More on “Awe”

The solace of amazement is the highest solace to which the free can aspire. While others experience solace in salvation, the free discover it in astonishment, mystery, and unfolding.

I am trying to reconnect myself to the feelings of “awe” that have always provided a context for my creativity, and from which I seem to have strayed. Irreverent and irreligious, I come at “awe” from a perspective that is pretty much examined in this book. Here’s a another quote:

Whereas the conventionally religious tend to resist inquiry about their faith, the internally (relatively) free tend to question their faith consistently; and whereas the conventionally religious tend to experience their faith as clear and specific, the internally (relatively) free tend to experience theirs as enigmatic and evolving. To put it more concretely, the conventionally religious tend to invest in divinities that are near at hand, that give them firm directions, and that divide the world into comforting categories (such as good and bad,Christian and non-Christian, sinful and moral, and so on). The result of this purview is that, ostensibly at last, life becomes orderly investments containable, and difficulties minimized. The internally (relatively) free, on the other hand, tend to invest in spirits/forces that lie far beyond conventional parameters, that yield minimal directions, and that apprehend the world in its diversity, complexity, and immensity. The result is that life becomes adventurous, investments daring, and difficulties animating.

Vigil Eve

I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.

And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.

They pray. I write.

Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)

There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.

The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves

to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.

Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.

We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.

The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.

They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.

Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.

———–

Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)

Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.

Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.

She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.

Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.

They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.

The Stubborn Roots of God-ism

OK. This is a rant. Not about religious fanatics or extremists. It’s about reasonably intelligent and educated people who don’t take the time or make the effort to examine and understand the difference between freedom to practice a religion (or not) and the separation of church and state.

It’s all there, folks, in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. There’s no mention of god. There is only the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a national religion.

How much more clear can that be.

But there’s something about people who are devoted to their religion and their version of god that makes them want to insist that it’s a universal truth. It seems to have something to do with the brain and the stubborn roots of god-ism.

Our research team at the University of Pennsylvania has consistently demonstrated that God is part of our consciousness and that the more you think about God, the more you will alter the neural circuitry in specific parts of your brain.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Even those many who believe in the freedom to practice the religion of your choice only seem to go along with that as long as that all-powerful god is part of the equation.

As a secular humanist, all of that is irrelevant to me until they insist that, somehow, America belongs to that god, that in god we must trust, that god blesses America.

I don’t know how to educate such folks. I think the roots of god-ism that religions infuse into the brains of thinking people take such a strong hold in the temporal lobe that it can’t be budged by logic or facts.

The wonderful thing about the internet, and the dangerous thing about the internet, is that once you have put something out there, it pretty much stays there (unless, of course, you cite some researched document that gets eventually pulled from its server.)

A FaceBook discourse that I have been having with my religious family members is out there but is not being accessed in my timeline. From their end, there is a lot of “one nation, under God,” and “In God We Trust”, and offers to send me reading material. They obviously don’t read what I have written in my comments. (“Don’t confuse me with facts; I know what I believe.”)

From my end is what, I think, are cogent explanations the position of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, along with links to more highly developed sources than I.

Since they are not being shared on FaceBook, I am sharing them here. Because I can. Because this is a crucial educational discussion. Because I’m scared to death that such well-meaning (but un-informed) folks will rise to the majority and destroy the foundations of My Blue America.

So, I am herewith repeating my comments to their god-ist urgings. Because I can and because I don’t want to lose my links and arguments. You can tell from my responses what they must have commented. These are my responses to a jpg of “One Nation Under God”:

— We need to go BACK to being one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religious or secular beliefs. What matters is The Golden Rule.

— No, if I meant the commandments, I would have said so. The “under god” was inserted into the pledge in 1954 during the Cold War with Russia by a Congress afraid of “godless” communism. This country was founded on a separation of church and state by the wise men who thought it all out originally. I documented it all here, in a history lesson worth knowing about:

— Hey, whatever works for you, I get inspiration from my hummingbirds. But that has nothing to do with the way this country functions; it’s totally an individual thing, and American history informs how that is supposed to work. If you google “The Golden Rule” you will find that just about all religions have that as a basis, as does secular humanism. That gives us a common ground that does not require a belief in god to be good. And I respect your PERSONAL beliefs and lifestyle, but I think you do need a lesson in American history so that you don’t try to impose your version on the rest of this country — which pretty much is the definition of the kind of Sharia Law practiced in some Islamic countries.

— Absolutely. Informed discourse is crucial to the maintenance of a democracy. The problem arises, however, when an “opinion” gets legislated by those who have the power to impose that “opinion” on others who do not share that “opinion.”

— Christine, read my historical documentation. Religion/God and our government were separated right from the beginning. They were never meant to be combined, as they are in Muslim countries. It’s a historical FACT. And it is documented over and over again in what our founding fathers wrote and signed. The Pilgrims did not create the documents that are the laws of our land. And the Pilgrims are hardly good examples living by the Golden Rule. Again, read my researched piece — even though some of the links are so old that they have disappeared, but googling will unearth similar factual documentation.

