A Pilgrimís Year, 2004:  Week 19

 
 
 

Woolly Home

Intro

Week 1, 2, 3,

Week 4, 5, 6

Week 7, 8, 9

Week 10, 11, 12

Week 13, 14, 15

Week 16, 17, 18

Week 19, 20, 21

Week 22, 23, 24

Week 25, 26, 27

Week 28, 29, 30

Week 31, 32, 33

Week 34, 35   Sermon

Week 36, 37,    Sermon

Week 38, 39

   Singapore1

  Singapore2

  Bangkok

  Siem Reap

Week 44, 45, 46

Week 47, 48, 49

  Slowness

Week 50, 51, 52

 

Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme:  pilgrimage.  It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along.  It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis

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What We Want

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names--
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.        Linda Pastan      

 

William Schmidt found this poem read by Garrison Keillor.

Made me think of Rock and Roll and the Stones and the line attributed to a Minnesota man who told Mick Jagger at some local bar:  You canít always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you just might get what you need.

Kateís still in South Carolina.  I need her here, my rudder, a ballast in the storm.  My life begins to list a bit, edge toward the unhappy, the melancholy.  I wonder, often now, about the Gyatsho, Tantric, Dalai Lama contention that life is for happiness and that religion should create the mental climate in which we can be happy.

Patricia, a fine artist, a sculptor and a good person with a pencil, too, a great energy and Irish heart, talked about being down.  Low energy.  Not enough to do much.  I fight this battle, too, but seeing it reflected in another melancholia always seems so unnecessary.  Sheís bright, skilled, has a loving husband and a very positive relationship with her kids.  What can it be?

There  is, of course, no substitute for seeing anotherís spot from the inside and, by definition, Newtonís and Godís and Darwinís and our genetic realities we canít.  So, I donít see the dark light cast on Patriciaís life, where the lighthouse beacon turns into a flame, attracting the moths of destruction and doubt and despair, becomes a deathhouse beacon. 

Here, in spite of my dissatisfaction with Stan Marlanís presentation a couple of weeks ago, I find the notion of the Dark Sun very, very powerful.  We often cannot see the pall as it drapes itself over our self-perception, shades our inner world in darker hues, until the twilight has faded and night has begun to fall.

I can feel the outgoing tide on Dover Beach:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar

I read this passage referred to in an article about Islam, the reference being Arnoldís apt description of the process of secularization, a process the author devoutly desired for Dar al-Islam.  Islam needs a reformation, he said, a way of turning Islam into a private confession, as the Reformation did for Christianity, putting religion out of the public sphere and into the heart where it belongs.

In my own life the sea of faith was once, full and round earthís shore...but now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.  And I donít know what to do with that fact.  Liberal religion gives me a language, a community of the skeptical as I said last week, but skepticism is thin gruel when it comes to matters of the spirit.

Love, it seems, and close companionship can, for moments at a time, long continuous moments, act as the moon and draw the tide back close to shore, but even short separations presage the long, permanent one.  In the face of death we are on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms, alone amidst ignorant armies in the night.

This is a far cry from gratitude, at least in tone, yet on our path night falls and not all nights bring peaceful sleep and sweet dreams. 

Rilke, in the Duino Elegies, wrestles with the same angels.  Hereís a bit from the 8th elegy:

 

          Yet in the alert, warm animal there lies

          the pain and burden of an enormous sadness.

          For it too feels the presence of what often

          overwhelms us: a memory, as if

          the element we keep pressing toward was once

          more intimate, more true, and our communion

          infinitely tender.  Here all is distance...

                   translated by Stephen Mitchell

Sometimes I pray, or at least, I try to pray, and my voice sets out and knows no longer where it heads.  Or to what.  Or to whom.  For this alert, warm animal it is an enormous sadness.  I do remember a time when the element I pressed toward was more intimate, more true, and my communion more tender.  Now, all is distance.

I can say neither this nor that about it.  This does not feel like loss of  faith to me, rather it is very like Dover Beach; it is as if the world of God, the one I knew and inhabited has receded like the waning tide, disappeared into the dark waters.

