A Long-Time Favorite

Sunday Morning

Wallace Stevens, 18791955

I

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

II

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, 
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth, 
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself: 
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights; 
All pleasures and all pains, remembering 
The bough of summer and the winter branch. 
These are the measures destined for her soul. 

III

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth. 
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds, 
Until our blood, commingling, virginal, 
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. 
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be 
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now, 
A part of labor and a part of pain, 
And next in glory to enduring love, 
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

IV

She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy, 
Nor any old chimera of the grave, 
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home, 
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds, 
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

V

She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.”
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, 
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths, 
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness, 
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

VI

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky, 
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth, 
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there, 
The silken weavings of our afternoons, 
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical, 
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be, 
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise, 
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice, 
The windy lake wherein their lord delights, 
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills, 
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

VIII

She hears, upon that water without sound, 
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering. 
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
We live in an old chaos of the sun, 
Or old dependency of day and night, 
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, 
Of that wide water, inescapable. 
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail 
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky, 
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink, 
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

From Harmonium (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

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Leaving God

I haven’t known what I am for some time, now.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the God of the Christian faith. It’s not that I don’t have faith that he exists. I’m actually quite certain that he does exist, in some form or another. It’s that I have no faith in what he is. Truth be told, I think he is an uncaring, aloof asshole. Unreliable. Cold.

The final marker for the death of my former faith was laid down on December 14, 2012. Oh yes, I’d had troubles with Christianity before then. It was a slow dying, one that I fought hard, and by the end, I was clutching at my Bible with every bit of please help me that I could muster. But it wasn’t enough. All my clinging, my pleading wasn’t enough to salvage what was left of the strong convictions and sureties I’d carried with me for almost 40 years. Does that make me weak? To some, yes. But I know otherwise.

I go through phases. At times, I am completely stable and balanced in knowing what I don’t know. I feel good and solid in my earth-bound spirituality, knowing that, yes, there is something behind it all, inside of it all, around us all. For me, nature-based spirituality is more sensible, more attainable, and even more comforting than my old our-father-who-art-in-heaven beliefs. Some may ask what’s so comforting about nature? Well, it’s the surety of it that I find so peace-inducing. We generally know what to expect from nature.

We know that storms come. We know that the sun will rise in the East. We know that ice forms on the lake in the winter. We know when to watch for fawns and robins’ eggs and ducklings. So many things in nature are essentially promised. There is great comfort in unbroken promises. Nature is powerful, and can bring about great destruction, too. Scary, sad, awful things that we aren’t expecting at that time. But, even still, we know that earthquakes and hurricanes still exist, and that they are more likely in certain areas and during certain times.

I once watched a documentary about penguin babies. To be honest, I have watched many documentaries about penguins and their babies, but this particular documentary has stood out in my mind for many years. These penguin babies were hidden by their parents in little seaside hills in Australia. This type of penguin is the smallest penguin in the world, and as you can imagine, the babies are unbearably adorable. The parents swim out to sea to find food in order to feed their babies, and are often gone so long, that the tiny babies have died by the time they return.

A scientist in the documentary who has studied and watched these “fairy penguins”, as they are called, for years, said that it made her sad when the babies perished. She said that many people would call nature cruel for allowing, or perhaps causing, the babies to die. She went on to say that nature was not, in fact, cruel. Nature is neutral. It just essentially is what it is. I thought that was so simple and profound. So sensible. Yes, nature just is. 

And perhaps it’s this philosophy that has contributed to my departure from Christianity. If nature, being so powerful, is not cruel, yet not loving, it is simply neutral. If God, being so powerful, allows bad things to happen to the innocent among us, then he must not be loving. As such, he is either cruel, which Christianity states is untrue, or he is neutral. Like nature. Emotionless.

But aren’t we told in Sunday School that God is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful? Those are not descriptions that denote neutrality, or that denote a lack of emotion. We are told that God is vengeful. Jealous. So, obviously, God has emotion. Jesus wept. I can’t tell you how many books and essays I’ve read on the topic of why bad things happen to good people. And by good people, I am not referring to myself. Primarily, I’m referring to children, and the horrendous things that adults seem to repeatedly do to them. Pages and pages and pages of reading on where is God when bad things happen. And after all that reading, the conclusion that I haven’t been able to chase away is that God is there, but he just isn’t powerful enough, or doesn’t care enough, to fix what’s happening. To stop it. So he just goes on letting it happen.

