Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Category

Invisible Essentials   Leave a comment

On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

“It’s only with the heart that you can see”, goes one rendering of these lines from St. Exupery’s classic The Little Prince. “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes”.

Still, you have to start somewhere. We all did, what with this being born thing, and with keeping the body together, in spite of maniacal drivers on the road, maniacal partisans in our politics, maniacal gremlins apparently in charge of both private and global destinies. Maybe the best reason for being a Druid is learning how to meet such magic with love, our oldest wizardry of all.

Without love in our lives, we die.

There’s a reason most of our popular songs talk about love. Good, bad, broken, ending, beginning, lost, found again. Sexual, Platonic, sentimental, confused, enduring, patriotic, familial, nostalgic. If it’s a Country song, there’s usually a pickup or whiskey or a gun in it. If it’s folk, there are often seven seas, or siblings, or signs, or at least a chorus everyone learns by the second go-round — the singer often demands we learn it. If it’s opera, there’s disguise and revelation, or an aria about, oh, I don’t know … buttons. But almost always it’s love that drives the story. Our story, after all.

The ways Druidry, like any worthy spiritual path, can lead us to contact love and bring more of it into our lives aren’t always made explicit, or even called “love” by name. But since too much of modern experience seems to focus on un-love between groups of people, and worst of all the un-love we direct towards ourselves, as the perennial experts in dark magic that we all are, it’s worth explicitly devoting a blogpost to this first invisible essential.

As with so many practices, I can only begin where I am. Remember, remember. Grow the love that already exists, and let it take up increasingly more space, till the extra spills over into other parts of my life, and then at length into other people’s lives, too. We all know people who are simply wonderful to be around. They give off love like sunlight. In their presence, there’s not just enough but plenty to spare. There’s a physics of love they’ve mastered, consciously or not: give it away so more can flow in. Like breathing, there’s a rhythm to it. It comes in, it goes out. Without this rhythm, we die. With it, we can inhabit our world and daily meet the possibility of loving someone and something in it better than we did yesterday. I start small because small things need love too. And because with love, there’s no such thing as size.

Romance gives us a glimpse of one kind of love in excess. Lovers often shimmer with it, their romantic love so strong you can feel it — even dense, non-psychic types like me pick up on it. There’s more than enough for them, so it spills over into the space around them, imparting to everything that giddy glamour we know if we’ve been there.

More mature love may not be quite so puppy-like, but that’s fine, too. We know people devoted to a craft or skill, or people who cook with love. They may not all be fabulous cooks, but you can taste the difference nonetheless. We know gardeners, pet-lovers, nature-lovers — the parade of lovers lengthens, with any luck, as you get older and tally up the encounters you’ve had with love of so many kinds. Druidry simply adds love of the green world to the pool of loves, and asks of us a practice to live more closely in harmony with this love and this world. Do what you do, and here are some tools to do it deeper and more powerfully and wondrously.

The particular form a practice takes, whether a daily walk (with or without dog), a morning or evening prayer, time feeling for a touchstone or seashell, piece of driftwood or stave picked up in a special place, that gem or animal fur or loved one’s cheek we caress, all let us bring some love into the physical world and ground it here, completing the circuit so more can flow in and out again.

Song, chant, ritual, poem, blessing, affirmation, or wordless love that kindles in the heart for this strange and marvelous planet, and all the other worlds we in-dwell: let our love come first in our hearts, guide, tool, weapon, defense against the dark, first and last resort, refuge, home, root, soul of every thing we cherish and hold dear. And more marvelous still, these things start to answer back, returning that love, building, if we only let it, the next step in our journeys, so that they may be joyful ones. And I wish this for you all.

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First major snowfall, 16 November 2018. Color photo, garbed in November’s hues.

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Four Holds on Joy   Leave a comment

Loosening Holds

For me, four of the prime holds to loosen are don’t, can’t, shouldn’t and won’t. Each pretends to wisdom, when in fact it’s almost always mere legalism. And if it isn’t (a fifth hold?), a practice I try out will almost always begin to reveal it for what it is.