Neither is this apostasy nor blasphemy, at least in my professional opinion.  I have not concluded against God, save for that one issue about Josephís salvation if heíd remained in India (and, I admit, thatís an important issue to me.).  I have not decided to exit the world of Christian faith; it became untenable, and as it did, it receded, pulled away perhaps by the dark side of the moon.

 

All day today with the exception of a catastrophe break to see Day After Tomorrow I have worked on Kateís PDA, navigating the strange and cumbersome world of linking devices designed to complement each other, but which actually do more carping back and forth.

The rain has kept me in and I like that.  I prefer stormy, snowy, cold days.  They seem made for the scholar to throw up a cowl against the draft, bend over the table in the library or scriptorium and get down to it.

I liked the movie.  But then I have low standards when it comes to entertainment.  Not for serious literature, or scholarly work, no, there my standards are the inverse, often they seem too high, but, like my love of popular culture, I canít seem to adjust them.

Joseph dismissed the Day After Tomorrow, ďDo you know how many laws of physics it breaks?Ē  Well, no.  Then again, for me, I donít take the academic standard of the laboratory to the cinema.  It is after all, fiction.

The underlying science may be wrong only in its speedóa change to world climate happens in less than a week so; but one mechanism to start another ice age is, paradoxically, linked to global warming.  At least it has been so over the last 100,000 years, give or take.

It does involve the disruption of the North Atlantic currents (Humboldt and Gulf Stream) and a subsequent increase in snowówarmer air meets cooler air at the shelf which runs under the Atlantic from Greenland to Scandinavia. This increased snow, concentrated in the polar region gradually becomes heavier and heavier and forces the glaciers to move out, creeping southward and again covering the continent about halfway.  It does, according to paleo-climatologists, take thousands of yearsónot a few weeks.

It is not, however, against the current climatological understanding to have a sudden, dramatic change in climateótemperatures, storm patterns, drought and rain conditions, El Ninoís.  There is a tipping point theory, fed by evidence of very sudden changes in the not so distant past.  The medieval cool period, for example.

Anyhow, the acting is not too bad, the plot a bit thin, but the visuals are great.  The message of coastal flooding, the encroachment of another ice age, and dramatic shifts in population locales I see as prophetic rather than scientific.  The movie telescopes their occurrence for dramatic effect, but the rise of ocean levels has already begun.  Another ice age is not crackpot speculation, but part of the cycle of our earthís climate. 

It will not take much climate change to force farmers to move, towns to become uninhabitable, perhaps even nations to fall.  I told you all about my visit to Red Cloud, Nebraska, hometown of Willa Cather.  There I learned that the town wells in Red Cloud and other small farming communities in this Kansas/Nebraska border land go dry in the summers now, when the farmers turn on their irrigation systems.  The Ogallala Aquifer, a great underground lake of water deposited over a million years ago has inadequate supply.   Will it recharge?  Oh, yes.  In another million  years. 

A little late for next years crop or tomorrows laundry.

It is my sense that popular culture is like a peek into the shadow of our civilization.  We suppress and repress the fate of mother earth for short term gain.  Nothing new, nor particularly startling.  Yet, not far beneath the surface, lurking in the nearside of our shadow, is a great, common fear.  Since we refuse to address it overtly, the level of its energy and its resultant capacity to frighten us, is enormous.  Multiple tornadoes over LA?  Storm surge inundates New York City?  The hubris of the Norte Americano revealed in a sudden need to flee nearer the equator?  Not more than our psyche fears.  In fact, maybe not even dark enough.

 

Kateís home.  Iím glad. 

Got up slow today.  Worked a bit bleary eyed on my SE Asia tour, then got ready for my 1 pm tour of Japan/Korea today.  Off to the museum.

Oops.  Tour was at noon.  Hmmm.   Well, I felt like a doofus, but, as I left after apologizing, I realized guilt wouldnít make me a better guide the next time I came, the contrary, it would probably make me worse.  So, I have to strike a relationship between responsibility and guilt, with the guilt allowed only enough room to remind me of my chosen responsibilities.

Internet connection knocked out by the storm I guess.  Always feels weird when the internet is down.  Much worse in most ways (save emergency notification) for me than the phone being out.

