Thursday, March 20, 2014

GOD IS LOVE


The colors and forms blurred and faded into each other: trees of pale green into the blue sky fading to grey, brown rocks edging the road into yellow grasses lining the fields. Wisps of clouds emerged from the horizon as he travelled toward it.  This was how he remembered it in the cold season. The road stretched far ahead, his anxiety building--like when he had first imagined forever--or tried to envision the universe expanding ever outward--into what, into where?

He was going back and had to keep on, even if he didn’t know what he would find or even what he was looking for. There was a place at which he would eventually arrive, to which he’d planned to return one day, ever since he left so many years ago, closing a circle “whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.”

Early next morning, he saw it: the house rising dark against the brightening sky.  His eyes fixed on it, as he turned onto the narrow dirt road leading to it. He marked that the fencing was all but gone, broken in some places, missing in others. Some of the sheltering trees, living only in his memory until now, still stood on either side of the front porch, its unpainted, wooden steps sagging into the dark earth.  Tall weeds, twisting bramble and vines obliterated the many gardens that once grew in sunny spots.  

Easing around toward the back of the house along a rutted curve, he saw parts of yellow and green farm equipment strewn across the barn yard.  The barn roof was partially collapsed on one side.  The familiar, though weather-faded image covering the top half of the barn side facing the house, came into view. It was the first thing that had appeared to him each morning from his bedroom window: a red cross against shafts of light, over which floated the words, “GOD IS LOVE.”

He sat with his eyes closed for some time, then emerged to make his way to the house, observing cracked windows, siding bare of paint and fallen roof shingles that all but blocked the sidewalk as he made his way to the back door. To clear the low door frame, he had to bow in a forced gesture of humility as he entered.   

In the kitchen the wide stone hearth still held charred ends of logs across a blackened grate.  Moving through to the next room, he half expected to see the harvest table that he and his sister would help prepare for Sunday dinners and holidays; he stopped and touched the place where it had been.  In the front room, he faced the ceiling-to-floor windows to the west;  He took in the whole scope of the room, scanning it camera-wise, recalling it like a once-seen but forgotten film.  The windows’ wavy panes, coated with a fine yellow film blown from the fallow fields across the way, diffused the widening morning light through the empty room, which smelled of earth and cold, and felt like pain.

He imagined this room as it had been on that summer day he left, when no words were spoken, no forwarding address given. There was a rocker on one side of the fireplace; a cabinet on the other against the wall, containing books, a radio and an outdated record player.  The window seats were laid with cushions his mother had made. There he would sit and read in the late afternoons where breezes would lift the white curtains into the room like the sails on a schooner and sun lighting up the space.  There was a sofa facing the fireplace and his father’s wooden chair, straight backed with a worn, crackled black leather seat   A round marble-topped table between them held a lamp of frosted glass painted with peonies, like the ones on the wall paper--now  worn in large areas down to the plaster.  All the while, his mind projected a tableau of random, intimate vignettes from the past. 

He had arrived--returned from another world to speak to his God-fearing family who had fed and clothed him; raised him to work hard and long hours and made sure he went to school, at least as long as it took to learn to read and write well enough to run the farm.  Gone now, they had waited years in grief for his return. He felt that in some way he would be heard by those who needed to hear and were still awaiting the reunion. His voice would soon fill this room where they had gathered in the evenings.

The wind kicked up; it blew through the house with that shrill, whirring sound, jarring and rattling the remaining shutters.  It was late winter, and his fingers, though gloved, were numb with cold.  Outside, vortices of golden dust rose up here and there, as he looked for bits of kindling and fallen branches to make a fire. Once the fire blazed up, creating one last warmth in the frozen house, he stood directly across the room from it, as he conjured up his imaginary truth and reconciliation commission:  his mother seated at the windows gazing out, his father standing at her side, his sister curled on the rocker next to the fire, his abandoned lover on the threshold to the room facing the back of the house. 

He had wanted to say: Call me Ishmael, Gilgamesh, Oedipus.  I have seen the white whale, entered the cedar forest, solved the famous riddle, but that was an inner experience he never could articulate.  He would speak in plain language they would have understood, though those epic figures were part of him, the foundation for a way of thinking which had allowed him to understand himself and the world.  Though he did not think of himself as a hero, he did think that living life was heroic for those who are aware of and survive all that comes against it and develop all that it takes to contend with it.  He had survived.

Though battle-weary, he could trace his path to consciousness and conscience, more certain of and clearer in his judgements and actions, precisely because he had freed himself and dared to leave the known for the “undiscovered country.”  He had developed a vision of what it means to be human, which his first readings and musings had begun to suggest.  And he strove toward that vision, though he was flawed, still so flawed, he thought. These things he wanted to convey to them, as he unraveled his tale, partly in sorrow without remorse, partly in victory without joy, so that he himself could hear it, grasp it and, in some feeble sense, atone for the pain he had caused those whose souls he would now address.

He wanted to say that he wasn’t ungrateful, or at least never connected what he did or didn’t do with ingratitude.  He just knew he couldn’t live out a replay of his father’s life.   He wanted to acknowledge that he had betrayed his sister, after all the confidences they had shared, and that he knew he had left her utterly alone in the life they both hated. He would kneel before his mother, asking forgiveness for his mysterious disappearance, for her never having heard from him again, for his not being able to fulfill her reasonable expectation that her family remain near, insuring that life would go on in the same way ever after. He would say he was sorry to the beautiful young lover whose face he could not remember.  She had told him that if he ever left her she would hang herself from the barn rafters.  “No, no you won’t.” he had shouted. “I can’t be held hostage to save you.” Then, he did the only thing he could do. 

He would recount how he had to veer off that set trajectory, how he had created his own, though he had been blown off course many times.  He would say that he had to travel to where he would see water that was not just in irrigation ditches or in the form of rain--or the small stream of the river that was not a river running through the nearest city that was not a city.  He had thought of this place as God-forsaken, though his mother had told him, "God is everywhere the eye can see and the heart can feel--horizon to horizon." If that was so, then he would recognize Him in other lands and landscapes, which he knew would serve to form, shape and grow something still small inside himself. He would see, hear and feel the blue ocean, stand before and climb mountains, meet and get to know people that were not like him--who would be God and His angels in disguise--strangers who would become his guests.

He finally landed on that island on the wide Hudson, “The City” where long, black limos stopped in front of hotels, theaters and restaurants, and, where downtown, he mingled with those who had lost their way, but not their souls--those who carried the sum of their lives in carts or plastic bags and hid the countenance of their sainthood beneath blank and sombre stares.

He would ask the conjured visions now assembled for his homecoming: Can you ever understand that I had to trade predictable for the possible, security for spontaneity and comfort for experience?  He felt their memory of him beyond his boyhood was of a selfish dreamer, a fool, a doubter, a lazy sinner, and a bad influence on his sister, with all of his wild ideas about journeys and trials he got from the books he read, when he should have been working--ideas that, for him, became ideals to be acted upon--light-filled thoughts that opened up all colors, dreams and initiated his plan of escape for body and soul. 

When a boy, he loved this house, family birthdays, Christmas and 4th of July celebrations, picnics and Sundays of prayers and hymns.  He had wanted to be good, to be grateful to God for creating him and everything around him, to obey and please Him and to honor his father and mother.  He would concede that, but also that he needed to feel alive and that he had found and believed in something as surely as they trusted in God’s Word, and it was this:  We did not come to earth to fulfill the expectations of God or man, yet, he knew that through his not doing so, he had somehow nevertheless, by default or destiny, managed to achieve the self-same thing. 

