• Tag Archives spirituality
  • Ghosts

    Imbolc                                                                          Valentine Moon

    Today, a bit tired due to early rising, moving books put a weight on my shoulders.  It was the past and its tangled feelings.  Found my first passport and saw a young man with a full head of dark brown hair and a beard that matched.  Surprised me, so long have I seen his gray descendant in the mirror.

    (arrestedmotion.com 2012 10 upcoming aron wiesenfeld new paintings arcadia-gallery)

    That was my passport for Colombia, the trip to check out a bank for the poorest of the poor.  Carolyn Levy was in my life at that point, between my divorce from Raeone and meeting Kate a year plus later.  A hard time, raising a 6 year old boy, working night and day between church meetings and organizing.  A hard time, too, since the future had grown unclear.  Something big had happened or was about to happen, but its outlines in my life were not yet clear.

    Then I moved out the books related to shifting my ordination to the Unitarian-Universalist movement.   Again, a time when the future had become unclear.  Writing had not shown the promise it offered when Kate and I agreed I should leave the Presbytery.  Frustrated there, I regressed, headed back to the trade that I knew.  More lack of clarity.

    Poor decisions.  I chose Unity UU over First Unitarian for my internship.  An error.   The humanist congregation would have fit me much better.  Then, at the end of an interesting year, I accepted a job as minister of development.  Chief fund raiser.   OMG.  One of the really boneheaded decisions in my life.  Not the only one, for sure, and not the worst one, but dumbest?  Probably.  Kate saw it coming. I ignored her.  Sigh.

    (Vincenzo Foppa The Young Cicero Reading 1464)

    Those books were the heaviest to move because I’ve traveled out of the UU circle, too.  A solo practitioner am I, as the Wiccans say.  In that vein though I retained many of my books on spirituality, works on natural theology and those commentaries I mentioned on the Torah and the book of Revelation.

    Heavy, especially with lack of sleep thrown in.  Ghosts.  They’re real and they live in the closets, basements and attics of our mind.

  • Just Plain Fun

    Spring                                         Bee Hiving Moon

    Kate has a tendency to get into work outside and not stop.  She just keeps going, head down, tasks to complete.  I admire that but don’t find it in me when I work outside, even though I enjoy that work, too.

    On the other hand, when I get into Latin, my head down, keeping going button gets pushed. The next word.  The next phrase.  The next sentence.  Stay at it.  The puzzle part of it keeps me at it, pushes me forward.

    Same thing happens when I do research.  One more item. Something new may be on the next page.  In the next book or web page.

    Writing can go long, too, but it’s a bit different.  There, the imagination engine runs as long as its fuel gets dredged up, is there to use.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.  No explanation, no reason.  Just gone.

    Yes, I can free write past that moment sometimes, that is, pick a different idea, go after it, dislodge a different source, maybe my off-shore oil or the North Sea fields, but just as often, more often, the well has run dry for the moment.

    The joy here is that I still love it, all of it.  Latin, research, writing.

    The outside work I appreciate, need in the same way I used to need meditation, contemplative prayer.  The inside, head work, is just plain fun.

  • Growing

    Spring                                                              Bee Hiving Moon

    Put in my seed order to seed savers yesterday.  This is the first year in a few that I’ve not started any plants.  We moved the hydroponics cart into the garage to gain room for consolidation of all our dog crates in the kitchen.  Not sure whether we’ll use it this winter or not.  Maybe.  But this year, we’re planting seeds or buying transplants.

    I ordered 8 tomato plants and 6 pepper plants from seed savers.  I still need to pick up onion sets, leek transplants and kale, probably tomorrow at Mother Earth Gardens at Lyndale and 42nd.  Our potatoes will come from seed savers, too.

    We’ve got raspberries, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, cherries, blueberries, currants, wild grapes and asparagus that are perennials, plus the overwintered garlic and some onions.  Even so, I’m glad we don’t have to survive off of our produce.  Gardening would be real work then, a chore.

    Instead, our garden sustains us spiritually, maintaining that constant and close connection to the seasons, to the vegetative world, to the soil.  It also provides food throughout the winter and we’ve chosen to emphasize that aspect of our garden by planting vegetables that we can put up.

    Plus the bees.

  • Breaching the Walled Garden of the Self

    Fall                                               Waning Harvest Moon

    Prepping for a presentation on Spiritual Resources for Humanists.  Reading books, articles, letting ideas slip past as I get ready to sleep, keeping my antennae out for what feeds me now.