Let’s look at each hold in turn. Don’t presupposes tendency or present fact. “People don’t do X or Y”. Peer pressure being what it is, “majority rule” often enough shunts people away from even trying something different. Don’t try out Nanowrimo, the new job, the blind date, the salsa, the nudge to take a different route home.

Don’t as command can also, perversely, provoke instinctive rebellion, so that some people will do something simply because someone in authority forbids it — not from careful reflection, but reactively. This opens up a second meaning of don’t: pure prohibition. And our first encounter with this form as children has a sometimes dubious accompanying parental justification: “because I said so”. We can take at least one step forward and say what it is we actually do, rather than defining ourselves or anyone else by exclusion.

How to simplify a lifetime of teaching, if your nickname has become “The One Who Teaches”? Choose again, counsels the female messiah Aenea in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.

Can’t opens up a whole set of assumptions that have been successfully challenged over time. Some have to do with the capacities of a subset of humanity, whether we select on the basis of gender or ethnicity or social class or some other criteria. Further, there are two kinds of can’t: permission of another person and our own personal abilities. We hear “You can’t do that!” often enough that we may carry its echo within us to the grave. “What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?” asks Thoreau of such times. Often that inner echo is enough to stop us from ever testing the second kind of can’t: are we in fact actually able to do it? Do we possess the will, grace, skill, energy and courage? The Nike campaign of “Just Do It” may not be the best single counsel, but taken with other helpings of wisdom at the meal of decision-time, it’s a plucky guide.

Shouldn’t may arise from the prudent counsel of another, but as a percentage of shouldn’ts that most of us hear, it rates pretty low. Much more common are the shouldn’t of fear, of concern for appearances (what will the neighbors/family/friends/coworkers think?), or of the speaker’s own incapacity, not mine. What does my dog think, when I run it by her? How about the friendly oak in the back yard, or the rowan guardian out front, that I’ve consulted in the past?

Won’t is a limit all its own. “It won’t work. You won’t succeed. Thing won’t turn out as you expect. You won’t like it once you get it”. Again, many of these are envy or fear of another’s success, or the habitual naysayer’s discouragement. A few won’ts may rise from loving concern, a desire to protect us, but they’re almost always better phrased as positives. “How about X? Have you thought about Y? Maybe Z would also work”.

Like other valid spiritual practices, Druid teachings generally offer positives in place of such holds on action, freedom, discovery and expression. Here are a Druidy set of seven I go to:

1) Ask for guidance. It can come in many forms: our animal neighbors, dreams, chance conversations in the checkout line, pets, flyers on a bulletin board, children, lines from books, a phrase on the evening news, and so on. Unless it’s a split-second decision, a choice usually benefits from at least a day’s reflection. Assemble your Wise Ones, consult them, and proceed from there.

2) Practice a form of divination to uncover factors you may not perceive are at work. A “divinatory attitude” increases options, and need never rule out my common sense. Tarot, impulse, hint, chance, ogham, runes, bibliomancy (opening a book of wisdom at random and focusing on what appears there) — there are many forms to try of openness to the cosmos.

3) Pray. Who and what you pray to and for, and how, and when, are up to you. Many resources exist to help open up this universal and age-old practice. If you’ve tried prayer, and had no success, maybe your target audience needs a switch. Ancestor, deity, ideal, energy — we open up when we pray. Turn the switch, open the valve, unlock the door, crank the window, twist off the lid. Breathe. Give thanks for a pulse.

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Pythagoras the rooster — what is he saying? Photo courtesy Dana Driscoll.

4) Consult tradition. While each of us breaks new ground by simply existing in ways and places and spaces no one else has, we also share immense common ground with others. The insights of the best of them have been preserved for our benefit, and it’s pure foolishness for me to overlook what they may have to say to me. They’re called classics for a reason. Pick your oracle. I light incense, a candle, toss a coin in a fountain, leave a larger tip in a restaurant, offer a piece of quartz to a favorite tree. Offerings, especially spontaneous ones, help open me up to listen, before and after. For me it’s part of cultivating an intention.

5) Follow intuition and guidance. When I write down my dreams and images and words from contemplations, even if I don’t always catch what’s coming through at the time, they prove their value as guides over time when I read them a day or week, month or year later.

