Archive for the ‘Tolkien’ Tag

“Attention is the Beginning of Devotion”   1 comment

[I first drafted this short post in early May, and I’m returning to it now, leaving its seasonal references untouched.]

rhododendron

part of our two rhododendrons that survived the winter, now blooming in June

Penguin/Random House provides this excerpt from the late Mary Oliver‘s 2016 book, a collection of essays called Upstream.

“Attention is the beginning of devotion”, she writes, at the end of a section.

Druidry, like other true practices, is devotion, a measure of life away from distraction and toward attention. What do I mean by “measure”? A choice, a predilection, a heeding of instinct, or as Robert Frost puts it, a “stay against confusion”. After all, it’s we who do the measuring. (Or else we yield that privilege to others less worthy, less qualified to know what’s best for us. Until we do the difficult work of reclaiming.)

Truth, I find, sorts itself out marvelously well, once we start paying attention. Love itself is a kind of attention, a focus on what matters to us. I look into my partner of 31 years and discover a being new, mysterious — she’s becoming more of who she is. Both of us are graying and wrinkling, our kinship with trees ever more visible in the likenesses between bark and skin.

Attend, and we encounter. We meet other beings, landscapes, presences, the place we’re standing, feet pressed against the earth, the air we breathe, our own bodies, breathing and pumping blood, sweating under the early summer sun, or shivering slightly in this May air that only days ago frosted the grass and blackened the first brave flowers. Just beyond our skin, the cosmos. Looking only at the proportions of existence that are me and not me, you’d think attention might be in fact a wholly reasonable thing, though much modern life tells us no. So it is that the “apparent world” named in Druid ritual is what we’ve created — a sometimes-useful bridge that may not accommodate all the cars we wish to drive across it.  At need, I remind myself, let that world fade away. Don’t worry — it’ll be there when I return.

There and back again, writes Tolkien. True voyage is return, writes U. K. LeGuin.

May you go there, and return — often.

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Druidry 201, and Spiritual Dryness   Leave a comment

So you’ve made your way as a solitary practitioner, to the point where you know your land, the compass directions you salute, the spirits you greet and work with, the seasons, sun and moon, and the local weather-signs that signal storm or heat or simply change. You may well hold to an idiosyncratic practice that nevertheless works for you, drawn from dream, instinct, wide reading, the place you find yourself, discoveries that have proven to work, chance, ancestral memory, trial and error, divination, or direct instruction from a tree, guide, spirit, the land, another person.

If none of the foregoing sounds like you or your path — if you’re not a Druid, but Druid-friendly, or Druid-curious — nevertheless you can describe your path (and might benefit from putting such an overview into words, if only for yourself, as a record, a milestone, a signpost, a witness).

pinktreemay

Spring, says Kipling in The Jungle Book … “the time of New Talk”

Or you’ve joined an order or grove or ritual group, you meet intermittently or regularly, you’ve settled on a basic ritual format that you spin variations on, you have your favorite festivals and ritual locations, and after a time you may start leading or writing your group’s rituals, or holding informal talks, or teaching divination, healing, permaculture, magic, and so on.

In either case, how many things can a Druid study or practice? Yes, you get the idea: the reach of it all widens far beyond the circle of the horizon.

In other words, you’re no longer a beginner at this stuff. You’re at least a “201-er” (following the numbering of university courses in many places, with 100-level classes signalling no prior knowledge or prerequisite coursework, and 200-level and above indicating intermediate and more advanced levels). You may not (ever) feel ready to write a book on what you know (though you could do so, nonetheless). You may never be approached by students eager to learn what you’ve painstakingly put together on your own (though that could happen, too). But you know enough, have learned enough, that when you act (or refrain from acting), things ripple from that choice, and you know it.

What’s next? Or what work lies ahead? And how do you figure that out?

The challenge of naming such next steps partly explains why there are so few non-beginner books and guides.

If you’ve stayed with any path long enough, and kept growing, you’ve learned how to begin taking those next steps, or — if they haven’t yet come into view — at least how to look and listen for them. You’ve also probably experienced “spiritual dryness” as well, those periods of inner drought where nothing’s kicking, and you just go through the motions like a wind-up toy. Patience is our greatest discipline and practice, says more than one spiritual teaching. Like trees and mountains, sometimes we need to weather for a while. And that can be the hardest work we do.

