Kitchen Table Revolution, Interrupted

On Friday, my Mom and I spent the day in the kitchen talking about a revolution.  Well, we were talking about the state of the world, daring to broach our  fears about countless taboo topics.

What happens when we all find out that Al Gore has been right?  What happens when people really start to run out of water?  How many links in the chain have to break before our global network of food distribution?  How many days of product are in an average supermarket?  For a proud liberal, why do I have a funny perspective on guns that I don’t talk about much?  In what part of the psyche and the spirit should stories like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest reside?

Ach, Marisa!  What are you doing to your dear readers on a Monday morning?  The sun isn’t even up yet and with gloomy thoughts like this you are practically daring it not to rise!

Fear not, if you are anything like Mom and me you will plunge into your seas of worry and dredge up all of your 3 a.m. thoughts even though it is the middle of the day.  But then you’ll get up for another cup of tea and the phone will ring and you’ll pay the cable bill or head to the dentist and you’ll pretty much forget this little dip into the nastiest recesses of your “what if…?” consciousness.

Of course, we all do this.  I, for one, have no idea how I would get through each day, full of all sorts of mundane beauty and banal ugliness, if I was truly tuned into my concerns about the state of our collective future.  It is pretty much impossible to fully enjoy an infant’s laugh if you allow yourself to focus on all the evils that might endanger it.

And so we engage in these impassioned discussions and stir up the sediment that our modern, Western, wasteful lives have created in the riverbeds of our awareness and then we start making dinner.  The conversation I had with my mom was so amazing and touched on so many important topics, it had me wanting to take meeting minutes.  But, I had my hands full with the baby when I was not clearing up the endless piles of clutter and I never got around to writing til right this Monday morning minute.

If I had had the chance to play scribe and record the litany of ills and the faint glimmers of solution would we be any closer to solving any of the world’s problems?  The tragedy of the whole conversation was that, as much as we were both so invigorated to trade ideas mother to daughter and back again and to flow along in the tides of conversation, we really felt pretty powerless.  Talking about Washington’s party politics and the conservative pundits’ maniacal desire to debase our president’s every action and motive left us rather deflated.  We were saved by a gently shaken snow globe of a January day  and by an infant just discovering her voice.  A baby who has not yet had to worry about the lies that the media propagates and the impossible search for truth.

We are not powerless, of course.  We have the loving bonds that allow us to dive deep and surface together.  It is as true that enough of these conversation will change the world as it is necessary to believe that they can.

Recovering Buried Mythologies

Some of the sage advice that my most exquisite energy healer offered when I visited her in the midst of my 10 day long battle with depleted energy and sinking spirits was quite simple:

Just relax. No stress. No contemplating. No conscious creating. Just watch the equivalent of Oprah and seek out as many comedies as possible. You need to laugh.

peneloperococo_hcI tried really hard to comply. I watched a lovely fairy tale of a movie, Penelope, that was full of eye candy and clever enough allegory. I began reading a book called Rococo and am loving my time with an interior decorator from New Jersey who’s transforming his childhood church. Each reminded me of aspects of my own story, but neither demanded that I deconstruct my reactions or analyze their greater significance.

But I couldn’t turn off my brain completely. I was drawn under the spell of a novel that was far from funny and couldn’t be construed as light. It drew me into the shadows of my past. Not necessarily into black, frightening corners, but more to the mesmerizing shapes that fill the walls of a firelit room.

For all that I wrote a college entrance essay in which I declared my ambition to be a “professional Irish person” (oh, it was cheesy, but it got me in!) and have a couple of degrees in the literature from that little country, I have sort of lost track of that passion. I ignored much of the rest of the world’s wisdom as I immersed myself in the hills and the fog of a small corner of the world. To make up for lost time, I since dedicated myself to a whole globe of knowledge and have largely forgotten about Ireland.

confessionsbigMostly, I picked up Confessions of a Pagan Nun because I felt I owed it to my seventeen year-old self to read a book about a druid who comes to live in an early Christian community dedicated to tending the flame of Goddess/Saint Brigid. A “translation” of a (fictional) newly discovered 6th century manuscript? I cringed at how painful it might be to observe a modern novelist mix English and Irish, Christians and Druids. The part of me that longs to love fantasy but knows my literary snob is much too outspoken figured that Kate Horsley’s book would be a brief experiment that would send me back to the bookshelves as soon as I had the strength to get off the couch. (By the way, oh those lovers of fantasy, I welcome a comments section full of well-written recommendations from that genre!)

