Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Maeve's Winter Solstice

Below is a brief excerpt from Red-Robed Priestess. Maeve is back on Mona inside Bryn Celli Ddu with the druids. Copyright 2010 by Elizabeth Cunningham. All rights Reserved.

It was pitch dark inside. I moved carefully to avoid stepping on anyone, and found a place to sit nestled between warm bodies on all sides. If the chamber had been lit, I might have felt claustrophobic. Jesus’s tomb had been palatial compared to this. But as it was, all of us pressed together, it seemed like children playing a game in the dark. I am not the only one who felt that, for among that august body, with no one much under forty, there were quite a few giggles and even now and then a guffaw as we all got settled.

Then the archdruid’s voice rang out, calling the quarters and proclaiming at last:

“Here now is the center of world.”

Instead of his planted staff, the center was a stone standing in the middle of the chamber, a stone I sensed rather than saw. I felt us all quieting, deepening, taking on the qualities of the stone. The only sound was our breath, almost inaudible as we caught each other’s rhythm, so that soon we were breathing as if we were one body.

“We know the danger that is almost certainly coming to our shores,” the archdruid said at length. “There is no need to debate it. The question before us is how shall we face it? Let us listen for answers in the silence. In the holy darkness, let our inward sight be clear. When words come, let them be words of wisdom and power.”

The silence spread over us again: fallen leaves over the earth, snow over leaves, stars over stone. Time got lost in the darkness; the confines of space that held us close together dissolved. We were sitting inside the vast womb of night, waiting for words to be born.

(A debate follows, which Maeve resolves. I won’t include it here as I don’t want to give away the plot. Below is the conclusion of the scene at sunrise on Solstice.)

Eventually the sobs subsided and the silence settled again. We moved even closer to each other, arms wrapped around whoever sat in front of us, head resting against the breast of the one behind. The pounding in my head eased. It would be over soon. I had no doubt of my task. I knew exactly where I would stand. I think I dozed off then. We all did, till the sun, reborn, shot its first ray down the passage grave and we rubbed our eyes and rose, stiffly, again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Requiem for a Holy Tree

Arboricide. There really is such a word. It means “the wanton destruction of trees.” On December 8th, 2010 arboricide was committed against the legendary Thorn Tree of Glastonbury, the a tree that is said to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea some two thousand years ago. The tree, whose ancestry has been traced to the Middle East, blooms during the seasons of Christmas and Easter. Each year on December 8th a sprig is cut from one of the tree’s descendants in St John’s churchyard and sent to the queen for her Christmas table. Whoever attacked the tree was likely familiar with the custom and chose the day accordingly. The Thorn Tree that stands—or stood—on Wearyall Hill was felled once before by Cromwell’s troops during England’s Civil war. The townspeople replanted the tree from cuttings, as they no doubt will again.

For the first arboricides, the tree was a symbol of Papist superstition—and perhaps also the wealth and privilege of the established religion. Whenever I hear the word Papist, I know the other “p” word, pagan, is just under the surface. The Cromwellians also made war on Maypoles, Beltane fires, observances of saints’ days, all the old customs that had been baptized and renamed by the Roman Catholic Church. Until the current arboricide is arrested, we can only speculate on the motive.

Some accounts call the arboricide an anti-Christian act which I think is unfortunate and inflammatory. The great thing about a holy tree is that no creed is required for veneration. Whether or not the tree sprang from Joseph’s staff and whether or not the staff was made from the wood of Jesus’s cross, the Glastonbury Thorn Tree is sacred because it is beloved, because it is a place of pilgrimage where people bring their troubles as well as their homage. It is sacred because it connects faith and myth, past and present, nature and miracle. It is sacred because it is a tree, with its roots in the earth and its branches in the sky, because it mediates those two worlds and draws sustenance from both, because, like all trees, it shows us how to do the same.

The veneration of trees pre-dates Christianity and no doubt all organized world religions. The tree is a source of life, offering shelter, food, habitat, fuel, soil preservation and enrichment—not to mention breathable air. In places where trees are scarce or land has been cleared, the tree is a gathering place, a landmark. In a world where we are losing forest at an alarmingly rapid rate, we would all do well to venerate trees, believers and atheists alike. No matter the motivation or beliefs of the arboricide, let’s not forget that it is a living tree that was attacked and living forests that continue to be at risk. May this loss awaken us to our deep-rooted, sacred connection with trees.

PS: For those of you waiting for news of Maeve, the revisions of Red-Robed Priestess are complete! I hope to announce the publication date soon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

virus warning re the amnesty site

My husband just went to the Amnesty link I provided in my last blog post and found a warning from google that some pages of the Amnesty site have been infected with a worm. I have not encountered this warning myself, but want to make sure I let people know there may be a problem.

Because I signed up to write for rights, I received an email from Amnest and am going to a particular page with case histories and addresses. I have not encountered a warning, but it is wise to be wary. Sad to think a cause can be undermined in this way.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coming to Light

Chanukah begins at sundown on December 1, the beginning of what I call the Feasts of Light, the observances and celebrations that carry us through the darkest time of the year.

I am sure I am not the only one to note the coincidence of the recent WikiLeaks happening this same week, leaks that “bring to light” what people in power had every intention of keeping dark. Whatever havoc the revelations may wreak, and however questionable a character Julian Assange may be, I doubtless join many in believing this exposure of secrets is a good thing. What is revealed has a chance, at least, to be healed.

I confess I have fallen out of the blogosphere recently, because I find it daunting to be topical, to make intelligent, inspiring or thoughtful commentary on events I can barely keep up with. I comfort myself that I am doing what I can to save the earth—a particular bit of earth called High Valley. But I admit that though I sign petitions and call representatives on this and that, it is easy to lose sight of the rest of the world.

Today I committed to participation in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights December 4-12 writeathon. Their site provides you with all the information you need for writing letters on your own or for organizing a letter writing event.

The Write for Rights campaign is way of bringing to light the suffering of individuals, groups, and communities, suffering that may be unknown to many or deliberately distorted or obscured by those in power. It strikes me as a fitting way to honor this season.

Joyous Feasts of Light to all!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just saying hello

I have not posted for awhile. I have nothing--or nothing new--to say about the elections or anything else topical or current. This is just a check in for this site only and not for the others where I usually cross post.

I don't want to forget the larger world, but my small one has been quite intense lately. My husband has had some health issues, which happily seem to be resolving. We finally decided what to do about High Valley  a year after my mother-in-law moved and a couple of months after her longtime tenants moved to the home they bought.

We are going to move to the house ourselves, live in the apartment the tenants have vacated and extend the activities of the center to the downstairs of Olga's house, which was, after all, a school and where her long wooden table can still seat at least thirteen. Then we can sell the house where we raised our children and put the proceeds towards preserving High Valley.

It seems such an obvious solution, more than one person asked why we didn't think of it before. There are reasons. Douglas was reluctant to move back to the scene of his childhood. And much as I admire and enjoy my mother-in-law, I frequently declared that I did not want to become her, that is someone in charge of a lot of buildings and contending with all the people who might inhabit them. I grew up in a rectory, and the idea of owning property is still strange to me. Yet I did grow up in the midst of community where rituals regularly took place. Not so different from High Valley. As for the land we are committed to preserving, Douglas and I both conceive of it as not belonging to us but to itself. It also finally dawned on me, that even if I live in what was Olga's house and tend the land she loved, I will still be myself. I will have the chance to go on loving land that I have loved since I was a sixteen-year-old high school drop out and maid-of-all-work living in a tree house on the hill across the pond, receiving nightly the kids who ran away from school till morning.

For all it makes sense in so many ways, the decision was made for me in this one moment:

Decided: Copper Beech in Autumn

it was the tree that did it
shining there, the sun’s
fire caught in its leaves
a tree that I could see
through my window every day
if I finally turn and meet my fate

So that's what's been happening. In the midst of everything, I am making steady progress with the revisions of Red-Robed Priestess. I hope to complete them by Winter Solstice. I don't have an official publication date yet, sometime next Fall. I will keep you posted.

Joyous Season of Feasts to all!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Dead Do Vote and Not Just in Chicago

As the United States prepares for midterm elections (a phrase that recalls midterm exams and evokes much of the same anxiety) some of us are also preparing for Hallowe’en, the Eve of All Saints Day for Christians and for pagans, Samhain, a word that translates from Gaelic as Summer’s End. Many Mexican-Americans will celebrate Día de los Muertos. Though these holidays are culturally and historically distinct, they share the same time of year and many of the same customs, particularly the honoring of the dead, the acknowledgment of worlds and realities beyond our immediate ken.

However long term their effects, elections happen in the frenzy of a particular moment and climate, currently a desperate and divisive one. The holy days which precede this sacred, secular rite—the casting of the ballot—can offer a longer view, both comforting and profound in its perspective.

We are not just republicans or democrats, liberals or conservatives, moderates or extremists who have trouble finding or defining community. We are part of the great communion that embraces the living, the dead, and all who will come after us. Our ancestors—we share them if we go back far enough—have been rogues and heroes, courageous and cowardly, sung and unsung, hardworking and indolent, cruel and kind, mistaken and visionary. Ancestors are not just our blood kin, but the people whose beliefs, ideas, and creations have shaped us. Whether we know their names or not, they live in us as we will live in those who come after us, whether or not we have biological children. 