6) Listen for creative nudges and work-arounds. We may admit later to factors in action that we turned away from at the time. Keep options in play. Everything in my heart and out my window has something to say, and that’s just one small corner of what’s available to me. I choose the red leaves on the blueberry bushes out the window as I write this, which remind me to bring in the garden hose before the next frost tonight.

7) Watch for signs. One good reason you and I exist — we’re individual responses to factors at play right now. We can hear and see things no one might notice or know of. Mentioning them from time to time to a trusted friend or partner is a useful reminder. They might have missed them. I have something to contribute to the conversation the world is always having with anybody listening.

“The awen I sing — from the deep I bring it” — Taliesin.

In Welsh, Yr Awen a Ganaf, Or Dwfn y Dygaf. Badly, uhr AH-wehn ah GAH-nahv, ohr DOO-vn uh DUH-gahv.

Chanting this quietly to myself — a practice all its own.

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13 Things that Make a Druid   5 comments

“What makes a Druid a Druid?”, asked a recent post to a Druid Facebook group I follow. The question, and the responses that followed, are both wonderfully instructive. I’ve distilled a large number of comments into thirteen ways of addressing the question. Below are the condensed originals, along with my indented comments.

1) A sickle, a white robe and a beard. What else?

This is one popular image, which we can trace to the Roman historian Pliny (link to short excerpt from his Natural History). Though it ignores the reality of female Druids in both the past and present, it does show that rather than a set of beliefs, Druidry suggests a set of tools that one uses in roles that Druids fulfill. In this case, harvesting the sacred mistletoe from the oak.

Ellen Evert Hopman likes to point out that white is really impractical — it shows dirt. Some of the oldest surviving Irish Druid materials talk about certain colours and patterns of cloth set aside for Druids — but not white. Wearing white stems partly from the influence of Pliny and partly from practices of the Druid Revival of the 1700s and onward.

2) A desire to seek knowledge regardless of belief or faith, a desire to keep that knowledge safe and a desire to share that knowledge with those able to understand it.

A good first draft of a Triad: “Three desires of the Druid: to seek knowledge, to preserve it, and to share it with others”. But many of us linger in desire without ever bringing it into manifestation. Desire alone won’t make a Druid.

3) Knowing when to put the kettle on.

Though it’s another piece of humour, timing of course matters deeply, and the “trick” of “catching the moment” reveals a great deal. Alertness to the hints the world is constantly giving us can guide our days. Likewise, obliviousness to such nudges and intuitions simply means our lives will be that much harder and less joyful. Nature so often is our first teacher.

The 21st century and most of its challenges reflect how often we’ve missed catching the moment and willfully ignored the many hints coming our way. Now we’re simply going to learn the hard way for the next few centuries. Neither Apocalypse nor Singularity, damnation or salvation: but a good deal more schooling in what we didn’t bother to learn the first few times round.

4) Initiation.

As a one-word answer, “initiation” points us in an important direction. But what we think it is, where and how we seek it, and what we do with it once we “have” it — those are places we can trip up.

As one commenter noted, “a Druid isn’t a ‘what’ – it’s not a thing to be initiated into. A Druid is what you are – you can be initiated into Druidry, but that doesn’t make you a Druid”.

Though, as another commenter observes, “self-initiation is a thing”, we are never alone: spirit, spirits, the ancestors, animal presences all participate in both “self” and group initiations.

In a larger sense, too, “initiation” happens to everyone. Life itself initiates us, through love, suffering, birth, death, the seasons. In that sense, we’re all “Druids in training”. Some opt to work with such energies more consciously and deliberately.

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The Morrigan personifies the challenges that prove and test us all. Photo courtesy Wanda Flaherty.

5) Membership in an Order.

For many — and it can be a valuable step — what “makes a Druid” is membership in an Order. The path of the Solitary means doing preliminary training on one’s own, and the requisite patience and listening and discipline of the Solitary aren’t for everyone as a starting point. Solitary work can feel trackless at times — how do I know where to focus? How do I assess my efforts? An Order can lay out for us its set of answers to such questions. However, to do more than merely “belong” or “be a member” — to grow into Druidry — still requires that same patience and listening and discipline which the Solitary practices.

