Rough Beauty

Primary Colors © Julia Haris

This week’s entry:

 

From: Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life
by Frederic Brussat, Mary Ann Brussat, Thomas Moore (Foreword)

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The Westeros Edition

“I am no ordinary woman. My dreams come true.”

— Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and

Mother of Dragons

 

I envy those who have not yet watched Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined), and I envy those who have not yet read One Hundred Years Of Solitude.

Both are sweeping epics of high mythology coupled to master storytelling.  To allow a great story to embrace and penetrate you is to lose yourself to larger realities. It is to enter the perennial, irreconcilable themes of good and evil, the misery and atonement of our human frailty, and to participate in the collective DNA written wisdom found in first-rate storytelling’s grand themes.

One thing that great myths-as-stories do is take the story wheel and fashion it in new, unexpected ways, and with unpredictable results.  Battlestar Galactica and One Hundred Years of Solitude weave stunning mythologies of character, religion, and cosmology in novel, inventive ways. In One Hundred Years, poetry and metaphor permeate every history as myth element; in BSG sci-fi’s small screen imaginative limits blow wide open.

Both works have knock-your-socks-off, breathtaking endings.

Some people love these brilliant if unexpected endings, some people hate them. Howard Stern loudly hated the ending of Battlestar Galactica. I suspect he was too literal about the storyline, and he wanted some things clearly answered. (His biggest gripe was about Starbuck, which tells me he missed the point.)

Grand mythic cosmologies require an appreciation for ambiguity and the irresolvable; some cannot tolerate their stories without clean seams. They need distinct lines drawn from point A to point B. Others not only love the empty space between A and B, they think that’s what makes the story magical, memorable, compelling, unforgettable, repeatable, enviable.

It’s in the space of the unknown that one “leaps beyond” what can be known. This leap is what these big stories invite: embracing those things that keep us searching, questioning, creating, the things that will always elude our grasp.

To enter worlds like Battlestar Galactica or One Hundred Years Of Solitude for the first time is like falling in love: in those narrative moments, you want to be nowhere but in that world, you want to be only with those characters, and you yearn to see what the next chapter or installment brings

[BSG spoiler follows below. Scroll down to the asterisk break to avoid.]

I stumbled on Battlestar Galactica well after it originally aired. I remember even in the early episodes it had an odd personal resonance, a resonance that soon became clearer. My life in Cambridge was dissolving; everything was falling apart on every front.  It’s as though my life and Galactica’s were connected, we were both coming undone, and we were both looking for a home.

Starbuck became a metaphor for my survival.

She died.  I died.  She resurrected then completed her mission.

I believed that I could, at the very least, resurrect yet one more time.

“Just trust yourself. . . There must be some kind of way out of here.”

And BSG has incredible music by Bear McCreary that along with brilliant editing ties film, story, acting, and special effects together in superlative ways.

Music, story, character, cosmology — all these came together for me in a creative, empowering, dare I write, redemptive Big Bang.

***

Sunday night, another epic begins its finale, Game Of Thrones season 8 episode 1 airs.

I’ve not read any of Martin’s books. My reading list is a century-long, and my time is filled with enough. I’m content to guiltlessly sink into HBO’s Westeros reality.

What an adventure it’s been.

For those of us besotted of high Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Game Of Thrones has been a bloody, incestuous mythic joy-ride.

“Hold-the-door” is now a metaphorical reference in my repertoire, and I think it is a perfect metaphor in the era of 45, even if the reference is only understood by the GOT faithful.

“Hold-the-door,” one of the small screen’s greatest moments, no exaggeration.

It’s bittersweet knowing that Westeros’ history will end, soon. Within the next couple of months, we’ll have the story’s resolutions, and a great myth’s circle comes to a close.

I envy those of you who haven’t seen it yet.  When the time is right, you have truly great storytelling moments waiting. To experience for the first time the thrill of the unexpected twists, the pleasure of imagination pushed to the limits, the glory of big characters, the delight of gorgeous scenery and costumes, the discovery of great heroes, the resolve of even greater heroines, and the tense bucking up to endure truly hideous and complex villains.

Oh, yes, and most important, dragons!

Dragons! Dragons! Dragons!

If you haven’t seen it yet, maybe watch the first episodes of Season One.  It’s an epic, so you need to start where all great epics do, “In the beginning . . .”


For those of you who have watched the series, I invite you to share your season 8 theories.

I’d enjoy reading your take on what you think will happen on the way to The Iron Throne.

 

(Images taken from public domain .gif and .jpeg sources.)

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The Un-Story Edition

 

Unfolding © Julia Haris

 

On this website’s ’About’ page, I write:

As a memoirist and storyteller, I believe that questioning the stories we hold true, writing new ones from power and possibility, and living deeply and intentionally from our revisions is life’s greatest journey.

I assume a lot in that sentence, including:

First, unless we go through some process of personal transformation, we will be the product of other people’s stories, no matter how much freedom those stories promise.  The stories we inherit or adopt can be political, religious, or even “spiritual.”  But there has to be an awakening born from places beyond the stories, and that awakening has to be given the time and space to unfold.  Only then do the stories fall away, little by little.  Many of us get attached to a narrative or series of narratives, and we then try to make everything fit within our attachments.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s often a starting point, but if the attachment obscures further growth, we’ve shortchanged ourselves — and others. In this regard, that approach is self-defeating, no matter how many ‘amens’ or ‘namastes’ one slaps on.

Second, the power to write and rewrite our stories comes from places beyond language.  Any story that tells you language or symbols contain some ultimate truth has flatlined the story’s meaning; language, stories, and symbols are pointers.  In this sense, fundamentalist religion and intellectual over-identification share the same fallacy, excessive mind identification. More important, though language and symbols are pointers, they are also reality creators, meaning  they can either point you toward deeper, better, expansive realities, or they can reinforce bad patterns that keep the mind engaged and distracted. That’s why how we speak and what we focus on matters: our life, its values, and its expressions change as we consciously get better at navigating the reality we’re creating.  This evolving, expanding freedom is sometimes called ‘grace,’ and it’s marked, in part, by growing personal authenticity.

