Today was my first day as one of “The Village People” at Old World Wisconsin. I interpret St. Peter’s Church, built in 1839 as Milwaukee’s very first Roman Catholic chapel and cathedral. Only 7 years after the cornerstone was laid, the parish had grown from 20 members to 100 families and they began to construct a new cathedral to accommodate the growing population of Catholic immigrants. St. Peter’s was preserved and used for Sunday school, meetings, and a boys’ school (in the basement). It was also moved around (3 times), added to, and then restored to its original design. We acquired it in 1975 and restored it to its 1889 appearance. The wood stove is no longer used for heat; since we store some of our collections artifacts in the basement, we’ve updated to central heating. Still, it was chilly and damp today. Here’s the interior and a close up of the altar. The framed pieces are the Missal (service prayers) in Latin.
I hang out at the back of the church, stitching my pin cushion for the Christmas Bazaar or playing the pump organ. I am getting used to pumping with my feet, adding volume and overtones with my knees, and keeping all ten fingers busy on the keyboard. The organ is placed underneath one of fourteen Stations of the Cross displaying the German woodwork of that time.
Of course, I sit on that little chair and play while in costume, complete with corset and bustle.
Tomorrow is the 5K Bustle Hustle, a run/walk event for all ages (children can do a 1K route). I will be cheering the participants on before taking my place in the church. So tonight, I am turning in early! Before I close, though, I have to share a photo of the most handsome man of The Village People standing outside The Wagon Shop.
Before Steve and I head into training for Old World Wisconsin and a work schedule that would prevent us from putting two days off together, we’re going to hit the road and go camping. So, I’m not going to do a blog post for a few days, and I’m going to fall behind in the National Poetry Writing Month challenge. But, I forgive myself. I’m sure you forgive me, too. Today’s prompt is to write a persona poem from the point of view of someone you’re not and write in his/her voice, rather like a dramatic monologue. Here is an excellent example by Rita Dove. To tell you the truth, my energy is elsewhere, so I’m choosing not to write poetry today. Instead, I will include a persona poem I wrote some 15 years ago.
Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52)
Darkness, like a raging blight, poisons hope and shrouds my sight.
In the dusty, dusky road I lie beside my begging bowl,
Ambushed by the thundering tread of hoof and sole, despair and dread.
Battered, splattered, nothing matters. In this flesh, I’m all but dead.
From a distance comes a cry: “Make way! Jesus is passing by!”
Drowning in my grievous dark, I catch hold of this floating spark
In desperate effort to be freed from hellish want and brutal need.
Hoarse and urgent comes my plea: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
With a roar, embarrassed scorn swallows the voice of poverty.
Indignation urges me in frantic hope, “Lord, pity me!”
As the torrent cracks the clouds and floods the land with rain,
My sorrow swells and pelts the air in uncontrolled refrain:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy! Jesus, Lord, have mercy, please!”
A strong, brusque arm lays hold of me and pulls me to my feet.
“Bring that man to me,” I hear. I tremble and I weep.
Then, suddenly, the air is still. A wide, warm presence calms me.
A voice so close it sounds within and penetrates the dark and din addresses me:
“What do you want? What may I do for you?”
I strain toward him; would I behold salvation prophets have foretold
Were he not obscured by evil night? “I want to see!” “Receive your sight.”
His breath surrounds my clouded eyes.
The damning dark is pierced by light. I fall to kiss his feet, then rise.
“Your faith has healed you. Follow me.”
“My Lord, I will, for now I see.”
Yesterday, I blogged several quotes from Thich Nhat Hahn. Last night, I came across a passage in Living Buddha, Living Christ that illuminated my journey through widowhood, change, and doubt.
“One day when you are plunged into the dark night of doubt, the images and notions that were helpful in the beginning no longer help. They only cover up the anguish and suffering that have begun to surface. Thomas Merton wrote, ‘The most crucial aspect of this experience is precisely the temptation to doubt God Himself.’ This is a genuine risk. If you stick to an idea or an image of God and if you do not touch the reality of God, one day you will be plunged into doubt. According to Merton, ‘Here we are advancing beyond the stage where God made Himself accessible to our mind in simple and primitive images.’ Simple and primitive images may have been the object of our faith in God in the beginning, but as we advance, He becomes present without any image, beyond any satisfactory mental representation. We come to a point where any notion we had can no longer represent God.”
“The reality of God”…beyond any notion or representation, there is a reality, an experience. Returning regularly to this experience is what Thich Nhat Hahn refers to as “deep practice”. It requires awareness, mindfulness, being awake and paying attention. What is the experience of being in this living world?