From the outside, even to close friends or family, it may look like we’re doing precisely nothing, when in fact we’re holding on and letting go all at once, questing for doors, gates, guides, signs, hints and clues, treading water, running in place, flexing all our limbs to stay as supple as possible, or — sometimes — dissolving into a complete funk and thinking we may just chuck it all. Heave a lifetime into the garbage bin and start fresh. Or abandon the whole project of having a project in the first place. Go fishing. Get and stay drunk, maybe for a few years. Have a midlife (or late-life) crisis. You’d run away, if it didn’t take so much energy. (Find a quiet corner and huddle there for a while, muttering to yourself. Yes, you’ve become one of those people now.)

201 is a point, or interval, where diverse spiritual traditions find considerable overlap, and the insights from one tradition can aid people in another. The most dogmatic and inflexible practitioners of any tradition usually haven’t wandered away from the home fires of their own hearths to the edges of the Forest, or into it. (You know what the capital letter stands for.) Or if they have, what they experienced there so terrified them that they fled and returned, hearts thumping wildly in their chests, determined to erect barriers, rules, ideologies, locks, guardians, gatekeepers to prevent others from enduring the same.

201 takes us into myth, archetype, confronting the self. 201, to borrow from Tolkien for a minute, drops us between the worlds of Man and Elf:

The real theme for me [in my fiction] is about something much more permanent and difficult; Death and Immortality: the mystery of the  love of the world in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ to leave and seemingly lose it [Men]; the anguish in the hearts of a race ‘doomed’ not to leave it [the Elves]. — Letters, no. 86.

To paraphrase and summarize a conversation between Elf and Man I can’t locate right now (probably from the Silmarillion, or from Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, the Discussion between the Elven King Finrod and the Mortal woman Andreth), “Which of us should therefore envy the other?”

Meanwhile, the Renewers of the cosmos, whoever they are, send us challenges to sweep us beyond such dichotomies. What does Life or Death have to do with the Song of Awen endlessly pouring forth through everything? To one stifling in spiritual dryness, the endless streaming of Awen all around can form part of the suffering that may accompany us during such periods. “Why is so much happening and flowing and flourishing all around me, while I sit here, a husk, waiting, endlessly, for something — anything?”

But write such things in a 201 book, and most readers would burn the damn thing, if they read it at all. Sometimes it can seem our patience and persistence have merely enlarged our capacity for suffering. And that’s really not what you want to share with anyone who casually inquires “So how’s it goin’?”!

Ubi sapientia invenitur? goes the old query. Where can wisdom be found?

If you know Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” (and if you don’t, go read it right now — it’s very short, a matter of just a few minutes rather than an hour — so that the very next few phrases and sentences aren’t spoilers for you), you know that the main character, with a weakened heart, faces freedom and dies.

We’re called to live, instead.

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New growth at the tips will be the most tender and sensitive, counsels the Green World.

Often the best cure is service. Not unwilling drudgery. But something worth doing. Find some way to give back, to unblock the flow of awen, of deep spirit, that has steadily been growing, pooling and accumulating, and now is a torment, because we can no longer give enough of it away, fast enough. (The cauldron is full to bursting. The weight of water in the reservoir builds and builds. Give more away, for the love of the sweet green earth!)

Instead of following a scripted plan for service (unless that appeals to you), ask for how you can serve. (Our talents can be used in ways we enjoy.) Then trust what comes, even as you test it step by step.

That, I’m still learning, turns out to be one of the bargains the universe, or the Gods, like best.

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Listening to Each Other — Recent Comments   5 comments

A series of recent comments here has been helpful to me, even as I try to gauge how to approach these posts, and how far and where to take them.

I had breakfast with a Druid friend this morning, a short while before he’ll be off for an extended cross-country skiing trip, far from regular tourist routes, hiking in and out, and camping and staying in trail-side shelters. I value him in part because he’s a good listener, and as a consistent character trait, he seeks to find balance in his own reactions to his daily inner and outer life, even as he shares them with others. It makes for some priceless insights, if I shut up to catch them.

Such reflection is a gift, something to cherish and encourage in others. I try to listen here in the same spirit, when you comment in posts about what’s going on in your worlds and experiences. Often of course I don’t not know enough of your circumstances to comment usefully, but I keep listening partly for that very reason. Who knows the whole story, even of our own lives? (The late ABC commentator Paul Harvey called his popular broadcast The Rest of the Story. We keep paying attention, if we’re wise, because the story hasn’t ended yet by any means, and we’re all part of it, telling our piece as we live it. And if you suspect reincarnation is an accurate aspect of the story, its chapters can grow quite lengthy indeed.) Listening, patience, gratitude: a triad cutting across all traditions, proven countless times over and over in its profound power.