Finally, all stories fall away before all that Is.  Language is only a tool.  Life and our awareness of it beyond our neurotic attachments are what beckon, that is, life’s is-ness

Language is a great human crown, but it is a hard taskmaster if it controls us.

Our redemption lies in stillness, the inner gateways beyond language.

By cultivating a relationship with inner awareness, we begin to see how much we’ve been trapped by our stories, and how much we live in unnecessary constructs: religion’s stories, society’s stories, family stories, our stories.

Not all of our stories are bad, and many help us to act in ways that serve ourselves and others.  But often we’re not mindful that a story or series of stories has lodged itself within us as a way of being, and these stories still control large swaths of our life as we unconsciously and detrimentally hold these stories as true in too many places.

Un-storying ourselves is ‘weeding’ [remembering that so-called weeds are often good] the soul, getting rid of the stories we don’t want. We can then plant and let grow what we do want, in life’s every area. I don’t believe this weeding happens in psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic practices, although the right professional relationship may support our evolution/development/self-actualization. Cultivating awareness is a journey into one’s own soul and self that no one can define or dictate by way of language; it’s a way of knowing and being that unfolds from within us.

It is a soul enfolding that is Universal and ever unfolding.

This entry is another imperfect pointer, a personal un-story that’s cleared a little more soul space.

How is your un-story going today?

 

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Earth, Air, Fire, Water: A Meditation On Baking Bread

Fresh baked bread in Glory © Julia Haris

This past year, I’ve become good at bread making. I’ve learned a book’s worth at the intersection of life and the art of bread baking  — but for this entry, I’d like to suggest that bread is a singular metaphor for the embodied spiritual life.

Good bread is in large part about fermentation and yeast. For the past seven years, I’ve home fermented fruits, veggies, nut cheeses, kombucha, and kefir. There’s interesting stuff going on in playing with bacteria and yeasts that even a novice can appreciate. Fermentation’s fizzies and bubbles, its yeasty smells, the way sugars change into alcohol, and the transformation of one food matter into a more interesting and healthier one.

I read somewhere that bread is a cooked foam. What creates the foam is yeast, that is, the gases formed by bacteria. In sweetened liquids, or fruits and veggies, the gases are fizzy, acidic goodness; in bread, it’s flour and water filling with air. Instant yeast is a quick way to raise bread dough. But I discovered that dry active yeast that’s allowed a slow rise creates a more satisfying, complex flavor. Instant yeast is fine for some kneaded recipes, but I’m not a fan of it for crusty artisan loaves. Sourdough is the fermentation queen, and its bubbly, sour goodness requires the most time and attention to mature.

Notice the curve: instant, active dry, sourdough.

Google tells me there’s no difference between instant and dry active, only the granule size. I’m skeptical. What I know, though, is that the longer and slower the process, the better the result, even with instant yeast. Or, more precisely, time allows the yeast to give depth and complexity to the final baked foams.

Every year, my mother used to say as she kneaded her Christmas cinnamon roll dough, “The key to good bread making is in the kneading.”

Perhaps kneading was the secret for Mom’s holiday cinnamon rolls whose success depended on the comforts of The Betty Crocker Cookbook’s soft, white, refined, and sticky sweet same day rise and bake recipe. But the lazy person’s slow rise rustic bread requires less work if more time. It’s easier because bacteria do the work — and letting nature do the work is always a good thing.

***

For the first few months of my bread making, I made the popular New York Times ‘No Knead Bread’ recipe. I noticed that a longer fermentation time, say, extending the recipe’s suggested sixteen hours to thirty-six or forty-eight hours in the refrigerator, resulted in a noticeably tastier loaf.

A few months into my experiments, Amazon sent me an email promoting an artisan bread book for .99. Turned out this book is a popular standard in no-knead artisan bread baking. ‘The New Artisan Bread In Five Minutes’ confirmed my experience about a long, slow rise for flavor. The authors also led me to my next bread making step: I now have a six-quart bucket in my fridge that always has bread dough ready to go.

Now, here’s where the story gets glutinous sticky. If you’re patient and allow for a slow rhetorical rise, you may enjoy the final outcome.

By always having bread dough read to bake, I can make fresh bread in the time it takes to heat the oven and bake the bread. This is less than five minutes for prep and clean-up, and about 40 minutes to bake. There’s always dough ready to give fresh bread as a ‘thank-you’ or as a gift. For example, my friend has driven us to the gym this winter, and I give her family fresh-baked bread about once a week. After a bad fall in February, after every snowstorm, my neighbors have shoveled my walkway, and they’ve helped me navigate past our road’s four-inch deep ice river.  A fresh-baked boule elicits, “This honestly never lasts more than five minutes. We eat it immediately, no butter, just the bread. Your bread is awesome.”

***

Suddenly the meaning of yeast expands. It’s not just the gaseous material exuded by bacteria creating a foam that we call bread: it’s social fermentation, the art of giving and receiving. As fire solidifies a mass of bacteria ballooning water and flour, bread solidifies community relationships. Starchy, comforting, fresh chewy bread with a thick, seedy crust that says, “Handmade. Homemade. From me to you.”

A loaf of bread costs little to make — the electricity probably costs more than the ingredients, even using quality, organic flour. But baked foam is more than the sum of its simple parts; delivering a mound of homemade bread brings the now near forbidden ecstasy of carbohydrate delight and a little heaven on earth.

This fermentation goes beyond family, friends, and neighbors; it’s ancient, written in the earth and, I believe, our DNA. When I place a moist mound of dough on a piece of parchment paper, I take part in thousands of years of human bread making. Last year, the oldest known bread was discovered in Jordan. Researchers found and dated crumbs of charred bread — probably a predecessor to pita — dating back 14,400 years. Scientists now hypothesize that bread predated agriculture, implying that our great, great, great, great, greats reveled in bread so much that the love of bread’s starchy satisfaction may have led to human agricultural development.