    The book I mentioned before, All Things Shining, has convinced me of one thing.  It’s important to know why we need resourcing in the first place.

    The title offers a rationale, unpacked.  Humanism embraces a world shorn of its medieval metaphysics; the Great Chain of Being has met Nietzsche’s Bolt Cutter, God is dead. God is dead, of course, was not an argument, but an observation, a sensitive man’s awareness that the God drenched era of the ancien regime had been drained by the empirical method, reason and the strangely acidic effect of the Protestant Reformation.

    This world, a world with a strangled sense of the sacred, gave birth to the angst and anomie of the existentialist 20th century, a world with no center, or rather, a world with millions of centers, each person a godhead struggling with their own creation.

    What can buttress the Self that must navigate these empty places?  Does our supernatural vacuum hold enough air to nourish the isolated self?

    We stumble toward wonder, toward joy, hope for a glimpse of the sacred, of the moment that can lift us out of our isolation and put us in communion with others, with the natural world, with the stars which birthed the very atoms which constitute us.

    These things we seek not out of some vestigial institutional memory, an anachronistic impulse to live again in a God drenched world.  No, we seek these things because the essential paradox at the heart of our lives is this:  we live alone, the only one with our world; yet we live together, up against galaxies of other worlds, sometimes with other worlds so close that they seem to intersect with ours.  We seek the venn diagram, a mandorla labeled self and other, where the other is another person, a flower, a sky, a lightning bolt.

    So, spiritual resources in this context, then, would be those fragments of culture that can weaken or penetrate the walled gardens of our Selves, not in order to breach the walls, but to let in companion armies, allies in our quest.

    The quest seems to similar to the one Sir Gawain faced when he beheaded the Green Knight and, in a year and a day, had to bend his own neck before the Green Knight’s sword.  That is, we somehow must will ourselves into a vulnerable, ultimately vulnerable position, to those we have beheaded.  Interestingly, as the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight proposes, this vulnerability is not only, perhaps not even mostly, a human to human one, rather, it is human to the whole Green world.

    So we seek allies who will keep us strong in our vulnerability, mighty in our humility.  We seek at least love.

  • Spiritual Resources for the Humanist

    Lughnasa                                                                Waning Honey Extraction Moon

    More butting my head against a language that any 4 year old in ancient Rome could speak and a reasonably intelligent 5 year old could read.  I guess there is a plateau affect here and I’m standing on one right now.  I can see the path I’ve taken to get here, off to my back, but the road ahead lies blocked, beginning at a point somewhere above me, as if I stand before a cliff.

    Not complaining, just observing.  I’m here by choice and I know that.

    Groveland asked me for a sermon topic, something I’m going to preach on October 9th, exactly a week before our cruise.  A month and a half is a long lead time, so I went back through this blog, hunting for a topic that interested me and one that might interest Grovelanders, too.

    Here’s what I sent them:

    Spiritual Resources for the Humanist

    What resources do we have, those of us no longer in the Christian faith?  Or those of us never in it?  What resources do we have to replenish the spirit and feed the Self?

    The Western cultural tradition, a great river of classical literature and fine arts has enough nourishment for several lifetimes.  We’ll explore works like the Bible, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Dante’s Inferno and how to use them for our personal growth.

    I lifted the phrase the great river of the classics from one of my favorite authors, Camille Paglia.  Other eras have used the writings of the Greeks, the Jews, the Romans and the Italians in particular as stimulus for reflection, contemplation, meditation.  I’ll toss in a few later writers like Kafka, Camus, Goethe, Hesse, Tolstoy, Isaac Bashevis Singer, probably Rainer Rilke and Wallace Stevens, too.

    Might toss in a few works of art, perhaps Goya, the color field painters, Song dynasty potters and painters, perhaps a Tibetan Buddhist thangka.

    I suppose I’ll have to start by considering the nature of resources for spirituality, something I’ve come of late to define as enrichment, expansion, deepening of the Self.  But count on a Latin phrase or two, just because I can.


  • Lapsed Unitarian

    Lughnasa                     Waxing Artemis Moon

    Oh, boy.  Just got myself into another situation.  Promising things I’m not sure I know how to accomplish.  I hope this goes with do one thing you fear every day, month, year–whatever time frame you can stand.  Cannot reveal details right now, but this could be a lot of fun for a lot of people or a complete bust.  Feels like the old days when I used to do this kind of stuff all the time.  Dream up something, contact a few folks, make it happen.