As part of the preparation for voting—and as incentive to vote—we might do well to contemplate this communion, invoke the wisdom of the ancestors to help us keep faith with the descendants.

The season itself reminds us of we are part of the cycle of birth, growth, decline, death, rebirth. The leaves fall and turn back into earth. The campaign signs (less attractive and harder to recycle) will blow away, too. The traditions of Hallowe’en give us a chance to play with our fears of death through costumes, games, and parades. And in our culture, which has been based on constant growth and productivity, we are especially frightened of decline and death. We do not want chickens to sleep at night or fields to lie fallow or oil and gas to stay underground. We are afraid of the dark.

Every year, just before another election, we have a chance to make to make friends with our fears, to know that we are and will be both dust and truth, that the mystery that gave rise to our little lives will receive us again with an embrace beyond our imagining.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fairytales: One Antidote to Bullying

“Life is no fairytale,” people say, meaning there is a dearth of happy endings. But that last traditional line “and then they lived happily ever after” is not what the story is about. In most fairytales there are terrible perils and ordeals. The hero is often the victim of bullying and malevolence and must discover both internal and external resources in order to survive and ultimately triumph.

In many stories there are three sons or three daughters who in turn set off into the world to seek their fortune. Before any one of them has gone far, they encounter someone in need, an animal, a beggar, or an old man or woman. The hero is the one who stops to show kindness or to share whatever meager store of food he or she has. Later, in the time of trial, the act of kindness becomes a saving grace, and the animal or old beggar becomes a powerful ally. The bullies, or the ungenerous, generally come to a bad end, though sometimes the former victim chooses to help them and restore them to the human family. 

I grew up reading fairytales and then novels that were inspired by fairytales. I just missed the chance to read Harry Potter to my then teenaged children who read the book themselves and now and then read bits out loud to me. Unlike many adults, I never became a Potter aficionado, but it always makes me happy to see children lugging around huge books and losing themselves in long, imaginative stories of children who have to face danger and cruelty with bravery and wit.

I can’t help but wonder if lives have actually been saved because of stories, the lasting solace and courage people find in them. And I can’t help wondering if lives are being lost because people have no stories or are in the wrong story. Is the despair of victims and misfits more abject because they can’t foresee a reversal of fortune, feel bereft of allies, can’t conceive of themselves as heroes in disguise? Are the bullies more vicious for having no mirror held up to them, no warning of the consequences of cruelty to character and fate?

We are living in harsh times where fear and insecurity are increasing our human tendency to scapegoat and bully. The internet which, like any tool can be used for good or evil, has made it easier for people to be cruel anonymously and for the acts of cruelty to be more indelible. It’s bad enough to be taunted on the playground or in the cafeteria, but when cruelty can go viral, the victim must feel even more helpless, even more without a refuge. It should be noted that while anyone can be a victim for any reason, hatred of gay men and boys seems to be particularly virulent of late.

There is no one antidote to bullying. Schools are definitely on the frontline of response and my heart goes out to parents who must navigate the complex and treacherous worlds of social media. One of the most moving responses to the targeting of gay teens is Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project  where older gay and lesbian people tell their own stories of trial and ultimate triumph. Critics say the project does not go to the root of the problem or address some of the prejudices within the GLBTQ community. But I can imagine these stories acting as life lines to someone in the midst of what seems like hopeless, endless suffering.

We need to foster a culture of storytelling in schools, in community and religious centers: People of all ages telling stories, of all sexual orientations and ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds. We also need to foster the art of listening to a story, for in hearing another’s story we suspend fear and judgment and come to identify with the teller, no matter how different he or she appears to be. We need a curriculum in all schools that approaches literature as the healing art it can be. We need to rediscover stories as a source of courage, resourcefulness, and compassion.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Genetically Modified Salmon: Can this Marriage be Saved?

On Friday my husband and I cooked wild caught salmon over a wood fire. We enjoyed it with garden vegetables and maybe a little too much wine. When the subject of genetically modified salmon came up, I was surprised to find that we disagreed—vehemently on my part.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently holding meetings (for only two days!?) on whether or not to approve marketing of a species of salmon genetically modified  to produce growth hormones all year long instead of seasonally. Proponents argue that this fast-growing salmon would be a significant new food source whose consumption would also spare wild salmon populations. Critics are concerned about allergens in this untested food and also about what could happen if genetically modified salmon were to escape. Would their rapid growth mean that they would consume more food to the detriment of existing wild species?

My husband argued that genetic modification is nothing new. In essence that’s what agriculture and animal husbandry are—plants and animals that were modified through selective breeding by humans who wanted to have more control over their food sources. Corn and cows, as we know them, do not exist in the wild and could not survive there. Fish are already being farmed; genetic modification is just one more step. And, as my husband pointed out, we have a huge and growing population to feed. And if I don’t like the corporate model of food production, what do I propose as an alternative? Relying on the regional, organic food model alone could mean the return of famines that have only been eradicated in the last century by mass food production.

That is where I got stuck. I could only say: I don’t know. I just know that the corporate model has had a questionable effect not only on food production but also on health care, publishing, and just about any other area of human enterprise we can name. (Then we began to argue about the profit motive; I won’t go into that here.) Since that evening, I have been reflecting on what troubles me about genetic modification, in addition to questions of safety.

It troubles me that no one is considering the spirit of the salmon, a fish revered by Celts and by many Native American peoples, especially in the Northwest. The legendary Irish hero Finn Macumhail burned his finger when cooking the Salmon of Wisdom for his teacher. When he put his finger in his mouth, the salmon’s wisdom became his. The Haida people tell a story of a boy who lacked respect for the salmon and was swept away by the river. The Salmon People rescue him, teach him the error of his ways and return him to his people as a healer and a shaman.

I do not want to see anyone starve, and surely the peoples of the Northwest have long revered the salmon as a source of food. I know that with our population a return to hunting and gathering is impossible, though I am more hopeful than my husband about bio-regional food production. Urban farming is a particularly exciting movement.

What troubles me about genetic engineering is that we are considering only our own short term interests. I would like to see FDA and other authorities routinely consult shamans as well as scientists. We need to consider what the Salmon People want, what life itself wants, what the seventh generation of all species wants.

My husband and I continue to debate. I close with this email just in from him: “It does seem like the FDA isn't looking very hard. I'm still not against the idea of GE in principle, but I do think we have to be extremely careful, and our regulators appear to be bought by the industry.”

Looks like the marriage will survive. I hope the wild salmon will, too.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Paul of Tarsus and Terry Jones

Everyone from President Obama to Angela Jolie has made a pronouncement on Pastor Terry Jones’  proposed September 11th Quran burning—publicity Paul of Tarsus , a man who knew how to stage an event, might well have envied. Paul presided over the first public burning of books by Christians. In Ephesus, recent converts burned their scrolls on magic (presumably voluntarily) as a symbolic act of penitence as well as a literal act of destruction. Knowledge was more vulnerable in those days of hand-copied scrolls. Though the content of the Quran cannot be destroyed in this proposed fire, burning the Quran is a literal as well as symbolic assault on the Islamic faithful. In both cases, the book burnings are an aggressive assertion of the absolute supremacy of one religion through the demonizing of another.

Below is a fictional rendition (edited for brevity) of the book burning at Ephesus from my novel Bright Dark Madonna (Monkfish, 2009 used by permission). The narrative point of view belongs to Maeve, the feisty Celtic Mary Magdalen who is nobody’s disciple:

Intent on my own thoughts, I did not at first notice a larger than usual crowd gathering in the center of the square, until a hush fell, and a voice I could never forget rang out.

“Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, whether Jews or Gentiles, you are now one in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and heirs through Christ to eternal life. I, Paul, called from the womb to be apostle to Christ Jesus, adjure you to come forward with the emblems of your old reliance on sorcery and magic, from the time before you knew Christ Jesus, when you relied on charms and potions to work your own sinful will and satisfy your selfish desires.”

No one could ignore the strident, commanding voice of Paul of Tarsus. I was curious. Wrapping my widow’s shawl around me as a cloak of invisibility, I discovered that I still had my youthful talent for weaving my way through a crowd. No one paid much attention to me. They were all too intent on the public spectacle Paul was creating. And a spectacle it was. There, in front of Paul was a growing pile of scrolls, what were then called books, of all sizes and quality but every one of them costly in days when all writing was by hand. The equivalent of fifty thousand silver pieces was piled up in the square.

“Come forward and confess to your brothers and sisters in the Lord how you have used spells and practiced magic and how you now renounce all such foolishness and wickedness, having been redeemed by Christ Jesus through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

With their basic script provided for them, the new believers began to step forward and give details, sometimes lurid but mostly mundane, of their dabbling in magic and sorcery—to conceive children (or abort them as one brave woman admitted, before her husband yanked her off stage) to divine the future, to heal from sickness, to clinch business deals, to triumph over enemies, or get revenge. All the things people have always tried to control, whether through spells or appeals to gods and, yes, saints. Some people were enjoying their moment center stage while others looked bullied and shamed. Either way, there was something about the whole display that was getting on my nerves.

“What has any of this got to do with the teachings of Jesus?” A woman’s voice suddenly rang out over the din. “What does renouncing magic have to do with loving your neighbor as yourself—loving your enemy?”