Bread making ferments the past to the present — the 21st-century experimental baker in her Maine kitchen joins hands with those living in Jordan 14,400 years ago. The simplicity of earth, air, fire, and water binds humans together loaf by loaf. From our ancestors’ discovery of fire, the first ideas of roasting and grinding grains, the beginning of land cultivation, and thousands of years of yeast experiments — humanity’s stories stick together in bread’s history.

I bake my loaves early in the morning so they are fresh when I give them. In the winter, I’m usually up by four a.m., so there’s a meditative quiet surrounding the ritual: turn on the oven, put the cast iron Dutch oven in to heat, cover a cutting board with parchment paper, dust parchment with cornmeal, remove bucket from fridge, break off sticky dough ball, form boule, dust with flour or seeds, then decoratively score. When the oven hits 500 degrees, I take out the Dutch oven, place the parchment paper with boule in it, place the heated cover on it to steam, turn down the temp to 450, set the timer for 35 minutes. That’s it.

I do this in my modern if small kitchen, with the luxury of an electric oven, running water, a sturdy cast iron oven that American workers in Tennessee crafted — it’s a Dutch oven that I’ve named ‘Glory’ as an homage to its modest yet sturdy grandeur.

This morning I performed my ritual as a stunning sunrise silently serenaded me from the back window.

Flour, yeast, salt, water, oven, and sunrise.

Flour and iron: earth. Yeast: air. Oven: fire. Salt and water. Earth, air, fire, and water. Today these came together under the eternal return of the morning sun. The same sun that has sustained earth — plant, animal, insect, all living beings known and unknown — since before humans made bread.

The same sun that those hands 14,400 years made bread under.

Making bread is deeper than consumption — it’s connection. And it’s a connection that extends beyond friends and neighbors to civilization and metaphor.

***

This morning, under the sun’s surreal poppy-pink and coral-orange rising, because of the season, it was impossible for me not to think of Lent and the Last Supper. Bread, leaven, and unleavened bread are central metaphors in the Jewish and Christian traditions — Passover, manna in the wilderness, cast your bread upon the water, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough,” “I am the bread of life,” and, of course, communion.

Fr. Richard Rohr,  a Franciscan mystic, writer, and teacher who I recommend, no matter your beliefs, or lack thereof, writes of the Eucharist:

“A true believer is eating what he or she is afraid to see and afraid to accept: The whole universe is the body of God, both in its essence and in its suffering.”

Rohr’s claim is universal, and it implies that even apart from the sacrament, simply by being alive, we eat God’s essence and suffering every day. But also joy. Joy inexpressible, joy in a heart bursting epiphany that we are one with all that is. Bread rises as a central metaphor for all that is because it is elemental, sustaining, and written in our blood and bones, just as we have deliciously created it to be over thousands of years. In the same meditation, Rohr quotes Sallie McFague from ‘The Body of God: An Ecological Theology‘:

“the model [of communion as eating God’s body] does not reduce God to the world nor relegate God to another world; on the contrary, it radicalizes both divine immanence (God is the breath of each and every creature) and divine transcendence (God is the energy empowering the entire universe). Finally, it underscores our bodiliness, our concrete physical existence and experience that we share with all other creatures: it is a model on the side of the well-being of the planet, for it raises the issue of ethical regard toward all bodies as all are interrelated and interdependent. . . .” (full meditation here).

Communion — breaking bread and sharing wine — becomes the radical sacrament (the allusion to cannibalism would have been a discombobulating heresy to ‘the twelve’) given by the man who lived 2,000 years ago because through earth, air, fire, and water it elementally embodies and metaphorically points to our participation in eternal Divine union, a union that exists here and now, whether or not we are aware of it.

While people who rely on literal readings may venerate the sacrament’s broken bones and blood narrative, I’m not convinced that’s the whole of the teaching, or even what he wanted to convey. I believe there’s a deeper redemption in eating and drinking God than meditating on suffering: celebrating Love’s thick, delicious, intoxicating joy, a Love so expansive that it resurrects in us, and living the immutable reality that we’re always participating in that Love.  Our awareness — our “digestion,” our turn toward the inner, conscious life — of this participation in and with the Unknowable but always present Love is our ground of Being, the rich, silent soil that radically transforms us, and thus ferments a celebration greeting us with every sunrise.

***

The authors of ‘The New Artisan Bread’ describe a bread making technique called pâte fermentée (fermented dough). When nearly down to the end of the bucket, leave some dough in the pot, and then scrape down the bucket sides.  Add the new batch’s warm water, salt, and yeast, then stir until the old dough is dissolved. Flour next, stir again. The new batch is ready to rise, with no clean-up, and a nice mature starter folded in. This method has several benefits: no waste, no bucket cleaning, and the old dough gives complexity to the new batch.

The next time the dough bucket is down to my final two cups, I’m going to omit yeast.  I’ll stir only water, flour, and salt into the mature dough. It’s an experiment in “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”

A little leaven. Not much is needed.

What is needed, though, is time.

Time is a gift, and if we knew how to sink into the moment, we’d be better at relishing time’s preciousness, instead of seeing it as our existential enemy.

“Eternity,” wrote William Blake, “is in love with the productions of time,” but we’re so preoccupied with racing the clock that we overlook Eternity’s voluptuous, tireless yearning for our attention.

Instead, we ignore the present and head into battle. We battle time in our unconscious preoccupation with the race to the grave, we battle time in our anxiety to pay the next due payment, we battle time in crazy race planning for our future and ‘retirement,’ we battle time to get to the next thing on our bucket list, or we battle time in our fear it will cheat of us our creative flourishing, fearing that self-actualization ala Maslow’s hierarchy will be permanently robbed from us.