I’m told that God doesn’t do bad things to people, people do bad things to people. So, by virtue of that argument, if I sit and watch while someone is beating up one of my children, if I just let it happen because the bully has free agency, or some such nonsense, then what kind of parent am I? A shitty one.

And so, I have deduced that God is a shitty parent, and I’ve essentially disowned him as dysfunctional and lacking. I will try to talk to him every once in a while. Just to see if things have changed. But so far, no luck. Oh, he’s there. He’s just got more important things to do than saving abused children, feeding the starved, healing the terminally ill. And he is certainly too busy to help me get the job I’ve applied for or to help ease my depression.

After Sandy Hook, a cousin posted on Facebook (the worst place on earth to interact with the insufferable) that if prayer had been allowed in school, God would have been there for the Sandy Hook children and teachers. I came undone, tried to reason with her over private messages, and she wouldn’t budge (and, to be fair, neither would I). In the end, I told her that if that is the kind of god she believed in, then her god was a dick, and I’d have no more of him.

I still stand behind every word I wrote.

godNone-the-less, the void that is left, after the leaving, after the disowning, is still achy sometimes. Most of the time, I can cushion it with feathers and flowers, with a ray of sun or two, a cuddle with my puppy, but not always. Don’t tell me it’s a god-sized hole that’s needing filled. Don’t quote Bible verses. And, sweet mother of all that’s holy, don’t tell me you’ll pray for me. Pray for yourself. Pray for children who are suffering. Pray for something that matters. And I hope that your prayers will work better than mine ever did. I strongly doubt they will, but I sincerely hope they do.

 

 

Of Here

It’s difficult to hear someone you admire say something that is, or seems, contradictory to all of the things they’ve said before. An author and spiritual mentor wrote this week that, because we feel pain in this world, perhaps it means that our spirits are not of this place, but of elsewhere.

This, from a teacher of Earth Medicine, whose writings and teachings are of the medicine of plants and animals, the magic of the soil, the air, of nature.

It’s not so much that I completely disagree with the sentiment, that perhaps our essence is not originally of here. But, the idea flies in the face of all that I’ve admired and learned from this teacher.

It feels like she’s changed her tune. Which we’re all free to do, at any time or place, but perhaps an introduction to a new idea, a preamble to a complete change of heart, a warning that everything has changed, would have been a gentler way for the student to learn.

The concept that my spirit, my soul, my essence, whatever I choose to name it this week, is not of here was a very difficult and damaging, and long-held, belief for most of my life. I clung to my Christian faith, in its many forms, ferociously, desperately, and forced it to bleed me dry and empty in its not-of-here-ness. It was a cop-out on my part. If I was not of here, I could simply rely on the “fact” that, some day, there would be an escape. And sometimes, I wanted to make that escape come sooner than it should.

I’ve had several suicidal times in my life, and still think of death in rare moments. However, it has been Earth Medicine, my faith in nature, that has brought me the farthest from the precipice, and has kept me away from swinging out over the edge. I consider the doe. What does she do? She survives. Her absolute purpose is to survive. Why? It doesn’t matter. It’s just what she does.

She is of the earth. She is earth. She survives.

And that is the belief, the knowledge, that has changed me. When I feel desperation slipping into the cracks of my fragile peace, I look to such things as the doe, the rabbit, King Prawn. I look to the sun and the moon, to the stars, the darkness, the breeze on my face. I pick up a pretty, round stone, pluck a sprig of wild sage, a cornflower, hold a twig of just the right size.

And these pieces of the mundane, these bits of silence and birdsong, these things that circle around, season through season, remind me that it is the simple things, the basic and earthly things, that are my sustenance and my refuge. A pink wildflower reminds me of my beautiful daughter. A leaf, grown so large it seems unreal, reminds me of my wildly ambitious son. A buck in velvet tells me tales of my loving husband, my best and most faithful friend.

The moon is my mother, the sun my father, and the world in green and sea blue is my realm, a place of every possibility, every emotion, every wish and desire and dream. I sit on my patio chair, watch the hummingbirds drink scarlet juice, see the ants busily and endlessly about their work, watch the clouds float by through a curtain of aspen leaves. And I am home. This earth is my home. It’s where I come from, and to whence I’ll go.

Yes, I am fully of here. It appears I am my own teacher now. And that is a story of evolution.