To my astonishment the voice was mine and, moreover, I had stepped forward, my shawl falling away. Paul paled as he recognized me and looked for a moment as though he was going to be sick. Then he recovered and glared at me.

“Who is this woman, Apostle?” asked a man. “I do not recognize her. Is she a believer? Has she been baptized by the Holy Spirit?”

Paul was in a pickle, since he had baptized me himself, albeit against my will.

“Who has given this woman authority to speak?” people shouted. “Who has authority over her?”

“No one has authority over me!” I laughed. “I am a widow, as you see. As for who my husband was, I will tell you—”

“Aquila! Quick, a torch!” shouted Paul. “We will make a bonfire for Christ Jesus, a bonfire of our vanities, a bonfire of our unbelief. Christ Jesus is Lord. He is our head. Only he has authority. Only he can save us from death and sin.”

As he spoke, Aquila lit the pile of scrolls on fire, the flames caught and spread rapidly, the scrolls crackling impressively, and the first recorded book burning by Christians was underway. The crowd quickly lost interest in me. An outspoken, possibly crazy, widow was no competition for a holy blaze consuming costly wicked books.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Elemental: Why We Are All Pagan

“My family is Jewish,” he said.

“My family is Protestant,” she said.

“But we’re pagan,” he continued, “and we want our wedding to have some pagan element.”

“Only we want it to be subtle,” she added. “We don’t want our families to feel uncomfortable.”

That was back in the day when I used to officiate at weddings as an interfaith minister. (For why I no longer do see “Mixed Marriage”)

“That’s simple,” I answered. “We’ll honor the elements.” A feature of most contemporary pagan rituals. “We all have to breathe. We all need light and warmth. We all stand on the earth that feeds and shelters us. We all need water to stay alive, whatever else we believe or don’t believe.”

The word pagan simply means country dweller, though many contemporary neo-pagans are urban dwellers as were many pagans in classical times. From the Judeo-Christian perspective, the designation came to describe anyone who was not a monotheist. Paganism isn’t really an “ism” at all. Pagan practices are specific to a time, place, and culture. Though Isis was at one time worshipped all over the Mediterranean world, and the Rites of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis drew pilgrims from everywhere, no pagan community or practice (to avoid the charged word cult) has ever been hailed as a world religion. Yet all so-called world religions have pagan roots and practices that vary from one region to another. All the world religions have splintered into sometimes violently opposing sects. They also continue to make war against each other, or their more extreme practitioners do.

So who needs religion? you might wonder, as you hum John Lennon’s “Imagine” under your breath. I am not going to answer that question beyond muttering: “Religions! Can’t live with ‘em; can’t live without ‘em.”

Paradoxically in its particularity, attention to the local—this mountain, this river, this cycle of seasons—the pagan approach offers a way to recognize our commonality, not just with our fellow human beings but with all the life on this planet. For most of human existence, religious practice had to do with ensuring that there would be enough food, that resources would be preserved, that the gods (source) in the form of rivers, springs, mountains, soil would be honored and fed, replenished, so that the people would continue to thrive.

Whatever our religious beliefs, we know that we are made of the same elements as this planet. The sea is in our blood, the air is our breath, are bones are crystalline, the sun’s fire (in whatever form) warms us and fuels. Climate change, in which we play a role, has shifted the balance of the elements. Whether or not human agency is clear in every instance, we can’t help but be aware of elemental upheaval: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, the devastating flooding in Pakistan, fires in the Western United States. We have put diverse ecologies at risk as we compulsively drill for what is in effect ancient sunlight. A huge glacier just broke away from Greenland, and the seas are rising.

Instead of regarding the elements as our enemies, something to harness, subdue, exploit or escape, maybe it is time to start honoring them again, restoring them, learning from them, aligning with them, recognizing that all life, not just our own, is sustained by the elements, of one substance with them. Maybe we all are pagan, urban and rural dwellers on this earth.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We the People: Are We in Charge?

Last night my husband Douglas Smyth, who writes about politics and economics, mentioned Paul Krugman’s op-ed piece in the New York Times “Defining Prosperity Down” Krugman expresses concern that “those in power will soon declare that high unemployment is “structural” –a permanent part of the economic landscape.” Where is the public outrage at this cavalier government acceptance of high unemployment, my husband wondered? People, he said, have become so passive.

At which point, I became outraged. Who is passive I wanted to know? Aren’t many of us signing petitions and making phone calls to representatives almost daily? And before the invasion of the Iraq, didn’t people take to the streets in large numbers in almost every small town and city in the country not to mention the rest of the world? Don’t people organize and join boycotts? (I had just that day written to CEOs at Target who are now exercising their rights as a “corporate person” to buy elections.) Don’t people volunteer in the political campaigns of those they believe will make a difference? I make no claim to being a model activist. But I am not passive or indifferent, and I don’t believe that most people are no matter what their political stripe or lack thereof.

It is a time-honored axiom that those in power cannot govern without the consent of the governed. But I wonder if that is true. Along with many people, I keep saying no: no to our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, no to tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent, no to energy policies that insist on off-shore drilling with only a nod to alternative energy sources, no to the aforementioned Supreme Court decision, no to eliminating provisions that would provide jobs and extend unemployment benefits, no to cutting services to the working poor. No, no, no! I am not consenting. No!

In this country we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech; we exercise it relentlessly (on the internet, anyway). But who is listening? Our speech may be free, but it seems to have little power to move anyone in power. The problem, I believe, lies not with The People (who are not monolithic and probably never will be) but with the accountability and transparency of those in power. And who is in power, anyway: the elected officials or those who finance their campaigns? How do We the People hold our economic and political elite accountable? Voting? Petitioning? Lobbying? Demonstrating? Do these time-honored/worn methods still work?

At the end of his article, Krugman describes the public as angry not passive, but he calls the anger unfocused. That is an accurate observation. We don’t know where to direct effectively our anger, and anger can easily turn to blame and scapegoating. Honest anger can be manipulated by politicians for their own self-serving ends. Anger can be used by those in power to divide and conquer, and it has been over and over again. Anger can also be turned against the self and lead to shame and despair.

My own anger (directed against a husband who is a tireless activist and does not deserve my ire) stems partly from hearing people’s stories day after day. In my counseling practice, I accept whatever anyone can give, which is sometimes very little, and so I often hear stories of heroic struggle. Almost everyone these days is confronting not only personal problems but economic ones which in turn intensify the personal pain. Political or not, everyone is aware, however peripherally, that we as a nation, world and planet are in dire straits. I cannot fault The People, as I see him or her in their individual strength and weakness, beauty and pathos. But I can hope that that out of this collective crucible, in which our conventional structures and systems appear to be failing, compassion for each other and our common plight and cause may rise.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Feast of Mary Magdalen: Celebrating Incarnation

On July 22nd, the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, fruits and vegetables ripening, sun baking or steaming, cool waters beckoning, warm nights full of stars and fireflies, when our senses are so engaged, the Roman Catholic, the Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches all celebrate The Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene. Or Magdalen, as some prefer. I know her as Maeve, the Celtic Mary Magdalen. This summer marks the twentieth anniversary of my first encounter with what might be described as an archetypal force, or, as one reader called her, an imaginary friend.

She first showed up as a line drawing: an ample woman sitting naked in a kitchen drinking coffee. (Someone recently asked: is she always naked? Answer: yes, because I can’t draw clothes.) The truth is I couldn’t draw at all. I was doodling because I had just finished a novel and was clean out of words. Madge, as she introduced herself to me, did not have the same problem. Speech balloons burgeoned. Line drawings gave way to full color, including fiery neon orange for her hair. (Madge-ic markers were our medium.) The ample flesh required an ample supply of a shade called peach. Madge liked to do everything naked from eating chocolates to painting (she founded the whole-body-no-holds-barred school of art) to making outrageous theological pronouncements about the unmentionable members of the body of Christ. She made no bones about working as a prostitute to support her career as a painter. During the first Gulf War, she became a peace activist and founded such organizations as POWER (Prostitutes Opposing War Everywhere Rise) TWAT (Tarts With Attitude Triumph) and WITCH (Women Inclined To Create Havoc).

I was enchanted with her and begged her to be in my next novel. She rejected all my book proposals as far too conventional (ie, boring!) until one full moon night I made an imaginative leap. Madge…Magdalen. Red hair…Celt. Celtic Mary Magdalen. Hey, I said, would you be willing to be in a book about the Celtic Mary Magdalen? Yes! she answered. That’s the one! “One” is now three published novels and a fourth and final one (yes, I said final!) almost complete.

Mary Magdalen, who makes brief, dramatic appearances in the Canonical gospels and has a Gnostic gospel ascribed to her, has always appealed to novelists, troubadours, and other legend makers—including popes. My Maeve, an impenitent, pagan Celt who is nobody’s disciple, differs from many traditional old and new age depictions of Mary Magdalen. Yet I suspect those of us who love her may have more in common than not. Isn’t her appeal that she was incarnate, a flesh and blood woman, whatever we know or don’t know about her, who loved a flesh and blood man, however we want to define that love?