It was beautifully crafted and compelling and reminded me that though it may be a time to “put away childish things,” there is also a lot of wisdom to be found and a great many new discoveries to be made if I look back at passions from half a lifetime ago.

Myths are something that inform our lives in everything from collective memory to vernacular expression and metaphor. We are generally unaware that myth lurks at the edges, coloring societies and individuals. A past, back to the age of “once upon a time” or as recent as Kennedy’s Camelot, always haunts and enlivens us.

A delicious bit from Kate Horsley’s Confessions of a Pagan Nun that most appeals to my look back upon the stuff of my own founding mythologies:

I began to accept the limitations of my life and the alteration of my aspirations, an acceptance that younger women consider weakness and surrender. But I found the limitations I accepted, as youth and its dreams fell away, composed a narrow and secret passage leading to an expanse of space and liberation I have not realized existed. I began to prefer peaceful surrender to noble battle, for in peace is and internal freedom one never has in war, though sometimes warring is essential for external freedom.

A Sacred Way of Acknowledging Each Other

‘The way you bowed to each other. Every time he handed you something, or you handed something back to him. I know that was part of the Church ritual, too, but I was lying awake last night think about it in a different way. I was thinking, maybe couples ought to have little rituals like that, where they bow to each other. Maybe once at the beginning of the day and once at the end. Maybe at other times, too. As a way of acknowledging each other – oh, I don’t know, that there really is a sacred aspect of what they’re trying to do with each other.’

Gail Godwin, Evensong

dsc00116This novel, the continuing story of a preacher’s daughter who becomes an Anglican priest herself and marries another man of the cloth, offers this comment by a character who watches the couple offering a mass together.

What should be more sacred than the bond one has the partner she has chosen for life? What other relationship or situation should lend itself to the creation of ritual in such a way?

Except most of us are not married or devoted to a fellow member of the clergy. For most of us, faith is not both vocation and avocation. I have always found that balance in which both partners share the same sort of passion for the Divine to be more than elusive.

big_loveRight now, my husband I am more than a little obsessed with Big Love, the incredibly well done HBO show about a “mainstream” polygamous family. Theoretically, their shared faith is so fervent and irresistible that it inspires them to walk against the tides of law and society. (Of course, if it were that simple the show wouldn’t be so addictive and compelling…)

I operate outside of the bounds of a specific religion, as does my husband. He knew that “spirituality” was important to me when we first met, and I knew that he was cool with that. Over the years my sort of amorphous pining for the Goddess has taken more deliberate shape and we have had more conversations about the role of a Higher Power, but in certain ways, the arrangement is still the same. My own journey has progressed and my Love is always there by the side of any road I choose to travel.

Because I have never committed my adult life to a specific religious, where I assumed it is much easier to find a like minded soul who is interested in approaching God in a similar way, I have sort of resigned myself to a rather solitary path marked by my partner’s interest, but not necessarily his participation. There are so many other things that I get from our marriage. Plus, it makes sense to me that I am engaged in an individual relationship with Spirit.

But this section from Godwin’s novel offers a couple an alternative to some formal, or even informal, worship of God.

Modern books on the Goddess and feminine spirituality so often seem to offer a chapter or two on sacred love making and blessing one’s union. They always seemed like the dreams of women whose lovers would always hold their witchy dabbling at arms length. In the same way, books on Eastern paths that talk about Tantra as the ultimate union between male and female (with little answer for same sex couples) as some distant ideal crafted by the sorts of people I could never imagine my husband and I to be.

But it could be made more simple, to keep it within a place of safety and comfort for all involved. What would it be to simply acknowledge the other, to take it above the sweet, but perhaps mundane level of making dinner breakfast together and cuddling on the couch for another few episodes of a mutually enjoyed tv show?

There is something delicious and necessary about finding the sacred in the every day. But isn’t there a way to plant the sacred in that every day experience so we do not have to overturn so many humdrum stones to find it?

But it can be a great bridge to cross – allowing one’s private passion for God to permeate a relationship in more overt ways (a true spirituality will always be inflecting a relationship in beautifully subtle ways). Perhaps on this day that has been forced to represent love by countless flower shops and candy companies there is room to introduce the equivalent of a sacred bow to recognize the wonder of love’s power.

How will you do it?

I Am the Author of My Own Perspective

endofmryLast week, during a snow day’s inspired bout of housecleaning, I found myself thinking back to an unusual and unforgettable book I read a couple of years ago, The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas. It’s a novel about consciousness and thought experiments and features a white mouse and lots of soggy french fries. You are never quite allowed to forget that the protagonist is a vegan, and her lingering fears of malnutrition preoccupy her thoughts as she endures poverty and a life on the run.