I went for a walk yesterday in a strong wind and looked up to the trees. They were all swaying in their own way, in different directions, at different levels, different speeds. They have no notion that is “wind”. They have an experience.
The river touches the stones and mud in the river bed, it touches the banks, it touches the wind with its surface and reflects the trees that rise high above it. It inhabits its course without a concept or an image of anything.
I enjoy images. I become attached to them. Their primitive simplicity appeals to my limited brain and feels comfortable. I wonder now if that’s why I often become “stuck”. It’s as if I become unable to see the forest because I look so constantly at the trees. The experience of ‘forest’ is so much more.
When I was a cantor at my church, I’d sing a refrain during Vespers, framing the prayers that people offered up in the pews: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my doubts, wants, fears, images, and notions…from death into Life.
When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”. That was a core value in life. I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways. I very much resonate with the value of relationships. I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me. I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle. I was a compliant kid. I was afraid of my father and of all authority. I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished! Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal. First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental. Second, how do you even know what is “right”? Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to? What if that authority tells you to harm someone else? See, it gets tricky. How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything? I think that covers it pretty well.
One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity. It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads. Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so. Some have just stopped communicating with me. I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism. Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life. This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study. Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it. I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17. Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day. So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today. First, a photo or two to open the mind:
My thoughts for today:
I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church. On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going. At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie. As we walked to the library, it was just Steve. Now you’ve entered the discussion. Welcome! Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church. So much of it is about the social aspect. Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other. Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be. What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off? Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation. Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for? People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle? How do they behave? Is that what Christianity is about? There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.
Theology & Philosophy. The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe. And why. I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it. It can be worked in with the other legs. Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story. But it’s still a story, a Myth. It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true. I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other. If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected. I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again. I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact. I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness. I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing! Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together. The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible. Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same. I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir! Singing! And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down. Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight. He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!” It’s so true! I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence. I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt. I want to be free and respected for what I am. And what am I? A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.
Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today. I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey. It means a lot. I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something. You know what I mean? And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement. Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well. I respect you for that. I think that’s how Jesus was, too. I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees. He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on. And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting. What a great example!
My very astute sister once pointed out to me that all stress is not created equal. There’s daily stress, the normal result of a body functioning without rest for 16 hours or so, which is alleviated after 8 hours of sleep. There’s distress, which gives us the feeling of being overwhelmed or upset by the amount of stress we experience, and then there’s eustress, which according to Wikipedia is “a term coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye which is defined…as stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feeling. Eustress is a process of exploring potential gains.” Examples of eustress could include climbing a mountain, running a marathon or sky-diving. Or surviving a nautical disaster.
I was intrigued by a comment I read from one of the survivors of the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, that sank in the Mediterranean this past week. ABC News reported:
‘Australian miner Rob Elcombe and his wife, Tracey Gunn, told Melbourne’s Herald Sun Newspaper they booked a spot on the Concordia as a last ditch effort to save their marriage. Instead, the couple found themselves trying to save their lives when they boarded the very last lifeboat to leave the ship with survivors. “This has made our bond much, much stronger,” Elcombe told the paper. “Who needs couples counseling, when you survive a Titanic experience?” ‘
An adventure. Stress worked into a feeling of gain. Is it possible to turn your distress into eustress?
Another news story I ran across came under this headline: Wife Slips Into Madness As Husband Dies of Brain Tumor. (ABC News) Catherine Graves wrote a book called Checking Out: An In Depth Look At Losing Your Mind describing the distress of caring for her husband. The headline rather sensationalizes an experience of overwhelming stress that is shared by a lot of people who find themselves in the role of caregiver. I can relate. I went through depression and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome during my husband’s illness and after his death. Like Mrs. Graves, I was widowed at 45. But did I lose my mind? Not irretrievably, I don’t think. Maybe what I’m doing now, being unemployed, slowing down, is my way of turning that distress into eustress.
There’s an old hymn that I’ve affectionately heard referred to as “The Playtex Hymn” (after the girdle). The first line is “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word”. It was written by John Keith in 1787. My favorite verse goes like this:
“When through the deep waters I cause thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
For some reason, singing that verse always causes me to choke up with emotion. I know how it is to feel like I’m drowning. I have a gasp reflex that reminds me of this almost daily. It shows up lightning fast in moments when my reptilian brain senses danger. It first became noticeable when I was trying to teach my kids to drive. I would gasp and grab the handle above the passenger side door at the slightest correction of the steering wheel or touch of the brake. It happened to me again just this morning. I was stacking packages on the table and the tower toppled over. I gasped. “I must be drowning!” I laughed. It’s probably a rather annoying habit for those who live with me. I appreciate their patience.