I would like to declare July 22nd a feast day to celebrate our incarnation on this earth, something all of us alive and who have ever lived share with all life and life to come. We are made of the same substance; we are subject to the same joys and sufferings of the flesh. From a laboring woman’s body we were born; and the mystery of death awaits us. Madge/Maeve/Mary Magdalen(e) is our companion and witness, too, or whatever name you want to call your imaginary friend, the force that sparks you. On July 22nd dare to eat a peach. Swim naked. Open your palms to the sun, rain and wind. Stand barefoot in the dirt. Give thanks for your incarnation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sacred Text(ing): Staying in Touch with Adult Children

When I became a mother, I’d heard plenty about the terrible twos and the anguish of adolescence. The phrase empty nest syndrome was also well-known to me. But nothing and no one prepared me for having fully grown, independent children in their twenties who don’t consider it compulsory to call their parents once a week.

With my mother, the once a week call was an ironclad, if unspoken, rule. If I failed to call, she would call me, her voice cool, subtly reproachful, unsuccessfully denying a need which I now understand all too well. Sometimes I ask my children (with mock-incredulity) how they dare to flaunt this law of the universe? Occasionally I am more direct: call me once a week. So far it hasn’t happened.

I once had lunch with an advice columnist for a local paper. “Ask me something,” she said. “I get tired of making up my own questions.” Ok,” I agreed. “How do I get my adult children to call me?” This veteran mother and grandmother looked at me as if I were an idiot: “You don’t,” she told me. “Leave them alone. They’re busy.”

Even though I have heard similar things from other mothers who have weathered this phase and from younger friends who also don’t call their own mothers, I get weird after a couple of weeks of no communication. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a mother can fill a silence with all kinds of worries and projections. It is even worse when I break down and leave a voice mail or send an email that goes unanswered. Low-level anxiety becomes a backdrop to my life, like a funny sound in the car I know I should get checked though the car still runs.

Last time my daughter visited, she decided to teach me how to text. I am a Luddite who has resisted (and finally succumbed) to every new technology from old-fashioned answering machines, to email to cell phones. I insisted texting was where I drew the line. But my daughter was determined. “Too funny!” she laughed in delight at my clumsiness. (Her laughter is one of my favorite sounds in the world.) So I learned (more or less) though I still don’t know how to back space and find the process so laborious that my messages are necessarily brief.

Here is the wonder and the glory: My children text back! “It is one hundred and one degrees in the shade,” I texted my daughter last week (long message for me). “Yech,” she texted back. “Same here. I can hardly eat or sleep in this heat. But I am watching Spain play Germany and Spain is winning!” I was over the moon. My daughter is alive! She is watching a soccer game. I realized that is all I needed to know. It’s not that I wouldn’t welcome knowing more about her life, but I don’t need to. If there is anything she wants to tell me, she will. Since she did respond, I can also short-circuit the endless loop of: what did I do wrong as a mother? If I had been a better mother, they would be closer to me, they would call me.

Really, it’s not about me. That’s what texting is teaching me. They’re fine. They know I’m there. I’m the background of their lives, not the focus, the harbor to their open sea, the boulder or tree that serves as a point of reference. That is as it should be. Also, I am making a rule (for myself only) out of respect for the sacred text: Not to do it more than once a week (or maybe twice!)

Note: next week in honor of Mary Magdalen's Feast Day July 22nd), I will be writing about my twenty years with Maeve (aka The Celtic Mary Magdalen)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Politics of Joy: God's Equation

It’s Thursday night Chi Kung, and we are cultivating energy between our palms and then our own palms and a partner’s. Our teacher instructs us to remember a time when we felt pure joy, to recall it vividly, completely in every cell, to embody joy in this moment. Then he says: Bring this joy into your hands. Offer it as a gift to the world.

Joy springs, wells, swells between our palms. I see joy spilling over the world, spreading over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, touching all the lives, feathered, finned and human, that have been and are being so devastated by the ongoing disaster. The joy stays with me after I leave class and into the next day. I realize it has been a long time since I have allowed myself to open to joy—not since April 20th at least. Since then, whether or not I am consciously thinking of the oil disaster, I feel it in my body, I carry it with me. Not as a noble, if futile, gesture, but simply because, like all of us, I am seventy percent ocean. How can all be well with me if all is not well with the sea?

A long time ago, I had a dream in which a religious authority reproached me for feeling joy in a world where there was hunger, poverty, oppression, war (this was before environmental depredation had made the list). In the dream I dared to answer the authority: “Joy is part of God’s equation.” Since I flunked algebra and am mathematically inept, equation was and is an unusual metaphor for me. Perhaps that is why the dream phrase stayed with me all these years, even as the internalized voice of the reproachful authority continues to rebuke me.

As to whether my vision of joy spilling from my hands over the earth had any effect on the oil disaster, I remain at best agnostic. When we pray for something or someone, we ourselves are changed and may be moved to act more effectively and compassionately. The effect of the vision on me was to illuminate how much dread and depression I have been carrying. I am not alone. As a counselor, I have noticed that people are not only coping with personal crises but are also chronically anxious about the world itself: economic uncertainty, the wars we are waging, political upheavals, and ecological disaster. The revised and extended list from my dream. Most people do their best to help in some way; some activists have clear callings. But many people also feel overwhelmed, helpless, or chronically guilty: “If I did more, if I consumed less…”

Joy is not a betrayal of sorrow for a suffering world; it is companion and counterpart. Joy can be an offering, an act of courage and encouragement. A healthy cell supporting a body that is struggling to heal. A strong hand extended to someone who is hanging off a cliff edge. Maybe what we do can never be enough, maybe no change we can make is radical enough. Maybe we won’t make it. Yet we can dare to know joy if only for a moment here and there, to embody it, to offer it to each other and to the world, to figure it into God’s mysterious, insoluble equation.

Note to readers: Instead of once a week, this summer I will be posting more like twice a month. Thanks for all the support!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

When the Circus Folds: Couples Counseling Part Two

Last week I posted a piece called Three Ring Circus: The Thrill of Couples Counseling. Using the circus as a metaphor, I described my work as a couples’ counselor. In response, a number of people commented that couples counseling had not worked for them and/or that it was not affordable. I felt that a second post on couples counseling was in order.

Affordability: Some counselors (like me) offer a sliding scale, one end of which is quite modest. In my county, mental health services also offer a sliding scale based on income. They do not list couples counseling among the available services, but when an individual seeks counseling, the partner or the whole family can be brought into the process. Couples’ counseling often progresses more quickly than individual counseling. Even a few sessions can bring clarity. It can be a wise investment that may save a lot of money and heartache in the long run.

Purpose: Last week I described a particular outcome: (metaphorically flying happily ever after on the trapeze). I later regretted that conclusion, because in couples counseling it is only one possibility. The purpose of counseling isn’t to preserve a partnership no matter what but to explore how it is working, where it is stuck or breaking down, if it can be healed, and whether or not both people want to remain in the relationship—or should. Counseling can include reaching a decision to separate and how to go about separating in a way that respects and protects each person.

When I told my 97-year-old mother-in-law today’s blog topic, she said. “Not every relationship should be a marriage. People should have affairs! It is a perfectly acceptable.” (She had both a thirty-five year marriage and many affairs, starting in her teens when she was engaged to three men at once.) I said I would quote her.

A few topics to consider when deciding whether or not to fold the tent:

Children: My own parents were married unhappily till death parted them. Divorce is undeniably a trauma for children, but so is a miserable marriage. Waiting until the kids are eighteen does not make it easier for them. There is no ideal time for a divorce, but sometimes it is has to happen. Neither marriage nor divorce insures the quality of a parent’s relationship to a child. Parents can be present or absent, responsive or abusive in either scenario. Some divorced couples parent well together and some married couples parent disastrously.

Abuse: When a relationship is abusive emotionally, verbally, psychologically, financially or physically get help right away, even if your partner will not go to counseling with you. At the heart of abuse is the overriding need of one person to control the other, to disable, belittle and isolate the partner. Abuse is often not physical. If you feel you are being abused, get help. If you do not have time to look for counseling, call a domestic abuse hotline.

Addiction: If you are addicted to any substance or activity, get help. 12-step programs are listed in the phone book and they are free. If that model doesn’t work for you, find another form of treatment. If you are living with someone who is addicted, get help. Start with Al-Anon and go from there.

Mental Illness: A relationship with someone who is suffering from bi-polar disorder, depression or other clinical conditions can be extremely challenging but it can work if both people get appropriate treatment and/or support.

Infidelity: This is a tough and messy situation. I have seen relationships instantly exploded, and I have seen them healed and transformed. It’s make it or break it time. Get help!

A few general questions to ask yourself: Do I love and respect this person? Does s/he love and respect me? Am I able to be fully myself in this relationship? Are both my feet in this relationship or is one out the door? Are the stresses on the relationship primarily external (small or adolescent children, finances, job issues) or internal (the way we relate to each other)?

I’ll close with an observation about my own marriage. It went through adolescence. When we grow up, adolescence is the beginning of our separation from our parents. It seemed natural (in an odd way) to want to leave home again after about the same length of time. We got couples counseling instead. My children grew up and left home. I stayed. It’s strange to live with someone so much longer than I lived with parents or children but also rich.

If your relationship is adolescent or going through some other awkward phase, get help!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Three Ring Circus: The Thrill of Couples Counseling

When I work with couples, I feel like I am under the Big Top. There may not be elephants, clowns, or trapeze artists (not literally, anyway) but there are definitely three rings. The work is exciting and keeps me on my toes. As counselor/ringmaster I have to be aware of what is happening in all three rings at all times.