The Mayflower Compact was a PRECURSOR to what became our Constitution. Because it stressed the “civic values of justice, equality, and responsibility,” the founding fathers built on those values BUT also recognized that the religious part of the document was not a good thing to impose. So they purposely did not include any of that in our Constitution of Bill of Rights. Nowhere in those documents is god mentioned, and I will link to that info in the next comment.

— Excellent piece by PBS:
God In America – People – God and the Constitution

— Ladies, it’s never to late to learn the truth: Quote from the above piece: With Madison’s guidance, the First Congress approved the First Amendment to the Constitution that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The amendment applied only to the federal government, not to the states. Some states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, continued to use taxpayer money to support established churches. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to end such support. [I guess, according to the law, maybe you could establish your own state and have your own state religion. And I guess that would apply to Buddhists, Muslims, etc. But then, that’s not what America is about, is it?]

— Well, then, you you really don’t understand what this country is about. And let me clarify my position on religion, in general. If it works for you to help you be a good person, fine. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us can be good without god. That’s a different issue from separation of church and state in America. America is not a country founded on “god” or his/her laws. It’s a country founded on secular human values (which, in truth, are shared by all religions). So, Trust in God all you want if that helps get you through the day. But that trust and belief is irrelevant to the laws of our land, despite what you would like to believe.

I am frustrated by the refusal of smart people to accept that they might be wrong about separation of church and state in America. It has to be the result of those stubborn roots of god-ism and the way the brain works. Science will tell.

Mag #218

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag 218. (Go there to read what others have written in response to this prompt.)

chair-with-the-wings-of-a-vulture 1960 salvador dali

(Chair With the Wings of a Vulture
1960, Salvador Dali)

Let’s hear it for our deities–
winged or haloed,
hanged or throned.
We want them to watch,
care, punish, save —
need them to blame
when tsunamis rise
and when bread doesn’t.

Mag #211

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Mag #211

Feast in the House of Simon, 1610, El Greco

Feast in the House of Simon, 1610, El Greco

It was the custom of Simon the Zealot to invite his friends to feast at his home after the sacrificial piety of every Sabbath. Of course, that meant “men only,” for we women were not allowed to participate in those raucous discussions of politics and providence. As a female in his household, my task was to keep the wine flowing as freely as did the details of their dialogues. Just by being present in that room, I learned much about the workings of men and government – the subtleties of reasoning and ruling, ideas that never insert themselves into the conversations of women. The men rarely noticed my presence; my purpose was to serve and be silent, and I used my role to my advantage.

And so it went, until the day that Simon invited to the table the man who caused a welcome disturbance at his wedding by magically changing barrels of water into barrels of wine. While I was attending to other wedding guests when this supposed miracle took place, I cannot assert that this actually happened. However, I did taste the “miraculous” wine and have to say that I found it quite fragrant.

Now, the day that Jesus joined Simon the Zealot’s table, everything changed. While the debates still agonized over the world’s politics and providence, they became less heated and more thoughtful, as the graceful gestures and soft responses of the man, Jesus, orchestrated a calmer tone. I marveled at the way he could hold the attention of every man there without even raising his voice. And there was something about his eyes, radiating a warmth and acceptance that penetrated to even the most doubtful heart.

It was not long after that Simon the Zealot left his wife and family to follow the man, Jesus – followed him out into the world of politics and provenance, joined others who did the same, all aroused by the man’s gentle promise of a world suffused with peace and harmony, fairness and compassion.

They say that there were some women who followed him, as well, for he welcomed all who welcomed him. I never left the house of Simon the Zealot, although sometimes I would dream of solemn eyes that brushed my soul and hands that graced the rest with a merciful yearning.

my secular blue America

Every once in a while I post something of substance. Eight years ago I posted two pieces that, unfortunately, are just as relevant today. Two years ago, I re-posted them (with some parts missing as a result of changing blog designs).

Today, I link to those old posts in case someone winds up here by searching for terms like
“the roots of American democracy”
“Christian Puritans as persecutors”
“Founding Fathers on mixing government and religion”
“Iroquois Confederacy and our Constitution”

In reverse order (because that made more sense) those old posts are:

My Blue America: Our Secular America (Part 2)

Our Securlar America: The Truth is Out There (Part 1)

And so it goes.

ashes to dust

I used to walk around with it on my forehead on this annual ashy Wednesday. Rituals are important, I still believe. It’s just that these days I believe in different kinds of rituals, ones that are created to empower, not depress.

Today, though, as I walk around attached to a heart monitor, I am confronted by coincidentally timed reminders of the fragility of my mortality.

It’s Ash Wednesday and my mortal coil seems to be “sproinging.”

I have a theory about where these symptoms are coming from, and I don’t believe they start in my heart, although that is where they wind up. I wish there were a Dr. House in the house who would sleuth his way through the electrical impulses of my body to shine his light on the first cause.

But this little picture works the same way as the big picture: we might never know the first cause, so we just keep examining each clue, each symptom, eliminating possibilities, one by one, until we get to the point of it all.

