The Swedenborg Foundation’s annual Chrysalis anthologies were first published in 1984, for the purpose of examining themes related to the universal quest for wisdom according to the teachings of scientist-turned-spiritual-visionary and writer Emanuel Swedenborg. This, the final volume of the series, contains essays, stories, poetry, and illustrations focused on the theme of patterns. It contains more than seventy pieces and numerous illustrations by poet laureates and prominent and award-winning authors, as well as some new voices, and is divided into five sections: “Breaking Patterns,” “Perpetuating a Pattern,” “Stuck in a Pattern,” “Patterns in Progress,” and Making New Patterns,” in addition to the preface and epilogue.
In “Part I: Breaking Patterns” the teenage narrator of Abigail Calkins Aguirre’s “C’est l’Heure” has begun a year at a Swiss boarding school when a family tragedy forces her to return home to the U. S. As the title reveals, Aguirre weaves the theme of time throughout this essay, ending with “It is time. Time to leave.” In “Theopoetics of Healing,” Patty Christiena Willis writes about a woman born into a family of holistic healers who has a crisis of faith when she’s unable to use her gift to heal, and she wonders, “Does the stone keep the miracles inside, the resurrection, the healing, locked from view?”
In the story “Manila, the Noble City” from “Part II: Perpetuating a Pattern,” Alexander N. Tan Jr. tells the story of a poor man, who dreams of his childhood home while his three daughters nag him to sell the current house for money to improve their lives. The narrator reveals the irony of this pattern’s perpetuation when he encounters the women still living in the same house after their father’s death. As one sister explains: “This is [our father’s] house, but we would not sell it, and we have kept it as a shrine to his memory.” Will Wells uses the structure of a sonnet, which he describes as written by a poet “who barters scraps and pieces of experience with his audience” like his grandfather in the poem, who employed these same skills as a junk dealer.
“Part III: Stuck in a Pattern” includes the essay “I Am Elizabeth Proctor” by Kristin Troyer, in which the writer juxtaposes her experience playing the eponymous character from The Crucible on stage with learning about her father’s cancer diagnosis. The writer worries about her inability to cry, either for her ailing father or her dead on-stage husband: “you would think I could muster up a tear.” In “Building the Perfect Nest,” Stephen Graf explores the topic of fatherhood as a man observes a pair of Eastern bluebirds building a nest in the tree outside his bedroom window as he processes his grief for his son, a soldier recently killed in Iraq. The weather turns cold, and the man turns his nurturing instincts toward the birds’ fledglings, renting an outdoor heater, like “the ones they use outside bars and cafes.”
Michael Barber’s story “Baghdad Blues” in “Part IV: Patterns in Process” portrays a soldier’s struggle to assimilate back into life at home with his family after a wartime deployment. The writer reveals the soldier’s recovery when he writes: “In the rising orchestration of wind and water, I felt something else emerge, something I hadn’t felt in a long time—joy.” In “The Power of Words,” Dr. Bernie Siegel emphasizes the power of a physician’s words to her/his patients when he writes: “‘wordswordswords’ can become ‘swordswordswords.’”
In Karen Corinne Herceg’s “Knitting in Transit” in “Part V: Making New Patterns,” the story’s narrator, mired in the drudgery of work and a daily two-hour commute, opens her heart to the possibility of happiness after a chance encounter with a woman on a train. When the woman dies and leaves the narrator a handmade scarf and mittens, she says: “I thought how warm I would be in my sweater, scarf, and mittens when the skies grew dark and cold as I waited for the bus next winter.” In “Two New-Church Patterns,” Richard Lines presents research detailing how Swedenborg’s followers split and followed two different spiritual paths.
The editors do not explain how they decided which pieces to assign to the various sections, and at times those delineations were unclear to me, but as a whole this volume is packed with poems, stories, and essays that will give the reader much to consider. Familiarity with Swedenborg principles is not a prerequisite to enjoying this volume, and anyone with an interest in human emotions or spirituality will find this an enlightening book.