The ring on my right features one person and the ring on the left, the other. The ring in the middle is where the mystery unfolds, for it belongs to both people. In the beginning the center ring is often either utterly deserted or bloody with the carnage of past gladiatorial battles that may erupt again any moment.

As ringmaster, I have (figuratively only!) a whistle, a spotlight, and a bullhorn. I use the whistle to halt attacks. Attacks are not the same as discussion (even heated discussion) which can lead to negotiation and resolution. My first task is to ensure safety, so that the couple can find the courage to risk revelation and connection. The spotlight brings focus to one person or the other or to a particular issue or dynamic. The metaphorical bullhorn is not to make my voice heard but to help adjust volume. Often one person is speaking more softly, literally and figuratively, and needs to be amplified. Another person may be having difficulty hearing the other, because his or her own volume needs to be lowered a bit.

In the first session or two, I am often turning the spotlight back and forth to the two outer rings so that I can hear each person’s story fully, without interruption. Although it seems like not much is happening in the center ring, slowly, in the half light, another as yet unspoken story is gestating. Even when the spotlight is on one person, I have to be intensely aware of the other. If all goes well, the one who is out of the spotlight joins me as a listener, begins to become a witness, not just someone waiting his or her turn. One man recently remarked, “I have heard her say most of these things before, but when a third person is present, I hear differently.”

At first, each person tends to direct what they’re saying to me. By the second or third session, my most oft repeated phrase is, “Talk to each other now.” And yes it is thrilling to watch initial reluctance (each one keeping one eye on me) shift to full engagement. Then the spotlights converge on the center ring, and I sit in back in the shadows, watching and listening until I am needed. Sometimes something will come up from one or another person’s past, and the spotlight is theirs again, often with help and encouragement from the other person.

By the third or fourth session, the couple is spending considerable time in the center ring, albeit sometimes circling each other warily. But now curiosity is beginning to come into play, curiosity about this other person who is surprising you at every turn, because the truth s/he is daring to tell does not match the assumptions you’ve always made; curiosity about yourself, questioning why you react the way you do, instead of blindly defending your reaction. Curiosity about how things work or don’t work, how life could be less painful and more delightful. Now the clowns can come in to lighten things up, now the laughter begins as the couple looks at their own and each other’s absurdities with amusement and amazement instead of shame and rage.

When a couple heals their relationship, each person’s own old wounds begin to heal, too. Then anything can happen in that center ring with enough practice. The couple can become trapeze artists and fly through the air with the greatest of ease trusting that their partner, and/or the strong net they woven together, will catch them.

Then the ringmaster applauds, tips her hat, and leaves the tent.

Elizabeth Cunningham has been in private practice as a counselor for twelve years. She has been married for thirty years.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Love your Enemy: A Novelist's Dilemma

If I had known what it would be like to pore over and over historical accounts of military strategy and weaponry and then attempt, imaginatively, to place myself in the midst the horror and chaos of battle, I might not have planted a certain hint in Volume One of The Maeve Chronicles. Now I am reaping what I sowed: the child Maeve bore (and had taken from her by force) grew up to be Queen Boudica who led several Celtic tribes in an uprising against the Roman occupation in 61CE. In Volume Four, Maeve is in the thick of it.

Apart from my determination to complete Maeve’s epic adventures, what keeps me going is the knowledge that this almost two thousand year old story is also contemporary—a fatal clash of interests and cultures, betrayals and humiliations, violent retaliation that spins out of control, slaughter of the innocent and not so innocent, and the costly victory of an invading, colonizing force over a native population. Sound familiar? It may not be a timeless story. (ie, there may have been times on earth when warfare was intertribal and did not involve significant imbalances of power, wealth, and technical prowess.) But it is timely. The news tells us this story in one form or another every day.

There is an old adage: write what you know. I do not know about battle first hand. I have never lived in occupied territory. But then I have never lived in a whorehouse or witnessed a crucifixion either, and I have already written about both as though I have. A better adage might be: write what you want to know. In the case of writing about battle (at least for me): write what you are afraid to know.

Yet in order to brave this undertaking, I must also call on what I do know: I do know what it’s like to see both sides of a conflict, to love people on both sides of a conflict. I know what it’s like to want desperately to fix something, to change something, and to feel that it’s my fault if I can’t. I know rage and blame. I know grief and anguish. Maeve’s position in this deadly conflict between the Romans and the Celts involves all these emotions and conundrums.

Seven years ago, I began to study Tai Chi Chuan with a traditional teacher who insists we at least understand martial applications, if not employ them. A sometime pacifist, I have found it challenging and fascinating to try to understand a warrior’s point of view. My teacher has told me that I lack killer instinct. I am afraid Maeve does, too. She was the lover and beloved of Jesus. When she shifts shape, she takes the form of a dove. On the eve of a battle she could not prevent and cannot escape, she must ask herself: what does it mean to love your enemy?

For Maeve it means she cannot fight someone unless she knows and loves him. (There is someone who qualifies, but no plot revelations.) Her particular solution can’t be generalized. But her question continues to haunt me as I write her story. And because I am writing this story, the question haunts me when I think about what happened on the Flotilla bound for Gaza. How unknown and threatening the soldiers who boarded the vessel must have appeared. The soldiers also believed, rightly or wrongly, that they were confronting the unknown and threatening. In that moment, no one knew anyone. No one had a name or a story. Neither side was even in the same story. And yet each side had a story of which they were convinced, for which they were willing to die—or to kill.

If there needs to be a reason, maybe that is why I have to write this story, because it has come to me, and I can’t escape it. Because it demands that I do more than have opinions or pass judgment about who is right and wrong. It demands that I place myself imaginatively in the midst of current battles and see myself surrounded by friends and enemies, challenged each time to find a way to love both.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Food for Thought, Thoughtful Food

I am in the vegetable garden pulling weeds (it is always a good year for weeds.) I am glad to be away from the computer with my hands and feet in dirt. I am thinking: there is no such thing as a virtual vegetable garden. I uproot some mustard greens that are crowding out the peas. In an hour or so we will eat them for dinner. I am wishing everyone in the world could have a chance to eat something he or she has grown.

On this edible planet where we all eat (and/or are eaten), food connects all life. How we grow it, how we transport it, how we prepare it and how we share it matters. As a woman, I sometimes feel responsible (read guilty) for the invention of agriculture. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, being able to stay in one place with the babies, being able to store surplus food for winter or other difficult conditions, being able to feed more people.

As agriculture took hold, we needed more people to produce the food, and so we produced more people to feed, and needed more food. Though most of us no longer work in agriculture and many have been forced to sell family farms, global human population is still growing, projected to reach nine billion between 2040 and 2050. Modern commercial agribusiness has given us the ability to feed a burgeoning population—although many still go hungry, not because of local famines but because of a system that keeps them in poverty, including the very people that labor to grow commercial monocrops. Refrigeration and global food distribution must once have seemed like a good idea, too. (Who among us has never eaten vegetables and fruits out of season, grown in a faraway place?) Now most of us are dependent on this system—and the oil that fuels it.

Oil-driven food industry is a relatively new, post WWII phenomenon. My mother’s generation, the ones who spawned the baby boom, was the first to turn en masse to processed foods, instead of pickling or canning at home. (Again, an idea that looked good at the time, marketed as freedom from drudgery.) I married a vegetarian and learned to grow, cook and eat food I never dreamed existed in my hamburger-centered youth. My daughter, granddaughter of the woman who made everything from a mix, is an accomplished cook and baker who makes everything from scratch.

Things can change quickly. In my life time, family farms disappeared from the Hudson Valley, driven out by lower cost factory farms further west. Now farming is returning to the region in the form of Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)which sell vegetables, eggs and grass-fed meat directly to the local population. Many towns in the area host farmer’s markets. People are getting to know the provenance of their food, as well as the people who grow it. This change in our relationship to food has the potential to spur other changes—in the way we use land, develop housing, and connect with our neighbors, the way we structure our local and global economies.

It’s only a beginning. Local, organic food is not readily available or affordable to everyone, especially in economically depressed urban areas. We have a huge population to feed. We need visionaries; we need private and public investment in new ways to grow and equitably distribute food. Oil-dependent agribusiness is neither healthy nor sustainable, nor at all careful of preserving soil and ground water. Neither is car-centered suburban sprawl that has already consumed vast acres of arable land.

Food, a need and pleasure we all share, offers hope. Maybe the way forward is back to the garden, literally: in our back yards, on community-supported farms, on common lands around cluster housing, in lots on every city block. Let’s meet in the garden across generations and cultures. Let’s share vegetables, swap recipes. Let’s all come to the table. Let’s eat.

For books on this subject:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered
by Woody Tasch

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mother to Mother: A Bilingual, Interfaith Funeral

Roberto died at High Valley, our center, after a long illness. During his last weeks, his friends Karen and David cared for him there, joined by his mother Luisa from Venezuela. Until her recent move to a nursing home, Karen and David shared a house with my mother-in-law Olga, also from Venezuela. Olga’s last years at home coincided with the years Roberto, a musician from New York, stayed at High Valley frequently. Whenever he visited, he played Venezuelan folksongs on his Cuatro for Olga. In her nineties and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Olga knew all the words and sang along, tapping her feet to the rhythm. Olga and Roberto were more than compatriots. They came from the same island, Margarita, and spoke the same dialect. With his music, Roberto restored Olga’s memory of her earliest years.