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Krista writes:

Dean, I’m always especially interested when you write on this particular topic. Having been raised in the Christian Faith, and having had no quarrel with the Christianity of my youth, my own Druid practice always has something of a Christian flavor to it even though I no longer consider myself a Christian. But I don’t consider myself Pagan either. Always was a bit of a square peg. So throughout my Druid journey I’ve become very comfortable blending and assimilating and it works quite well in my private practice. It’s a bit more challenging in community practice, but I’m working on it and I adapt when it’s called for. I think it would do the Druid community a world of good to acknowledge, and have more discussion about, different Druid perspectives rather than focusing almost exclusively on the Pagan perspective. Thanks for taking it on!

How many of us hear even a part of our own experiences in what Krista shares here? Neither Christian or Pagan. It’s a perspective and an experience I suspect is more common than we recognize. “Square-pegged-ness” could probably define a number of us, and in fact much contemporary spiritual practice across traditions echoes this sense of having to find and tread our own paths. Because what price “purity” of belief or practice strictly within the confines of one tradition or school, church or community, if spiritually we’re suffocating or starving there? It can take a deal of work just to recognize such a priority, and honor such a spiritual imperative.

The influx of the divine that swirled and took shape in and around Christianity still has valid things to teach us, even as individual churches and whole communions and major denominations struggle to find their way.  The existence today of over 20,000 Protestant denominations, to say nothing of other Christian traditions, testifies to the difficulty of satisfying the questing individual soul with system and conformity, doctrine and creed.

Group practice and community often mean more to many people than words of affirmation recited at a particular portion of the weekly service, though they may describe much of value, too. But the flame that burns at the heart of what is called Christianity does not appear to keep itself neatly smouldering within any bounds set by humans, any more than it does in other spiritualities. If it did, how much would it really be worth? Instead, it kindles and warms anyone who brushes up against it for any length of time. Inconveniently so, dynamically so, wonderfully and provocatively and endlessly “inspiritingly” so.

What other perspectives or flavors of Druidry do we often overlook, besides the Christian one(s)?

Until we can begin to answer that question adequately, I’m borrowing, for the space of a quotation anyway, some monotheistic but non-Christian flavor from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, hearing in it an echo of Druidic awen, and a further gift of the elemental fire that kindles us all:

Then the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance, for all shall then understand fully his intent in their part, and each shall know the comprehension of each, and Ilúvatar shall give to their thoughts the secret fire, being well pleased.

And disabledhikernh writes:

Thank you for this post. I am hard pressed to find other Druid Christians, so I have felt kind of isolated as such. Now I don’t 🙂

Isolation, that challenge to solitaries — and how many of us are solitary, even if we enjoy a local community of others, before and after we gather with them? The anvil of solitude can forge us spiritually in ways nothing else can, though the costs can be correspondingly high.

(One of my spiritual practices, for what it’s worth, found in other interesting places, too: If this experience is happening for me rather than only to me, what can I take from it? Where can I travel with it? What doors does it open, and not just close? What beauties glow behind the doors? What deities flare and bloom there? How far, I whisper to myself, half in fear, half in wonder, how far can I really go?)

Steve has been sharing something of his journey in previous comments, and writes:

This series of posts is proving to be a thoughtful and thought provoking treatment of what is a “delicate” subject in many circles. When I first encountered some of your earlier posts on the intersection of druidry and christianity I admit to taking a very cautious approach, almost an attitude of “this is too good to be true”. With time to read and think about what you are saying it seems more likely that you are speaking from hard won, first hand experience. Thank you for doing this.

“Delicate” is apt. Steve’s caution here sounds at least as hard-won — and needful — as any experience of mine, and vice-versa. My caution in how definitively I assert something, how deep I dig, how far I push, what I ask that I can’t answer, is ongoing. Rather than encounter walls, or provoke readers unnecessarily with observations I can’t back up from experience, I want to explore respectfully — mostly so I miss as little as possible of value as I go.