He now believed that if there was a God, that He intended that we be disobedient, that we be cast out of the Garden we are born into, that we lose our innocence in order to gain the knowledge of good and evil, both of which God had brought into being himself.  He knew that God would have it no other way, because evil and good are all mixed up, and one can be mistaken for the other, because one often results in the other, no matter what we intend.  That’s why he thought that, if a God allowed a Satan to roam the earth, it was not just so that we resist temptation, or try to eradicate evil.  He had once read something as true as any Bible verse: “Evil is not something to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.” 

Maybe some people could be content to remain in the place where they were born, but not him.  He was a wayfarer, took the road less travelled, finding fulfillment and loss in that dark-haired woman he loved too much.  She had painted a portrait of him in blue and red after they had a child born with his spine outside of his body.  Then, on the first anniversary of the child’s death, when he arrived home on that snowy evening, she had vanished like the snowflakes melting on the window he stared out of all that night.  Disappeared--just as he had from the forlorn farm house he now stood in, triumphant.  

He was the cynic who burned the red and blue portrait with the letters he had written to her every day for a year, with nowhere to send them.  He lived alone, not knowing what do with the remaining love for the dark-haired woman and the dead child, until he took in and looked after the young man in rags with wild, violet eyes, who danced nightly in the streets of St. Mark’s Place in a stained, suede vest, asking nothing for his performances of grace and beauty, but a witness.  

All this he meant to speak out loud into the quiet of the cold room to those who waited and listened.  

When he started to speak, his voice sounded hollow and weak in the gaunt, high-ceilinged room. All at once, what he had left behind appeared before him as a sacrifice to become human, to arrive at a state “of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.” Or had he forfeited the simple for the sublime, the facts for the hard-won truth? And peace descended upon him.  His frosted breath became visible when he said only this: “Peace be with you.” And he felt that it was so.

The fire had gone out, the wind had died down. Across the fields, the afternoon sun was low in the sky, but shone through the darkened spaces of the room as the figures vanished in its illumination.                                            

Thursday, January 23, 2014

TRUE MINDS



He pressed his forehead against the cold window until the pane fogged over. When he got home that evening, the front door was locked, and his key didn’t open it.  The back door didn’t open either, but through its window he could see that the kitchen furniture was gone.  Going around to the bedroom window, the only one not covered over with vines, he peered in to see that nothing remained of what had been in place when he left that morning. A feeling came over him of being telescoped to a distance above the cottage.  He watched himself make his way around to the front where he found the sign: “FOR SALE” under the willow tree on the side lawn. He headed for the pub in town.
Only a few places were left at the bar. He took the one furthest from the door, as the wind rushed in with the last of the autumn debris and flakes of snow that had begun to fall. Inside, the warmth and dim lights were a familiar welcome. The sound of the end-of-week heightening chatter was filling the space. To avoid seeing himself in the mirror behind the bar, he fixed his eyes upon the array of bottles in various shapes, sizes and colors below it. He was trying not to remember when he had come here with her every Friday night, taking one of those cozy side tables, where other young couples now sat smiling at one another.
Back then, they would each chose different cocktails; some were creamy pink or green. Others were clear, sweet and fruity or amber-colored, dry and bitter. It was all amusement as they sipped from the other’s glass. He couldn’t recall when it was he had begun coming here alone, first at lunch and then most nights.  Now, she was gone. He couldn’t think about that, and after the second double vodka, he wasn’t able to, his mind and memory clouding over, and his heart a cold stone. He drank until the bartender leaned into him, so no one else nearby could hear her say, “It’s time to go.” He got up this time without protest, setting his course for the few blocks home. Home, home, home swirled through his mind, and the frozen flakes swept around him.
He had already decided that he would stay at the house. Stopping out front to get a blanket out of car--the one that had been there since his children were small enough to fall asleep in the backseat.  He grabbed it and crunched over the frozen walkway to the kitchen door.  Cracking a window pane with his fist, he pulled out a few shards of glass, edged his hand inside and unlocked the door. He stumbled into the empty bedroom and fell to the floor with the meager blanket printed with elephants and balloons.
With the morning light, memories and self-reproach, warded off the night before, flooded in with a brilliance, like the sun shafts on the bare wall in front of him. He made his way to the bathroom to splash his face. On the floor were pieces of the white cup with painted blue sailboats, matching the ones on the wallpaper, dropped in the haste of packing-- small, shattered vessel in nowise repairable or any likeness of its former self. He wanted to make himself presentable, make a plan, make some calls, get this all straightened out once and for all, but he returned to wrap the blanket around him as he eased back down to stare at the ceiling, where, it seemed, memories began to appear like holographs--sometimes bitter and dark, sometimes too sweet and too light to bear.
The Meeting: He saw that she was lovely, vibrant, open and gentle. She was lonely and ambitious. So was he, both of them with the necessary illusions about life and themselves. Even though they both grew up in the same small seacoast town in New England, they hadn’t ever talked to each other, or traveled in the same circles. She went to a private school off the island. He had thought her snobby; she thought him arrogant. They had mutual friends, but not until they were home on holiday from university did they really see each other for the first time.  
That summer came with the thrill of newness and wonder at the place they had lived all their lives, rediscovering it together: the wooded paths they had walked as children were now “Arden forest itself,” she had said. Together they lulled on warm beaches, chatted on the sunny decks of cafes overlooking the harbor, and climbed rocky shores. She felt herself to be in a Matisse painting. He thought her interest in him must be a mistake.  She read Shakespeare sonnets to him, challenging him to imagine and think beyond their place and time, for which he adored her; he urged her to see and be where they were, here and now, the simplicity of which she respected and felt was true. In short, she was him trying to get in and he was her trying to get out, and thus they filled the void of the other.
She was just then enthralled with the philosophy and writings of Albert Camus, even though she often felt panic and anxiety setting in when she read him. “He says that by the time we are thirty, we should know all our faults and the way we are. Isn’t that incredible?”
He struggled to understand, "What's the point?"  
  “Listen,” reading from one of the books she always had with her, “Camus says a person, ‘should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures--be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.’ What do you think of that?”
“I think it’s impossible, but I guess we still have a few years to get there, if that's the goal, but I don’t want to spend my time trying to ‘foretell my failures.’ I’d rather move toward my successes, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, sure, but if we don’t get some perspective now, I mean--Oh, look! something out there just beyond the waves.”   He also spotted the brownish-grey form bobbing up and turning just above the surface of the water. They got up and started to run along Old Garden Path, keeping their eyes on the figure as it appeared out of and disappeared back into the blue-green sea. Further out, white sails drifted all in a row. The rocky cliffs dropped off from the path to small slivers of seaweed-strewn beaches.  They lost sight of the unidentified, sleek and shiny creature in the shower of sun rays reflecting off the water.  Hot and tired, they dropped to the ground, held each other and laughed; He had loved that laugh, long since silenced.
They had spoken of settling nearby that path someday with an ocean view, but only after they established careers in Boston, in law for him and journalism for her. A wide scope of plans came into focus that summer, then stretched out over the years and blurred, after they had married earlier than imagined, once the first baby was on the way.  
He closed his eyes, turned over and sat up. He noticed the sun had moved across the room. He meant to get up, but, instead, opened his eyes and lay back down, waiting to see what other memories might appear, as if he had no control over their direction and content.
The Marriage: There she was, still young, fresh, beautiful. He could smell her scent; feel her softness, hear her voice, see her gestures and movements--all light and gentle and fine.  He remembered his urgent desire, fierce and fiery; his resentment that she had neither his intense and frequent appetite nor the capacity for the intimacy he yearned for.  
Then came images of the once well-kept cottage with its manicured gardens; the salt air palpable; the changing moods and colors of the sea and sky; children laughing; white sheets billowing out from the clothes line like the sails of a schooner--the ocean-air fragrance of them tucked into the newly-made bed, always covered with a of white with blue hydrangea or sailboat designs. They had brought the babies home and lay with them there, she nursing and singing them to sleep.
With her support doing free-lance writing after the children were in bed, he was able to finish law school, but couldn’t find a “suitable” Boston law firm. He insisted on a practice in town, safer and close to home--a curse ever after on himself, the town and his family. For her, the children came first--their care, then the house, the chores, the yard work, the private schools, everything first but him, he felt sure. The months expanded into years, blotting the vibrance of their dreams to a dull gray, until it became clear that neither one had measured up to the expectations of the other, or of themselves.
He tried to push away the memory of her refusals; her excuses; the way he knew she merely tolerated his lips, his hands, his weight; and the way that she knew that he knew.
How many lovers develop the capacity or wisdom to learn the absolute law of relationship--that no one ever gets what was expected, what was longed for, or what he thought he had wanted or deserved? Yet, that  realization can be imparted in a moment, or take a life time, if it comes at all. Lovers’ illusions and self-deceptions, unfounded rationales, too much pain and sore need--all intertwined like the ivy growing and spreading unnoticed until it covered the entire cottage they had first rented, then inherited from an aunt who had died unmarried with no children of her own.   
Infinite are the means of creating that glittering shell of appearance, while the core of suffering goes unacknowledged by or unknown to the other. What sorrow, devices, defenses and denials mask the myriad and deep roots reaching in every direction, beginning to compromise a once solid structure. Silence, silence, silence--hear the vines growing.
Again, he rolled over, propped himself up, wanting to leave that house now, but once more lay down to allow the last acts of the bittersweet dumb show to play out.
The Shattered Vessel: On a business trip last year, he had visited old friends. On the last evening of his stay, he had dinner with them in their back courtyard, edged with a variety of plantings, one of them a fragrant, night-blooming jasmine whose foliage was all dotted with white, like miniature sparkling stars in the torch light. He heard how she spoke to him, saw how he deferred to her. Then, on the way to his room that night, he saw them through a half-opened door in gentle embrace, she in a white, flowing robe, leaning into him--their gestures toward the other tender with the fullness of a promise.  
The San Francisco breeze drifting in was warm and balmy through the house.  When he wandered into his room and closed the door behind him, he felt the light and the weight of the evening. What he experienced and saw was a revelation to him, conveying its essence, but also an irrevocable blow. That night he dreamed that his wife came to him in the dark in a white robe. When she drew near to him, he could see that it was made of jasmine flowers, and he inhaled the odor of their perfume.
Meanwhile, the cottage was deteriorating: roof, cedar siding, chimney, picket fence, stone walls and gardens--all in need. His town office was damp and cluttered and his dealings fraught with compromise and rumor. It had been a long, slow decline: the business, the cottage, his marriage--he begging her to love him, she begging him to save the practice, his reputation and his family. Words were exchanged and resonated ever after, boring themselves into the secret and ever-widening space in their souls.
They had once been vessels pure and smooth waiting to be filled to the brim with all they lacked, longing to be seen, to share what was known, to learn from the other what yet was unknown. What was missing in the other, the longed-for "potion" was at first sweet and welcomed as a gift to be tasted and savored. Its essence, with time, became diluted and sour with resentment--more like a poison, exposing a deficit, a void in the other.  Don’t see me as I really am; don’t change me. When a marriage ends, who is there to remember or to understand?
He got up, still wrapped in the blanket, went into the bathroom and picked up the pieces of the shattered white cup with the blue sailboats and put them into his pocket. He walked into each room, lingering for a moment, then went through to the kitchen and covered the broken window with his children’s blanket. Under the only magnet left on the refrigerator which read: "If you're going through hell, keep going," he left a note. "I am a wandering bark." 
Outside, the sun had melted last night’s snow. Making his way along the broken sidewalk toward his car, he pulled at a strand of ivy clinging to the cottage wall until it loosened, roots and all in his hand.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Graduation Address – Class of 2003