 

Tom Crane bought us all Saturnís Shadow by James Hollis.  A summer reading group from the Jungian Seminar has chosen This Journey We Call Life by the same author.  Iím reading it now and find it a valuable ally on the pilgrim road.

Memorial Day also carries in its trail memories of Decoration Day in Alexandria.  The local American Legion put out a call for the most heroic bellies to carry the colors and I remember the military first from seeing them.  Their parade hats never quite fit and their faces bathed in the humidity of late May in central Indiana.  Often their military dress shirts were of their time in the service, long since defeated by Budweiser and Pabst.

The National Guard got to take all the vehicles in the local Armory out of the parking lot and put them in line.  We had two or three tanks stationed in town, for training purposes I imagine.  Often the heat would soften the macadam on Harrison, our main street, and the tanks would roll proudly through downtown leaving imprints of their tread in the street, there to remain until the next resurfacing.

Last years homecoming queen would ride and wave the wave, her attendants came in a car behind, convertibles and American made of course.  I canít recall much of the rest of the parade, but I imagine merchants and groups like the Lions and the Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts made up some of it.  Of course, the marching band from the high school was there, too.

The parade formed in Coxís Supermarket parking lot, wound down Harrison Street and made a left turn after the Nickel Plate rail-road tracks out toward Beulah Park and the cemetery.  At the cemetery various worthies would give speeches then families with veterans buried in the cemetery received small flags with which to decorate graves and the Legion put flags on the graves of those who had no family present.

The first half of the parade seemed like low comedy to me, even as a child, and I enjoyed it as spectacle and farce; the second half though had a somber tone.

This was, of course, before Vietnam, before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960ís, even before Kennedyís assassination and the í68 assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  It was also before Watergate, Iran-Contra, lust in our hearts, Monica Lewinsky, star wars, and Al-Qaeda.

The veterans of World War II taught in our schools, were on our police force, were our mothers and fathers.  Many of them knew the dead in the cemetery, remembered them from high school, worked with their brothers and sisters, their children in some cases.

Again, even as a little guy, I could sense the change in tone, the seriousness of the adults.  Even the Falstaffian persona of the Color Guard seemed to change out here, among the headstones, and they became, for a moment, men of valor.  The white rifles with their three volleys.  The Star-Spangled banner played by 16 and 17 year old kids.  Small flags, red white and blue, dotting the landscape, and Old Color flapping in a light breeze.

I was proud then to be an American, proud of the military.  I would go home those afternoons and play armyócharge up the hill on Iwo Jima, push back the Naziís in Europe and Italy and North Africa.  Kill our enemies.  And I would do this with my friends until night fell.

It was another time, long ago and far away.  A time of a certain bloody innocence and a naÔve, but real patriotism, a kind of uncritical love of  country I wish I still had.   But I donít.

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So, what do I have in its place?  Iíd have to call it a critical love of country; it is a bond with this place, these United States and their spectacular geography and geology, a recognition of myself as part of a people, a people joined with ragged borders, many torn and jagged, a people of many peoples, different homelands, different religions, different customs, different languages.  My bond joins me most firmly to the Midwest, as Iíve said before, this heartland of farms and factories, a flat land, yet a land rich with fresh water lakes, seas really; a land with a temperate climate, a land almost in the center of a great continent and therefore weather not mitigated by the effects of an ocean, a land once covered by the big woods, oak savannah and tall-grass prairie. 

This bond makes my heart swell when I see fields of soybeans and corn, gentle hills, the Mississippi.  In my home, here in Minnesota, I get a similar feeling as I drive up north and hit the first outcroppings of the Laurentian shield, the first signs of birch and evergreen forests, the boreal woods. 

This cannot be broken bond, however, does not extend to our government.  Democrats and Republicans alike break the covenant between our land and its people.  Democrats and Republicans alike break the covenant among all people in the US, trying to divide us into rich and poor, black and white, brown and white, brown and red,  yellow, black when, in fact, we are, first, humans; animals in need of food, shelter, and medical careóthe essentials we give even to our pets, on whom we lavish increasing resources.  Democrats and Republicans alike ignore the world where we live, the world on which our economy is dependent and from which most of us who reside here came at one remove or another.  We are, for the most part, boat people.

Democrats and Republicans alike push our country into foreign wars, kill our young men and, now, thanks to feminism, we kill our young women, too.  

