Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The end is (always) near

There is more than a hint of apocalypse in the air these days.
Both Legion and The Book of Eli cinematically evoke the end times, loosely translating the Book of Revelation into an emerging genre that could be called Christian horror. In Avatar people from our world leave a dead planet behind to spread environmental depredation to greener more harmonious worlds. Prophetic warnings sound from the right and the left, the religious and the political. After Scott Brown’s senatorial victory in Massachusetts, the end of meaningful healthcare reform seems nigh. And with the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are persons, many wonder if democracy will survive. Then there is Port au Prince, which has literally collapsed. And, as adherents of the Mayan calendar keep telling us, we still have 2012 to look forward to when we will be spiritually transformed—or doomed.

Last week I got an email from someone I didn’t know who said he’d read an article by me I didn’t remember writing. He wanted to tell someone how terrible the coming times would be, how waiting for this cosmic shoe to drop was so unbearable, disaster might almost be a relief. Get ready, he urged repeatedly. I pondered the email for a couple of days and then wrote back: “I hear you. I often feel the same way. Great courage and compassion will be required of us…I don't doubt we will have to face adversity. I hope we will meet it bravely.”

The word apocalypse does not actually mean the end time or disaster but revelation. It comes from the Greek apokaluptein, to uncover. As a storyteller, I can relate. The end of the story is when all is revealed. As a reader, I confess, I often sneak a peek at the last page. As a human being living out her life, I can’t know my own end. Yet, like everyone, I have faced many endings. Throughout history to this day whole cultures and civilizations have ended and are ending through war, famine, plague, holocaust, natural disaster. There is no need to strain our ears for the pounding of apocalyptic hooves. The end is always here. The time for compassion bravery, and resourcefulness is always now.

Today I visited Olga, my 97-year-old mother-in-law who has Alzheimer’s. She spoke slowly from a waking dream state. “Actually,” she said, beginning her sentence over and over, “Actually what we need to do is find out is how much time there is.” I do not know if she meant how much time she has or how much time we all have. But I was struck by her willingness to launch an inquiry, her leadership, her lack of fear. Olga’s favorite expression is “So, all is well.” Her end is near. May her apocalypse—and ours—surprise us with its beauty.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Letter from Maeve

Dear Everyone who reads this blog and travels through time and between worlds to share my adventures in the first century CE

(That was a long greeting, but not as long as Paul of Tarsus' in his even longer epistles. Don't worry this is a letter, not an epistle.)

I don't know if you remember Elizabeth's six week experiment, during which time I was banished to the comment section? Well, the results are in. Elizabeth has been accepted as a Huffington Post blogger. She is apparently allowed to post her blog here as well as at Huffington Post, so her Tuesday blogs at this spot will continue. And I will continue to COMMENT on them! I also expect to advise her on her blogs and perhaps achieve some mention in them on occasion. I will also communicate with you directly from time to time just as I am today.

How are things in your century? You don't have to answer that question if it's too upsetting. I am more or less up on your current events, and am aware of various catastophes in your current events. Catastrophe is also brewing in my time, as you may have gathered if you've been following my tweets. (Outside a tree limb just broke. The wind is, excuse the cliche, howling. Better finish this letter quick before the power goes out, something we didn't have to worry about in the first century).

It is an odd thing to live in and outside of time (maybe everyone does, but we just don't know it). I know about your supreme court ruling last week, and Elizabeth and I both know what history of the Boudican rebellion, but when we are in the middle of a scene, neither of us knows what will happen next. We have to live it. I have finally told Boudica the truth about who I am, who she is. Now I am waiting to see what happens next. And I will have to wait till Wednesday your time, because of all this blogging and platform building. That is something about your century that I find trying. I didn't have to have a platform in my time. I just stood on the bare earth, opened my mouth--and well stood on one foot while I inserted the other one.

Elizabeth has to do some research for her blog tomorrow, so I will close for now and post this letter before lightning strikes. Please do keep in touch. And do visit Elizabeth at Huffington Post. She'll keep you posted on the postings.

Be of good cheer, laugh as much as you can, cry when you need to, and call my name as much as you like, in or out of vain. But if you ever ask yourself WWMD, and you actually do that thing, I really can't be held responsible!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Terrible, beautiful mystery

Many people were incensed by Pat Robertson's remark about the earthquake being a punishment for Haiti's pact with the devil. The equation of suffering with punishment is nothing new. There is even a book in the Bible which expressly takes on this all-too-human equation and turns it upside down and inside out. Pat Robertson, it is time for you to re-read the Book of Job.

Job, an upright man, is a favorite of God's. In a backroom deal (I always imagine them smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and shuffling cards) Satan says to his crony, "Sure Job loves you; he's got everything anyone could want. Take it away, and he'll curse you fast enough." So God does just that, and then afflicts him with boils to boot, at which point Job sits down in the ash heap and makes his case against God: Why do the innocent suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? He offers himself as a case in point.

Three comforters, as they're called, come to contend with Job. He must have done something wrong, his suffering must be a punishment, for God is all knowing and all just and all powerful. Bad things don't happen to good people. It is not just Pat Robertson or Job's comforters who want everything to make sense in their terms. If Job was in the ash pit today, his friends might say, “Job, you must have been thinking negative thoughts.” Or “there must be a lesson you need to learn.” Anything to protect ourselves from knowing we are not in total control.

When God shows up using the whirlwind as a megaphone, he cuts Job down to size but also excoriates the comforters for "not having spoken correctly about me as my servant Job has done." God never answers Job's question directly. Instead God says, "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations?" Then God gets completely caught up in marveling at the wonders creation. "What womb brings forth the ice, who gives birth to the frost of heaven...Can the wing of the ostrich be compared with the plumage of the stork or falcon?" God gives Job a completely non-anthropocentric tour of the universe. Brief translation: "It's not all about you."

