How To Be a Goddess

So, here’s a little pagan scented blasphemy for this Feast of Epiphany…

According to the Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. The word “epiphany” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” Before Christianity, the word was used to record occasions when Greek gods and goddesses made appearances on earth.

Want a surefire, foolproof, 100% guaranteed way to be recognized as an incarnated deity?  Follow these steps:

Be born a woman.
Make love at your most fertile moment.
Act as a hospitable vessel for nine glorious months.
Love the little creature that you have created with all your body, heart, and soul.
Leave aforementioned Angel Baby with a loving grandmother after she has been lavished with two and a half months of dedicated maternal attachment parenting.
Return within four hours to a child with eyelids slightly purpled and swollen from much weeping.
Hold her in your arms and offer her that sweetest mother’s milk.
When this child falls back in a delighted coma of sleepiest nourishment, witness the expression on her flushed face.

Realize that in this moment you will never be gazed upon with such devotion again unless you repeat all of the steps above.

On this Epiphany Day, I was a goddess at lunchtime.  When the work day finished, I again burst upon the scene, a brilliant epiphany to behold.  Tomorrow, the cycle shall repeat.  For now, it is almost enough comfort to get me through these hours mother and child are apart…

Advertisements

On a Scale of One to Ten – Thirty

Pam Snow/Canadian Press)
Pam Snow/Canadian Press)

This has not been a winter to speak aloud.

My words have frozen in my throat or in the pages of my private books and rarely been able to cross the ice to the outer world.  I know that sound carries best over open water.  It seems that those waters have to be flowing freely, not suspended in a bitter February’s thoughtfulness.

Wait, I misspeak.  It is not I that is bitter, but the weather.  And even then, I am spinning frigid tales and  manipulating them for my own rhetoric.  The view from my front window offers grass like straw and sad heaps of forgotten leaves with only the occasional sad mountain of snow.  We expect flurries throughout the weekend – it’s still winter after all – but she has let her white cloak slip low enough to prove that not even the ice can last forever.

I spoke of returning the other day.  Returning is a long and careful process.  It can mean the traveler is still a great distance from home.

When my healer experiences great spiritual shifts she talks about all the internal furniture being rearranged. I still live in a new house that is short on chairs and couches, so I’ll stick to the images of the landscape – the view is always free even if we can’t yet afford new bookshelves. 

My inner landscape has been reformed during a 10 days of sickness and soul searching. I’ve watched new river valleys form and have shored up my retaining walls.  I have repaved a concrete wasteland with a rainbow of precious stones.

I only weep a little at the changes being wrought, the unfamiliar, though beautiful, territory being forged within.  A new home is a great milestone, but one that is surely accompanied by mourning for all that was.  New houses also mean a great many stubbed toes when one needs a glass of water in the middle of the night.

So I am rejoicing in my new caverns of joy and testing the echoes against my new interior walls.  But I am still receiving snippets of news reports about the maelstrom out there that seems to have nothing to do with this inner transformation or the February sunshine beyond the shadows of my front porch.

I am still a creature of this world for all that I have spent the better part of two weeks diving in my own ocean.  I realize that I am caught in this web of shift and discomfort and even chaos that has caught hold of our societies.

In the midst of all this tumult, there was the voice of a man from Canada who spoke with the disjointed music of Scotland and the mid-west and the southern Maritimes that I know so well.  Give yourself a couple of minutes to listen to the story of five men in Seal Cove, Newfoundland who saved a pod of dolphins trapped in the thickening ice of their harbor.  Listen to his harmonies and his tale and think about what you might do that would lead you to reply “Oh, on scale of one to ten, thirty” when someone asked you how you feel.

There are parts of me feel like I am at a thirty, and there are bits of me that feel too lost in the flux of the soul to take stock and realize this journey is all about elation.  But, as I continue this process of returning I think I have found one more guidepost of inspiration that will help me redefine my internal measurement of all that is good.

Frugality Is Not a Crime

German chapel ornament

When you have to do it, belt-tightening’s no joke. But, gladly, most Americans don’t have to — not even in this economy. […]

If you’re blessed with good fortune in these hard times, you’re not helping anyone if you let frugality chic stop you and yours from having a very Merry Christmas indeed.