One of the most startling overlaps or intersections of traditions for me happened during an initiation. I still don’t know altogether what it “means”, though it was over five years ago now. In a clear inner encounter, all the more unexpected because I hadn’t opened a Bible in many years, I saw how

out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and his face was like the sun shining in its strength (Revelation 1:20).

Rather than “meaning” anything at first, the experience shaped me within its own context, just like other profound experiences, whether of pain or joy, grief or wonder, which we analyze only later, and put labels on, as we “process” them, seeking to incorporate or reject them, expanding or contracting them to “fit” what we can accept at the time. At the time, this experience confirmed for me the energy and love behind the initiation, flagging it as powerfully memorable.

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Milan’s bosco verticale — vertical forest, completed in 2018*.

(After a car accident over three decades ago now, I surveyed the overturned and totaled car I’d been driving, walked gingerly over a puddle of broken glass to retrieve my wallet, flung from the dash out the window by the impact, massaged a sore neck that was my only physical outcome of the event, and marveled in gratitude that no one had been hurt. Anything the accident “meant” came only later: Insurance claims. My sometimes-psychic brother, agitated all morning before my phone call home to explain what happened and ask to be picked up. The eventual replacement of the car. The job interview I was returning from, the mantra I’d been chanting, my mindset, the weather, the other driver, and so on.)

Part of the gift of the initiation experience is that I was largely able to let go of what it “meant” at first and focus on accepting its effects on my awareness. What it “meant” and “means” has continued to unfold, though not necessarily along “orthodox” lines. And that no doubt drives some of what I write here. Images and metaphors as divine “transparencies” or hierophanies, ways to connect to the limitless, ways it “shines through”, are part of our spiritual furniture, and part of my bias or individuality or inner architecture. They may or may not be yours, but you have yours.

May you find and explore them richly.

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IMAGE: urban trees — public domain; Bosco Verticale — Milan, Italy’s “vertical forest”.

*For more info and pictures of the Vertical Forest, see this article.

“The Provocations of Now”   2 comments

[Solstice light and fire can fill us with energy to tackle the big stuff.  At least, that’s my sense of this post, after drafting and revising it. Here goes.]

fire circle -- crystal collins

MAGUS ’18 fire circle. Photo courtesy Crystal Collins.

The title for this post comes from a line in a recent column in the UK paper The Guardian. (I routinely skim the foreign press both as an escape from the breathless hyper-partisanship of U.S. media and also for key perspectives often wholly absent from American consciousness.)

Every age has ’em: the issues screeching for our attention, promising imminent peril and world-flattening disaster if we don’t ramp up our paranoia, doubt, fear and despair to the pitch of the writer, pol, preacher, activist, etc., etc. If you haven’t developed a nervous twitch just from hearing certain triggering labels in the 24-hour news-cycle, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Which is exactly what I try to practice and quietly urge on others, if they choose to give me space to talk. Often they don’t, and I don’t insist. Stop paying attention, which is a form of our energy, to absolutely everything, just because it asks for it. Pay attention specifically to what builds, to what gives joy and life to you and others. Otherwise, why bother?

What follows is geek-talk, if you’re not a Tolkien-fan. You might as well use the search box at the top left to find a topic that interests you, or wander elsewhere on the Net to track down what will feed and nourish your powers. Surf well.

OK, you’ve been warned.

Remember the Council of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings? In that remarkable extended scene with its many speakers, Gloin recounts how an emissary from Mordor comes to Dain Ironfoot, king of the Dwarves in Moria, and demands Dain’s compliance with a request. Dain answers prudently:

“I say neither yea nor nay. I must consider this message and what it means under its fair cloak.”

“Consider well, but not too long,” said he [the emissary].

“The time of my thought is my own to spend,” answered Dain.

“For the present,” said he, and rode off into the darkness.

We’re always asked to decide, to react — preferably as-quickly-as-possible — but certainly not to spend our time considering the messages we receive, or to originate a response that’s not simply a manipulated reaction for or against.

The time of our thought is our own to spend, if we reclaim it, which is precisely what we need to do if we’re to find a balance and poise that will let us act prudently, navigate our own lives with a measure of confidence and joy, avoid inadvertently assisting the dis-eases of our times, and possibly aid the forces of light.  (Yes, sometimes the admittedly exalted and grandiloquent language of fantasy has its place in a realist view of things. In times that feel over-the-top, eloquence and dramatic language fit perfectly. If they move us in any way to preserve our own integrity, they merit a place in the action.)

