A friend took me to Walrus Talks tonight. Evidently the magazine organizes these colloquia to investigate a topic such as tonight’s theme, spirituality. It seemed apt that we were at Trinity-St Paul’s, a space I think of as much for its acoustical properties as its congregation.
Seven different presentations appealed to different sides of our subject. I had hoped there would be more interaction, perhaps even some debate, but maybe I’ve spent too much time watching CNN lately (they’re discussing Cruz vs Trump in the background as I write this). Perhaps a better way to understand this is to go back to The Walrus itself, as the talks are like a live magazine of sorts. We have several different angles/perspectives.
I came to the evening thinking of myself as a regular church-goer, a believer who comes at Christianity via the musical side. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, that for me I find myself most moved by music rather than sermons or appeals to my brain.
When I spoke to my friend afterwards it was clear that we weren’t persuaded by the same talks. I was surprised at how persuasive Timothy Caulfield was in his atheistic presentation. Curiously, the talks I’d expected to find persuasive –from members of established churches—left me cold, or even left me nodding off in fact, because they were so institutional, so (sigh) religious.
I was struck by an unfortunate thought about the differences between religion and spirituality. Only one talk –Michael Ingham in his conclusions—addressed the difference between the two in positive and concrete terms, namely the tougher objectives of religion. In other places, religion manifested itself simply as a more institutional & rigid body of thoughts. But in fairness I shouldn’t mistake a belief system for the success or failure of a person at a podium.
Natalie Bull spoke about the vanishing places of faith, either being sold to be made into condominiums or rebuilt / renovated, a talk with great resonance in this renovated church space. Deferred maintenance is something many of us have to live with on Sundays. Faith and spirituality aside, there is a huge transformation underway as the demographics lead to the closure of many churches. It was echoed in the sanctuary filled with white or gray-haired listeners, suggesting that the whole spirituality / religion question is one that seems far more interesting to those of us at the senior end of the demographic spectrum.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the larger than life personality of Nicole Brooks appear, bringing the space to life. If each of the previous talks were understood to have an impact somewhere between 1 to 5, Brooks’ talk must have been worth 1,000, given the way she galvanized the listeners, old-time religion imported into her talk. She is a very special talent, although –excuse the heresy—I would rather have heard her sing than lecture.
Talking to my friend afterwards, it was clear that the assortment of topics was like a smorgasbord, perhaps well-matched to the diversity of those in attendance, an assortment of viewpoints to mirror those of us listening. He liked the ones that left me cold, and vice versa. To each their own.