The Waldorf High School
Lexington, Massachusetts
June 8, 2003


Good afternoon everyone.

I am so happy to be here today among my former colleagues, parents, families and friends of the Waldorf High School, and most especially my former students to join you in celebrating the graduation of the class of 2003.  Congratulations on your accomplishments.  
  I also feel very privileged to have been here for each of the graduations since the inception of the H.S.  I believe the world is and will be a better place for these and other Waldorf students going out into the wider world with this very special education—and of course, with the love and support of their families and friends, and their own inherent and unique gifts and potential.
  I want to thank all of the high school students for teaching me so much, and giving me such hope and affirmation of my long held belief that ideas are real and beautiful and powerful.
  When I was a young girl I spent a lot of time in the library.  Back then I chose a book by its cover.  One I remember had a fuchsia cover with black silhouetted figures carrying little umbrellas, and strangely shaped letters that read, Silk and Satan Lane. I felt it was a book about everything that was not me and my world.  And, indeed, it was a book about a Chinese family living on Silk and Satan Lane.  I remember another book too, with a picture of a young girl, not much older than I was at the time.  Her eyes shone with a sadness and kindness and, though I didn’t realize it then—a wisdom way beyond her years.  I took that book home, and that is how I learned about the Holocaust.  It was The Diary of Ann Frank.  
     And while I learned about the worst that humanity could engender, at the same time, I also learned the best.

     It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality…I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder….It’s a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals; they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart…. I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!

     This insight impressed itself upon me so strongly then and has been a touchstone ever since.  There was such a certainty in her belief that an idea can become an ideal.  She not only believed, but KNEW that realizing ideals is possible—even if she herself could not realize them in a certain place and time.  That certainty is a power that moves and shapes lives, and has moved and shaped lives throughout the history of humanity.
     We could say that she was just a young girl, just as we sometimes dismiss the thoughts and feelings of young people today.  Most of us have heard that quip:  “Hire teenagers while they still know everything,” which reflects the frustrations we may feel at times with their growing independence and wish to do things their own way.  But there is a lot of truth in that little phrase:  It isn’t so much that teenagers know everything, it’s just that we forgot how much we “knew,” or, at least, held as ideals when we were this age.
     Last year this class and I took up a question that became a theme for the year, in all of things we read and discussed.  The theme was “What is Truth?”  We approached that question through the essays, stories, books and poetry,  bringing in historical, social, political and psychological perspectives.  And I imagine that in every one of their courses, the high school faculty also approached this question as well, in one way or another.  We had a lot of fun, but also delved very deeply into how one knows, if one can know truth.  They thought, felt, spoke and wrote most profoundly on this topic—truth being another way of looking at ideas that become ideals—Ideals which expand souls and become the potentiality of deeds (Steiner).
     Did we answer the question?  No, of course not. Truth cannot be defined, it can only be known by a very individual, self-reflective and world interactive experience.  Knowing what is false or untrue allows us also to grasp and embody truth.  It’s been noted that:
     The search for truth is but the honest searching out of everything that interferes with truth.  Truth is. It can neither be lost nor sought nor found.  It is there wherever you are, being with you. Yet it can be recognized or go unrecognized.