The author is an outspoken vegan herself, so it seems natural that her heroine would share her dietary ethics. I am sure that many writers paint their own essences into the characters they need to spend the most time with or whom they wish to love most. I know that I have trouble imagining I could really get inside the mind of a fictional person who was not a redhead (ok, I am trying to get beyond that!).

Knowing that writers populate their stories with individuals whose every action and thought is colored by their own creative drive, I realize how much I inflect the way I tell the story of my own life. By “telling the story of my life” I do not just mean the way that I filter things to write about them in this space, but the way that I let my internal narrator describe the events of the day as they happen and as they get stored in memory.

We all sit behind our eyes and interpret the events before us. I think that is inescapable and a potentially delicious part of being human. Still, in the same way there are Booker Prize winning novelists and lousy copy writers, there are also ways to be a brilliant commentator on your life and ways to be a hack journalist.

unicorn-2I have been finding myself spinning through some “he said/she said” conversational recaps of late, both parties realizing that neither is exactly sure what was said. Perspective is like the unicorn you dream might lurk in the corner of the room. A mythical entity that you really, really want to believe in, even if you secretly fear might just be a figment of the imagination.

I know that practice and dedication can make me a better writer and I know that awareness and compassion can make me a better witness to the events of my life as they pass before my always calculating eyes. Sure, there are spiritual schools out there that teach the bliss of detachment, and maybe someday I will be seeking that sort of release from the dictates of my own roving consciousness. For now, I am going to relax into the knowledge that I am in this world, and, in many ways, of this world. I just have to learn to look upon it with the wisest and kind gaze I can.

How can the day glow more brightly if I realize I am the one has the power to clean her glasses and increase the quality of the behind the scenes commentary?

Just… Listen, cried the black cat to woman with the madness in her eye

dsc01603

Still allowing myself to be pulled in a million different directions as I try to balance my writerly instincts and my healer’s imperative and rollercoaster of marriage and our economic worries, I am feeling anything but aligned right now (my chosen theme of 2009). Priorities will have to shift and I will have to let some things fall away – at least for a little while.

In hopes of finding some guidance, I let my body unfurl in a few precious minutes of stretching this morning and then lit some candles and settled onto the meditation cushion. (My folks’ dog is back roaming her Cape Cod beaches, so I can finally set a pre-work rhythm for myself.)

And so I called in guides and conjured up prayers and let the mantra begin to flow. I was beginning to feel something. Those elusive fingers of the divine were wrapping themselves around my all too distracted soul.

But I just kept chasing after God, distracted by the caterwaul of a black kitty on the other side of the glass door. With no dog to harass, she was again 100% interested in human companionship. For several minutes she wailed and then she unsheathed those claws and let them sink luxuriously into the fresh white trim of the door frame.

From a place deeper than my fragile meditative state, a voice burst from my belly: SHUT UP!

I swear the angel on my altar looked at me with reproach for bringing that sort of aggression to what is meant to be sacred space. And so I grumbled as I stalked across the room to let the plaintive creature into my cozy lair.

Purring louder than my heavy footsteps, Banshee (aptly named, yes?) danced over to the candles and seemed to warm her heart shaped face in their light. When I sat down she wrapped herself around my hands and climbed gently to nestle her head in my neck.

“Cats are the Mother with fur,” spiritual teacher and writer Andrew Harvey once said. I am more than a little inclined to believe him. Here I was, forcing myself upon the sacred, demanding guidance and solace, dictating that solitary silence was the way to get there.  And there was Banshee, teaching me that I am not the one in control.

Again I am reminded that my spirit guides are not figments of an over-active imagination. They are breathing and purring and meowing beside me all the time. “Listen to me!” Banshee was calling. In all of this frantic madness to produce more and manifest more, I am seeking so desperately for clues and trampling every heaven sent sign in the process.

“Listen!” the little cat said, as she reminded me that she too is a child of the Goddess. Listen, she reminds me. Stop straining for that radio station just out of range. Stop and listen and realize the truest tune is what you’re calling interference.

A Word I Never Thought I’d Like to Define: Sin

“People have so many definitions of sin,” I said. “Do you have one?”

He looked surprised but not offended. He fitted the tips of his fingers together and gazed briefly upwards into the newly leafed branches of the old sugar maple. “A falling short from your totality,” he said. “Choosing to live in ways you know interfere with the harmony of that totality.”

[…]

“But… how do you know what your totality is?”