In a thoughtful article (see url below)* Elizabeth McAllister describes the Voudo view of the earthquake and other natural disasters as earth’s attempt to restore a balance disturbed by human beings seeking only their own interests. It could be all too easy to replace a God who metes out punishments for our transgressions with an Earth Mother who does the same. But there are subtle differences. Catastrophe is not vengeance. The innocent do suffer and deserve compassion and aid, not judgment. Balance and imbalance on this planet are an ever-shifting dynamic that we do not control (and when we try to control it for our own ends, we often wreak havoc). We would do well to seek to know that balance better, to wonder at its terrible, beautiful mystery.

* http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2010/01/voodoos_view_of_the_quake_in_haiti.html

On the same subject "It's not all Pretty" from MaevenSong. Go to http://passionofmarymagdalen.com/ Click on Magdalen Rising. Look for the song link at the top of the page

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A few words from Maeve on words

I've been absent from this blog for six weeks, except in the comment section. Elizabeth's experiment is now complete and we are awaiting results. So I want to say a brief hello. Elizabeth, who pulled her back out (probably as a result of stuffing almost 400 copies of MaevenSong into envelopes last Friday) will not be able to type for me for long today. She and I both welcome topics for future blogs.

Last week Elizabeth wrote about song.When we memorized lessons at druid school the phrase we used was "to sing over." Words went in more quickly and deeply when they were sung rather than spoken. We also used alliteration and rhythm. Even law was poetry, delivered in triads. Centuries before computers, everything was linked to everything else. The letters of our ceremonial alphabet had the names of trees that were associated with moons. We saw the shapes of these letters in the wings of birds in flight. Each finger of each hand represented different branches of story cycles. Everything not only had speech; everything was speech. Inside our skulls (no wonder we revered skulls) were libraries to rival any in the ancient (or modern!)world.

Although Joseph of Arimathea taught me to read and write and though Elizabeth has now written thousands of pages of my story, I continue to feel ambivalent about the written word. Word in print tempts people to literalism, fundamentalism. How many times have you heard people say, "It is written," as if that settled it once and for all. How much trouble has been caused by the Epilogue of the Book of Revelation in which the author proclaims: "This is my solemn attestation to all who hear the prophecies in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him every plague mentioned in this book; if anyone cuts anything out of the prophecies in this book, God will cut off his share of the tree of life and of the holy city, which are described in this book." Editors, beware! Very likely the author meant to refer only to his own manuscript, but some people have taken it to mean there can be no further revelations in the Christian tradition at all. Period.

That said, I want to tell you something I love about the Bible, something I think is brilliant, something people rarely mention, except in scholarly circles. There are four Gospels, and all of them are different! They were written at different times from different traditions for different audiences. If there is only one literal truth and one way of interpreting that truth, why is this so? If the Bible is divinely inspired, what does four versions of the same story say about the nature of divine inspiration?

I'm just saying, I'm just asking. Think about it. It is time for Elizabeth to stop typing and get up and go outside to listen to the speech of trees, how it changes when late light turns the branches orange, and when they groan as they contract with cold. Time to read the flight of birds before they settle for the night. Time to hear the stream sing softly under the ice.

for more about The Maeve Chronicles: www.passionofmarymagdalen.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Soulkiss: "the touch of spirit on the body"

Sometimes I wonder about the first human note ever sung. Did it come from one throat or from many? Was the first song a lullaby, a lament, a hymn of praise?

When I get tired of hearing people talk about "the universe" (and what it wants or doesn't) I remind myself that universe could translate as "one song." I like the idea of living in a song, of being sung into being by a song. In CS Lewis's series of children's novels The Chronicles of Narnia, the lion Aslan creates the world with song, from the stars to the tiniest plants and animals. In Prayers of the Cosmos, author Neil Douglas-Klotz offers as one of several alternative translations from the Aramaic Abwoon d'bwashmaya (Our Father who art in heaven) "O thou! The Breathing Life of All, Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us."

I don't know that Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, was thinking of song when he wrote: "There is one kiss we want with our whole lives, the touch of spirit on the body."* To me those words express why singing is so powerful--and why Soulkiss is such a perfect name for Tim Dillinger, David Sosa, and Kare Alford's vocal trio.

Last weekend Soulkiss came to my release party for MaevenSong, my first recording, co-produced by Tim Dillinger (see "The Making of MaevenSong" in the archives of this blog.) In most venues, they appear with their band, and the experience of a full-on Soulkiss concert is not to be missed. (Next one: The Triad 2/13 in NYC; details at www.TimDillinger.com). My party was a more intimate celebration, and they sang solo and harmony with no back up, no microphone, just the naked beauty of the human voice being received by a circle who held and honored that vulnerbility, that power, that touch of spirit on the body.

I had planned only to play cuts from MaevenSong, but, inspired by Soulkiss, I also sang a cappella. After the performances, we did what I love best at a gathering: we improvised. The drums came out, here and there a flute, and the voices, all our voices. At one point I put Soulkiss on the spot: "Start a chant!" And David Sosa sang out: "Flow like a river, ebb like the tide." And everyone sang with him, creating harmonies, counterparts, and the chant became enchantment, the flow and ebb of river and tide moving through us all. In that moment, we might have been the first singers, creating the first song, being created by that song.

I love Soulkiss. Please get to a concert, support their album in progress: www.timdillinger.com. I am very proud of MaevenSong, which is now available here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ecunningham. But most of all remember to sing! There is one kiss we want, and it is ours for a song.

*translation of line from Rumi poem by Coleman Barks