I nearly choked on my soy milk when I heard this commentary on Marketplace this morning. It’s yet another story about how resisting the urge to spend as much as possible this Christmas makes you worse than Scrooge – it makes you the scourge of capitalism and the American way of life.

I make no claims about having much knowledge of the economy. Nearly all of my news comes from NPR, and I know that’s not like being a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the commentator, Will Wilkinson, is exactly right and austerity is one of the factors that makes an already shaky economy begin to look even worse.

My issue is not with this interpretation of the the law of supply and demand, it is that we are stuck in a system that can only be salvaged if we acquire more stuff.

Wasn’t it greed that got us into this problem in the first place? How can buying more Gap sweaters in bizarre colors just because they are on sale and your sweetie should have a few more boxes to open make the world any more livable?

Change is a scary thing. Realizing that the global economic structures are being turned upside down and may never look the same again is frightening. Trying to imagine what might come after U.S. domination seems unfathomable for most of us in these fifty states.

Clinging to the very structures that have been proven to betray us is not helping matters. Continuing to shop like everything is normal isn’t the soothing balm the ad campaigns and the radio experts are trying to convince us it is.

detail of our treeWhat if we are choosing to buy less and handcraft more? What if it just makes sense to give to charity instead of purchase a book that your uncle will never give himself time to read? What if this down economy, even if you are yet unscathed, is just the reason you were looking for to ditch materialism and show your family you love them by giving them less clutter, not more?

I cannot believe that this financial crisis is just a fluke of the markets. With all of the internal shifts that are forcing people to look at their lives in entirely new ways, we need our relationship with money and consumerism to be transformed as well.

Our souls need room to breathe. Wouldn’t there be a lot more time to figure out how to do that if we spent less time in the mall and less time dusting our new trinkets?

Our earth needs room to breathe. Won’t easing the yearly December burden of delivery trucks and crowded landfills and depleted resources be the greatest gift you could give to your Mother this holiday?

The Exploitation of Mining for Inspiration

During a long ride this weekend I came across a new Public Radio International program, To the Best of Our Knowledge. They were doing an entire show about sadness and depression. The final segment was dedicated to a San Antonio artist, Michale Nye, who created photographic and audio portraits of sixty homeless individuals troubled by mental illness.

After profiling many of his subjects, the interviewer asked “If you could wipe out mental illness tomorrow would you? … Is there a function for this sort of sadness and pain? Do we need these people in our culture?”

He replied,

I see them as teachers, not as people with mental illness. They are helping us, there is a function. They are helping us understand more about ourselves and humanity. We need them for understanding, for insight, for courage. I found myself being inspired over and over. We need to listen to people challenged in their lives. I remember Virginia Woolf in her diaries said that we need to look at the landscapes of our lives and see that pain and sorrow reveal some truths.

Since Woolf published the descriptions of her suffering and they became part of the literary canon, it seems completely ethical to draw those sorts of lessons from the difficulties she had with being human. I am not so sure that it is fair to speak from a place of mental health and say that people’s whose lives have been ripped apart by unstoppable inner turmoil are necessary to teach the rest of us courage and offer inspiration. Isn’t this the height of solipsism, of deepest egocentrism that maintains that the rest of the world exists purely for our own edification?  Is the artist seeing his subjects as inspirational opportunities rather than real people caught in tragic circumstances?  Is their suffering being justified since it can be made into a chance for us to contemplate the nature of pain and sorrow?

I listened to this story through the filter of a conversation I had with my sister last week. I was trying to comfort her as her childhood friend lay dying of melanoma, but I was failing miserably since there are no words when a twenty-six year old’s life is being stolen away by cancer. Trying to help, I offered the possibility that she had touched countless lives in a special way with her early passing by teaching us life can be woefully brief and that we must revel in each moment we are granted on this beautiful earth. My sister reacted bitterly to this statement by declaring that there was no way that her friend was dying to show a bunch of stupid people that life was precious. She was finding solace in the belief that her friend was blessed to have spread all the love she needed to in a quarter of a decade, that she was a perfect enough soul that she didn’t need as much time on the planet as the rest of us.

Clearly, my sister was looking at the situation with a much finer wisdom than I could summon. Now, I am beginning to recognize the degrees of selfishness that are involved in everything from coping with death to creating art to thanking our lucky stars that we have clear, obedient minds. The stories of others can certainly color our perspective and enrich our own experiences, but we must never reduce another’s truth to a simplistic cautionary tale.