Roberto requested that his ashes be scattered at High Valley, the place of his deep friendship with Karen and David, the heart of an earth-centered community in which he joyously took part whenever he was present. The morning of his funeral was warm and clear, the air full of birdsong, floating seeds and blossoms. The chaplain from hospice, a Roman Catholic nun who spoke fluent Spanish, came to officiate. Of those gathered, five spoke only English; three were bilingual, and Roberto’s mother spoke only Spanish.

Sister Maria was dressed in a simple suit with a cross on her lapel. She had been making visits to the family for the last two weeks when hospice services were put in place. She was quiet and confident; she had created a simple structure for the ceremony that left ample room for spontaneity. Her translations were seamless, her ways of including others, sensitive and inspired.

Karen opened a book of poems at random and happened on one addressed to a mother who has lost a child. At Sister Maria’s suggestion, Karen read a line in English and Roberto’s cousin translated in Spanish. Then Sister Maria read in Spanish the Gospel story of the disciples recognizing Jesus in the breaking of bread. “And so,” she concluded, in Spanish, then in English, “when you hear music, that is how you will recognize Roberto, our hermanito. You will know that he is with us.”

Spontaneously we sang a chant that Robert had loved and that we had sung to him in the last weeks. “We are opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the one.” Encouraged, Roberto’s mother then sang a hymn to the Virgin Mary calling her to guide Roberto’s spirit. We all joined in the chorus, “Ven, Maria, ven!” One of the most powerful, intimate invocations of the divine mother I have ever heard.

Sister Maria then told us it was time to return Roberto to the Mother Earth. Luisa became very calm and still. She took the bag of ashes and went to a metasequoia tree that Roberto had loved. She flung his ashes; the wind caught them and lifted them into light before they fell among the roots. With sureness and strength, Luisa moved to the lake and gave ashes to the water, and then to the fire pit where Roberto had cooked arepas many times. And finally she walked to a huge copper beech that she called “el arbol rojo.”

At Sister Maria’s instruction, I had fetched a pitcher of water, “so that she does not have to wash her hands at the sink.” Underneath the red tree, where the last of Roberto’s body had been returned to the mother by his mother, Sister Maria poured water over Luisa’s upraised hands, murmuring prayers that needed no translation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Becoming a Prayer

We usually think of praying as something we do, a prayer as something we say or perhaps read, aloud or silently. But if a singer is one who sings, a writer one who writes, a dancer one who dances, and so forth, we could say that a prayer is one who prays. If we pray, we are prayers.

The daughter of an Episcopal priest, I grew up with the sonorous, sometimes terrifying language of The 1928 Book of Common Prayer. From the General Confession this phrase has always stayed with me. “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses.” (I still love that plural.)

Quaker Meeting was my first experience of silent corporate prayer. In what I called “the womb of silence” different images of the divine emerged, especially feminine ones. In time, longing for music and ritual led me out of Quaker Meeting to form a non-institutional, earth-centered community. At length I also became an ordained interfaith minister.

Here are some things I have learned/am learning about praying/being a prayer:

If you pray for someone (or something), prepare to be part of the answer.

Raging at the divine is fine. Go for it at the top of your lungs. Exhaust yourself. Then…listen.

Help! Help! is a good prayer. The answer may come in bizarre (often humorous) forms. Be alert.

You can pray with your body; you can pray with your breath; you can pray with your touch; you can pray with your presence.

Singing and dancing and drumming can be prayers.

Aligning with the elements, the waxing and waning moon and sun, the seasons of the earth, the plants and animals is prayer.

Gratitude and kindness are always prayers.

You do not have to have a belief system to pray. You do not have to have a fixed opinion about where the divine resides or if the divine as a noun exists. All our words and images are metaphors to help us connect with the mystery, the intimately known and unknown.

Writing a novel can be a prayer. Dreaming can be prayer. Cooking can be prayer. Eating can be prayer. Making love can be prayer. This list could go on and on.

A recent experience of prayer:

Something I am calling “world sorrow” for lack of another term, when the boundaries between you and “all that is” disappear for a time, and you sorrow with the earth, as the earth. Many people have become this kind of prayer during the oil spill disaster and other world sorrows.

A recent definition of prayer from my tai chi teacher who also teaches shamanic practice:

“When you pray for someone you become, for a moment, the creator.”

I remember those moments when I have seen someone without the filter of my hopes or concerns for them, which can all too easily take on the tinge of judgment or control. Those moments are startling, illuminating, humbling.

Praying without ceasing:

If we become prayers, we can. If we become prayers, we are.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Howl if You Love Gaia: Cristina Eisenberg's The Wolf's Tooth

I thought of titling this post “Howl if You Love Jesus,” although Cristina’s Eisenberg’s in depth survey of the effect of keystone predators on a wide variety of ecosystems, makes no mention of Jesus or of any religion. The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity is all about food webs. And I found myself thinking of Jesus saying to his disciples: Take, eat this is my body. If you think of the earth as the body of Christ, then all its members are important: the predator, the prey, the trees, the grasses, the birds, insects, fish, the forests, the rivers, the seas, and all their myriad forms of life.

A scientist with a poet’s command of language, Cristina Eisenberg writes with precision and passion. Her own ongoing research focuses on wolves as keystone predators, what happens to various landscapes when wolves return in sufficient numbers to drive a trophic cascade. Wolves affect herbivores, for example elk, not only by limiting their numbers but also by causing them to be vigilant, thus changing their browsing patterns. When herbivores no longer over-browse, young trees can grow to maturity. When the forest and other plants are renewed, songbirds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians return. Forested river banks hold their soil, preventing erosion and contributing to the health of rivers. The herbivore population also benefits, having a more reliable and renewable food source. Wolves are called keystone predators, because their presence or absence has a radical effect on a whole complex eco-system. When a system is healthy, biodiversity flourishes.

In Part One: Web of Life, Eisenberg takes her reader on a breathtaking, sometimes heartbreaking tour of the planet from the Gulf of Maine to the Amazonian rain forests, the tropical coral reefs to old growth forests of the Northwest as well as rivers, lakes, and wetlands. At each stop she introduces us to the work of fellow scientists who are studying these ecosystems and the effects of disrupted food webs. As someone with no science background at all, I found the wealth of information not only accessible but riveting.

Part Two: Mending the Web surveys public policies and projects, both private and public, where keystone predators have returned or are being reintroduced. In this section Eisenberg also ponders the place of the human being, how to balance human uses of land and resources with the need to preserve wildness for our own health and the health of the whole planet. When too many species become extinct or compromised our own survival as a species is at stake, as we are being sharply reminded with the oil spill now threatening life in the marshes of Louisiana.

In order to survive in the wild where she works, Eisenberg herself has had to find her place, and learn to understand the language of wolves, grizzlies, and cougars and to defer to them when appropriate. As a species, we seem to have taken umbrage at the very idea of other predators who threaten us and our livelihoods. We have demonized them and many of us still seek to destroy them. In doing so, we have, perhaps unknowingly, perhaps with the best of intentions, caused harm to this sacred, beloved body of which we are all members.

Eisenberg quotes pioneer ecologist Aldo Leopold:
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to the layman.”

Eisenberg’s powerful, beautifully written book, already in its second printing, has the potential to open many people’s eyes, minds, and hearts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Celebrating Beltane: Courage in Hard Times

This year, as the festival of Beltane (April 30th) approached, I was aware of feeling anxious. Our community celebrates by leaping bonfires, dancing the May Pole, then gathering boughs and literally bringing in the May. We festoon the rafters of a barn with blossoming branches, and then we crown each other with ribbon, adding violets, periwinkles and daffodils wherever they can be tucked in. Use your imagination. We’ve been celebrating the holiday at High Valley for fifteen years, and I always watch closely and eagerly as Spring unfolds from the first snowdrops and crocuses, to the shadblow, the forsythia, daffodils, quince, and then tulips and the first bloom of apple and dogwood. This Spring everything bloomed three to four weeks early. I kept wondering, what May will be left to gather in?

This might not sound like cause for angst. As I fretted, I discovered many people do not keep such close track of when this or that plant blooms. And isn’t an early Spring (fast turning into an early summer) cause for rejoicing? Perhaps, if it was just an anomaly. But I can’t help feeling that this early Spring is connected to the climate change that is bringing us melting icecaps, disappearing islands and coasts, changes in monsoon patterns, violent freak storms. This year, for whatever reason, there have been five earthquakes and a volcanic eruption. The recent coalmine disaster and the ongoing oil spill serve as immediate and dramatic reminders of the havoc our human dependency on fossil fuel is wreaking. The greenest of us is part of this juggernaut.

On May Eve, we managed to find some dogwood still blooming as well as narcissus, a few tulips and plenty of violets. It was a beautiful, warm, clear day. As my husband and I gathered boughs and flowers and set up the bonfires and the Maypole, I pondered how to acknowledge grief, not just personal grief of which there is always plenty, but planetary grief and yet also open to joy, to possibility, to surprise. Spring, even when it is not early and connected to ominous change, can break your heart. Spring challenges us to begin again, open again, risk coming to life again.