And we each need to do this in our own ways, which means no single formula that I or anyone else proposes will suit us all. No OSFA.* The Druid tradition of the triad quietly tells us to look beyond crippling polarities — it bids us ask where the third factor lies, and what it contributes to the situation — but it’s far from the “only solution”. Other factors shape any situation, but threes at least have the virtue of avoiding the potential deadlock of twos. A tie-breaker is built-in, so to speak. Freed from the grip of either-or, many a situation opens onto unexpected possibilities and directions.

I refuse — with the defiant gesture of Galadriel repulsing the Shadow — to spend my hours in despair, like Denethor, who thought he saw truly with his palantir, when all he perceived were the visions Sauron fed him. And a corollary: If I can’t contribute effectively to matters I care about, I will work where I can create and originate something positive, however modest. Instead of complaint, muddying the atmosphere for myself and those around me, I will build as much as I can.

And I vow — with the wisdom of the exchange of Elrond and Gimli following the Council — to keep faith with my own ideals, even as I test their validity.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.

“Maybe,” said Elrond. “But let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

“Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” said Gimli.

“Or break it,” said Elrond. “Look not too far ahead, But go now with good hearts!”

But what does that mean in my case? Showing up to write this blog, I reach 400+ people who find some value in what I say. If I can help raise spirits, I’ve found one way to serve. We each have many, and to identify them and give them attention can be a revelatory experience. We each matter much more than we believe or feel most days. (What dark magic have we allowed to enspell us that we think so little of ourselves?)

Lastly, I swear fealty to what I know of the highest and best, trusting that any purgation I face, should I fall short of my own ideals — as I have and will again, no doubt — will necessarily restore me at length to the commitment and service I aspire to.

There, a triad for myself, and for any others who may find value in adapting it to their situation, experience and capacities.

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*OSFA: “one size fits all” — a personal meme reminding me to suspect the single fix, the one answer, the sole acceptable response, the cloned ideal, the mono-culture, etc.

Sovereignty and Time   Leave a comment

sovereigntySovereignty, Lady of an inner realm which flows ceaselessly into this one, you birth, nourish and sustain us. May my deeds serve not my own will alone, but your larger shaping for the good of all. In my words here, in my deeds, thoughts, feelings and dreams, let that light and song and fire illumine where it can, whom it may.

If conditions here no longer allow for the manifold inner purposes and directions to manifest outwardly, physical life may well withdraw from one world, moving to another. Yet in spite of the uncertainty and dark despair that may arise in our hearts from time to time, this lovely, difficult, damaged world is far from exhausting its spiritual purposes.

As a sacred laboratory for experiences for many beings, and for spirit to inhabit all lives, possibilities and forms to know itself again, the world unfolds still, rich with potential. Both established forms yet with us and new ones coming into being offer choice, beauty, misery, destruction and growth. From the small to the great, from the inner to the outer, from seed and leaf to flower and fruit, through decay and transformation and renewal, it has ever been so.

True it is, that all realms touch, intermingle and answer each other. Events here send their ripples and taproots elsewhere for good and bad, and a shift there brings about a corresponding change here. The walls of the world echo. The great wonder is not that we have no influence on life, but that our influence often exceeds our knowledge. Day to day is not always the place to look for vision, though what we see elsewhere in vision and dream returns us here to labor anew.

Because that’s what makes a uni-verse, a one-turning. We are part of the work and movement of a marvelous many-faceted whole. It’s a measure of our priorities and the fading of the ancient heritage we have received and often abandoned in our pursuit of other things that many of us no longer know this in our bones, that we have to re-learn it through often bitter experience before we can begin again to make use of it to shape something better. But our cells know better, and our dis-ease may yet call us back to here and now, our suffering may still wake us to rebellion and questioning and discovery, our losses may perhaps stir us to compassion rather than endless lament and blame and surrender.

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The seed of ritual, planted. The promise of spring, uttered. The shaping of hands to make each thing happen, foretold and prefigured at the birth of each woman and man into this world, from the great family ranged behind and all around us, that family of blood and friendship and teaching in the other worlds. Ancestors, hear us.

Slowly we apprehend what is essential and what is not, the long journey fashioned and felt and followed as we abide in multitudes of forms.