As if our personal angst isn’t enough, scientists have constructed a “Doomsday Clock” to remind us that the human species is running out of time if we don’t change our ways, now.

The Doomsday Clock: tick tock, tick tock.

I suspect, though I haven’t researched it, that our transition from the sundial to a round analog clock paralleled the sun and its movements. But we ditched the sun for the sundial, the sundial for analog timekeepers, and the clock’s orb face and circular movements for digital numbers.

Though we race through the days, digitally ticking down each one within the necessary artifice of the Gregorian calendar, our resplendent sun has never once failed to rise.

We believe in the myths of more and faster and never enough, as though the sun’s shortchanged itself and the world by showing up only once a day.

Time is not our enemy; time bestows a lover’s gifts in every moment, over and over. Time is where Eternity meets us, in the opulence of all that is right before us.

Sometimes we hear Eternity’s heartbeat in stillness, and other times it unfolds before us in grand gestures of earth, air, fire, and water come together in splendid ways: a sunset over the mountains, the trees first budding, a gathering of fat red-breasted robins foraging for food, the sparkle in a friend’s smile, a child’s curiosity, in any and all these gifts, Eternity deeply, reverently loves us in time’s productions.

Our  enemy is not time. Our enemy is fear.  Our enemy is a belief that we don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have love, we don’t have what it takes to dance to the music in our hearts.

We fear we are not enough.

Time does not derail us, fear does.  Fear keeps our thoughts anxious, our hopes unrealized, our creativity thwarted. For while we’re making ourselves distracted, sick with worry, or heartbroken from missed expectations, who we are and what we need already exists, in the present moment, if only we believed.

One of the major New Testament parables is usually read as a miracle story. That’s fine, but I think it’s better to read it metaphorically, and put aside the quibbling over its literal truth and sources.

The masses were hungry.  Dealing with the so-called facts, the disciples wanted to send the hungry away.  The master told them, “you feed them.”  Dealing only with the facts, they questioned the master, who told them to put two fishes and fives loaves into baskets (depending on the version).  They did as they were told, the fishes and loaves multiplied, the crowds ate until they were satisfied, and the disciples collected baskets of leftovers.

This may have been a miracle, but it contains another truth: faith that there’s always more than enough. This is a story of abundance born from scarcity; it’s a story about changing from a consciousness of lack to generous overfill .  Faith in provision, faith that our deepest emotional, spiritual, and creative yearnings will be met, as well as our material needs, when we exercise faith in something beyond ourselves, for something beyond ourselves.

Faith in time, and faith that life deeply meets us moment by moment.

This is the bread of life, where Love meets the heart and life open to its gifts, while believing in the goodness of things seen, and believing in the reality of things still unseen.

A loaf of bread, a powerful if simple elemental pointing to Eternity and its infinite productions.

 

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The Awen

 

The Awen symbol merged into an ourobouros. © Julia Haris

 

In the above sketch, I joined the alchemical ourobouros to my latest talisman-symbol fascination, The Awen.

“But just what is awen? It is an awareness, not just on a physical and mental level, but also on a soul-deep level of the entirety of existence, of life itself. It is seeing the threads that connect us all. It is the deep well of inspiration that we drink from, to nurture our souls and our world and to give back in joy, in reverence, in wild abandon and in solemn ceremony.”  — Joanna van der Hoeven in The Awen Alone.

According to Wki:

Awen is a Welsh, Cornish and Breton word for “(poetic) inspiration“. In the Welsh tradition, awen is the inspiration of the poet bards; or, in its personification, Awen is the inspirational muse of creative artists in general: the inspired individual (often a poet or a soothsayer) is described as an awenydd. Emma Restall Orr, founder and former head of The Druid Network, defines awen as ‘flowing spirit’ and says that ‘Spirit energy in flow is the essence of life’.

For those who’ve hung with me for awhile, you know that Wales, the land of dragons, is a magical place for me.

Confluences multiply when one enters realms of mystery, myth, and magic. Passing equinox, the circular, cyclic, renewal  energy of the ouroborous and The Awen draw me in, as rebirth,  growing, and gardening wait for the thaw and flow of life, again.

To offer a long overdue personal update: I have several projects ongoing, still. Fire in the head, as Yeats might say.

A generous friend has also commissioned an art project, so I’m thrilled to have an aspect of my creative life materially recognized.

 

Many thanks to you who continue following and subscribing; expect updates to this website and its content in the months ahead.


			

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Kavanaugh And The Apostle’s Creed

“God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the questions. Once we begin to ask them, there’s no turning back.”  — Gloria Steinem

The son: a petulant, spoiled white frat boy blathering about his ruined life, a man whose angry, insipid face represents our “Christian values” voters.

The father: the Evangelical’s misogynistic, racist, unskilled Drunk Uncle in Chief, come with a gold commode and his Dark Ages Republican angels.

While liberals tear their hair out over the Evangelical’s God sent pussy-grabbing King and his SCOTUS hungry pro-life drunk son, and while they bemoan the hypocrisy of ‘what Jesus taught and lived’ when compared to the shit show politics fueled by an apocalyptic fantasy conflation of mythologized America and her Christian values, there’s an easy, direct line to historical Christianity and the loathsome clusterfuck we’re dealing with: misogyny and Empire.

Simple story version: After Constantine, the circulating oral stories and texts became sacred through redaction and compilation.

The committee called by Constantine at Nicaea (oh Goddess, a committee, we’re in trouble now) deemed what stories, letters, items, revelations, were orthodox, which ones were not quite worthy, and which became heresy.

This committee served Empire and its concerns first, “Christianity” second.

Jesus and his teachings, I’m not sure.

These old texts transcribed and shared before the printing press (I’m leaving out a lot), when coupled with Jewish texts became “The Bible.”

A cultural construct was born.

But look at the Book’s stories; a deep reading isn’t required: from the condemnation of Eve, the primacy of Patriarchs in Old Testament revelation and prophecy, straight through to the Holy insemination (rape) of Mother Mary by God the Father.