And, all in all, the only point might be that we are, after all, only the beginnings of ashes and dust.

celebrating the power of myth
at Christmas

While my Catholic upbringing did not manage to keep my faith alive, it did, however, instill in me a connection to the power of myth. Well, in truth, Joseph Campbell was a bigger influence in that arena, but the point is that I am enamored of myths of all kinds. Hence, this little altar that I have always set up in one form or another.

This one features a porcelain statue of Our Lady of Lourdes that originated in Lourdes, France, sometime in the 1920s and was passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, to me; my mother’s statue of St. Anthony that I keep around to focus on when I can’t find something I know I put somewhere but can’t find; a reproduction of the ancient Venus of Willendorf statue; a traveling Buddha given to me by my former/late husband; and a miniature Kwan Yin cameo. Off to the right, hanging on the wall is a representation of African goddess Acua’ba given to me one Christmas by my son.

Each of these icons has a personal meaning for me, and, while I do not make sacrifices on this “altar,” (as the definition indicates it is used for), I do on occasion stop in front of it and let those deep memories and meanings move through me. It’s the closest to prayer that I come, being an atheist.

Each year about this time, I seem inclined to post something somewhere that refers to the ancient pagan origins of Christmas. Inevitably, someone from my Catholic past feels inclined to take issue with my insistence on the difference between fact and myth.

Like Carl Sagan, I can feel awe without having any kind of faith. Like Joseph Campbell, I can feel empowered by myth without needing to believe. I guess that’s hard for some people to understand.

Contrary to what I have been called, I am not a “hater;” I am tolerant of all faiths that have humane values. I just don’t subscribe to any faith-based system myself.

And, at this time of year, I am reminded of the myths surrounding the birth of Jesus, in addition to always being surprised at how little critical thought “believers” give to what they believe.

But I guess that’s what “faith” is: belief without factual evidence.

And so I remain faithless but awed and empowered nevertheless.

there’s a woodchuck in my chakra

My woodchuck totem is a metaphor, a symbol, a visual representation some part of me that is “woodchuck-like.” (See earlier post.) She arrived as my totem animal for my third chakra, offering to be my metaphorical guide along my current meandering path. Whether the woodchuck chose me or I chose the woodchuck is irrelevant to how the metaphor might empower my thinking and feeling. That’s how these things work.

The third chakra

is located in the region of the navel, and is represented by the element of fire . The form is ….. triangular, the seed syllable is ram. It is a ten-petaled lotus. This is the chakra of digestion[emphasis mine], manifestation and power. The ego can manifest itself for good or harm through the power of the navel chakra. It is the one that gives us the sense of generosity, complete satisfaction and contentment.

Whether such a chakra physiologically exists or not is irrelevant, although….

Regardless of whether you believe in chakras, and whether you’re convinced by the ideas in the pages that follow, the journey offers its own reward, introducing a perspective sometimes lacking in our collective conversation.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, science has expanded in startling and important new directions. Chaos theory, quantum mechanics, genetics, cosmology, emergence, consciousness studies… All these disciplines have moved science forward, but they also hearken back to concepts and principles from the earliest days of recorded history.

The i-Ching’s 64 hexagrams correspond to the 64 informational sequences encoded into human DNA.iii The significance of this correspondence is subjective, but its existence is not. Spiral structures are embedded in the universe of physics, but they are also omnipresent in spiritual art and sacred geometry.iv Chaos theory provides a scientific framework for how everything is interconnected, a recurring theme in Eastern spiritual systems. The Eternal Tao is now considered relevant to everything from physics to corporate management… even Winnie the Pooh.v

You can vigorously debate the importance of these correspondences. You can endlessly argue about how specific principles play out in the real world, or how they don’t. But regardless of your world view, these parallel structures are important because they demonstrate that both sides of the divide are concerned with the same mysteries.

The article from which the above quote was taken is part of an unfinished book but is worth reading to get some idea of the connections between science and old spiritualities, between what we know as fact and how various spiritual traditions echo these facts in myth and metaphor.

For purposes of my current journey to get off generic Nexium and stabilize my digestive system, the third chakra becomes the mythic landscape though which I will metaphorically travel toward physical health, with my metaphorical woodchuck as my guide.

Thus is the mind/body connection. At least for someone like me for whom poetry and symbolism and metaphor and meditations have been known to work psychological magic.

An interesting aside I found out about charkras (on the site linked above) is about “The Void.”

Surrounding the second and the third chakra is the Void which stands for the principle of mastery (guru principle) within us. In many spiritual traditions, this area is the “ocean of illusions” that needs to be crossed with the help of a spiritual guide. When the Kundalini is awakened and passes through the Void, this principle of mastery is established within us. Thus, you become your own guru, your own spiritual guide since you can feel on your fingertips all your subtle problems and have the power to cure them using your own Kundalini. Moreover, establishing this center helps us get rid of all our habits, laziness, gross attachments, and everything that enslaves us in a way or another: we become our own master. Following false “gurus” who are more interested in power tricks or your purse can damage very much the Void area.

Finally, as I was searching aroundthe interwebs for information on woodchucks, googling for “woodchuck dance,” I found this post that is just delightful! (Makes me wonder what meaning that woodchuck metaphor might have had for that guy.)