The Feast of All Saints

Maggie Helwig

The Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls are celebrated, in our church calendar, on successive days – very close together, and yet distinct. It is a distinction which wouldn’t have made any sense to the church in its earliest days, because in the very early church, the “saints” were all the members of the Christian community. We can see that usage in Paul’s letter today – the saints are all of us who are a part of that body which is the body of Christ, which is the church and all the world. We are sanctified, holy, not because we are very good or very special, but because we have been created and marked for holiness, a people who are to be remade, whose destiny is always to be growing into our fullness as part of the body, part of the life of God in Christ. Not saints because we are perfect or anything close to that, but because we have offered ourselves to a process of being endlessly transformed. Continue reading

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A Sermon on Holy Innocents

Maggie Helwig

“And he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem, who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16).

We do not know, of course, if this was a historical incident. That’s a debate that’s not going to be settled. But I can easily treat it as historical because, if it did not happen at that exact time and place, it has happened a thousand other times. A routine atrocity in an unimportant country, recorded by almost no one; and if I named for you now Kraras or Fence of Legs or the Markale marketplace, these words would have no meaning for most or all of you, these small massacres in distant lands, as unremembered by the world in general as a slaughter of children in a corner of the empire was by the empire’s own chroniclers.

It is a part of the normal operations of power. But even worse, in this case, it is the direct result of the coming into the world of the Incarnate Word. Continue reading

Our Christian Call to Care for the Strangers in our Midst

A Biblical and Theological Reflection

Maggie Helwig

The Hebrew scriptures are deeply marked by the experience of displacement. The story of the exile of Jacob’s descendents in Egypt, their time of wandering in the desert after being delivered from slavery, and, later, the deportation of a large part of the population of Jerusalem to Babylon, all became part of the self-understanding of the ancient Israelites. These stories of being uprooted and endangered in unfamiliar lands influenced the ethical teaching of the scriptures; frequently, the Israelites are reminded of their obligation to care for the stranger and the exile, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:19). Care for the displaced person is a priority in many Old Testament texts, not simply as an act of charity, but out of a sense of identity with the outcast. Continue reading

Fallen Bodies: An Interview With Maggie Helwig

As the final part of our online Symposium on Girls Fall Down, Maggie Helwig was gracious enough to answer some of our questions.  In so doing we ranged from the soul and synaptic connections to the Venerable Bede, from the wounds on the risen body of Christ to felix culpa.  I hope it proves as interesting reading for you as it did for us! Continue reading

Girls Fall Down: An Online Symposium

The Soul and the City

by Andre Forget

One of the most remarkable features of Girls Fall Down is the way in which Maggie Helwig has managed to write the city of Toronto into existence. The well-documented Canadian obsession with place is in full bloom in this novel, but the Toronto Helwig creates is not Michael Ondaatje’s Toronto (which is fundamentally a place of rebirth), nor is it Robertson Davies’ Toronto in The Cunning Man, which is thoroughly colonial. Helwig’s Toronto is a place haunted at once by profound loneliness and an almost terrifying sense of connection. Much of the novel’s beauty is derived from how totally the author embraces this paradox; its genius, however, lies in the unflinching way in which Helwig uses the city to investigate the individual and the individual to interrogate the city. Continue reading

Girls Fall Down: An Online Symposium

The Catastrophe of Bodily Living

by Joshua Paetkau

Review: Maggie Helwig Girls Fall Down
Toronto: Coach House Books, 2008, 266 pages.  

Bodies rushing along at breakneck speeds through underground tunnels; impersonal and unattached they come and go in steady even streams. As if they formed a sort of modern analogy of Epicurean materialism, bodies raining down evenly through the plumbless void. What could cause them to break their eternal movement of incessant isolation? What could cause this solitary congregation to turn its attention outwards? Continue reading

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Day in the burning city, the grass
as crisp as twigs, the scorched leaves
spiral down from the dying trees.
Our hungry lives the engine of distress.

The blood has no discipline, only want,
only sugar and electricity. And we fall.

We try to be good. We try to love, we try
not to drive the engine further, but
we do. Oh children, we do.
Small boats on the hot sea wander, but we
have nowhere else to go,
only this land we are burning, only
this place without innocence, my body too
caught in the project, the complex machines of desire.
My city, my own, beloved, murderous.
All the years now I have watched the anxious creatures.

But somewhere a lake or a river. Somewhere mint, the stubborn violet.
The children bend their bodies to the wire and the swing,
spiral around the ladders, joy
of the arching spine, constraint, the moment’s flight.
And their hands bring pastries and coffee, small, ideal.

A restless stylite, I cup my own hands around longing
as if this would save us
and scatter my tiny gifts in the way of the sun.
We shall burn together, the children and I.
Or perhaps I shall turn my hand to the swings,
step into the air again,
shall float in harlequin space, turning,
till the sun is healed and the animals lie down.

Beauty moves in the darkness,
cool and silent,
a wind above water.

Maggie Helwig is the author of twelve books of poetry and fiction, including Girls Fall Down (Coach House Press) and One Building in the Earth: New and Selected Poems (ECW Press). She has worked as an international human rights advocate, and is currently serving as assistant curate at the Church of St Timothy, North Toronto.