What does Mary say when God impregnates her and completely changes her life? Does she despair and say, “Oh, Lord, no, please no?” Does she do what a reasonable person does, and question God, herself, what’s happening?  No.  She remains silent. We’re given no stories of doubt, no stories of anxiety, no dark night of the soul even though she’s facing a new life because God spiritually raped her.

She was blessed among women.

She must have wanted it.

Mary’s a holy, obedient, unquestioning incubator, not a lot more without the label of Virgin Mother, because these are simple stories.  Rich myths, but simple stories of faith.  So Mary offers a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you God The Father for using my virgin body without my permission so the world could be saved through the murder of your only begotten son, and my eldest child will suffer the worst death imaginable.  Amen.

You’d think if God were a gentleman, he’d ask for consent.

But he doesn’t have to, because the culture was (and is) misogynistic.

(God would ask for consent, and perhaps did, but that story is a different story, would have been a different religion, and, consequently, created a different world.)

For the modern faithful, there’s no questioning these stories or these texts, and no asking what they are really saying.

Pre-Guttenberg, pre-Enlightenment, pre-internet.

Pre-clock.

Time and reality were different.

Did the resurrected Christ ascend through the ozone and into space on his own Apollo mission to get to the Right Hand Of God?

Probably not.

It was a story of meaning and myth, written and taught by men.

And filicide as the controlling metaphor for a religion?  First Isaac then Jesus?

The Divine nonconsensual insemination of a girl as the beginning of the world’s redemption?

(The stories of Mary and Mary Magdalene were kept intact mostly by Luke, the gentile for whom the so-called pagan traditions and their reverence for the Goddesses were still alive.)

There’s a direct line between female invisibility, submission, and the control of women’s bodies, and it goes straight through to all the world’s major religions — women don’t fare better in other traditions.

But today we’re dealing with a world crisis precipitated by the Evangelical installation of the Drunk Uncle In Chief, and his waving his tiny hands all over the world stage in gross phallic overcompensation, a maniac being bolstered by the praying faithful who have taken a series of oral stories and ancient letters as literally true — writ in stone forever and ever, amen.

*****

I’d hypothesize, and I’m sure there is research and philosophy on this, Foucault touches on in it his division between the male written word, and female oral history, that the Goddess and her daughters were killed with language’s invention and proliferation, the Word.

In establishing “culture,” we slowly stopped giving thanks to the earth and her eternal womb of life, for language allowed us to create lives above the earth’s cycles. The transcendent dominance over nature we see in the invisible God that lurks in Genesis, the god who prefers blood sacrifice (e.g., Cain and Abel) to nature’s cycles and agriculture (the Goddess and her cults).

Nature fallen — not redemptive or redeeming.

The subjugation of life’s womb, right there in Genesis.

Culture requires time and skill and patience, so it’s not the great friend of child-rearing, a service requiring all-consuming attention.

Language and culture, and therefore power, thus emerged as male domains, and for women, access to these domains was gotten through men.

Wife or whore, servants and subjugates, all.

This is why “well behaved women seldom make history,” they had to step outside of his-stories to claim their power.

Access to language and knowledge and power was withheld, guarded, and literally walled off for women: Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write a book in English was an anchoress, she confined herself by choice to a cell that she never left.

She sacrificed her body so that her spirit and its words would live in the world.

Invisible in life, immortal in death.

*****

The 75-year-old Evangelical male pastor at our local church reinserted the Apostle’s Creed into the service this week.

He’s a lay pastor, who came to his Evangelical faith later in life and devotedly trained for lay ministry in his fifties.

Uneducated, he’s a product of his geography and generation: the eldest of eleven farm kids, a Vietnam vet, a football-loving American and Christian.

All of these things are essential and one to him; no separation, just a quagmire of convenient myths, unalterable, stable, safe, comforting.

(He recently bought a refurbished  ’59 T-bird convertible, probably the best emblem to describe his worldview.)

He relies on Biblical Christian tradition to guide him.

“Tradition” is a meaningless phrase, for most who use it. It’s an empty term of confirmation bias that self-renews comfort — and when I  hear my religious friends pull it out, I know I’m in for a joyride of creative reality.

He falls into myth easily, makes up things as he goes along, and has zero grasp of facts or reality, even daily.

I suspect he has always been this way, and that his age has little to do with it with his forgetfulness. Rather, he’s navigated life as a no facts kind of guy — it served him well, and he’s suffered no consequences.

Sound familar?

Like most folks of this ilk, for whom amorphous tradition means all, he possesses a horrific lack of information and has no memory, because those two handmaids might teach uncomfortable lessons, offer insights at odds with his “traditional” values.

Better no memory or information, it’s all a bit much.

In a fit of frustration, I told someone months ago, while I was still attending the church, “he thinks he can show up with a Bible and a dick on Sunday, and we’re all going to listen to this shit like trapped animals because he’s entitlement is so over the top.”

Yeah, I said that.

Jesus glitter over everything.

And, tellingly, just like our Drunk Uncle In Chief, he uses a hundred exclamation marks and capitalizes everything when writing for the church’s flock.

Caps and !!!!!!  make things important.

(See here and here on Drunk Uncle 45’s use of caps and exclamation marks.)

The pastor’s not a bad man, but he’s uneducated and woefully entitled — not a great combination, no matter his sincerity.

And because the congregation’s Evangelicals stoke his fragile ego (and more importantly, they stroke their own egos while stroking his) as the headlines and world call his entire being into question, he reasserts his God-given in the image identity in the Sunday service by making everyone recite a Patriarchical creed.

Conscripting obedient thought, a comforting blanket delivered by wholesale beliefs that reassert his authority through identity.

If folks believe Kavanaugh, well, look at why.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

Mary, silent, submissive, grateful.