There’s another hymn that follows this theme. “It Is Well With My Soul” was written by Horatio Spafford in 1873. The story behind it is quite amazing. In brief, according to Wikipedia:
“This hymn was written after several traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871 at the age of four, shortly followed by the Great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone . . .”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.”
And here’s the lyric:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
I am trying to re-train my brain to believe that my deepest distress can be sanctified. I don’t think this is an exclusively Christian perspective at all. The Noble Truths of Buddhism are all about addressing the suffering (distress) of this world and how we think about it. I hope that as I “explore potential gains”, my drowning will become floating, and all will be well with my soul.
I mentioned yesterday that I was moody. I come around periodically to a place of existential crisis, and I’ve come to believe it’s good for me. When I was raising children and nursing a sick husband, I rarely got this privilege. I always had someone to pour my heart and soul into and frequently felt that my existence was thoroughly used up on a daily basis. Trouble is, this way of living was often an unexamined habit that I could go through sleep-walking. I kept my head down and convinced myself that everything I was doing was noble and important. It may have been, or it may not have been. I wasn’t really paying attention that closely.
Living with Steve is different. It’s challenging. He doesn’t want me to pour my heart and soul into caring for him. He wants me to fly on my own. I blink, open-mouthed. Fly? On my own? What the heck does that look like? He redirects my attention from outside of me to inside…all the time…and I keep imagining an empty room. What if I don’t have any inner life?
So I sit with that. Emptiness isn’t a judgment. It can be the beginning of openness.
I went poking around on the internet, looking for an answer (from outside, again…old habits die hard) to “what is important in life”. I actually found something kinda cool: this community project. An abandoned building in New Orleans is covered with chalkboard paint and stenciled with the prompt “Before I die, I want to ___”. Chalk is provided. People approach. Existential assessment goes on, and the sentence is answered. I imagine myself standing there…clouds gather, rain falls, people pass, children grow up…and I’m still scratching my head.
I thought of re-phrasing the question, changing “What is important in life?” to “What are two things you cannot live without?” They’re not exactly interchangeable, I discovered. I also discovered a great irony: I lost the two things I thought I couldn’t live without, and I’m still living. So, either they weren’t that important, or I’m not really living. Or I didn’t answer that truthfully. I thought I could not live without my husband. I thought I could not live without my Christian faith. I was wrong.
Okay, dammit, what IS important in life? What about the obvious answer…’life’? As in, “Before I die, I want to Live.” I want to live, be alive, be awake, be aware, spend myself, give my love, explore my autonomy, visit that inner room and see what’s there. But not in an ego-driven way. In an open way. The Western way prompts me, “Yes, but what will that look like when it’s all finished?” as if there’s a finish. It wants a goal, a check list with little boxes to tick, just to keep track so that it can say, “Good…I’ve done it!” That’s ego talk. The Eastern way says, “Forget the goal, the check list. You don’t need to keep track; keep open. Engage with life and have a relationship.”
That’s where I’ve gotten to so far today. How about you? What is important in your life?
Are human beings the only animals that weep?
Charles Darwin noted that Indian elephants weep. There have been many books written on the subject of animals’ emotions, and I haven’t read any of them, so I’m not going to venture an answer. What I do know is that I weep. And Steve weeps. When we weep – not cry, but weep — it seems to come from a sacred place in our soul, a place that has been stirred by something far greater than our selves. Of course, we can make efforts to wall off that place, if we want to. Bombarding ourselves with distractions often works to activate those shields. We can also choose to be curious and try to understand that feeling better.
“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.” – Mark Rothko
Tears can be a sign of “religious experience”, then. Fair enough. Something spiritual is going on there. What?
“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know, that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.” – Mark Rothko
That loneliness, that “pocket of silence where we can root and grow” resonates deeply with my partner, Steve. He calls it being moody or refers to his “Slavic melancholy”. It’s not a sorrowful thing only; it is just as brightly tinted with joy, like some of Rothko’s paintings. The combination, the totality is what hits home with him. He says, “The deeper story is to face all of life. Jesus and the Buddha are heroes of that story.” They are not conquering wartime heroes interested solely in winning. They do not struggle and strive. They embrace all dimensions of life equally: the suffering, the love, the sacrifice, the elation.
In the book The Power of Myth based on Billy Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell, I read:
Campbell: “The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these, we evoke their powers in our own lives.”
Moyers: “Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are our shamans?”
Campbell: “It is the function of the artist to do this. The artist is the one who communicates myth for today.….”