  I feel certain that Max, Soren, Katie, Dado, Daniel, Sara, Chloe, and Malcolm all have recognized truths about themselves and about the world and have begun to explore and make those truths their own.  No one else can do it for us can they?  It is a great responsibility and a lifetime’s work to do so.  It begins with education—and education that has as its intention that human beings become free and moral both according to a process of self knowledge. There is a story told     that: 

     God and Satan were walking down the road.  God bent down to pick something up.  He gazed at it glowing radiantly in his hand.  Then Satan became very curious and asked, “What’s that you have there?”
 “This,” God said, “is Truth.”
 “Satan said, “Here, let me have it; I’ll organize it for you.

     If I have any words of wisdom—they would be:  Don’t allow anyone to organize truth for you.  That is too easy and too dangerous for your morality and for your freedom.  That would mean that you abdicate responsibility for acting on those ideals.  You can only act on ideals that are truly part of your being.  Einstein said:
     To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made
me authority myself.”

  Fate has made all of us authority for ourselves, whether we recognize it or not. We do not have to act out of instinct, genetics, desires or fear, or handed down traditions or perspectives. Rather, each one of us must reflect, see our relationship to the world, to each other to our true self and live out of that orientation. 
  This is what we have discussed in our classes.  Class, this is what you have been given in the great works of the philosophers and authors, but more significantly, through your own humanity--living and acting out of ideals that you have made your own, becoming your own moral guide and authority.
  Remember in your main lesson with Mrs. Wells, you read The Divine Comedy.  After Dante comes through the inferno and purgatory, he stands at the top of the mountain, and his guide, Virgil, now leaves him, but not before he gives him a crown and mitre—symbolizing that he is now the priest and king of his own life—He is now authority himself—not as a matter of course, but through seeing and understanding the consequences of abdicating that right and legacy which he was shown and learned through his journey  
  At every moment, here and now, you are the only who can recognize truth, take ideas, make them ideals and live them.
     I would like to close with a poem as a gift to the class of 2003. Excuse me while I turn to the Class. 

Here and Now

Now when there is no truth
Here where everything and nothing is real
When and where all paths lead to everywhere
And nowhere
You have refused to stand at either pole
Or be forever lost in between
You know one thing is clear
You are the fixed star
You navigate with your soul consciousness
Whoever, wherever you are
Above, below, around—and into all things
All things exist in relation to you
Orbit in your sphere
Are held in balance by you
Live by your warmth and light
You have become the Sun
Here and now!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Poem


Edging into mood, mind, my Self--unawares
creates color, chaos, confusion
indigo, apprehension of a fall, split-screen identity
What do I desire, remember, know, believe
through distractions like a thousand tiny pearls
strung sky to earth?