I understand politics are a messy, inexact, bartering, clumsy process, and, I even accept that democracy is the best way to engage politics, a bad way, but the best one of a bad lot.  Even so...

I expect, or at least want so much more from them.  I want the simple recognition that the land should not suffer as a result of our lives.  I want the acknowledgement that people deserve a decent meal, an affordable roof, and medical care adequate to their needs.  I want us all to agree that these are our mutual responsibility, as a country. 

These are the things I want remembered:  the names of each homeless person who died without a roof, the names of each child and adult who suffer and die from easily preventable medical conditions, the names of each US citizen who has to choose between rent and food and medicine, the names of each US citizen whose life has changed because of racism, the names of each woman in this country battered in her own home, and the names of each child who suffers abuse in their own home.

These names I want put on a monument as striking as the Vietnam War Memorial.  I want these names read on Memorial Day so that we might never forget the gravity of our complacency and the pain of our indifference, so that we might never forget the possibility in our common life, and the depth of the pain refusing to realize that possibility causes.

Thatís all I want this Memorial Day.  Sorry, Greatest Generation, but you left a few behind.

 

Money meeting.  Kate and I do one of these every week.  Ruth Hayden, who first suggested bankruptcy to us, has taught us the value of these meetings.  Actually, they amount now to an administrative/business meeting for our marriage.  We are the executive committee, board of directors, comptroller, and joint ceo. 

These meetings are mundane in the extreme, but, since I tend to float away on the wings of thought and fantasy and Kate rationalizes away her detail-focused advantage in such matters, this time together allows us to gain from our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. 

When weíre done, I feel like such an adult.  Itís a good feeling; it makes the rest of the week less fraught with tension and worry, plus it glues Kate and me together in common knowledge and responsibility. 

To those of you who handle your mutual domestic business with ease, god bless you.  I was never such a person and the value of it never crossed my mind.  Now it does.

On our pilgrimages this year, we have to count the cost and weigh the benefits, I know.  Yet, here I tend to extravagance or a go for broke attitude.  In matters of the soul spend the money, spend the time, spend the resources necessary.  Donít hold back. 

          It is funny, our priorities.  Consider, say, how much money and time you spend on vehicles, on transportation.  Now, you may delight in them, like the travel ease, the convenience, the lifestyle they enable; but, consider the distance your soul has to travel:  from here to eternity, as the book title suggests. 

Come April 15 next year, if  you remember, jot down how much you spent on vehicles and transportation in 2004.  Include car payments, insurance, gas, airline tickets, cab fare, rental cars, maintenance, any expense  you can reasonably correlate to transportation, and, most important, time.  Then, next to it, jot down how much you spent on your soul:  books, visits to the art museum, retreats, pilgrimages, meditation, walks in the woods, hands in the soil, gazing at the heavens, poetry, time.  How do the two lists compare?

This is not a guilt trip thing.  It is a commentary on how we order the spending of our resources:  especially time.   Much of it feels compulsory, but perhaps is not. 

In the end, and I mean in the very end, which will prove of more value to you?  Time on the commute or time in prayer or meditation or quiet reflection?                         

How much time can you give a pilgrimage of the more traditional sort?  That is, a dedicated journey with a sacred destination (your definitionóit could be a mountain or a holy well or a particular museumóthe Phillips in DC comes to mind for me) and time enough to move into the encounter, then time enough to ease out, to absorb, to refocus?  

Again, not a guilt trip.  A serious question. 

 

Iím a lucky guy.  I just finished my third check-out tour for the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts.  This oneís for the South/South-East Asian collection.  On this tour I have a Nataraja, Shiva as the Lord of the Dance, a Ghandara Buddha dressed in a Roman toga, a stele of Vishnu and his 10 incarnations, one of whom is the Buddha, then the wonderful sand mandala, Yamantakaís celestial palace, he is the conqueror of death, followed by an enshrined Buddha who sits beneath a jeweled bodhi tree (fig tree, like the one under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment), and, last, a wonderful stone head of Vishnu, or an image of a Khmer king sculpted as Vishnu, a god-king, a deva-raja.