Steve weeps when listening to Mahler. And “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Slipping into his cave, searching for that place to root and grow, he feels the poignant essence of life, the crescendo and decrescendo, and resists exerting his will against the flow. I think that I have a different sensibility. Maybe not so expansive, maybe more interior and visceral. I identify with a lonely pocket of silence for rooting and growing…the womb. I feel womb-love, the ache, the swoon, the exchange of life blood. I see colors inside my eyelids, sunshine through membrane, the tragedy and ecstasy and doom of flesh. Okay, I am in the grip of my biology this week, so this makes a lot of sense. I have given birth four times and dream of my grown up children regularly. The story that trips my tear ducts is “Homeward Bound”, anything with a reunion. The deeper story for me has something to do with connection. Maybe that’s the Gaia story. I think she’s like Jesus and Buddha in that she also embraces all of life without struggling or striving, but in her own way. Perhaps I feel more in my Sacral Chakra, Steve in his Heart Chakra.
The deeper story of being human is told from inside this skin. It is not the only story in the universe, however. There is the elephant’s story, the asteroid’s story, more stories than we can imagine. I would hope to know many more, and to weep at all of them.
It is Day #23 in the December countdown. Today’s gift is Peace. Ahh, peace. Take a deep breath. Relax the muscles around your skull; feel your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being? Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Do you believe that’s true? Do you believe that’s possible? I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.
Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace: “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune, friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”. Where does peace come from? Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk
But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir
“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller
I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace. Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal. Facing each one head on is not a passive task. Making peace is not for the weak of heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Is God about making peace? Is making peace the work of the Universe? Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?
“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa
Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices. I can hide/run away. I can try to change the situation. I can change myself. The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation. You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you. So, why do I often employ that choice? Because I lack courage and I’m lazy. I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation. I don’t want to get stuck there, though.
Trying to change the situation requires engagement. Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of causes and effects on all different levels. It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation. You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation. Not all situations can be changed. Death is the big one that comes to mind here. You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it. Now what?
Change yourself. Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it. If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at it’s finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace. Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves. Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves. You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one. Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace? I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”. I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing. If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion. I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child. “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.” This is true wisdom about peace.
Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength. I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created. We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long. That’s what children of God do.
The premise is this: for each day in December, instead of counting down on an Advent calendar, I’m counting the free gifts we all get every day. Today’s gift is divinity, but I don’t mean the candy. I mean The Divine, The Sacred, The Holy and experiences of them. Don’t we all have the opportunity to receive that every day? If you look for it, will you find it? I think so.
So, what is sacred? How do you recognize the divine and holy? In art, there’s always a halo or a sunbeam to give you a clue. What about here on earth?
‘Namaste’ is the Sanskrit greeting recognizing the existence of another person and the divine spark in that person, with the hands pressed together in front of the heart chakra. I think the divine spark exists in every living thing as the breath of life. Every encounter with a living thing is an experience of the divine. We hardly ever act like that is true, however. But we could. Native Americans and many African tribes have hunting rituals that celebrate the sacred exchange of life. The hunted animal is divine, sacrificing itself for the life of the hunter, and the hunter shows a holy appreciation. Often, when I look at macro photography of living things, flower stamens, insects, mosses, I am compelled to worship the divine in the detail. Life is sacred and beautiful. Looking closely and deeply is a way to practice recognizing that.
In a dualistic world view, the mundane and the divine are polar opposites. One is worldly, one is sacred. If this world were imbued with holiness, if God became incarnate and entered flesh in this world, those opposites would run together like watercolors. Many cultures believe this is the truth about life. The waters under the firmament and the waters above the firmament are separated in one telling of the creation story, but the Spirit of God was moving over all of the waters from the very beginning, even in that story. The understanding that divinity is everywhere has inspired people all over the globe for centuries. This place we inhabit is special; it’s valuable. It’s all holy. This is the beginning of respect for the Universe and everything in it. Somewhere in Western history, that idea lost its power. Earth and everything in it became base and fallen. Good turned to bad and life turned to death. I’m not sure if that new idea has been very helpful. I rather think it hasn’t. And I don’t think it has to be that way. It’s an idea, after all. So if it’s not a helpful idea, why support it? How would you rather live? In a fallen world or in a world where the sacred and divine can be found everywhere? Just wondering out loud. I’m not saying that one idea is right and the other wrong. The glass is neither half full nor half empty. It’s a glass, and there’s water in it. The rest is conceptual. Why argue? Choose how to live with the glass and the water. As for me and my house, “I choose happy.” (One of Jim’s conclusive statements.)
I hope this gives you something to ponder for today. If you like, you can add a scene of Edmund Pevensie in Narnia being asked by the White Witch what he craves. “It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating. What would you like best to eat?” “Turkish Delight, please your Majesty!” he responds. What if he had said, “Divinity”? Same story, nuanced. I would like to taste the sacred in this world, and I believe it’s here.