6) Doing the necessary work.

As a commenter says, “Whether as a solitary or as a member of an order, WORK is required. Otherwise, to call oneself a Druid is meaningless”.

7) Study, reverence, work in nature, and commitment.

For most Druids I know, one or more of these may flag at times. It’s unavoidable. Jobs, relationships, changing health and life circumstances all demand much of us. Returning again and again to pick up the work is what “makes a Druid”.

“Persistence …” says one of the Wise. “Is not this our greatest practice?”

8) Alternative answer: you have to be able to summon a unicorn or a dragon. You can also grow a tree that grows/attracts its own dryad.

Again, though a bit of humour, these answers point to Druidry as something people do rather than something they merely believe.

9) Living in honourable relationship with nature, the Gods and the tribe. (And the evidence that we’re doing this?) The ability to model and teach all of that.

10) There is a special badge you get that says “I’m a Druid” on it …

Ask a silly question …

If you’ve been at some Druid or Pagan events, you may on occasion have wondered whether it’s the bling that makes the Druid. Fortunately, no.

Theme for meditation: what says “I’m a Druid” to the non-human world around us?

11) Practice, experience, and listening.

Another good Triad to take into meditation. Each of the three informs and feeds the other two. What am I listening to? Is it nourishing the deepest part of me? If not … What have I learned from experience? How can that shape my practice? Does either practice or experience show me new things to listen for? What is teaching and guiding me today, right now? What is my next step?

12) 19 years of study … at least for the ancient Druids.

As others have pointed out, the dozen or more years of modern education most of us undertake account for a chunk of those 19 years, but by no means fulfill or equal all of them. A Druid who persists on the path finds in the end that those symbolic 19 years cover just the “introductory material” anyway …

13) You are a Druid when your community says you are — fulfilling the role.

This presents a paradox of sorts. It means I practice and work on fulfilling the role, though recognition may or may not come right away — or ever. But that’s not why I’m practicing. I’m not a Druid until I possess that inherent authority of experience that others recognize, yet I won’t possess that authority or experience unless I practice despite all lack of recognition. My indifference to such recognition as I practice is often a more sure way than any other to attain it.

One advantage of membership in an Order is that the community of members will come to recognize this authority. People will begin to turn to a wise and compassionate Bard, even though others who’ve completed the “higher” grades may also be present.

Another commenter reflects: “Because being a Druid is defined by function, it’s not something you can be in isolation. You can train as a teacher, and maybe even qualify. You can call yourself a teacher. But you are not in reality a teacher until you have taught someone, just as you are only a healer if you have healed someone. You are only a Druid if you carry out the role of a Druid”.

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La Vie en Vert: Life Greens   Leave a comment

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On an overcast, mild and rainy day, the stones of our backyard firepit emerge at last from the retreating snow.  No thing exists “entire of itself” or for itself only. It also touches things around it, making and meaning for them a whole range of significances. For the moles in the lower yard, warming weather soaks the earth with snowmelt, and that means flooded burrows. For the deer who’ve survived the New England winter, fresh browse as the grass greens again under the strengthening sun, with the tender shoots of new growth burgeoning everywhere. For the returning birds, nesting material, the first bugs, and surfacing worms.

One of the core teachings explains that the macrocosm (literally ‘the great universe,’ the universe around us) and the microcosm (the ‘little universe,’ the universe within us) are mirror images of each other.

Thus, we can look to the world of nature around us for help in understanding our own nature, recognizing that if a theory about the nature of the universe proves to be a mistake when tested against the world around us, it will also prove to be a mistake when applied to the world within us (Greer, J. M. Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, pg. 15).

Inner turmoil, strange dreams I can recall only fragments of on waking, a sense of being reminded of — and held to — a standard I agreed to long ago. A sense of being on the cusp of some ordination, relied on for a spiritual responsibility. “Ready or not, here I come”, says Spirit.

“Every human being is already a priest”, says John Plummer in his book Living Mysteries,

in a very primal sense. We stand between earth and sky, like pillars in an ever-moving temple. We find ourselves within and among other humans and many other orders of being (stones, plants, animals, elementals, angels, etc.) with energies flowing back and forth, consciously and not … Our outer personalities mediate the sacred presence at the core of our being, more or less well. We are all points in an extraordinarily complex web, through which divine power moves. That power … is much greater than us, and not particularly concerned about whether we understand how it is working, at any given moment (pg. 13).