“You learn. You unlearn. You pay attention. You feel where things balance for you and where they don’t.”

“Oh.”

Gail Godwin, Father Melancholy’s Daughter

picture-108_2You know those books that make you fall in love with fiction and pleasure you into realizing that we do need stories and that novels really can capture and change lives? Gail Godwin’s Father Melancholy’s Daughter was just that sort of novel for me this new year’s week. As I bandy about this new relationship with the Christianity of my childhood, this story of an Anglican rector and his daughter and their frequent conversations about the mystics and the nature of God and the soul was essential reading.

There were so many passages that could have lead to pages of journal entries and much frustration that this was a library book that had to stay safe from my frantic readers’ pen.

This young priest’s description of sin really is an “oh” moment. One of those explanations full of beautifully related words that equal an idea that is at once completely elegant and totally obscure. You just want to sit and unpack it and take as much time as your hectic life allows to really understand what totality and harmony and balance falling short could possibly mean.

I think one reason this exchange seems so foreign and so beautiful is that I never connected “sin,” that foreign word from a long ago recited Act of Contrition, with words that are so universal and abundant.

My thoughts and my meditations used to be nothing but a kaleidoscope of my partial understandings of the religions of the world with healthy doses of an un-mediated worship of Mother Earth thrown in. To realize that aspects of the tradition I once rejected can be described in terms of an individual’s totality and a search for harmony again shows me that all paths lead to a single center, a single Spirit that unites all the Universe.

picture-103I don’t know that I have ever formulated my own definition of sin. Have you? There always seemed to be so many positive things that demanded well thought meaning, that I never thought to have time for the bad stuff. Maybe my search for a personal definition has ended before it even began…

“A falling short from your totality.”

Oh. Yes.

Setting My Own Theological Table

As I tumbled through the last half of Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, I simply couldn’t believe that I was finding the book to be so compelling. Was I really enjoying and recommending a novel about Jesus written by the Vampire lady?

Had I become so confused as a reader and a seeker that I totally forgot my literary and spiritual convictions?

For those who have only gotten to know me recently through these online epiphanies, it may be easy to shake your heads and declare that the lady doth protest too much. She should stop marveling over her newfound appreciation for Christianity and just, well, appreciate it!bk-christthelord

For those of you who know me offline, you may be wondering what new sparkly has got my attention this time and inquire what the next spiritual tangent might be. That is for those who have already wrapped their heads around the idea that I am pretty taken by whole spiritual quest thing, of course.

As bizarre as it seems to me that I should devour this book, an even more dramatic twist in the road of life must have brought Anne Rice to write this series about Christ. The Catholic school girl turned long time atheist who gave us the vampire that would be brought to the big screen by a blond, fanged Tom Cruise? Yeah, I guess Rice’s journey is probably more unusual than that of a young woman whose search for connection and identity brought her in a few meandering circles.

One reason I am not only fascinated by Christianity itself, but am also fascinated by my own fascination is that I never thought I would get to this place. This personal journey and the desire to discuss it publicly is all so contrary to my days of unabashed witchery and rejection, heresy and petulance. In many ways, I fear my attraction to the 2000 year old stories that have grown into the religious organizations I still hold at arms’ length. I worry about what it means to watch my rebel’s resolve fade away.

Of course, making peace with Christianity is it own kind of rebellion for me. I dash the expectations of those I met in Samhain circles (and trust that they will love me anyway). I confound the family who had resigned themselves to the Pagan in their midst and probably set them wondering if we will finally have our marriage blessed by the Church (no!).

If I am really willing to embrace what I worked so hard to deny even as I worked toward my diploma at a Jesuit university, what else is shifting in my life? Suddenly I realize the foundations that I thought I would build my life upon are much less permanent than I thought. Of course, it may just be part of growing up – realizing at 29 that you would never wish to be the person that the 19 year old version of yourself expected to become.

I am finding comfort in this state of flux, however. The pendulum will swing again.

I will find a place for Mary and for Christ at my own eclectic theological table.

tugboat printshop, everystockphoto.com
tugboat printshop, everystockphoto.com

The table will be set under a great beech tree and we will break (gluten free) bread after saying prayers in Arabic and Sanskrit. There will be rosaries and malas and yoga and herbal tea. There will be readings of Rumi and Teresa and Ramakrishna. We’ll celebrate Christmas and Imbolc and learn about holidays I haven’t even found on the calendar yet.

There will be connection and communion and dancing, dancing ever onward toward the One Light.

Who would you invite to your own spiritual table?