    Still fatigued.  Kate says it’s my body still healing itself.  I hope so, because it feels like I’m still sick.

    A friend the other day referred to herself as a lapsed Unitarian.  Lapsed Unitarian.  That made me wonder.  What are the spiritual and metaphysical consequences of falling away from the only faith named for two doctrines, Unitarianism and Universalism, in which none of its members believe?

    I have come to see UU as a way station of sorts, a caravan serai for the pilgrim lost in the desert or high on a mountain and in need of refreshment, companionship.  Maybe a spiritual decompression chamber where individuals are brought safely back to their spiritual sea level.  It’s clear to me that my decompression is complete, has been complete for several years now.

    Now, this is probably idiosyncratic, but I’m pretty sure it’s not unusual.  When we step away from a long time, culturally supported faith tradition like Christianity or Judaism, the lag time for decompression can be lengthy.  Not only do we have to unlearn one faith identity, we have to find or create another.  The UU movement is perfect for that time, for the initial time of confusion and disorientation and for the development, the constructing of a new faith.  Once that work is done however it most often results in a person anchored no longer in institutional faith, but in a place more like the world, the world of the human and the animals and the rock and the lake, a place where the spiritual moment is every moment and where the faith commitment may have an introspective, interpersonal, natural, and/or political expression, but not an institutional one.

    So.  Perhaps lapsed Unitarian is the destiny of most of us no longer inside the Christian hermeneutical circle.  It still helps to have a place to rest along the way.

  • Here Comes The Sun

    Summer                                       Waning Strawberry Moon

    After weeding Kate and I took off for lunch–at Benihanas, not nearly as good as our own, much closer, Osaka–and a visit to Lights on Broadway.  A bit of dithering about where the order was, where the paperwork was, who was on third and who was on second I picked up the track lighting fixtures that had fritzed out on us.  Nice to have light the full length of the kitchen table now.

    Then, a nap.  A long nap.  Two hours.  I got up earlier than I wanted to this morning thanks to dogs barking.  Even earlier tomorrow.

    After so many days of rain, a very soggy June, we have a run of yellow suns on all the weather forecast sites through Sunday.  Tonight the temperature should hit 46.  Good.

    Kate has no anxiety about the procedure tomorrow.  She does, she says, “surgery well.”  I’d have to agree.  The back surgery was in January and that’s been behind us for several months.  I still want her out of the hospital as fast as possible since hospitals have a lot of iatrogenic disease and a lot of it is very intractable, super bugs, all studied up on the antibiotic armamentarium.

    The perennial beds now look like a gardener lives here.  That feels better.

    Spoke with a woman about a spirituality in art tour for July 8th.  It’ll be my first tour in a while.  Looking forward to it.

  • Up At 5AM and Hard At It

    33  bar steep fall 30.11  6mph N  windchill 33

        Waxing Gibbous Moon of Winds

    Boy is my sense of time screwed up.  Got up at 4:30AM for the bathroom.  Went back to bed.  No sleep.  Waited.  Still no sleep.  So at 5AM I got up, went downstairs, opened by John Weber collection catalogue and tried to figure out what to do next.  This was difficult because I had put my notes for the tour in the carrier I take when I go into the museum.  That location didn’t occur to me until ten sleepy minutes had gone by shuffling this paper and that trying to locate the item I needed to finish the tour.  Those notes.

    But I did find them.  As a quiet spring snow began to fall outside in the dark, I entered again the world of the Heian poets, the Shining Prince Genji and the floating world of courtesans, no theatre and elegant costume.  Japan and China are strange and distant cultures for most Westerners so entree into their world does not come without some struggle, some setting aside of preconceived notions. 

    Over the last three years in particular I have worked hard to get a handle on the historical context in both Japan and China.  I’ve worked harder on China, but Japan has had some time from me, too.  As so often happens in the life of the mind, eventually the heart begins to follow and somewhere along the line I went from interested to captivated. 

    It was easy then to begin comparing poems used in the poetry competitions, mythical contests in which cultured Japanese matched poets from different eras, then matched two of their poems that seem to have resonance.  The competition was not between the two poets in question of course, but among the Japanese who created the matches.  It would be like, say, putting Robert Frost’s “Snowy Evening” against one of Emily Dickinson’s darker pieces, Wallace Stevens and Coleridge. 

    So it went for two hours until the dogs began to whine and I let them out of their crates, fed them and began my own breakfast.