Whether baptized or called by the spirits, pursued and confronted by an animal guardian, taught in dreams, initiated through suffering or illness or other trauma into a spiritual quest, roused by the shakti of a guru or the accumulated potency of intensive meditation, ignited by our own unanswered questions and a divine discontent, or turned off all spirituality by its many fakes and shams into a formidable and rationalistic atheism, we are called.

Plummer continues:

… we cannot turn our back on it. If we try, it will come knocking louder and louder, until we re-open the door. We have to feed it from our own substance, letting it grow through us, and then hand it forward to those who come after us, whoever they may be. To fail to transmit what we have received is to dam a stream until it becomes a stagnant pond, rather than free-flowing, clear water (pg. 15).

And so we come to this weekend, both April Fools’ Day and Easter, that lovely Pagan celebration — after all, it does take place on the first day of the Sun, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox — a true Pagan Triad of Light.

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Gulf Coast Gathering ’17, Live Oak canopy

Water and Light, and the holy Trees as witnesses.

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Greer, J. M. (2012). Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology. Weiser Books.

Plummer, John. (2006). Living Mysteries: a Practice Handbook for the Independent Priest. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press.

Eleven Strands of Educational & Life Philosophy   Leave a comment

Here as promised in yesterday’s post is a statement of my personal philosophy, developed as a supporting document required as part of my application with a teacher placement agency. I don’t always state things in Druid terms here — this document was intended to address life and educational philosophy for secondary schools, after all. And if you’ve ever tried to get down on paper a statement of your philosophy — a very worthwhile spiritual practice, worth spending time on! — you’ll no doubt find yourself tweaking it, if you continue to live and grow and change.

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Five of us scouting a ritual site at MAGUS ’17. Photo courtesy Gail Nyoka

1) “The three pillars of achievement: a daring aim, frequent practice, and plenty of failures” – old Welsh triad. Very succinctly, try one more time than you fail. Helping students, colleagues and myself practice this principle boosts successes. Give me a worthwhile daring aim, and I’ll try that extra time.

2) “Think inside the box – it’s fresh territory again. Everybody else has left”. As long as I don’t overuse this, I can still get my wife to laugh at it. More to the point, it’s increasingly true. “Tried and true” techniques, practices, strategies and principles that don’t grow old with time or use really do still exist and merit our attention and implementation. (Often they’re just lying there in the box.)

3) Listen early and often. “Everybody’s talking at me/I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’” sings Harry Nilsson. Goes double for adolescents. Help being heard not be a novel experience for others.

4) “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink, I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish fill the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars” – Thoreau, Walden. Among many other things, a mantra for calm and perspective. Ask me about my focus and I’ll be recalling center-points like this.

5) One and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one are 10. Hint: the double-digit sum really doesn’t come out of nowhere. Even despite appearances. Or to steal from Neil Armstrong, it’s that next small step that makes a giant leap possible.

6) Upren masei kapotas ambei solna ir mitmu aljagotvei djuva. Literally, “Over our heads are both the sun and a most changeable sky” – Sovermian proverb (one of my constructed languages). Constants and variables aren’t equivalent, though we mistake one for the other constantly (and variably). And where does literature not illustrate this?!

7) Man déð swá hé bið þonne hé mót swá hé wile. Loosely, “folks do as they are when they can do what they want” – The Old English Durham Proverbs. Alternatively, both a justification for the rule of law, and for the positive consequences of accepting responsibility for oneself. Worth modeling.

8) “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” (AKA, good things can come from student film recommendations!) Pithy and fresh enough to stick in adolescent brains. Better than most “don’ts.”

9) If it’s avoidable, avoid it. If it’s celebratable, celebrate it. If it’s mnemonicizable, mnemonicize it. And if it has scales and fins, in which direction does it actually swim? (I’m a fan of mnemonics and other learning strategies.)