For me celebrating the Wheel of the Year is about connecting with my community, human and non-human, aligning with the rhythms of waxing and waning light, cycles of fecundity and death and regeneration. It is about remembering that we are the earth, we are made of earth, air, water, and the fire of the sun. If I am earth, there is no shame in feeling earth’s sorrow in my body. But it is also important to know joy, to embody joy.

On Beltane morning I wrote a tanka (a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable pattern):

The Beltane moment
~forsythia, shadblow, quince~
passed some weeks ago
still we gather this May Eve,
blossoming boughs of courage.

And that evening we did gather, some seventy strong. We acknowledged sorrow, then danced with joy. We brought in the May and as we crowned each other we made the last line of the tanka into an improvised chant. Over and over, till everyone was radiant and festooned with flowers, we sang:

“We are the blossoming boughs of courage.”

May our courage bear good fruit.

Coming next week, a post on Cristina Eisenberg's new book The Wolf's Tooth: Keystone Predator's, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What did Jesus do?

One of the people who most remind me of the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels is my friend singer songwriter Tim Dillinger. He lives on next to nothing and yet carries with him an atmosphere of joy and abundance. His many friendships cross lines of race, religion, age, gender, and sexual orientation in a way that has nothing to do with political correctness. To Tim everyone is kin. He does not shy from confrontation, but when he contends with someone, he also seeks to understand their point of view, even when people condemn him, as many did last week when he posted a link on his facebook page to an article about Jennifer Knapp, a Christian singer who came out as gay, an experience Tim has lived himself.

Some of the scriptural pronouncements against homosexuality come from Leviticus, one of the three Biblical books that detail more than four hundred laws. Most people have a tough enough time observing the Ten Commandments. It hardly seems cricket for Christians to riffle through Mosaic law to pick the ones that reinforce their opinions while ignoring scores of others. Paul, who is famous for fulminating about sexual immorality, is also frequently taken out of context. For an excellent analysis of Romans I, see this article by James Alison.

Both Peter and Paul did do some picking and choosing about which of the laws of Moses to observe and which to disregard as gentiles flocked to the new movement. After a visionary dream, Peter argued for relaxing dietary laws. And Paul waived the requirement of circumcision insisting that what matters to God is a circumcised heart. In context, their policies were liberal and inclusive.

As for Jesus, he said nothing on the subject of homosexuality. You could argue, and many have, that he didn’t have to make pronouncements. He was an observant Jew who would have regarded homosexuality as a sin. The truth is, we will never know his views on this subject. We do, however, have very clear statements from Jesus on how we are to behave towards one another:

Judge not lest you be judged. Matthew 7:1

Do not take the mote from your brother’s eye until you have removed the beam from your own. Matthew 7:3

Let the one without sin among you cast the first stone. John 8:7

Love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31

I was naked and you clothed me, hungry and you gave me to eat… Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of these the least my brethren, you have done it onto me. Matthew 25

The only people Jesus railed against were the self-righteous and the hypocritical—sins we’re all guilty of from time to time. Let us repent! Focus instead on loving and caring for the people who cross our path. That is what Jesus actually did. And that is what Tim does. And if we do the same, we will not have the time, energy or heart to condemn any of our kin.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Personality Disorder: Deliberate Misdiagnosis

I am doing research and taking alarming diagnostic tests online, because of an article in The Nation Disposable Soldiers” by Joshua Kors that highlights the case of Chuck Luther , a soldier discharged from the army after multiple tours of duty and exposure to combat conditions with a supposed diagnosis of Personality Disorder. Considered a pre-existing condition, this diagnosis permits the army to deny the soldier a lifetime of disability benefits and long-term medical care. And to add salt to the wound, a soldier also has to give back a portion of their re-enlistment bonus, which may exceed the amount of a final paycheck. In short, it is entirely within the military’s financial interest to overlook an alleged pre-existing condition during recruitment screening and then discover it later after a soldier has suffered trauma or brain injury.

This suspect practice has been going on for years. In 2007 then Senator Obama introduced a bill to stop all PD discharges. It was defeated, and the PD discharges are ongoing. Joshua Kors writes:
“Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with personality disorder. That number includes soldiers who have served two and three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Typing Personality Disorder into my browser, I soon discovered the
ICD-10 general diagnostic criteria, which includes the following:
There must be evidence that the deviation is stable and of long duration, having its onset in late childhood or adolescence.

Organic brain disease, injury, or dysfunction must be excluded as the possible cause of the deviation.

These two criteria alone call into question the plethora of military discharges for PD. If a diagnosis requires evidence that the deviation is “stable and of long duration,” why wasn’t it made during a medical screening process or discovered during basic training? And in combat situations, how can a brain injury be ruled out? In Chuck Luther’s case a mortar exploded in his guard house and slammed his head into a cement wall. He suffered partial loss of hearing, blindness in one eye, debilitating migraines, persistent shoulder pain but was given (and ultimately forced to accept) a discharge for PD.

A much more common and accurate diagnosis for soldiers who have seen combat is Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Of course it cannot be dismissed as pre-existing. In this country there are sharp divisions of opinion about the two wars we continue to fight. Let’s unify in holding our military and our government accountable for fair recompense and respectful care for returning soldiers. If we cannot afford to treat the wounds of war—physical, psychological, and spiritual— we should not be asking our soldiers to suffer them.

For ways to help: http://www.ptsdsupport.net/ptsd_given_misdiagnosis.html

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Drinking from Our Own Wells: Celebrating National Poetry Month

April is national poetry month, but we need poetry all year long, all life long. Left to their own devices, children speak poetry. I will never forget hearing my four- year-old daughter crooning to herself.

The cat catches the mouse
the mouse catches the bird
and the night catches everything

At the end of his life, my father also spoke poetry:

When the river nears the sea
it gets confused
it doesn’t know which way to go.

Reading and writing poetry restores our sense of awe and connection; it uses words to take us to the wordless. When you write poetry, it changes the way you perceive. You are always on the alert for that shy, wild thing: a poem.

Eight years ago, after keeping journals since my teens, I decided I was tired of listening to myself maunder on in prose. I challenged myself to keep a poem journal only. In this daily practice, bad poetry is permissible and inevitable, but whatever I write about—dreams, conflict, people, nature—I seek to discover something truthful and essential. For example, volumes on domestic tension and affection are distilled here.

Parting of the long-married

He opens the car door
and begins to get in
before I protest and he
swears he would have remembered
to give me a goodbye embrace.

He insists on removing my glasses
to hold me close, and I (almost angrily)
say many useless things
about calling and staying safe.
I send a blessing as he drives away.

Later I cannot find my glasses.
It is clearly his fault.
I rewind the morning and know
I put them on the back of my car.
I find them halfway up the drive, unharmed.

Poetry can call forth a succinct narrative account, but I also relish the permission it gives for free association. Here is a poem I wrote not long after my husband’s diagnosis with prostate cancer. (He has successfully completed treatment.) The poem came from a meditation.

saints’ gold

the light shining
through your mother’s womb
the light shining
into the depths of the sea
the last light on the last oak leaves
at the end of a short November day
the honey inside the hive
the honey spooled on the spoon
the light in your lover’s eyes
when he knows
you will never

For me, as for many, poems can also be prayers, a way of connecting with mystery. Here is one from yesterday.

where you dwell

you are in every breaking heart
I don’t know how this can be
but I believe it is so

our torn hearts are your temple
they offer scant shelter
from rain or beauty

you are welcome in my heart
I am seeking you here among
weeds and fallen stone

in some shadow you are waiting
you will give me water
from my own spring

cupped in your brown hands
when I am quieted
you will speak

When I signed up for twitter last summer, I began to experiment with haiku and even attempted the occasional tanka. The really gifted poets don’t always stick to the syllabic formula, which is only an English approximation of the forms, but I became addicted to counting.


now it's quiet again
crows have settled their dispute
wind rests in the leaves


just outside my door
the phoebes shrill excitement
topic? real estate
should we raise the babies here?
I hope they decide to build

Twitter attracts people who love words. In further celebration of poetry month, I want to introduce you to a writer I met there: R. May Evans who has just published Truth-Love-Blood-and Bones, a collection of poems available as an e-book. May is also a brilliant blogger and an artist. Here are her links:

book: http://bit.ly/b4wLMr
blog: http://www.maysmachete.com
art and writing: http://www.readheadgirl.deviantart.com

R. May Evans has a lively and wide-ranging poetic voice—funny, fierce, sexy, angry, lyrical, passionate. Her images and metaphors sometimes startle me in just the way I long to be startled, so that I see in a new way. With R. May Evan’s permission, I will close with a poem that gives me a sense of her bold, engaging spirit. I encourage you to explore her work further.


I am like a goat butting
my hard head and tiny horns against everyone
and everything I come across, if only to find out what
they’re made of. I’m made of stubbornness
and questions. My cry could be a laugh.

I hop rock to rock, restless explorer.

copyright 2009 by R. May Evans
used with permission by the author

I would like to acknowledge author and editor Cait Johnson’s brilliant editorial suggestions for this post.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sex and Incarnation: Part Two

“What about the orgies?” yet another man asked me.