    After breakfast I caught another hour and a half or so of sleep, then drove into the Common Roots Cafe where the docent book club gathered to discuss the (apparent) lack of religion/spirituality in contemporary art.  I guided this discussion, but I’m afraid I didn’t conceive a way to do it fruitfully.  We had a lot of conversation, though, and I think we may have gotten greater clarity from it than was immediately obvious. 

    It was Tom Blyfeld’s 80th birthday.  He celebrates his 56th wedding anniversary on Friday.  He mentioned the doctor who delivered two of his children, a man 90 something who has great-great grandchildren. Amazing.  He will celebrate his 65th wedding anniversary.  These are numbers unattainable by most of us in the divorce generation.

    Tonight is the celebration of St. Patrick’s day at Frank Broderick’s.  He bought the meat last Friday.  His table always groans with meat and potatoes and cabbage.  I look forward to it each year.

  • A Taoist Druid with a Spading Fork in Hand

    25  86%  28%  ompn SSE bar29.95 rises  windchill25  Imbolc

                    Waning Crescent of the Winter Moon

    The struggle I talked about yesterday is a symptom of a shift in attention in my inner life.  When I pursued meditative and contemplative practices related to Christianity, the experience enriched and deepened me.  When I moved away from Christianity, the only comparable practice left in my life involved Jungian analysis and the Ira Progroff journals.  Those took me further and, I believe, have calmed my mind’s chatter and prepared the soil for a new way, but in themselves they are not a way.

    Now I can feel a shift in the inner cathedral, as Progroff called it.  The shift, under way for sometime in various manifestations, involves attunement, even atonement (at-one-ment).  Here are the disparate pieces that float in my inner life: my move away from metaphors of transcendence to ones of deepening, the  Great Wheel, the Celtic Faery Faith, Jungian thought, gardening, keener appreciation of the natural world, climate change, Taoism, Asian art and culture and transcendentalism.  Each one of these has a particular and peculiar role in deepening my inner life.  My hope is that the stirrings I feel mean that this complex has begun to move toward integration.

    In a sense I believe all this began, or began to begin, when, in a session with a spiritual director, after discussing my then new admiration for Celtic spirituality, he said, “Well, maybe you are becoming a Druid.”  Maybe so.  Or, more likely, something akin to a Druid, but one with a Taoist bent perhaps.  A taoist Druid with a spading fork. 

    We’ll see.

  • Religion Is the Least Interesting and Most Common Expression of Spirituality

    21  59%  23%  1mph E  bar29.99  steep fall windchill20  Winter

                  First Quarter of the Cold Moon

    A friend from California called me to ask, “What is the difference between religion and spirituality?”  This is an often asked question.  In part its puzzle represents what I believe is a category mistake.  There’s an assumption implicit in the question that religion and spirituality represent aspects or spheres of the same thing.  They don’t, at least as I understand the terms. 

    Religion, for me, identifies the institutional, external vehicle necessary for the transmission of religious beliefs, teachings, history and insititutional form.  In the instance of the Roman Catholic Church, a familiar example, then, religion is everything from the institutional forms like the parish, the episcopacy, the Vatican, monasteries and convents to the magesterium (teachings) to statues and artworks and liturgy.  It may also include the inner life of an individual when that inner life attempts to conform itself to those forms and teachings.

    Spirituality, on the other hand, is always an inner journey, but never one in which the goal is forcing that journey down a certain path.  Spirituality is about the freedom of the human spirit to search where it will for nourishment.  It may be that some of that path will include methods conceived by others:  contemplative prayer, zazein meditation, dream work,  psychoactive drugs or ecstatic dancing for example.  The end, though, cannot be forseen for the spirit is the essence, the heart, the soul of freedom and its seeking can never be constrained.  This is why spirituality is often seen as inimical to religion; it refuses boundaries and escapes from dogma like air leaving a punctured tire or a deflating balloon. 

    In this understanding it is possible that religion and spirituality have nothing to do with each other, though I think the reality is otherwise, but the reverse of what most people imagine.  Spirituality, as I said, is often seen as an aspect or sphere of religion, when, in fact, religion is the least interesting and most common expression of a vital spirituality.  In this I follow Max Weber who referred to religion as institutionalized charisma.  The Christian church in all its expressions, according to Weber, represents the institutional accretions that grew up around the extraordinary work and teaching of the man Jesus.  According to Weber, the further and further we get from the original charismatic individual or group, the less and less vital and more and more bureaucratic a religion becomes.

     Let me know what you think.