For us, the essential thing is that there is everywhere a conception of the end and the beginning of a temporal period, based on the observation of biocosmic rhythms and forming part of a larger system — the system of periodic purifications (cf. purges, fasting, confession of sins, etc.) and of periodic regeneration of life. This need for a periodic regeneration seems to us of considerable significance in itself. Yet the examples that we shall presently adduce will show us something even more important, namely, that a periodic regeneration of time presupposes, in more or less explicit form — and especially in the historical civilizations — a new Creation, that is, a repetition of the cosmogonic act. And this conception of a periodic creation, i.e., of the cyclical regeneration of time, poses the problem of the abolition of “history,” the problem which is our prime concern in this essay. — Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History.

Lady, we gather in your grove, where your blessing yields all seasons at once. You abolish time in each moment, directing us forward and back, to ends and beginning, seed and leaf and fruit and fallow time. You regenerate us constantly, your dark and bright moons, this daily sun, stars overhead — who cannot see it?

Often, we cannot. Teach us again, three by three by three.

“The Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red milk of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer” — Caitlin and John Matthews, The Arthurian Tarot, pg. 43.

Clothed in rags, we walk the streets of the cities and wastelands, forests and plains and mountains of Time.

Although now long estranged,
Man is not lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned … — J. R. R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”.

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“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,”
(some wishes are horses – watch out where they stride!)
but my words are wingéd – they fly to your side
to wish you a happy New Year ’17.
It’s not for myself that I say it – I mean
may you flourish and grow, whatever the weather:
as long as we’re in this, we’re in it together.

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Image: Sovereignty.

Tools for “Thrival”   2 comments

— not just survival. That’s much of what I aim for with this blog. (You know almost as well as I do how I don’t always hit the target.)

Not tools for “social transformation” or “regime change” or advocating for somebody else’s large-scale fixes that may or may not ever reach me (or you) in anything like helpful ways. In U.S. terms, that means neither Trump nor Hillary will help more than they will hurt. (Only differently.) In U.K. terms, that means “to Brexit or not to Brexit” isn’t the question. Generally, that means binary choices often aren’t very useful ones.

Whoever “wins” won’t change what needs changing. (That ultimately lies with me. I win as I listen to what yearns to be heard most deeply.) Forces in motion that we launched decades ago, larger than politicians or parties or even empires, will see to changes. A wiser course, for me at least, is to work with forces that build, and learn to ride the ones that don’t, as skilfully as I can. Those aren’t up to a vote. They’re not democratic. If I want, I can put myself in agreement with their effects through anger or ignorance or blind acceptance. But I keep learning the hard way that none of those are profitable responses.

What’s the third — or at least a third — option? (There are always more than two options. If I don’t see them yet, right there is a place for me to work at listening and paying attention.)

Do the necessary work on myself and, as much as possible, avoid feeding energy to the rising political hysteria — of any flavor. “Chop wood, carry water” is a beginning. Yes, but also honor the trees as I do so. Bless the waters, waste less, thank more. In-form the heart, not out-form it. Love works better as a fountain, ever-flowing, than as a reservoir of “hold on to what you’ve got.” Turn down the volume on the shouting. Duck when necessary. Plant seeds for the long view. Share even modest harvests. Stay mindful of the Dao De Jing’s counsel: “Extremes do not last long.” And also: “This world is a spiritual vessel. It cannot be ‘improved.'” Or if you prefer, as humble recipes say, leaving it up to us in the end: flavor to taste.

So I keep bringing back my monkey-mind to focus here on what I can create and transform through awareness and co-operation, hoping to model in my limited way a version of what I see others I respect trying out in their lives and succeeding at.

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When building, start small.

Start small, because in the end that’s the only place anything starts anyway. But watch for when I touch infinities in those grains of sand I garden in. Revel in eternities that spring from my hours.

Have you ever reached a limit to joy? Not happiness which — often — is superficial, and — often — not worth pursuing:  peace to that old Declaration we claim to fancy and which offers such pursuit as one leg of a Founding-Fathers triad that provoked a 240-year-old Exit of our own.

No, I mean joy, a stranger to many, it seems. What Tolkien’s hobbit Pippin could perceive, in the middle of all-out war, in the Maia Gandalf:

Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.*

True kingdoms to you.

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Tolkien, J. R. R. The Return of the King, Chapter 1, “Minas Tirith.”