10) “All materials to build your home in this world or the inner cosmic worlds come from within, from the God center in your heart” – Paul Twitchell. Good for resetting the relative positions of responsibility, source, potential and manifestation. Frequently applicable in classrooms and curricula. “Ask me how!”

11) “… by now my desire and will were turned,/Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,/By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars” – Dante, Paradiso. A life goal.

Looking for a Title   3 comments

Now that I’ve chased away, as I usually manage to do every few weeks, a few incautious new readers who thought they’d follow my blog — until I said something indigestible to them — you and I remain to take stock. It’s part of my job description, in fact: blogger must intermittently provoke, offend or banish a portion of readership, if only to establish and maintain some semblance of integrity. That’s one route, anyway, to blogger bona fides.

Otherwise I’m just a spiritual politician, telling people mostly what they want to hear, scrambling for votes or likes. Please don’t merely “like” me. We’re not in primary school, right? Life isn’t, despite what the weak magic of  social media enchants us to believe, a popularity contest. We’re not even in secondary school any longer. Read and ponder what I’ve said, and test it — not just with your opinions, but with your life. As I try to do, in spite of that annoying and near-universal tug toward hypocrisy.

So there really aren’t any rules? my inner teenager asks. The previous post was a feel-good piece. Love is all you need. All paths lead to the same destination. We’re all in this together.

And we are. Except.

Anyone who practices an art or craft knows that rules, especially rules-of-thumb gained over long experience, can be really useful. Gardening? Plant marigolds with tomatoes. Tuning your guitar? Start with your sixth string, the Youtube video instructs, held down on the fifth fret. Guidelines for what to do, how to tackle challenges and complexities. Received wisdom. Even, if I can use the word, a tradition. We rarely need to start from scratch.

When we’re young, we’re told to color inside the lines. What happens if you color outside the lines? Nothing. You’ve colored outside the lines. What you do is what you get. Maybe a well-meaning adult scolds you, or not. A little later, perhaps a reward or penalty. We know how early such patterns and personality traits get set. Some kids without prompting will color up to the lines so neatly an adult couldn’t better it. And they’ll get praise for neatness and attention and whatever other labels get put on noticing boundaries and respecting what they have to teach.  Because they do have much to teach. Just not everything.

All right, teenaged self. What do you want rules for, anway? To push against, so you can declare yourself an original? To piss off a special adult, or adults in general? To run roughshod over, ’cause you’re such a rebel? Win the attention of possible partners, producers or profit-sharers? Welcome to inverse conformity: you’ve still let the rules define you. Can you make your own liveable set?

Robert Frost said writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. He meant it disparagingly, but it’s actually just another game. Handball. Without a single thing labeled “net”, nearly every surface becomes playable. Players don’t stand opposite each other, but — often — side by side. The rules: changed, but still present. Because that’s what a game is. It’s hard to make “whatever” into a game very many folks want to play.

Yesterday John Beckett posted “Get Over Your Fear of Religion!” tackling the frequent superficiality of much contemporary spirituality. On at least one online forum I visit, his post predictably sent some into a tailspin. Beckett notes, “Some of this [the “spiritual but not religious” movement]  is an understandable reaction against negative religion, but much is an avoidance of the work required to build any real spiritual or religious depth”.  Some scolding is good for me.

Of course, our reaction against stifling religiosity also has ancient roots in human experience. It will never go away as long as we face complacency and laziness in our cultural institutions and practices. As a certain rabbi once observed a score of centuries ago, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life”.

But beyond the pleasurable intoxication of a numinous moon or molten sunset or gold-drenched sunny afternoon, there’s more. “If you want a deep spiritual practice”, John continues, “that will help you handle life’s challenges, build deep and meaningful relationships, and change yourself and the world, you’re going to need religion”.

The first part sounds like what many people say they want. The last clause, though, tosses a dead mouse into the punch bowl.

Whatever else needs to happen as a consequence of mouse or punchbowl or tossing, reactions to the incident will reveal something to me in my own thinking and practice that I need to work on. Maybe you or I will take the bowl to the kitchen and bring out a fresh one. Maybe we’ll just cringe a little, and wait for somebody else to fix things. Maybe we’ll fish out the mouse, or shame the tosser, or ask for better punch-bowl covers, or mouse-traps. Or we’ll take to raising larger mice. Whatever our roles, the incident jolts us. Your outrage is yours. I do mine just fine, without help. But I don’t want to stop there, but start.