How can we learn to understand the deepest realities of the lives of the women and men who share this journey with us? How do we begin to recognize the fullness of others’ experiences so that we never keep those who suffer from illness or poverty as distanced figures, there only to teach a little something about the treacherous road of life?

My sister’s friend passed away on Thursday. I want to remind everyone to worship the sun at dawn and dusk, but respect its fiery, deadly glory at noontime. But I also ask that you think on a sweet Cape Cod girl who left this world too soon and realize the hole left in the fabric of an entire tapestry of lives.

Hope In the Glare of Oncoming Headlights

Driving home from work last night I was listening to NPR, as usual. As All Things Considered drew to a close, they offered a commentary by a Steve Bouser about a turtle who perished in an ill considered bid to cross four lanes of traffic.

At the end of this momentous week, I was expecting inspiring homages to how much America had grown and how we all had been a part of history (well, at least the 52.3% who voted for Obama). Instead, here was a guy describing the cruel but banal death of a tortoise. He extended his metaphor to the madness of human “progress” that so often happens at the expense of other species and he closed with:

Turtles have been around for 200 million years, since before there were dinosaurs. And I’ll bet they’ll still be plodding on their way long after we humans have progressed to what sometimes seems a well-deserved extinction.

What? We take a bold step our of fear into a new vision of hope and we end up with the consolation of reptilian road kill and our inevitable, self-constructed doom?

Actually, there are times I agree with this rather dim view of the human endeavor. If we continue to pave over paradise and choke the air with the byproducts of our easy credit lifestyles, then a planet that refuses to support mammalian life might be just punishment.

How’s that for hope? I recognize that this intense frustration with the oblivious hedonism and narcissism of the developed world does not exactly harmonize with the spirited optimism I often share in this space. Both are vital aspects of who I am, however, and I think it is just this dissatisfaction with much of the world that drives me to write and to project whatever positive energy I can scratch together at the end of each day.

I think this NPR commentator and I are coming from a similar place, as much as I might refuse to end any of my own pieces with such a damning last sentence. He did try to save the poor little creature and is undoubtedly sharing his reflections in order to make others think about our relentless war with nature. There are enough of us who recognize that we are wreaking havoc on the globe that we must speak up and act to change it all.

Focusing on my immediate reaction to this story, I was paying little attention to the the winding road ahead of me. A black and white cat appeared, illuminated by the relentless glow of my approaching headlights. She stopped and I swear our eyes locked for a fraction of a moment. I screamed, thinking of a series of childhood cats who looked so much like her, all of whom had probably met the same fate on a dark road on a cold night.

This feline’s story would not end like the turtle’s, however. She would scamper into the bushes and my heartbeat would slow and at least one four legged creature would prove wilier than a four wheeled machine. And so I will interpret her escape as that ray of hope, that belief that there is still time to dodge the oncoming traffic of our own undoing.

Upon Hearing a Conversation Spiced with Hope

It’s funny how shreds of the past come to mind in a new light now that I am allowing myself to recognize the central place the question of planet’s future has in my life. On Saturday while I was making dinner I listened to a Speaking of Faith episode called “Discovering Where We Live: Reimagining Environmentalism.” At the time, I gave it as much mind as I could as I tried to wrap my head around making spaghetti alla carbonara (both because it was one of my husband’s favorite dishes and I wanted to make it perfect, and because I was frying pork and readying myself to eat it – me, vegetarian who??).

The person whose accomplishments and experiences stick with me now is Majora Carter, a native of the of the South Bronx who returned to her neighborhood after studying art in college and, to her own surprise, ended up taking on the environmental issues that detracted the lifestyle of all those who lived in her part of the city. How could I have listened to this story just a few days ago and been largely unmoved? How could I be filled with anything other than stop-in-the-middle-of-the-kitchen-with-my-jaw-open awe when I heard about this unlikely shifter and creator of local culture and landscape? Now that I am staring at this problem as vast as the atmosphere of the earth and all of the oceans combined, I am desperate to find proof that we can make some of difference. It seems that I have more shining examples than I have the ability to recognize. I just may be time to open my ears and eyes wider so I can recognize the radiant hope that humanity still has the power to generate.

Check it out at: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/discoveringwherewelive/index.shtml