Thursday, October 31, 2013

THE HOLES THEY LEAVE


That night, the stars kept me awake. I couldn’t sleep. I went to the open window facing the ocean, where a green light blinked on the horizon beyond the cloaked meadow and trees. Looking up I was startled, then elated to inhale with my whole being the ebony of a sky teaming with starlife. I stood for moments, minutes, or hours.  I don’t remember, but when I returned to my bed, I still couldn’t sleep, but not because of the mad convergence of memories, desires, fears and plans that had been randomly intermingling before I had seen the bright sparks in the black sky. My mind was cleared and pure with only the imagination of those brilliant gems in the dark velvet hemisphere. I wasn’t drawn back to look again, however compelling the star presence out there. Rather, I allowed it all to dwell in me, expand in me, as it always was and always will be.  Long I lay in the neutrality of that quiet wakefulness.
But not long enough; soon the experience of being confronted with my own smallness in the face of grandeur began to edge wider into a small opening of my habitual, chaotic consciousness at the first light of dawn.  Then I tried to return to that blessed state, like to a fading dream, but thoughts pressed in on me of the absurdity of being human--the de profundis that perpetually sounds beneath the surface of mundane reality was rising up.  I wanted to fill what I knew would quickly become an abyss with the beauty and mystery of what I had seen and felt.  Out there and in here.  Above, so below. On earth as in heaven.  Thou art become as one of us. These words, like distracting pearls, strung themselves on the strand of my need and wish to be as I had been all through the night, but that was not to be.  That was the night the stars kept awake.  
Since then I haven’t been the same.  I felt I had to get myself back to that state, but, no matter the effort, I could not experience the sky in that same way, or be awake without distraction. I couldn’t sleep at all.  During the day, I went about my routine, but the other half of my life, the night, had become obsession, going to the window, looking to see if the stars were there, or lying quietly trying to get into that state, or willing myself to sleep fitfully—even for a few hours.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t try to find a strategy to solve my dilemma.  I started seeing a therapist (which I had meant to do when I came back from my travels several years ago). I began reading self-help books; practiced Yoga; devoured natural remedies for sleep, anxiety, depression; attempted to follow the Eightfold Path (especially “right concentration”) and researched other spiritual traditions.  I started reading poems and any writings about stars to see if I could find some kind of articulation of my own experience.  I found so many expressions of the power of star influence.  I especially liked “...each night I count the stars/ And each night I get the same number./ And when they will not come to be counted,/ I count the holes they leave.”
I even tried medication (which I had wanted to avoid), but I had to find some peace in sleep.  It was only after a week, however, of taking a prescription pill that I walked into my neighbor’s house during the night, opened her refrigerator, ate a bowl of cold spaghetti and took her dog out for a walk. Dana had heard me come in, watched me in amazement, followed me outside with phone in hand, ready to call 911. Eventually, though, I returned with the dog, wandered back to my place and into bed, all of which she oversaw.  When she came over to tell me the next morning, I didn’t believe her until she showed me the pictures she had taken.  Okay, I scratched that approach off my long list. 
Dana and I took a walk on the beach that afternoon, which was sunny and warm for late October, and the sea turquoise. I remember we walked into our elongated shadows ahead of us.  I didn’t know her very well, but probably felt closer to her than anyone else.   Even though I was embarrassed by the incident the night before, I felt safe, maybe because she had told me more than once that I reminded her of her daughter, whom I had never met, but who had just come home to live after years away. I sensed that she could see through to the real me (even though I wasn’t sure the real me existed yet), but I didn’t resent it; that would mean at least someone knew me. The thing was, though, I hadn’t ever confided in her, or anyone else for that matter, not even my therapist-- well, not really. 
Still, I continued my quest to recapture the experience of the night the stars kept me awake—waiting until the new moon and cloudless sky, walking to ocean’s edge in the “mystical moist night air” to star gaze.  Even though, yes, it was beautiful each time, there was nothing to catch me off guard as I had been that night.  That was it! I was always on guard.  Why am I on guard? I asked myself, to which I had no answer.  
My therapist said I had the answer, and he would help me find it.  Even though part of me thought it was all bullshit. “All” meaning my obsession, my strategies, my remedies, my question and what would be involved in coming to terms with the answer (as if there were an answer). Still I pursued therapy and all the rest of it (except the sleeping pills). Why? Because I wanted to get “back to the garden,” to that state of being where the stars lived in me. Poetry seemed to be the thing that most caught me off guard--that revealed things and states of being I had never consciously thought about before, but understood or longed for the moment I read a line or word that was so true.  I found myself more at ease at those moments and a little less desperate.
Dana called a couple of weeks later, suggesting we meet for dinner.  She said she had something for me, and she gave me the impression she wanted to tell me something. I thought maybe she was worried about me ever since the sleepwalking incident.   I had made up my mind to tell her things and ask her things. She seemed wise, and I respected her. I would let down my guard intentionally this time and spill my guts (poor Dana!), and maybe hear something that would surprise me, like when I read the poetry.  
A few days before our planned outing, driving back from a session with my therapist, I was feeling I shouldn’t continue seeing him.  He had started to bring up subjects I didn’t want to think about, and things I had never thought about before, which I guess should have been a good thing, if I really wanted to get to the bottom of things, but it didn’t feel good, and I already felt at the bottom of... something.  As I passed Dana’s house, I saw a woman outside with Dana's dog.  It was a damp and raw November day. Something was wrong.  She wore a nightgown, had several books in her hand and was walking up and down the sidewalk kind of in a daze it seemed. I knew it must be Dana’s daughter.  I pulled up next to the sidewalk, rolling down the window.  She was crying, so I could hardly make out what she was saying, “ Mom, why? What am I going to do?”  
Dana had been sick, but no one knew.  She hadn’t even told her daughter. When Dana was unresponsive late last night and rushed to the hospital, her condition was revealed to her daughter--cancer--last stages--terminal--not coming home.  I found this out only after I practically carried the daughter into my place, cleared a spot on the sofa, made her some hot tea and, between sobs, she told me that Dana died shortly after they moved her from the ER to a hospital room.  “I am not going to go through those things Mom said she left for me.  I, I can’t. I won’t, anyway, she hated me and...”   I assured her that was not the case, that her mother loved her and wanted the best for her. Although I wasn’t at all sure about that, I did know Dana worried about her.   
I saw that the daughter was not much younger than me and was strikingly beautiful (so, my reminding Dana of her daughter had nothing to with looking alike).  She had the kind of looks which, no doubt, turned a lot of heads, opened a lot of doors, and maybe kept her from seeing herself as she really was. Once, Dana told me that she took her daughter out for lunch after she had said, “I’m starving,” because she knew it was really true!  Her daughter ordered water and raw vegetables or “crudités,” which Dana said sounded a whole lot better, and would have tasted a whole lot better with the cheddar and crab dip. But her daughter almost frantically moved the vegetables away from the dip as if they were going to jump into it themselves.  Dana said the dip should have come on a ten-foot pole.  It was funny at the time, but sad because I could relate to it big time.  
I knew she had been away for years “traveling,” maybe a nicer way of saying “wandering,” (which I could also relate to) and was now back at Dana’s until she “sorted things out,” until she “got her life on track,” was what Dana had said.  “You can stay with me tonight,” I heard myself offer, but hoped she wouldn’t (until she said she wouldn’t).  That’s when I felt a dark and heavy weight of grief looming, and about to descend.  For some reason, she wanted to sleep in her mother’s bed that night, so I walked back with her and got her settled in with the dog.  
She came over the next day and I checked on her that night.  Both times, she cried a lot, didn’t really say much about her relationship with her mother, mostly avoided eye-contact, and she said over and over that she did not want to live in “that house,” or go through any of her mother’s things.  She had her own funky, thrift store style (usually wearing black or white), and was thinner than me (I tried not to acknowledge the sharp twinge of envy). 
“Your mom seemed like a very wise person,” I blurted out.  “I think she knew a lot more that she let on.”  I didn’t tell her that I had been looking forward to learning some things from her (really everything).  She looked surprised when I said that. 
“What are you talking about? She was a crazy person.” was what she said, “especially since I came back home!” 
“No kidding,” I said, but I wanted to say a lot more. While I was trying to rebound, surprised at how protective I felt toward Dana and how resentful toward her daughter, I was blindsided when she asked if I would go with her to make funeral arrangements.  You are the crazy one! Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly do that, but I said, “Yeah, sure.”  She had no one else.  
When I got back that night, I was exhausted and starving, but I didn’t eat anything and stayed up until midnight. When I finally did flop on the bed, I ended up staring at the ceiling until 4:00 am, again trying to relax, using my techniques, visualizations and exercises.  Finally, I picked up one of the poetry books scattered on my bed.  When I finally was able to unravel, I started to “hear” the last few lines I had read chanting themselves in the dark, like an unwanted mantra, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I closed my eyes trying to again imagine that starlit night when I was caught for that moment outside the fortress walls.
Somehow I got through it all: helping Dana’s daughter with the funeral arrangements, the memorial service and the burial (which took place on the day Dana and I were supposed to meet).  The strange thing was, I was able to sleep almost through the night for the first time in months.  I told myself that my desperation may have been reaching Dana, wherever she was, and maybe she could sense the things I was going to ask her and tell her, which I didn’t even know myself.  I don’t believe in magic or miracles though, but I was surprised at how attached I must have been to her, and at the loss I was feeling--the finality of her death and the certainty of my own. 
I haven’t seen Dana’s daughter for over a month now, though I called her several times, offering to help with anything she needed.  She thanked me, but said there was nothing to do and she didn’t need help with anything.  I saw her a couple of times outside and waved, but that was it, until she called me tonight just as I came in the door, “You have to come over right now.” 
It was getting dark and icy cold. I could hear the ocean roaring, maybe churning up for a nor’easter.  I walked into Dana’s house through the kitchen that I had wandered into that night.  The house was a mess.  Dana had always kept it as if it were a display of warmth, light and color.  You could tell what season it was by little touches here and there--crimson and gold leaves in the fall, lilies of the valley in the spring, shells and feathers in the summer. I liked that, but now it looked more like my place, not very inviting, dark and messy.  I noticed some funeral-like flower arrangements on the countertop and kitchen table, all wilted and dried up.   
“In here,” Dana’s daughter called from the little room off the kitchen, lamplight spilling over the doorway.  The room looked exactly as I remembered it, as if Dana had just walked out of it and would be back “in a sec,” as she would say.  I knew the room hadn’t been gone into since Dana died. It seemed like the only inviting, orderly and bright spot in the house  Her daughter had just “made herself” go into it that afternoon and was still there when she called me just a few moments ago.  
“I finally got the courage to come in here. I never wanted to, but I had this dream last night.  My mom was calling me, and I was wandering all over the house, but, it was kinda like I was also outside trying to get in, and wind kept pushing me back. I could see waves inside crashing against the windows--weird! When I woke up, it still was dark.  I could just see the  light from this room; I haven’t turned it off since Mom died. I feel like I am still in a dream now, or,” she hesitated “or awake for the first time--not sure which.” 
I braced myself when she said that; Me too.  But, I saw that she looked different, still sad, but softer, with lamplight cast on her long hair, and on the gold trim at the collar and sleeves of her shirt.   I kept my gaze on her and listened as she showed me an album of family photos of when she was a young girl, and her father was still alive. There was one of her in a tall pine tree, taken from the ground up, so that the branches looked like an feathery green staircase with her looking down; one of Dana holding her up with one hand under a white beach umbrella with big blue fish on it. There was a wide, worn, white journal of memories from her childhood which Dana had written in until her daughter was ten years old.  There were other papers and pictures strewn on the desk top and in its open drawers, and a letter, about which she said, “I’ve been reading it over and over,” but she didn’t share it with me. I could tell though that it must have broken a silence, shattered walls and filled some kind of void.
She opened another small black leather book all embossed with tiny silver stars. On the first page was the date of Dana’s diagnosis, with note of her wish to keep it from her daughter.  She read me parts of it with her fingers tracing the words that spoke of hope like “a thing with feathers, which perches on the soul….”; and of faith, like the moon, ”faithful even as it fades from fullness, becoming that last curving and impossible sliver of light before the final darkness”; and of a year of miracles, of gratitude and joy for the last days spent with her daughter home, but also of crazy sorrow.  
She asked me to read the last entry. I felt lightheaded and disoriented when I looked at the lines Dana had written in beautiful script. I heard the barely audible sound of my own voice, which seemed strange and far away.
“Pain has an element of blank. It cannot recollect when it began, or if there were a day when it was not,” and then, “The heart asks pleasure first, and then excuse from pain, and then those little anodynes that deaden suffering.”
Then she picked up a small package wrapped in deep blue tissue and tied with silver ribbons and handed it to me. It was a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson: “For Stella, From Dana.”  
When I walked out into the night air, there was no sound. There were no stars and sea fog was drifting in.