They believe Jesus resurrected and went on a rocketless Apollo mission, they believe Mary’s divine rape was okay, they believe that filicide was part of a grand his-torical arc toward heavenly redemption, and they rely on creeds because these are the scripts they’ve always been handed.

And for many, they miss life’s lived spontaneous miracles, the ones that stand waiting for them as they embrace unquestioned narratives that shape far more dangerous narratives and realities, e.g., who will sit on SCOTUS.

So, in the case of our pastor, simply one of the millions of men doing similar, when the world threatens their made in the image of God the Father authority, how shall I say it, he doubles down on the dick vis-à-vis a creed in the Sunday service.

Because testosterone, facial hair, a penis and a scrotum must mean you’re the head of the house, and you hold sanctified authority not because of skill but because of entitlement, even though the church’s women do all the work.

And when exclamation marks and capital letters and Jesus glitter aren’t enough to brandish this authority, make sure you reassert your identity entitlement in the traditional version (yes, it was important to him to use the traditional version) of the Apostle’s Creed.

There are no women in that creed, it’s a passive-agressive gendered assertion of power, God the Father, his only begotten Son, and the twelve men enshrined by the Council of Nicea as they buried the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

Don’t think that this gendered power struggle isn’t what’s happening now, everywhere — and if the world watches America to see what happens, it’s because people look to others for their behavior.

Insecure, fragile men are testing the limits of their power, as women assert theirs, and as they assert their in the image of Goddess voice, its power, its words.

Her word.

In the beginning was Her Word, and it was powerful, beautiful, and complete.

I had second thoughts about returning to folks I love yet whose theology I loathe, but my doubts were answered in the fragile conscripting and gendered servitude the pastor decreed in reciting The Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.”

I trust the questions, so I distrust the answers.

Maslow wrote, “What a [wo]man can be, [s]he must be. This need we call self-actualization.”

No religion delivers that, no creed invokes its experience.

No gendered system frees women to rise from history’s ashes.

They will do that themselves. For, as Steinem also wrote, “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.”

Forever and ever, and life everlasting.

Amen.

*****

For a reflection beyond literalism, Joseph Cambell and The Power Of Myth:

“JOSEPH CAMPBELL: No matter what system of thought you have, it can’t possibly include boundless life. And when you think everything is just that way, the trickster comes in and it all blows, and you get the becoming thing again. Now, Jung has a wonderful saying somewhere that, “Religion is a defense against a religious experience.”

BILL MOYERS: Well, you have to explain that.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, that means it has reduced the whole thing to concepts and ideas, and having the concept and idea short-circuits the transcendent experience. The experience of deep mystery is what one has to regard as the ultimate religious experience.

BILL MOYERS: Well, there are many Christians who believe that to find out who Jesus is, you have to go past the Christian faith, past the Christian doctrine, past the Christian church. And I know that’s heresy to a lot of people, but…

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, you have to go past the image of Jesus. The image of God becomes the final obstruction. Your God is your ultimate barrier. This is basic Hinduism, basic Buddhism. You know, the idea of the ascent of the spirit through the centers, the chakras, as they call them, or lotuses, the different centers of experience. The animal experiences of hunger and greed or just the zeal of reproduction or the physical mastery of one kind or another, these are all stages of power. But then when the center of the heart is reached, and the sense of compassion on another person, mercy and participation, and I and you are in some sense of the same being this is what marriage is based on there’s a whole new stage of life experience opens up with the opening of the heart.

And this is what’s called the virgin birth, actually, the birth of a spiritual life in what formerly was simply a human animal, living for the animal aims of health, progeny, wealth and a little fun. But now you come to something else: to participate in this sense of accord with another, or accord with some principle that has lodged in your mind as a good to be identified with, then a whole new life comes. And this is in Oriental thinking, the awakening of the religious experience.

And then this can go on even to the quest for the experience of the ultimate mystery, that is, the ultimate mystery can be experienced in two senses, one without form and the other with form. And in this Oriental thinking, you experience God with form here, this is heaven, that’s the identification with your own being, because that which God refers to is the ultimate mystery of being, which is the mystery of your being as well as of the world, so it’s…this is it.”

Excerpt from Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth — ‘Masks of Eternity’ on Bill Moyers.com

 

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Golden Calves

Anyone can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week. — Alice Walker

The wisdom traditions say that whatever or whoever annoys you is your teacher.

But I refuse to think that in that there’s a sit-down and stay in your desk until you learn this thing you need to learn subtext: you’re free to change your degree program, transfer schools, or be like Steve Jobs and say . . . I’m dropping out and moving on, and doing and thinking different.

You can love people, but consider most of their beliefs and behaviors fundamentally toxic.

For those of us who needed more than anything  to overcome poverty and ignorance, while living in creative awareness, God realization, mystical enlightenment, seeing the splendor of everything in a grain of sand, and for whom these things mattered more than other people’s opinions, more than the home, more than the vows, more than life itself, because we risked it all in one dislocating crap shot after another, there’s no nobility in hanging with folks who don’t want to learn.

No need to hang in or hang on.

I make a lot of mistakes, and for all my professed passions, I’ve been a slow learner.  One of the mistakes I made over and over is thinking that people want to learn, they want to grow, and they want to transcend the limits that other people tell them are true.

When I ask — when I pray to the Great Mystery — why am I in the stix of Maine in the middle of an economic and cultural abyss, I need to make meaning out of my life’s messiness.  I’m asking beyond the many practical and long-term reasons; I wouldn’t have been able to garden as I have on rental property in many places.

There’s the incomparable gift of nature, my view of the falls, the sound of the river and crickets and frogs at 2 am.

I’ve created a little spiritual oasis, a sanctuary, and an Eden from nothing, a miracle machine in a destitute area.

But after another exasperating day among the faithful, I am asking, yet again, why this community?

I assume that my light and energy and creativity can change the area and even ignorance’s spiritual tenor.

Well, my life can and does shine a light, but I make a lot of assumptions about other people, and it’s an assumption that I make too often.