Thirty Days of Druidry 10: Both Trees   Leave a comment

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In Tolkien’s legendarium, his two trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, are silver and gold, both fruit-bearing, and the originals of the moon and sun.

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Either-or? How about both-and?

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The jury’s just heard the last of the testimony. The voices of the four defendants — two humans, one animal, one deity — still seem to echo in the paneled courtroom.

The DA rises slowly from his chair and approaches the jury to give them their charge before sending them off to deliberate. As he stands before them, he leans forward a little, resting his hands on the railing at the front of the jury box. At such close range, they can see shadows under his eyes. His suit is rumpled, and the once-crisp blue tie is stained and hangs loosely knotted. His trim physique looks pale, and his eyes rather glassy behind the heavy metal-framed glasses he has worn each day as this case goes forward. He speaks:

OK, folks. You’ve heard everyone involved tell their side. The facts are clear: God plants a garden in Eden, puts the man there, makes all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, good to look at and good for food. In the middle of that garden stand two trees. Let me refresh your memories here: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The DA pauses and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks around slowly, catching many eyes. Then he resumes his summary.

God tells the man, “You’re free to eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you eat from it, you will die.” Note that God doesn’t say “if” but “when.”

God realizes it’s not good for the man to live alone, and after a dry run with animal companions who just don’t fit the bill, he puts the man to sleep, and from him makes a woman.

The serpent says to the woman — and everyone agrees on his words — “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman answers, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” It’s here that confusion enters the record. Does Eve know which of the two trees to avoid? Or has this all-important distinction already been lost?

I know we’ve arrived at the appearance of “he said-she said,” but it’s important to note everyone still agrees what was said.

“You certainly won’t die,” the serpent says to the woman. “God knows when you eat your eyes will be opened, and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil.” Again, “when,” not “if.” Up to this point everyone agrees on what was said.

Now the serpent claims he tried to get Eve’s attention at this point, before she moved from her spot in the middle of the Garden, staring at the Trees of Knowledge and Life, and took that famous fruity bite. His words don’t appear in any of our official transcripts, and here’s the first disagreement. But I repeat his testimony here:

“Hey, Eve. Eve! EVE! A piece of advice. Eat from the Tree of Life FIRST! The tree of LIFE!”

Again the DA pauses, rubbing his eyes and cleaning his glasses, which he prefers over contacts. This time he takes so long that the judge is just about to admonish him, when he suddenly resumes, as if startled out of a dream.

When Eve sees the fruit of the tree is good for food and good to look at, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she takes some and eats it. My next question to you is this: how does she know these things before she eats?

Folks, to make short work of the rest of the story, which again nobody contests, God finds them. There’s an ugly episode of shirking responsibility and buck-passing to the serpent who can’t blame anybody else (though you might look again at God).

God curses the three of them, serpent, Adam and Eve. And this is my final observation to you. In spite of what we’ve heard today, neither Adam nor Eve dies for many more centuries.

Consider these things carefully, and you can only arrive at one verdict. All right, ladies and gentlemen. You’re dismissed.

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But what is the verdict? Is there, can there be really only one, in spite of how we often interpret the story? A better question or at least a more Druidic one: what’s the range of possibilities?

My apologies to those of you who know this story well. I taught it in high school for a decade and a half in a “Bible as Literature” unit, and we looked at characterization, at gender, at issues of truth and specificity, and the implications of distinctions like if and when, and what the story may subversively teach below and around and in spite of what we’re traditionally told it teaches. (A small detail: as many of you also know, there’s no apple anywhere to be found.) And we looked at over-reading the story, too, which teachers are infamous for doing, and which I do here.

I’ve also manipulated the story, and added to it, for my purposes. The “if/when” distinction, however, does appear in the New International Version, which comes in for its share of criticism for instances like this, and many others.

Student atheists in my class often didn’t know the story, Jews and Christians who actually did know it (and not all did as well as they thought they did) expressed often widely disparate views on what the takeaway is or could be. It’s safe to say all our eyes were opened. If we left some discussions feeling uncomfortable, it was a useful discomfort.

Among the reasons I like this story as a Druid is that trees are mediators of such potent energies as wisdom, moral law, and life. And as the song “The Wisdom of Trees” says, “Church bells ring, and I’m glad they do, but …”

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Therese1896Let’s refuse to choose between wisdom and life. Like Thérèse of Lisieux, when presented with a choice, will I say “I choose all”?

IMAGES: Therese.

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