“Orgies?” I repeated perplexed. “Why has no one invited me?”

We were attending New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) sometime in the late 1980s. That summer the women’s rights committee (half-jokingly called the women’s rites committee) had sponsored an interest group on the goddess. (We didn’t specify which one.) Quakers have long been known for their religious tolerance. In 1683 Quaker William Penn, forced to preside over a witch trial in an era of persecution and hysteria, found a clever and merciful way to acquit the defendant. The controversy over the “goddess interest group,” a far cry from an orgy, took me by surprise. I wondered how Friends, who hold that “there is that of god in everyone” could so lose their balance when an “-ess” was added to the word.

The Biblical God, though referred to as “he,” is supposed to transcend gender. He has to, because in a monotheistic religion he is singular, and monotheism was a distinguishing characteristic of the emergent religion of the Hebrew people and remains so today for all the religions of the Book. When the Biblical prophets inveigh against rival pagan religions there is often a reference to (reprehensible) sexual practices associated with goddess worship. And this association and excoriation continue in the Epistles of Paul, notably Romans I. For better or worse, the word goddess automatically connotes gender, as does the word priestess, and it seems that whenever femaleness is not defined/confined by marriage and motherhood, people start asking “what about the orgies?”

Perhaps it is not an entirely idle or prurient question. Before I ever joined the women’s rights/rites committee, I had a periodic longing for a temple where I could go and celebrate Eros at full spate, make an offering of it to its source. The temple in my fantasy (or vision or memory) stood near a tidal river, and the moon was full. I knew nothing about the stranger(s) I received except that they were divine, as, in that moment, I was also.

Marriage can be a beautiful, durable container and expression of sexuality. (I’ve been married and monogamous for thirty years), but it is by definition domestic. And for the first 20 years or so, there are often children underfoot! Sexuality is not just domestic. My vision was about creating a container for Eros in its wilder, undomesticated form. In our culture we have no open or sanctified ways of expressing this aspect of sexuality. So that wild (perhaps divine) longing is often expressed covertly and destructively.

Because of that vision and the persistent questions about my orgiastic practices, I became interested in the subject of sacred prostitution. There seems to be fairly compelling evidence in ancient texts and images that it did once exist in many cultures (Sumer-Babylon and Phoenicia among them), though there is plenty of room for scholarly and religious debate about the details of the practice. Since I am not a scholar or a social reformer but a novelist, I decided to write about it , taking the position that what we don’t know, we can imagine. Through imagination perhaps we can become more open, insightful, and understanding of the ways we mortals embrace and/or wrestle with Eros.

For the record, I am still happily married, still monogamous. Our nest, now emptied, has come to resemble the temple more and more. At least on weekends, the orgy is here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sex and Incarnation

There is one Christian tenet I will always hold dear: the divine became flesh. I am not interested in debating whether Jesus is the only begotten son of God, whether his mother was a virgin, whether his death redeemed our sin, or whether his Resurrection was literal or symbolic. What moves me is that he had feet, he walked with them on this earth; he allowed them to be washed with the tears of a woman of dubious repute. He knelt down and washed feet himself. Whatever quarrels I have with the church, I love this man. He is real to me.

That said, I confess that for many years now, I have not been a creed-saying Christian. Descended from nine generations of Episcopal Priests, I have been (in succession) a baptized Episcopalian, a Quaker, a goddess-worshipper, and finally an ordained interfaith minister. I am also the author of an unorthodox (at the least) and arguably heretical series of novels called The Maeve Chronicles, featuring a feisty (fictional) Celtic Magdalen who is no one’s disciple.

Despite my novels’ subject matter, I also have no interest debating whether or not Jesus had sex with or married Mary Magdalen or whether he chose to be celibate. (Novelists, the wily tricksters, don’t argue, they tell stories.) Most of what Jesus had to say on the subject of marriage and celibacy can be found in Matthew 19: 1-12. (If you want Maeve’s take on this scene, see chapter 64 in The Passion of Mary Magdalen).

If you are incarnate, you have to deal with sexuality somehow—first and foremost your own. In the wake of all the recent scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, some have argued that priests should be allowed to marry. No doubt they should. Celibacy might then become a clear and meaningful choice for those called to it. But allowing clergy to marry, as Protestants always have, will not automatically eliminate clerical sexual abuse, which is rife in every denomination.

Paul of Tarsus (who is often taken out of his historical context by both those who revere and revile him) is famous for saying it is better to marry than to burn. Celibacy and marriage were his only two options, and early gentile converts to what was originally a Jewish sect were eager to distance themselves from gentile pagans who indulged in other practices including temple prostitution. (For an analysis of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in this context see this excellent piece by James Alison.)

However corrupt or excessive first century pagan practices may have been, I think the ancient pagans may have been on to something. Sex is not just an act, it is a force, a divine force that can be generative or destructive. To liken it to fire, as Paul did, is apt. Fire contained and directed is used for warmth, for illumination, for cooking, for creating. Uncontained it lays waste. But its containers and uses are not single but various, and its power is simply that, power, not good or evil—except in how we use it.

In my counseling practice, I have worked with many people who were sexually abused in childhood and early adolescence, often by family members—some of whom were also members of the clergy. I have also worked with adult women who were victims of sexual abuse by their religious leaders. The trauma of abuse lies not just in the physical act itself but in betrayal of trust, abuse of power, secrecy, and the shame secrecy engenders. The wound, not easy to heal, is to our sovereignty as incarnate inherently sexual beings.

There is nothing wrong with marriage or celibacy. But religiously prescribed containers by themselves don’t stop people from committing adultery or seducing parishioners and altar boys. Jesus was always challenging people to observe not just the law but to understand its intent. Though it may not be of ancient provenance, the Wiccan Rede holds its adherents to a strict standard that might have resonated with Jesus and that members of the clergy might do well to contemplate: And it harm none, do what you will.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Seven Sex Secrets for Spring

1) Spring is sex. It is the planet (or the part of the planet now tilting towards the sun) making love, conceiving the fruit it will later bear. You could think of a flower (or flowering) as orgasm, an ecstatic response to increasing light, warmth, an ecstatic opening to the breeze or the bees that will pollinate the plants. What a range of response from subtle and delicate (think of a snowdrop or a violet) to flagrant and bawdy. Is there anything sexier than a bright red tulip full blown?

2) Lover bees. Worker bees, as they are called, are neither male nor female, in that they don’t reproduce. While the drones hang out at the hive, waiting for the privilege of dying in the act of impregnating the queen, whose only job is to keep laying eggs, the so-called worker bees are penetrating those tulips and every other blooming thing they can find. The bees, like Spring, are sex. I call them lover bees, for they are the lovers of the world.

3) The sun loves you. We are just animate bits of earth, made of the same substance as everything else. After a long winter of short cold days, we respond to the waxing sun with the same eagerness and joy as the animals and the plants. On the first warm days, lie in the sun and let it touch you all over. The sun’s light is touch, penetrating touch, healing touch, sensual touch. Let yourself open to that touch.

4) So does the rain: When the sun thaws the earth, snowmelt and rain soften it, so that it can be planted. Seeds that have wintered over sprout and drink the moisture. New green blades pierce through the damp, soft dirt. Even if you don’t want to walk or lie out in the rain, when a spring shower comes, step outside and smell the sweetness and freshness of everything. Feel your own hard edges soften.

5) Become the earth’s lover: When you plant a seed, you procreate—or co-create—with the earth. You prepare the ground like any good lover, you penetrate it with your hands, placing the seed inside, smoothing the dirt back over it, watering the ground if it’s dry. Even if you do not have room for a garden, consider growing something in a planter on a windowsill. If you can, make love near your plants or your garden, just as people have from time immemorial.

6) Take god or goddess as your lover. Because we are surrounded by a mating world, Spring is sometimes painful for people who are single. Acknowledge loneliness, seek a new lover if you want one, but always remember that you are the beloved of life itself. Divine love is or can be as erotic as any other kind. Ask Teresa of Avila. If you do not conceive of the divine this way (or in any way) just remember Eros is life force. It is within you and around you at all times.

7) Love god or goddess in your beloved. Loving the divine in your lover may be easy when you are first in love. All you long-time lovers who see each other through an accretion of comfort and irritation, let Spring strip you to your naked, burning radiance. Look at the iridescence of the buds and the new leaves. Everything is on fire. You are the maypole and the caressing weave of ribbons, in and out, up and down. Get out there into the fields help those crops grow.

Happy Autumn to my friends in New Zealand! I promised at least one autumn sex secret. May Eve and All Hallow’s Eve, the great feasts of sex and death, face each other across the year. Sex and death are inextricably linked. One would not exist without the other. Orgasm is sometimes called the little death; we lose ourselves in ecstasy; our boundaries dissolve. I am on this side of the veil, so I can’t say for sure, but I hope death is orgasmic. Flowering is ecstatic but so is a leaf flying from a tree in a high wind, or dropping on a perfect still morning. Maybe turning back into loam is ecstatic, too, a relief, a release. Autumn gives us a chance to let go, to go under, to curl into the darkness of the great lover. Happy Autumn, New Zealand, combrogos!

I am not sure yet, but I think I will stick with the subject of sex for a while. Sex and religion, sex and the sacred. That sort of thing. If you think that’s a good idea for this blog spot, chime in.