 

King Prawn

Last night
I floated on seawater,
And a glowing King Prawn
Darned my womb
with silken thread,
And clicking fingers of burnt sienna.

Sol Invictus in an exoskeleton, with full Mother Moon
looking on.
I’d have been afraid,
Had Mother not been there.

Threads, he said.
You are made of threads,
Each one a break or a bond.
It’s braids you must build,
To keep it all together.

White silken braids,
Made of love and longing
and the bleeding silver
in your hair.
(Which you must not hide,
he added.)

Red silk in warm water
Is not the path,
Even when the beckoning
Is strongest, stronger than
Even the pull of the tide.

Seek the threads,
Save the threads,
And remember what tapestries
The Mother creates
From gossamer.

Never let the warm water
Bring you under.

So said the Invincible Sun
With his King Prawn eyes
And tiny feet that tickled my belly.

I believe him.

We Are

So many things I wish I could be, wish I was, wish I wasn’t.

My mind often tells me I’d be happy if I weighed 120. 127. 135. 140. Even 150. But I once was lighter, and once was at each of those weights, at one or two or three times or another. And I wasn’t happy.

I wasn’t happy, because happy doesn’t depend on weight, no matter what the weight loss commercials, magazines, and diet books tell us. Happy doesn’t depend on weight.

My mind still replays the old monologues, still hurls the old slams and insults. Fat. Frumpy. Lazy. Disgusting. Pathetic. Old.

My mind still tells my stomach, my upper arms, my neck and my chin what they are, and what they aren’t. What they should be, what they may never be again.

And then my Spirit steps in and says, whoa, Mind. Chill. Remember we’ve been through this before, and you were wrong last time. Everything you said, turned out to be wrong.

Happy looks a lot different than I used to believe. Happy isn’t about whether my skin is saggy or not, whether I have wrinkles around my eyes or not, or whether there’s a bit of a muffin top above the waist of my jeans. Happy isn’t about white furniture and clean kids and dinner on the table at six each night.

I’m finding that happy is actually much simpler than I ever realized. Happy is about getting a little sunshine, sitting on the back porch, being in the right place, and being here, right now. Happy is this moment, a deep breath, the sweet, pungent smell of sage, and remembering that this is sacred. I am sacred. You are sacred. 

Happy is holiness, and gratefulness is bounty.

I am here. Here, I am. Be here now.

Hush, breathe, and let the sweetness of the air sink in.

One Time I Tried…

Once I tried domestication, and accidentally turned into someone else. I wanted so much to be one of those women, the ones with the smiles, the doting families, the Scentsy-infused living rooms, the halos.

Didn’t last long, and then Coyote ran across the road, as I drove away to nowhere, morning sun across her back.

Run, baby, run,” she called out.

I know she was calling to me.

So I retired the apron and the guilt, and now just dabble a little with wooden spoons, herbs, a sweet potato or two. No list of daily to-do’s. Saute’ a little red onion, rinse off a can of pinto beans, gather and stir, but always with the door slightly open, to remind me I’m free.

Once a runner, always one. Coyote always knows.

Holy Mother

They say that eight is the age when you start losing yourself to adulthood, when the big people in your life stop allowing you to be the little, fun, flighty thing that you’ve grown thus far to be. Go back to eight, they say. remember what you loved, what came naturally, what lit up your world of innocence and discovery.

Going back to eight, I loved animals. Horses. Cows. Dogs. Birds. Always there have been birds. Magpies, especially. My dad would shoot them. Said they were a nuisance. The rats of the bird world. But i thought they were pretty and brave, and the iridescence of their green-black feathers enchanted me. Finding a feather was like magic.

I still side with the magpie.

And I loved books. That’s never been in question. And what else? Wildness. Wild creatures, wild mountains and valleys and meadows, wild aspen trees twisting up to the hot, purple-blue big sky. i loved wild me. I’d run through the forest all day until dark. Gathering pinecones, collecting fuzzy caterpillars, looking for butterflies and columbines, eating wild strawberries, pressing myself into old burned out stumps. I was the forest.

One time I tried being eight again, and remembered that my heart is a wild flower, and that the times I have felt truly mothered were when I was being held by the sacred mother herself–claiming invisibility in the boughs of a tree, nestled between rocky crags, or pressed into my smallest self in the burned out stump.

Thank you, sacred mother, for being the solid thing that holds me upright. May we do our best to care for you today, and every day.