*********************************************************************
Acknowledgements for quotes from poetry in order of appearance:

Title: The Holes They Leave: from “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” by Amiri Baraka

Within Text: 
“Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” by Amiri Baraka
"The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
“Pain has an Element of Blank” by Emily Dickenson
“Faith” by David White
“The Heart asks first for Pleasure” by Emily Dickenson

Saturday, September 7, 2013

THE SOUL SPEAKS

Images of memory and desire—experience and longing live within us, and the soul speaks them. We may be conscious of them, or they may arise spontaneously with the capacity to damage or to heal our souls.  This phenomenon first revealed itself to me through literature and art—which are replete with personal, as well as universal images. Then, I began to recognize images living within myself—fiercely protected until I started writing about them.  Also,I began to “see” the images other people live with—especially if they were particularly open and unaware that they were actually revealing something very private and even sacred in some sense.  When the soul speaks, a glimmer of images living there is “projected,” perhaps by a seemingly casual reference in conversation. 

To an astute listener, observer and delver into such things, as I consider myself to be, the image can also ray out and, like a holograph, fill the room and speak to those who are apt to hear and see.  One such image appeared yesterday, and I had to, for the first time, set the experience down.  

If one word only could be used to describe my Aunt Doris, it would be “eccentric.” She was my godmother.  Every time she saw me, she would say in her high,lilting voice, "Oh, there's my fairy goddaughter!" Funny, kind and open, too, she always was a curiosity to the rest of the family.  For one thing, she always carried with her an enormous bag, out of which came  various gadgets: a metal tea ball for her tea; a large thermos of tea (spiked), caramels and licorice for lovers of sweets; artificial sweeteners (before anyone had even heard of them), and other novelties deemed (by her) absolutely essential for any outing.  These items, like her countless phobias and fears, seemed to be extensions of her self.  No one in the family understood the need for that bag, or the reasons for fears—the origins of which were unknown, although often displayed and shared as freely as the contents of her bag.

I have a vivid memory of her coming to one of the holiday gatherings at my grandmother's house in a coat, a beautiful shade of blue with a wide "ermine" collar,  wafting with her fragrance and the coolness of the snowy evening.  My sister and I used to go through that bag to find her make-up, put it on and we were in heaven. She didn't mind. 

It was all a mystery to me as well, not only the contents of the heavy bag, but the inner burden she also carried within her.  Her fears included elevators, tall buildings, being alone, being in crowds and any mode of transportation.  She was even afraid of watching a relative who had appeared as a guest on a local television program.  I suppose some of the adult relatives may have known something about her problems, though silence was the chosen method of dealing with any issue, but, as children, we felt only the lighter mood, heard the fun made of her and the laughter surrounding this lovable oddity – Aunt Doris.

The laughter was with her, not so much at her, and it seemed welcomed by her, as it put her at the center of family and fun  I  believe she was well aware of her aura, as we laughed about the bag, about the fears, about the idiosyncrasies and occurrences in her life—like the time she excitedly ran up to receive a prize at a banquet, and then, in front of hundreds of people, found the ticket containing the numbers just called out (which she had undoubtedly pulled from her bag of tricks) was from another event entirely!  Then there was the time that she and Uncle Frank were at a picnic and, after having filled their plates with food, sat down at an empty table—on the same side and the table toppled over on to them, food and all.  These, as well as many other stories told and retold at family gatherings inspired such warmth and connection, all in good fun, and now chereshed, which no one more than Aunt Doris looked forward to.

Yesterday, I saw Aunt Doris for the first time in many years.  We don’t get together as we did when all the cousins were young, and our grandparents were still alive.   Now, some thirty years later, we are all married with families of our own.  But there she was, a little older, a little heavier (but so wasI), still jovial and had the legendary bag with her.  This one matched her blue sweatshirt decorated with lace and fringes. We were all ready to be entertained, and she was ready to perform.

Once again, we laughed together; only this time Uncle Frank was no longer with us.  I know everyone must have imagined the expression he would have had and the sound of his unique laughter when she started with her stories, or when she pulled from her bag a battery-run ash tray to whisk away the smoke from her cigarettes. Out came an extra set of batteries i(n case) the saccharin tabs, a cigarette bag—containing several packs of off-brands and a little plastic, fake cigarette complete with ash on the end.  She had purchased it some years ago, but continues to carry it with her, as she still means to write to the manufacturer regarding her dissatisfaction with the “contraption.”  We all laughed heartily, just like old times.

It was, however, only when Aunt Doris got around to the topic of her mother (which she always did somehow) that my delver's sense became finely tuned, and as she spoke, I began to “see” the image she has lived with all of her life. It was only a moment, a glimmer—created with a few words, and even though everyone else laughed, I felt a silent part of me in sympathy with the hidden sorrow.

When she was very young her mother had taken her aside away from the father Aunt Doris adored and later lived with until she married, after her mother left never to return.   Then and thereafter, she spoke smoldering, harsh, hateful words about her father, words which Doris said she did not understand at the time, but what stood behind them and the look on her mother’s face as she uttered them seared themselves into her young girl’s soul into and became the image which lives there to this day. As Doris herself conveyed this memory of the scene, the image rayed out for me, as she seemed for that moment transformed into her mother—taking on the same tone and facial expression her mother used to denigrate and discredit the father.

I am certain Doris must occasionally elicited that image so that she herself could view it, like some grotesque Veronica’s veil.  But I saw it too this time and it struck me as part of the puzzle and mystery of, not my funny, old Aunt Doris, but the vulnerable little girl, who long ago had endured the branding and was living to the end with the effects of it, and probably many other such moments.

It was a revelation in the midst of frivolity, a gift of insight and understanding to me, and I honored the fleeting moment in my own way, as I do dear Aunt Doris here in the recording of it.

Aunt Doris passed away in 1996.


Her only son, Frank, Jr. (Frankie), committed suicide a few years later.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Just the Weight of God


Just the Weight of God 
(wrtten in an attempt to clarify my own spirutal beliefs and trace the path to them)

I know people who have had spiritual experiences--experiences which affirmed for them in some small or large way that there is another reality--more real than the here and now--whether an out of body experience, or an experience of being directed, guided, saved or found.  Then they were left to come off of the proverbial "mountain top" (or out of Plato's allegorical cave) to live by and share what they experienced.  I do not doubt that people have such spiritual experiences, but I believe this spiritual revelation can be misinterpreted based on an individual's life experiences leading up to that moment, as well as their natural inclinations, personallity, locality, family, cultural and spiritual traditions.

Certainly such an experience would call for changes in a person's life, including being acted upon, depending on what they perceived the experience meant, often with positive effects on them and others.  Such spiritual experiences, however, are so powerful that misinterpretion is often not even considered and may be understood as absolute truth.  The experience may also convince a person he is now qualified, not only to share the found truth, but to judge others who may have had their own powerful or otherwise spiritual experiences, insights which may be very different.

I myself have not had such an identifiably powerful moment when all became clear to me, but there have been many other moments of intution and insight which have led me to my present state of spirituality and belief. I don’t feel, however, that I have the truth for anyone else.  I still have many questions and doubts, and I must ultimately endure the mystery of life, its ambiguity, paradoxes, and recurring moral dilemmas. I must take my collective life experiences, which include influences from the religion I was brought up in, as well as my formal and informal education, my own searching, my research and study of other religions and cultural traditions, including secondary sources, such as the psychological, sociological and anthropological perspectives found in Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and Erich Fromm. In short I must reconcile Faith and Reason, and I have not seen a particular conflict between the two.


I can sense the spiritual: hearing it in others’ intentions, words and actions and observing it in nature.  I have felt it also in the reading of both sacred and secular texts, and seen it manifested in "the ordinary" in so many remarkable and sometimes stunning ways.  These recongnitions have functioned as "mini-revelations" in which certain principles of life became clear to me, which I must strive to live by. These principles are broad and general enough to be inclusive, not exclusive, as they are truths not the truth.  After all “the brain is wider than the sky," and there are so many complex, diverse, subtle, nuanced and mysterious elements of creation in nature, the cosmos and the human being. I believe that, while the source may be One, the expressions and emanations of the One are infinite.

A Jewish friend of mine told me that in Judaism, when someone says he does not believe in God, he is asked, “What kind of a God don’t you believe in?” That puts things into perspective and speaks to the individuality of spiritual experience and beliefs. In my case, I don’t believe in a “personal,” patriarchal God who has His eyes on everything, controls and brings about or thwarts things with anger, revenge, kindness or personal love for everyone as long as they worship Him. A God who created humans so that He can be adored is not something I can even imagine. I can’t believe in the literal God of the Bible or any in form of fundamentalism--which narrows and limits one’s view in all directions. I do believe the Bible (and other sacred texts), as well as world mythologies are imaginative pictures, which contain “significant if unverifiable truths” full of wisdom and even practical insights to live by. 


For example, in Genesis, an omnipotent God would have known when he created humans that they would disobey his one caution to not eat from the tree of knowledge.  It would have been part of his plan, but taken literally the humans committed a “sin,” which would be a stain on humanity thereafter.  They were punished for disobeying and taking independent action from a God who knew and planned for them do so.  Does anyone really believe that it could have been otherwise, that we could all be living in a Garden of Eden right now?  Does anyone really want to live in a Garden of Eden and give up all that we are and will learn and experience in our lifetime.  

Isn’t this story rather a metaphor of a spiritual, as well as psychological principle?  After all distinguishing between good and evil is generally considered to be a virtue! I believe this story reflects the wisdom of a parent who wants to shelter his childlren, yet knows they must and will take independent action at some point to find their own way through struggle, pain, and a deepening sense that love is the answer to all--the redemption, which is the Christ.  It is the disoedience which set them (and us) on a journey toward freedom, using reason to establish moral values rather than adhering to authoritarian dictates of, as Fromm suggests (“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”), the “internalized voice of authority,” which we may obey out of fear or guilt, but if we are to be adults, we must act out of our own experience and knowledge that someting is good or evil--then, and only then are we free and moral. 

I don’t believe that human beings and nature are “fallen.” I understand the Bible story as metaphor (which is nevertheless true in its meaning), that is, when Adam and Eve “disobeyd” or took that independent step, it began humanity’s evolution toward consciousness and conscience (which we are still moving toward as a species). It also represents our own individual arduous journeys toward such. The New Testament, although still open to wide and subjective interpretation, speaks of becoming "one with the father.”  Isn’t this none other than coming to that knowledge of good and evil for ourselves so that it is fully understood, truly our own, uniting with the Father principle in freedom. 

Fundamentalism directs by a particular interpretation from which there is no deviation, not even Reason, a faculty that is suspect, rather than understood as a gift from the Creator.  My efforts to reconcile Faith and Reason tell me that I must act from the inside on those simple, yet hard-to-live truths of which Christ speaks, for example:  to love our neighbor as ourselves; to not judge, least we be judged; and that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Him).  I grapple with the moral dilemmas, both my own and those presented to us as part of society and the world.  Of course, I am not always able to solve the dilemmas or live those truths at every moment--far from it, but that is my aim, which I believe is consistent with the aims of the Christ.

The Christ, in addition to being divine, I understand to be representative of man, precisely because He came among us and experienced life as a human.  He also taught us in the most imaginative, abstract way, mostly through parables, leaving very broad, but difficult principles to live by. One cannot interpret literally the parables in a concrete way. I believe that is why He used that form of teaching, and even when his diciples asked Him why he taught in parables, he gave them another parable to tell them why, again emphasizing the imaginative, abstract, rather than in a concrete way

"The Bible [as well as the other sacred texts] has always taken man in the concrete, never in the abstract. Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and there find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage....We [will] have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves, which is the same as saying that we find Christ in him." (Thomas Merton)

As a believer in the life and essential teachings of Christ, I am more in line with the Renaissance Humanists--who thought “man is the measure of all things,” the crowning glory of creation because of his intellect and ability to reason with consciousness and conscience.  I am not inclined toward the “cult of personality”  mostly seen in fundamentalism, where the focus seems to be on Jesus rather than on the Christ, so that He is worshiped almost like a rock star and sung to and about as an adolescent might sing to or about a lover.  I need to be lifted up to the sacred, rather than pull it down to the human level of the melodramatic and sentimental.  I can see how that pathos may be more attractive and more accessible, as it appeals to the emotion and post-modern pop culture of the day.  I can more readily imagine and feel the spiritual in Gregorian chants, or the requiems of Mozart and Faure which embody and evoke the majestic, grand, other-wordly and sublime nature of the spiritual world, as well as the human emotions associated with life and death (without words).  


I believe that people in our lives are the ones we came here for to teach and to learn from.  We are not here to be obedient, or even to worship, but rather to become fully human with immense gratitude for all that we have been given, and to strive to love, to understand and to live with and among one another out of our higher selves with abundant compassion. Our guidance and wisdom come from whichever specific or combination of the world's spiritual teachings that allows us to do so.  We must, however, search, be open, flexible and willing to live with ambiguity, paradox and mystery, striving all the while to "live" the essential truths. While I have the cultural and personal conditions to be grounded in Christianity, I can also see the Eightfold Path of Buddhism as a valuable support to live those essential teachings and can do so without fear or guilt. Accepting Christ for me means knowing that Christ is Love, pure and simple (but not so simple to live).  


Truth is truth, no matter where we find it, and it can be found in all the sacred texts.  However, any text taken literally cannot be challenged using our reason about inconsistencies or hypocracies arrising out of them.  The response to challengers can be accusations of blasphemy, ignorance of “the truth” and worse.   Such challenges may be felt fundamentalists and others as persecution, which has become the “battle cry” because, according to some sacred texts, persecution is what can be expected from infidels or non-believers or even anyone who believes differently--even those who consider themselves a member of the same religion (other Christian demonominations or Islamic sects, for example). 

It is a kind of circular reasoning: the more extreme the fundamentalism and absurd the claims (which provoke challenges and riducule), the more likely they are to feel persecuted. Case in point: the proclamations from evangelist Pat Roberts that some natural disasters are punishments from God, or his prediction that, if they were ever in need, God would not help the claimants who brought a case against their school board who had voted that intelligent design must be taught. The conservative judge (appointed by George W. Bush, an advocate of teaching intelligent design) after hearing the case ruled that intelligent design is not science and was religion in disguise (“Judgement Day” Nova available on You Tube).

Too often, it is denegrating other people and their ways of being faithful or spiritual that distracts us from living those essential teachings, shifts our focus and engenders a compulsion to judge others. In reality, I would suggest that such actions are born out of subconcious ego-centrism and self-affirmation.  For example, if Christian, we may be distracted from loving one another as Christ loves us, or really caring for the least of our brothers.  I must conclude that this is the case with some (of course, not all) fundamentalists who speak and act so often and so vitriolically against homosexuality, quoting its condemation in the Bible (just as it was quoted to support slavery and the submission and opression of women). Immigrants, and those of other ethnic or cultural origins, or those who are disenfranchised out of circumstances they were born into or conditioned to think is normal: these are our brothers and sisters and not to be judged as sinners or takers. These actions, I would suggest, are not really out of belief in God or Christ, but of the lower self which often seeks to set ourselves up as superior, of course all at a subconcious level.  And it is not surprising that most of this hypocracy comes from fundamentalists (Christain and otherwise), not because it is in the sacred books per se, but, I believe because of the way literal interpretation limits and narrows perspectives in general.

How can we conveniently ignore that It is not up to us to judge, or denigrate. Can we not let God do the judging in His own time?  We cannot understand all the circumstances and reasons why there is apathy, evil, depravity, corruption, violence and social problems. We can, however, as many do in all faiths and traditons, work toward change wherever it is needed without exclusion and demonizing, which creates only discord, rather than the peace and understanding that may come if we imitate Christ or seek to see the Christ in others, as Merton suggests. 

Reason also tells me that there is no one book that can be taken in literally, especially considering that throughout the history of humanity the same themes, motifs, stories, images and wisdom can be found in all traditions and cultures with variations which make them local and specific. They are either all right or all wrong. Here is where Faith and Reason must be weighed and balanced. Those who are intent on taking any text literally are still “interpreting” it influenced by a particular sect’s or denomination’s understanding espoused by their leaders/teachers, or by their own experience and temperament, by cultural/geographic aspects, and psychological needs and idiosyncrasies.  No challenges or questions are possile because one stray thread threatens to unravel the whole fabric of belief and expose the sometimes self-delusional, self-deceptive, defensive, ethno/egocentric tendencies and ways of getting around ourselves that human beings are prone to. 

Nor, with literal interpreations, do we have to involve ourselves with facts of scientific inquiry, study and research gleaned over hundreds of years from natural and cosmic worlds.  Therefore, astronomy, geology, archaeology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology, (not to mention logic) are suspect and cannot inform us, which certainly narrows and limits not only our perspective, but also our imagination and even our livlihoods and vocations. Those who believe they have "the truth" verbatim must fit everything in the universe into what they already believe, rather than starting out objectively toward inductive logic, while still holding the mystery of creation and the spirt of the law laid out in such texts.

It has been said that if we knew the good we would do the good. What is the good? While we may not be able to ultimately define good, or truth for that matter, I am sure that growing to know it and do it involves Love, Compassion, Kindness, Fairness, Charity, and many others virtues/states of mind or being, including adversity, pain, sacrifice and suffering.  It is just that it takes much practice and discipline, insight and openness to develop, sustain and enact these virtues toward others, especially toward those who do not believe, look or live as we do. 

I think of the sacred books are maps which guide and direct us, but can never reveal the many detours and vistas, byways and hidden paths, nor people we meet along the way. In their essence, they contain all we need to know, but we we also need to use and expand our minds, hearts, and souls, rather than following only the clearly marked major highways of dogma and doctrine which are laid out for us.  Also, one would have to admit, if employing reason, that all of these texts were written by human beings, inspired yes, but also bound by geo-political, cultural/local time and place, with inherent prejudices and perhaps by “misinterpretations” of spiritual revelations. I think this is most evident in the portions which have been/are opressive and dangerous to women.  Certainly, the men who wrote them felt and saw the inherent power of women in their ability to bring forth life and to arouse desire in men. Feeling their own power challenged and their arousal, determined, therefore, that women must be evil or tamed/suppressed.  Reason should tell us that these portions of “the truth” are no more than psychological projections, but, nevertheless are still acted upon to the detriment of women and the whole societies. 

If the world religions in their fundamentalist, extreme forms and followers have shown us anything, it is that they are divisive and sometimes destructive. They foster suspicion and superstition, a sense of superiority and spirtual pride, and, in their most extreme forms, can limit or take away civil and human rights and dignity We have seen these attempts, sometimes successful in our own country’s history and certainly presently in other countries, so that The "others" become the enemy (the infidel, the devil incarnate, the anti-Christ) and in the worst cases are marginalized, oppressed, imprisoned, brutalized, and murdered.

Then there is the circuitous, historical evolution of texts with multiple, alternative translations, the selection of certain ones over others to become part of a Cannon. For me, it is just too open to error, corruption of orignal and personal/political/cultural manipulations to take them literally (and I don’t buy that God would insure that the texts we have are his absolute word).  I prefer to adhere to the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of it, not because it is easier or less moral, but because it more demanding and requires moral development in freedom. 

After all, we all here on earth all together, and practicing some of these simple truths would go a long way toward our inner peace and the peace of the world. It’s not going to happen anytime soon I suppose. 

Having been present at my parents' deaths—at the moment when time and place no longer existed for them, when spirit departs from the body, I saw that life and death are sacred and profound mysteries. I felt that the essence of who we are does not get snuffed out with the last breath. Though I do not believe in the traditional descriptions of Heaven and Hell, I do believe that we must make account for all that we did or did not do between death and our next birth. I believe in destiny and karma.  I have no proof, no more than fundamentalists have proof--I just know and feel it is true, so it is not rational in that sense; however, if challenged on it, I can say, I only know it is true for me.  Seeing the body only, without the individual spirit that animates it is the ultimate affirmation that we are not our bodies—and that we cannot be ultimately confined in one bodily sheath any more than our minds, hearts and souls can be defined by or contained in one book, philosophy or religion. 

Our essence and our mission here is greater than the body or mind can comprehend or imagine, greater than our individually-lived lives can manifest and are as infinite as the universe, which is to say, "just the weight of God."


The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound (Emily Dickinson)