Why am I here, what am I learning?

I’m learning that people don’t want to change, and they’d rather have their metaphors be as hard as metal, and that they build their metal metaphors to reinforce a collapsing belief system.

They would rather have their Golden Calf.

Instead of looking to Moses in the mountains, where the epiphany of immanence and transcendence took place, the “Children Of Israel” danced around a cast metal metaphor wrought from bygone days — the beliefs of Egypt.  

I thought about this last night, and it occurred to me that the “Children Of Israel” wandering in the desert surely didn’t have a lot, and what gold resources they had they quickly gave up to secure a safe identity when they “didn’t know.”

When uncertainty invited them to deep trust and grace, they chose fear, safety in their known beliefs.

The Golden Calf wasn’t the worship of money or materiality, given their limited resources, it was a retreat into the familiar, the known, the sure, the form of an old religion, and not Spirit waiting for their awareness.

The story is one of progress and liberation from old forms, and a call to approach every day expecting miracles, epiphanies, synchronicities . . .  creative awareness.

The trek from Egypt and its lessons wasn’t a story of national or religious identity, the story’s trek offered metaphors that pointedly resisted literalist readings.

Jewish interpretive tradition recognizes this.

Modern evangelicals don’t.

The current Christian faith in rural parts and on the national stage is one of comforting ideas and beliefs that have zero grounding in what history, theology, science, the mystics, and the artists give us.

Change threatens, and the folks who hold these stories will never revise them because of habit and comfort and fear: any loss of the psycho-social identity, the great path to unlearning and awakening, the collective ego guards against like a pack of hungry and taunted junkyard dogs.

The answer to change?  Get louder and more defensive, play the victim, be more vigilant against the stories that may cause you to question your literal interpretations of Sunday School narratives.

Stories written for children, not adults.

One woman told me,  and this was a breathtaking, raw honesty worthy of respect: “I guess I never questioned my beliefs because I was afraid that my world would fall apart.”

So I had to write this entry to see what I’ve always known, but had to dig deeper into, as I’ve always made big assumptions, and I’ve always taken on inappropriate responsibility:

The conservative Christians (and most folks) in this area don’t want to learn and don’t want to hear the voice of Spirit beyond their comfort zone.  

Beliefs stand-in for awakening practices, blankets of psychological ideas for experiences of immanence and transcendence.

This does not make them bad people; in fact, most are damn fine people with enormous hearts: they are generous, caring, thoughtful, and diligent.

(The political left will never see this, it’s too busy labeling them.)

On the other side, those who veer toward a mental, pseudo-intellectual approach (the rural bourgeois) have so flatlined their spirit that they live from a different set of comfy habits: social posturing and pretense.

I described the cultural split to a friend like this: the ones with the bad ideas have the big hearts, the ones with the good ideas have no spiritual awareness.

“The best lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity,” (Yeats) he replied.

This is much of what I see, simplified to make sense, and I am as of today not returning to a community of folks who  I love dearly, because it’s more work than it’s worth when I spend too much mental energy navigating around well-intentioned ignorance.

Extend love, peaceably move on.

Life is precious, make the changes quick and smooth.

What did I learn?

I am no longer responsible for a chronically sick mother and either rebelling against or meeting the expectations of her ignorant faith (see how we play these things out?), and there’s no reason to expect that people want to live life deep and rich and bountiful beyond what they know.

Giving up and digging in rules.

I’m here, and if they want to share fine, no need to assume beyond that — and there’s a deep peace in accepting other people’s path.

The Bible and Christian radio and muzak seem enough to meet their needs.

It’s not my responsibility to care for them (like I once did with many clients) in the name of service because I’m was raised to be a caretaker, and I’m a woman of a generation for whom that training runs too deep.

This is the stuff that writers and poets and prophets and mystics care about — life’s complexities:  the unlearning is all.

Seeing allows us to let go more quickly, without regret or second-guessing.

It’s the heart — courage — of sinking into one’s life, while letting old forms pass away.

She who would lose her life a hundred times over will find it a thousand times ten.

Letting go.

 

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Two Years Ago, Today

July 26, 2016.

What a magnificent night.

I was proud to be a HRC state delegate through a series of inexplicable quirks.

I hadn’t even lived in Maine for a year.  I applied for an absentee ballot.  I never received it.  The morning of our caucus, I wrote a Facebook post on why I was casting my primary ballot for Clinton, a candidate I once vowed I’d never vote for.

The day of the caucus, a few Clinton supporters were surrounded by Bernie supporters.

I’d had my fill of my fellow citizens who supported Bernie, especially the lecturing I had received from white males on what real feminism looked liked.  I was tired of the Johnny One Note finger waving prophet, because of magical unicorns and sexism and the swilling of what was even then obviously Russian trolling, if you were paying attention.

I went to caucus because my absentee ballot never arrived.  Our Sanders supporting precinct members pontificated and grandstanded on the Greatest Good.  The Clinton supporters were hesitant and shamed.  I listened to the same misinformation about HRC and the white Savior ideological fantasies about Sanders that had dominated my Facebook feed for months.

After listening to the populist narratives, the stories that weren’t fact-checked because “internet,” and the toned down Hillary bashing because we were face to face, I felt myself shaking and frustrated and angry.  I couldn’t be quiet.  Because no one had done their homework well, and it was obvious that the vagina was still inferior to the glorious Apollonian penis in these parts.

“Any other comments before we vote,” our caucus leader asked.

I don’t like public speaking, so I asked everyone if they’d mind if I read what I wrote on Facebook that morning.

It was a polite group.  We weren’t on the internet.

We were dealing human to human again, so everyone said sure, this is why we’re here.

I took out my iPhone, read my Facebook post, probably similar in tone to this, and I received a generous round of applause and nods and agreement.

The caucus leader took the vote and happily proclaimed that all our delegates would be for Sanders.  An honest Sanders supporter said, “wait, I think you’ve miscalculated.”