Over the decades, I’ve noticed life becomes custom-fitted to teach each of us what we need to learn. It gets to know us, scouts us right up to our weaknesses. I’m not always talking “fair” or “easy” or “blessed”, either. What I hold on to most tightly I’ll probably be compelled to relinquish. Rigid things tend to break. The gods prodding humans to grow. Or evolution fine-tuning a whole complex of eco-systems, sharpening the ability of each species to thrive by choosing the most adaptable individuals and going forward with them because — quite simply — they can change. A hundred thousand lemmings die, but one, slightly different, flourishes and becomes the progenitor of a new species. Ancestral lemming, I salute you.

If we’re changing, how could all the old rules possibly serve? Because rules can change, too, and most of the ones that trouble us and dog our heels are ones we’ve made for ourselves that haven’t changed with us. A few other parameters we encounter, like this pesky aging-and-mortality thing, and finite planetary resources, and cause and effect, we’re still learning to work with. It’s just that from time to time we confuse human rules with spiritual law. Confuse them so successfully we think they’re the same thing, until we find they’re not.

Imagine your ideal set of rules for how you’d play the game. Or laws, if you’re going for large-scale. Work to get down in writing at least three or four of them — you may uncover more — then try them out on your life, checking for fit, and then try them on the lives of a few other beings. Revise as needed.

Next post I’ll post mine.

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Cabin Fever and Creativity   Leave a comment

“It’s a good thing to give thanks, whatever your tradition, or none. So we’ll have a moment of quiet. Simply listen, if you  like, to the others near you, breathing”, says the pastor opening last night’s community dinner.

One of the joys of rural New England life is the Cabin Fever dinner tradition. These early spring events are a true “moveable feast” — held in churches, cafeterias, grange halls, schools — sometime in March or April, anywhere there’s a willing core of people dedicated to making community happen. Neighbors get called together from the more private hunkering down we all do each winter, watching wood-piles diminish, the inevitable March storms re-establish banks of snow that had been shrinking after the midwinter thaw, squinting at sky and trees, feeling the light linger a few minutes more at either end of day, scolded by the indomitable chickadees, uplifted at the distant honking of a flock of geese winging north again, at long last.

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We’re crammed, atheist and Pagan, Christian and agnostic, Jew and animist, into the sanctuary of the local Congregational Church for the 13th spring in a row — a lunar year of springs. Tables and chairs from a local high school have been set up, filling the space to the stairwell. There are no pews. After the original church burned down years ago, our community vowed to rebuild a maximally flexible space, church and community center both.

Our local Cabin Fever dinner draws attendees from half a dozen nearby towns, in part because the pastor’s husband is a trained master chef who volunteers his skills for each year’s feast, but also because of the tradition of storytelling that proceeds throughout the dinner, as neighbors rise, take the microphone — there are over 200 of us here this evening, and for the first time the pastor had to turn away a few score later-comers — intermittently interrupt conversations, and regale us with stories of the quirks and humors of country living, encounters with moose and fisher cats, chimney fires, deaths and births, lost cows and sheep, found dogs and children.

The evening opens and ends with announcements, car lights left on, alerts that the bears have begun to emerge again from hibernation, hungry and ill-humored as always, that the Green Team meeting has been moved to Friday afternoons, that tryouts for the world music chorus will take place the following Saturday.

A few of us scurry to the basement kitchen after the announcement that packaged leftovers are available for an open donation. We leave with two cartons of roasted vegetables for the next day’s lunch.

Here is our prayer and our praise, our magic and our offering: we manage to come together again, we learn anew that it’s worth listening to each other for the sad-funny turns life takes us all on, that we can recognize in each other, for all the differences of temperament and history and desire, a common table, light and talk and laughter into a cold spring evening.

There’s been no preaching or teaching, only what we bring to each other out of our lives and stories, the best kind, lived last month, yesterday, in the parking lot before coming in.

With such things we do not solve or resolve, so much as we celebrate as we struggle. We sing as we go on.

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