appreciate the breadth of what I heard and who I saw this Tuesday evening during this week of ambling spring.