The Sanders supporting caucus leader recalculated twice, and according to the rules, no doubt about it,. by .01 percentage points, Clinton was allowed a delegate from our precinct.

After my little speech, I was unanimously chosen to be the Hillary delegate.  So through the strangest of circumstances, including the extraordinarily democratic and civil if flawed caucus system, in a state I’d only lived in 9 months, for a candidate I never thought I’d vote for, in a county whose deep, unquestioned socialized racism and sexism are far from any reality I’ve ever known, I represented Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Maine State Democratic convention.

And after caucus, folks came up to me, talked, told me they agreed with a lot of what I said, but they needed to send “a message.”

Well, that was certainly part of it — but not all of it.

Representing Hillary at the state convention was a singular life experience for a woman raised by women, my mother a self-proclaimed Kennedy Democrat, and my grandmother a Nixon loving “he did what they all do, he only got caught” Republican.  A family of women and their political stories, high pitched disagreements, political memories, narratives running back to the Civil War and my mother’s family’s vigorous support of Lincoln, a farm family that proudly worked their own land and never owned slaves, and the Huguenot legacy.

The political stories handed down to me gained another.

At the state convention, I stood proudly behind HRC with that .01 percentage point, with my mother, my grandmother, and the women whose Pantsuit stories unfolded during that trek into November two years ago; a season when change seemed probable, however flawed,  and progress shimmered.

Proud, hopeful, .01 percentage point.

Two years ago today, we watched HRC accept the nomination for many who believed in possibility, not religious purity or political perfection, and we watched her take our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers with her, wearing a white pantsuit.

Two years ago today, I felt myself to be a part of history.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony never saw the ratification of the 19th amendment.

“Not for ourselves, but for our children.”

 

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A Modest Practice

Everyday write down three things for which you are grateful.

So say the self-help folks, creatives, going strong entrepreneurs, and positive psychologists.

It’s a powerful practice, with research and science backing it.  (Shawn Achor and Martin Seligman come to mind.)

The idea is that focusing on the positive and writing while focused strengthens your neural pathways, a cognitive exercise that builds the mind’s ability to see beyond its constructed walls and limitations, allows you to open into possibility.

Gratitude opens imaginative doors, and memory and writing are gratitude’s empowering exercise.

I’ve practiced this off and on during my years of journal keeping, but I’ve only felt a conscious shift the past few years.

Way back when, I practiced gratitude for five minutes a day in my journal, yet fretted most of the remaining 23.95 hours.  Not consciously, but habitually.

I’m finally getting it.  It’s about taking your gratitude with you, seeing each new day through a supple world view imaginatively reborn, not relegating your “gratitude” to five minutes a day while never removing your anxiety blanket.

But five minutes a day is an important start, and no doubt those five minutes everyday helped me get closer to a better pace.

***

Sometime in January, maybe February, I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (hyperlink to her TED talk, not the podcast I heard) and she described her gratitude jar.  Every day, she writes down three or more things for which she is grateful on a slip of paper, then puts them in the jar.  Come the New Year, she has a ritual around reading and remembering the year’s many gifts and joys.

Every January, she begins again.

After listening to Gilbert, I grabbed two mason jars — one for fears and worries, one for joys and gratitudes.

I decided to experiment with the fears jar.  Though I haven’t read much on this practice — I think it’s important to name fear, label the gnarly monsters, write them down, and shove them in a jar.

I’m not yet consistent with this practice, but it’s good for now, and getting better.

What I’ve discovered is that by writing down my fears, and putting them in the jar, I’m symbolically giving them to my higher power, even if that Power is my imagination. Some days I refuse all fear and boldly write: NONE!

By writing down incidents, people and things for which I’m grateful, I’m documenting what I otherwise forget, no matter how small or big, small and large ultimately being arbitrary distinctions.

I try to include things otherwise invisible, to go deeper into my daily experience, try to ferret out the things I take for granted.

For example: a random encounter that shifted my mood, allowed me to be a better person after someone else’s kindness.

A couple of times I’ve accidentally seen older entries from the jars, slips of paper falling out and waiting for my eyes.  I’ve noticed a trend:

1) the same fears tend to rumble about, and they rarely happen;

2) I quickly forget how many beautiful surprises fill my life everyday.  Experiences, circumstances, people that turned a day, a week, a month around, happenings too quickly swallowed by life’s activity.

My life deserves better than fear, and it deserves better than for me obscure its Beauty with necessity.

So I have two large mason jars sitting on my living room floor — one filled with some psychic chaos and rumblings, and the other with beautiful memories and everyday happenings.

Life is an art, this is now one of my modest practices sustaining that art.

I look forward to my first New Year’s ritual this year, unfolding slips of paper wearing my unfounded fears, and rediscovering the wonderful moments that I too quickly forgot.

 

 

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Eclipse

Image copyrighted.  All rights reserved.

 

 

We’re all golden sunflowers inside.” — Allen Ginsberg

 

A friend took a woman

thirty-five years younger than himself

to see the eclipse.

 

He made sure to tell me

that her small frame had

huge titties.  Because that’s

what he needs,

a young woman

with a small frame

and big tits.  Wanting

to impress the titties,

he rented a luxury motor-home,

parked in Wyoming’s wilds,

then he and the tits sat

in the eclipse’s

path of totality.

 

My friend never talks of beauty

or wisdom or poetry or

immanence or transcendence;

he has no regard for nature,

as he’s been so long married to work, money,

and titties.

 

When he returned from Wyoming,

he told me the eclipse changed him;

he felt connected to something larger,

an experience he’d never had before.

 

I did not see the eclipse

in its path of totality, didn’t

firsthand experience the best eclipse view

money could buy.

 

Rather, the eclipse

happily grabbed me

a few days after,

in a sunflower’s center,

a moment again

connecting me

to life’s mystery,

in a single, magnificent  bloom.

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