Stairway to knowledge

Musical accompaniment – Pergolesi Stabat Mater
as per Jesus of Montreal

It is many years since I’ve spent as much time staring at a cross as I have since I arrived in Montreal. You see St Joseph’s Oratory is outside the window of the lecture room where I’m spending a second week in summer school… summer school delivered in French. Mont Royal is approximately to my east and so the Oratory begins the day with its shadow facing me. With a 4 am sunrise I’m not here early enough to see a silhouette but still the shadows lean toward me in greeting.


The sun processes through the sky and the shadows retreat. The shadow cast by the cross on the green copper dome moves slowly like the hours of French lectures. Tourists climb the flights of stairs. I’m five stories up and they rise above me, three, maybe four more stories to the entry. They are brightly clad dots rising and descending, ebbing and flowing. Traffic in the lower foreground moves silently through dappled green boulevards. Wind blows through the tree tops. The lectures continue, more unapproachable than a Catholic god in his high house. Canada’s largest church looks back at me. Turrets. Dome. Arched stained glass windows dark with lead tracing brown in the strong summer sun.

Kids run across on one of the terrace levels. More tourists climb, sun beating on those who did not come in the morning while the hundreds of stairs and the entry were in shade. They approach the huge pillared porch, the brass doors, inside into the cool, calm, unintelligible divine knowledge. I guess some light candles, small points of momentary enlightenment like the occasional word of French that I recognise. The odd cloud breaks the blue of the vast sky but brings no cooling relief. The sky is different here. Wider, higher up, is the cross holding it further away? The impassive stone monument sits, majestic, impossibly big. Silent. A minor basilica. Am I looking at the cross or is it looking at me?

The huge, deep morning shadows are gone, scared to the far side of the mount, all that are left are the dark black lines solid around the southern edges, sun far in the northern summer sky. The tourists too are gone. I expect now we have those devotees who having fled city and office, racing homeward bound, pause to breathe, climb the steps and contemplate their small place in the enormity of a divine universe. I too breathe. My head hurts, my neck a knot of tendons and pain. Not sure if I want to punch something or run up the mountain. Excluded. Unreal. At least the pain of a run would be real. I feel like the scaffolding on the side of the oratory. I mean it may be impressive scaffolding, but from here it looks like a tiny extraneous piece of clutter interrupting the elegant, imposing whole. Extraneous. I refuse to contemplate any implication that I deserve only a small place outside the divine universe of knowledge. I breathe.

This angle of the sun makes the oratory look like a 3D paper card cut out, baked into flat hard surfaces by the hot late afternoon sun. Is that all that our knowledge is? Flat layers, overlapping perhaps, a huge false edifice hot under the glaze, lacking substance. The cross has lost all detail against the flat blue sky. The detail of the séances eludes me. Excluded was wrong, I feel more dislocated, fractured, disconsonant. I’m so fractious I could pick a fight with a saint.

… so I came home and fed the cat.



Author: Wendy's Out of Station

I write as a way of processing and reflecting on experience, and as a way of sharing that experience. When I travel I used to write email journals back to friends, family, anyone who’d read and risk immersing themselves in my reality for a while: writing for them was a way of writing for me. Borrowing from Graham Greene in a flip of Travels with my Aunt, I imagined writing letters to my nieces, as their travelling aunt. Crafting the sentences became a way of extruding the experience, giving it birth, drawing its meaning from my soul, nurturing it into something tangible with a life of its own. The aim of my blog is to open the world to my thought-children, to let them out of the safety of my friends and family and let them experience the world. And in the process I get the honour of taking a larger group with me when I’m wandering around India and beyond, or just reflecting on parallel truths, thinking thoughts that take me to new places new beginnings. Please journey with me

2 thoughts on “Stairway to knowledge”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: