Gospels and Advent and Oneness, Oh My

The Universe was pushing me along today, and I tried my best to let her take the wheel.

Maybe it was the hush of a Sunday morning, but I happened upon two blogs, Barefoot Toward the Light and Abbey of the Arts. Both offered wisdom about the Gospel reading of the day and reminded me that it is the first day of Advent.

At most, I can be described as a reluctant Catholic who takes small sips from the cup of her childhood religion. Googling the Mass readings is not something I ever thought I would do, but here I was today trying to track down this bit from Mark in which Jesus declares “Be watchful! Be alert!”

Both of the bloggers I mention above do more justice to these words that I can, especially Christine at Abbey of the Arts who gives us meaning of this short piece of scripture beyond its immediate warning to keep an eye out for the approach of God. She says:

In the invitation of Advent to prepare for the birth of God into the world, we are invited to awaken to the sacred possibilities deep within us, to shake off our slumber, open our eyes wide and discover the sacredness of everything we encounter.

I know that I have expressed similar sentiments many times, though not necessarily in the context of the birth of Christ.  Only by staying open to many masters, but never tying myself to any particular religious path have I felt the freedom to talk about how I have encountered the sacred.

In this same post, Christine at Abbey of the Arts also talks about the way that the perspective of Eastern religions inform the West, and vice versa and the power of inter-religious dialog to enrich all faiths. It is the same nurturing message I found in reading Joan Chittister’s words yesterday and that I have come to know as my own truth.

Again, I am stumbling across whispers of Oneness. The religion that was the foundation of my spirituality mixes with the explorations that have marked my adulthood and I learn once more that all roads to a great divine harmony – if only we keep our eyes open to see it.

* * *

I created a makeshift Advent wreath and placed it before my altar tonight. All of my hopes for light in this darkening time before the sun returns at the solstice suddenly had a focus in a single flickering flame.

Always we seek relief from the darkness, and ever we find the light. Where will you find the light to guide your way?

Epiphany Rewarded

superior_scribbler_award

My deepest thanks to an amazing sister in the blogging world, BlissChick, for the Superior Scribbler Award. It means so much to receive recognition from a writer and thinker I so admire and enjoy.

I am passing this award on to Cliodhna for her blog, Cliodhna’s Wave. I am new to her work, but am already a devoted reader/viewer. Her art astounds. Her words weave spells. The fables and modern myths that she creates are deeply inspiring to me.

Flow Through Different Worlds: Writing, Sharing, Loving

A couple of things you mightn’t expect when you first get to know me: I have a subscription to the Jesuit weekly magazine America and I check the entire college football schedule so I know how to plan the weekend.

My husband and I fell in love with versions of the other that were not totally representative of the sort of mates we would turn out to be. I partied a lot more and wrote a lot less and I lived in a cramped basement apartment without cable. Never did I realize what an autumn would really be like when I would have to share the man I love with a screen covered by giants in tight pants. Then again, he couldn’t realize the number of evenings I would spend with the door closed, constantly typing away.

In hopes of understanding my husband’s passion for watching sports on t.v., I opened the latest issue of America that is dedicated to “The Soul of Sports.” The article failed to enlighten me as to why someone can be so passionate about a game he cannot influence, but it did introduce me to Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of Flow Psychology.

“Flow” is described as the “holistic sensation present when we act with total involvement.” Csíkszentmihályi equates it with the Buddhists samadhi, or one-pointedness of mind. Though this article focuses on team sports and then turns to Ignatian spirituality, I thought about how I experience flow in my writing.

I write in two worlds, the pages of my novel and in this space. My writing group and select friends are great cheerleaders as my story progresses, while I rely almost exclusively on the comments of strangers when it comes to my blog. The delayed gratification and the lack of the dreaded blog stats page make crafting characters and plot seem like more like Flow, which is said to be marked by “egolessness.” In terms of this article, maybe working on my novel does fit the bill because it is meant to be about being in a space where the “explicit reflection on the self stops.” My experiences are wholly enmeshed with my fiction, but at least I feel like I am writing for the sake of the people I have cast on the page. The desire to write my way out of a day job is usually held at bay when the inspiration takes over and the words just come.

I cannot find an equal amount of selflessness in blogging, however (especially when I mention the word “self” at least once per post!). It’s more difficult to find that effortless movement of ideas in a genre that exists to be read and replied to immediately. Flow was the world of private journaling. Blogging is constant performance.

That said, I am making the connection: I read about Flow not as a commentary on the psychology of sport or writing, but in a religious publication. This piece puts the wisdom in Christian terms, which I still feel vaguely uncomfortable with, but I have to remember that Flow is yoga, Flow is the goal of meditation, Flow is something I have studied in so many different worlds. Flow could be sharing my thoughts with a simple goal of serving the reader with some ideas that may sweetly color her day.

I keep writing about my quest for wisdom, but I think it is time to remember that the process of writing and communication my vision of wholeness is an essential part of the journey.

Because the Ego is a Fragile Thing I Have to Waste

I started blogging a year ago as a result of one of those allegedly profound conversations in which, yet again, I experienced the ultimate breakthrough and uncovered an enlightened new relationship with Self and the Divine, and pretty much the entire planet.

Wryly, I scoffed to my friend, “Listen to me! I’m the girl who cried epiphany! Why do you even listen to all this narcissistic drivel?” And so I started committing these thoughts to writing and explored a public voice.

Then I stopped posting because my obsession with whether anyone was reading seemed unhealthy, I started writing fiction again, and it didn’t seem that inspired spiritual progression should invite voyeurism. Now, six months later, I think I have found my way back to the original purpose of these pages – to name those little epiphanies, both pedestrian and profound, that inform and spice this business of living, and could, with a bit of attention and intention, lead to an expansion of consciousness.

This need to start writing here again came to me today while I sat through a conference of librarians. I had organized the event, yet sat at the periphery because I am not really one of them, but instead a creature who lacks the information science credentials, and, frankly, the interest to truly engage in the conversation. For two days, I had been trying to explain to the participants my role in the college library at which I work – I’m a professional with an assistant of my own and I do actual intellectual work when I am not worrying about caterers and janitors’ schedules, honest! When I took a moment to listen to myself I realized that the lady really did protest too much. I balked at the fragility of my ego, that I had to allude to the novel I am writing and my graduate work in Ireland and actually say “yeah, but I am not actually a secretary.” See, I even had to include my credentials here so that my readers will realize that I am not just some hack whining about her day job!

My difficulties with position and title have plagued me for years both in the professional and existential sense. I think I am finally in the place where I can admit the tyranny of this need to prove myself and the longing for a ready-made description of who I am. Of course, being able to recognize that this brittle shell of identity I feel compelled to defend and describe is light years from my true self is only the smallest of initial steps. Still, it was epiphany enough to stop and hear my story as it spiraled from my lips and realize that the tale I was telling had nothing to do with me.

After such silence, I certainly have not begun to fulfill the mission of what this blog was meant to do, but perhaps remembering the long, arduous process of self expression is revelation enough for one evening.

On Writing and Not Writing

I’m sure I have been away from writing in this space for many reasons.  I’ve been consumed by a general need not to communicate what seems an inner process of becoming.  It was clear to me that I was focusing so much on all of the personal growth that was fit to print that I started ignoring all of the oh-so-important darker places that don’t need the spotlight of a public forum.  Also, I have been experiencing a sense of freedom, several new verandas opening in my mind, when I do not have need to wonder whether anyone read me today, understood me today, was shocked by me today.

At the same time, I have missed the near daily practice of sharing all of my epiphanies because the need to write fed my spiritual reading and meditation.  Without the need to churn out a few hundred words each night I have not necessarily been seeking ways to meet and describe the divine.  Instead, I have allowed a handful of “real world” concerns to draw my attention.  It is only becoming clear to me now that some of my struggles could be filled with a lot less, well, struggle if I could remember my ideals of surrender and belief.

Also a renewed interest in fiction has drawn me away from all of this navel gazing – I mean soul searching.  I have been invited to join a wonderful writing group and am in the process of dusting off some old stories I had left to languish just about a year ago when I found myself drawn to the quest for mysticism and mantra.  At this point, I can hope that I can unify these two loves – to find a way that spirit can enliven story, and vice versa.  Driving to the Cape last weekend I listened to this amazing lecture by Sue Monk Kidd.  It’s clear how her own spiritual quest for the divine feminine after year in traditional Christianity inform her novels.

Two other recommendations: The Maytrees by Annie Dillard (such brilliantly poetic writing to describe mid-twentieth century bohemian Provincetown) and The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong (such a compelling glimpse into the now-theologian’s journey from the convent through late 1960s Oxford).

The Reading Radicals

Over lunch, a friend and I were talking about my post from yesterday and about David Edwards’s Burning All Illusions. Though I still fear that some of his ideas are being called in from way too far out in left field, it was wonderful to share ideas with some one who also senses that there is a kind of madness lurking at the edges of our nicely constructed social reality. She and I both would identify as “conscious hypocrites” (my husband’s phrase – he certainly includes himself in this camp too); sometimes I think we tend to get carried away by the sweep of our own consciousness. But that is another matter…

Since we are both library types, we drifted to the topic of the book itself. Usually, I am an obsessive underliner who has not truly absorbed a work unless its margins are dripping with my slanted script, but this time I actually borrowed Edwards’s book from the library. I was pleased because I found I was interacting with the text in a different way by taking notes in my journal as I read. Instead of cramming my thoughts between printed paragraphs, I was able to take the time to move further into ideas and take them over several pages. My liberation from the book was enabled by the fact that Google Books has the text available online. I could mark page numbers in my notes with the confidence that I could reference the book whenever I needed – even without paying Amazon twelve or fifteen dollars for the privilege.

I was about to wax complimentary on the fact that Edwards was such a democratic soul (in the originaly sense of “democratic” that goes beyond the limping giant that currently could be called democracy) that he allowed his decade old book to be fully available online, but I just looked a little closer and realized that “limited preview” in this case means that scattered pages are missing. The first chapters seem fully available, but it seems they start leaving out bits of the punchline as you delve deeper into the work. I guess I will figure out how lucky a reader I am depending on whether the passages I found most stirring are available. At any rate, the limitations of digitization projects does not really affect what we were trying to discuss (though it may prove a lot about my ambivalence about compensating people for their work and wanting to make information available to everyone).

We talked about the ownership of books and the drive to possess knowledge if not by reading them, then at least by purchasing them. There is so much ego tied up in filling shelves with spines that reflect who we are as people, both to those who might visit our homes and to ourselves (when all seems too confusing and desperate, at least we stare at the legion of titles and contemplate all of those authors who had things figured out well enough to write it all down). In a time when we drown in paper and curse junk mail and do not even have time to keep up with the magazines that arrive like clockwork, how is it that we can justify purchasing just one more book to get us over the free shipping limit?

My friend had the idea that it is an inherent distrust in the structures of our culture to be the ideal guardians of a beloved book; she felt that there were some volumes she couldn’t leave to chance because they just meant too much to her. I agree with that need to protect an object we can love so intimately, a sacred symbol of the ideas that alter the course of lives. Also I think such behavior is a half-acknowledgment of the sense of impermanence so many of us have. But I also think it to be an interesting example of the way that our addiction to the material and to security in general becomes abundantly clear. I can become galvanized by idealistic talk of changing the way that society defines success and decry the capitalist system that allows the rich to become even more ridiculously wealthy at the expense of those who happen to speak funny languages or live in far flung lands, but I shudder at giving up a book collecting habit that can be described as nothing other than a crazy luxury (especially since, as I said, I spend Monday through Friday in a library boasting one million volumes).

This little radical heart has a lot more searching to do before it is going to convince this bibliophile to change her ways. Maybe if I do a little more reading…

(And thanks to the divine Miss M for inadvertently playing a role in tonight’s entry!)

My First Blogging Award!

E AwardThanks so very much to Gartenfische for thinking of me and honoring me with a bloggers’ Excellence Award. I means a lot coming from her because she is one of the first bloggers with whom I felt I made a connection. I would like to pass this award along to the Painter of Blue because she is other person who really made me feel welcome in this world. She is off in the warmth of the tropics, but I send it her way as a surprise to come back to.

Global Warming and The Place Between Mourning and Action

Six Degrees Could Change the WorldLast night, I declared that the thing that breaks open my heart, the thing that wakes me at three a.m. and turns my sweetly oblivious sleep toward the direction of nightmare is the spectre of global warming. A person who I love has lived his day under a bleak cloud after watching the same program on the National Geographic channel that I did last night, Six Degrees Could Change the World. I was able to tell him that such information galvanizes me at this point; I have done my mourning for the devastation that our modern lifestyle has cast upon this earth, now I am ready to act. Of course, I am realizing now that I may have just been trying to comfort him. I know that I will not finish mourning our stifling planet until I can understand what it means when the glacier at the head of the Ganges has melted and the coral reefs around Australia have all died, and how can I ever comprehend the destruction of natural wonders so vast? It is just as difficult as trying to wrap my mind around the forces that created these beauties in the first place.

The decision to really take on this issue, and make it something that I am aware of with each cup of coffee passed to me in a paper cup and with each shampoo bottle I toss into the trash when I see it is not a number 1,2,3, or 5 and the recycling center has no interest in it, will force my everyday life into a new perspective. Am I really ready for that? Can I find a solution to the 37 miles I drive alone each day on my way to and from work rather than just climb into the car guiltily each morning? Can I bear the inconvenience of keeping a plastic mug and silverware in my purse so that I can cut down on at least one cup and one plastic fork everyday? Can I find somewhere other than beneath torrents of hot water that flow from the shower head to do my best thinking?

Situations like these might lead to minor annoyances or changes in behavior; in the end I will probably reap the great immediate gains of feeling virtuous and proactive. The real problem would arise when I begin to imagine how changes I may feel compelled to make in my own life might make those around me uncomfortable or upset. George Monbiot’s 2006 book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning was the first to introduce me to the idea of “love miles” and how those are a part of the environment’s undoing. Inwardly, I “tsk, tsk” at the perpetual business travelers who circumnavigate the globe several times a year in the pursuit of universal capitalism. Monbiot tells his readers that they must accept that one of the great entitlements of western society, air travel, would need to be a thing of the past if we are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the degree he believes necessary: 90% by 2030. How do I deal with not being able to fly to see my friends in Ireland or that I might be contributing to the devastation of the Amazon if I went on an “eco-tour” there. I am still unready to think that it would be better for Galway Bay if I never went to see it again. What is even more difficult to imagine are those “love miles” that don’t seem like a vacation or a luxury but necessity like the two hour drive to see my grandfather or the four hour ride to the Cape to see my folks.

What would it mean to be of a generation that once had the entire world at its feet, but now may only have it at its fingertips, making the Internet into the only responsible way to reach out and experience the world?

Perhaps we could realize that we are actually creatures who can only truly experience the world as far as the visible horizon like David Abram talks about in The Spell of the Sensuous. Maybe his vision of local culture is not just a quaint homage to the indigenous peoples of this world; maybe their way of life is a model for our future.

And I have not even addressed the idea of action. I am certainly not finished mourning yet.

What We Might Discover in the Heavens

Discovery of HeavenFor the past few weeks I have been making my way through a dear friend’s favorite book, Harry Mulisch’s sprawling novel The Discovery of Heaven. I have been away from my little world of epiphanies mainly because I have been so deeply immersed in sorting out the truly personal; it has seemed impossible to pull such insights into the broader context of these public pages. This hefty volume of fiction may also be partly to blame for my silence, however.

So much of the inspiration for this blog comes from the various spiritual texts that I have been exploring. For months I have neglected reading and writing fiction almost entirely, nourished by narratives that seemed to describe the plot of the entire world. Characters and a storyline seemed too constrictive, and, dare I say it, unnecessary. Then I read a book like this, so full of philosophy and Big Ideas (with an extra large capital “B” and a really big “I”) that I know I cannot possibly be absorbing it all, seeing as I am distracted by the lives of a handful of Dutch intellectuals living through the legacy of Hitler and countless other dramas of modernity. I am mute in the face of all that this book achieves, generally unable to add more words to the tapestry Mulisch has created.

I struggle with some aspects of this novel: its hyperintellectual acrobatics (conversations between an astronomer and a linguist? oh my) and a sexism so pervasive that you barely even notice the cloud it casts. (Oh, wait, that’s just reality of their world that I can ignore, right? For now I reserve commentary on how applicable that description may be to this world.) At the same time, I cannot help but be entranced by a story that is framed by two angels discussing the ways they manipulate the creation of humankind – what accidents of history became necessary so they could bring certain individuals to life at exactly the right time in accordance with “the Chief’s” plan. In a time when religion and science clash over the origins of this universe a book about Heaven’s indignation at the earthly power of science seems more than timely.

One idea that has really struck me is steeped in much more astrophysics that I could possibly understand or do justice, but I must try. Muslisch take us to a complex series of telescopes have been built on the grounds of was once a camp that held Jews before they were transported to Germany. The inordinately wise and sensitive boy named Quintin states:

Max once told me that we see the stars as they used to be. So on the stars they see the earth as it used to be. If the people on a star that is forty light years away from here look at us with a very powerful telescope, then they must be seeing what happened here forty years ago, mustn’t they?

I am not sure how well this quotation encapsulates what it is much longer conversation, but what I hope to convey is way that his question touches on the simultaneous nature of time. Every moment that has ever been lives on in a constant journey deeper and deeper in space. The earth is surrounded by concentric rings of history. All events exist into infinity. Nothing that has happened ever truly disappears if one stands at a certain perspective far away from this world. Isn’t that exactly where we have placed God for so long?

In some ways this makes me shiver, to realize that every heinous aspect of humanity and each shame filled moment of my life I’d love to forget still reverberate through the cosmos. At the same time, however, anything that still echoes through creation like that might yet be able to be redeemed. Perhaps this is a great argument for forgiveness and that nothing cannot somehow, eventually be transformed by love?

Journeying Under the Cloak of Epiphany

As one might expect, my blog has been coming up on a lot of people’s Google searches and the like since today is the Feast of the Epiphany. I hope that a few people were not disappointed to find that my sorts of epiphanies include Rumi and Irish poetry and talk of global warming and will venture back here even after January 6. Truth be told, my knowledge of this date on the Christian calendar is limited to my Nanna’s tradition of giving us a little gift and taking down the tree on this day.

I wished that this day upon which Christians celebrate the revelation of the one they considered to be infant savior to the Magi, Christ’s baptism, as well Jesus’s first miracle when he turned water to wine at the wedding in Cana seemed to offer more epiphanies to me. On this day at home we were taken with dogsitting for my folks’ wonderful fool of a black lab, Saoirse, and with discussing the shape of our lives in the year(s) to come. Undoubtedly we were planting seeds for eventual bursts of wisdom, but it seemed to simply be a day of snow melt and the sense of standing at the beginning – or perhaps the middle – of a great transitional state.

* * *

In the last moments of daylight I took the dog for a walk, the sense of feeling largely bereft of epiphanies heavy my mind. Instantly I was grateful for the excuse to walk the soft snow in the gloaming, the path glowing white through the gathering gloom. It was yet another moment of deep recollection, the glory there is to be found when disconnected from flickering screens and long lines of words, the uncharted space in my head beyond recorded language that longs to be explored. A body kept bound by obligation and injury and forbidding weather remembered what it was to move, to feel an expansion across her shoulders, an opening of her heart from an unexpected place in the middle of her back.

The sky was neither iron nor pewter – none of those usual winter words to describe these dense clouds that seemed to glow from a place deep within as the snow reflected back the last of the dying light. It was infinitely softer, a sweeter canopy over this temporary thaw. The first image that occurred to me was that the world was lying beneath a great wizard’s cloak – a magical garment made of sun and snow and atmosphere in silver and gray that hinted at blues and pinks and a place beyond color. Then I recalled that there are in fact three wizards abroad this day: the three magicians, the Wise Men of the east who were said to have followed a star that must have glinted like an even more mysterious prism than this northern evening ever could.

After toying with whispers of despair as I felt this day to be devoid of concrete promise, lacking the sort of thoughts and realizations worth committing to a page, it seemed that hope refused to be denied. A day about which I assumed I knew so little, whose name I have used so liberally revealed itself to me in a symbol that enveloped my entire world. I am left to understand the constant, universal journey toward Epiphany.