Next year I hope to enter the docent program so I can tour the entire museum, I especially want to reach into European painting.  I have Art of the Americas and the Japan/Korea galleries under my belt, along with a few special exhibits:  Plains Indian Shirts, Sacred Symbols, and The Weyerhaeuser collection of Japanese ceramics.

2, sometimes 3 Monday mornings a month I attend all-morning art-history lectures for continuing education.  This knocks me out that I can do this for free.  Well, there is that time thing, but even the tours and art-cart duty allows me to reinforce my learning and learn from participants in the tours. 

Art and faith, spirituality occupy the same space in my soul, as does the act of creative writing.  I now spend much of time occupied with art, faith, or writing in one activity or another.  Drawing, I hope, will one day come to an equal place for me, too.  Gardening and reading are in there, too, in the same space I mean.  The Jungian seminar, too.  I am fortunate in so many ways, to have friends and a wife who understand my journey and honor it, to have institutional connections like the Art Institute, the UUís/Groveland, and the Jungian seminar whose raison díetre is the inner journey, and to have a vocation that can meld all these into one form of self-expression or another.

Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.  Ah, rock and roll.  (SWALBR, Cream.)

 

Spent this morning buying shade plants, mostly hosta, but a few others:  bloodroot, bugbane, dicentra.  Went up to Zimmerman, notable in my personal story for being the site of my first attempt at worship leadership, in the Zimmerman Methodist church.  There, I choked on the Lordís Prayer, an experience which would repeat itself over and over againóthank god (hmmm) for the UU non-ritual.

At Global Gardens I learned an interesting life lesson.  The couple who own the nursery have only been at it for two years.  They lived in Ramsey, very close to Andover, and had purchase a  home with too much shade even for a yard.  So, over the years there they began to grow hosta, all different kinds of hosta.

Now, instead of moaning over a lawn less yard, they have taken that experience and turned it into a business.  If life presents you with shade, plant shade plants.

I enjoy the process of buying plants, planting them, watching them  literally take root and make a home for themselves.  The land here has taught me, as I grew able to listen to it, what can be grown where.  I know there are formulas and knowledge in books for such things (I have a horticultural degree to prove it.), but I find myself a slow learner from books when it comes to the land.

The sun as it travels across the sky and as it changes its angle  according to the season is important, but it can only be important if you pay attention to it, watch it, learn its habits and how it interacts with the trees, shrubs, buildings and rocks.   A big part of the secret to gardening, one Iím still learning, is the microclimate created by these factors plus the soil condition, water availability, and the amount of time I can reasonably spend caring for the various plots and plants.

 

More time this am in the garden.  Positioning hostas, moving a few more hemerocallis, siberian iris.  Getting down (ouch) and dirty.

Tor, our big red dog (200 lbs.) limped for the last couple of days.  Now weíre jumpy when it comes to limps, since we found that often they mean cancerówhich they did twice for us.  Itís a common way to go for Irish Wolfhounds and both Tor and Orion are over 5 now, an age when all but Tira began their decline.  None of the others lived past 5.

This means the inevitable intimations of mortality, the remembrance of dogs past.  This time it feels different.  Iím not sure entirely why, but itís something about reflection Iíve been making recently on health and death. 

Health, James Hollis writes, has become an object of worship for Americans, just like money.  This stopped me.  I thought, no.  Thatís wrong. 

Money, we all know the American obsession of getting more, never having enough, wanting a bigger pile than the neighbor; yet, health?  How can they be similar?

Oh.  Wait a minute, I realized.  Theyíre not similar to me because money doesnít rise to the level of obsession for me (thank god, perhaps I would have better off if it had, a little bit anyhow.); but...hmmm, health does.

Iíve had physicals once a year since my early thirties.  I watch my blood pressure, read articles on  health, workout aerobically and with resistance, try to manage my diet more and less successfully, my weight, too.  I learned my families frailties:  high blood pressure, stroke, glaucoma, and colon cancer.  I pay attention to indicators for these problems, and, as a result, Iíve controlled my blood pressure for years, had three colonoscopies, and recent laser treatment for narrow angle glaucoma.

Sounds good, in a way, doesnít it?  And, of course, in a way it is.  It is better, I think, than dissipationócontinuing to drink and smoke, for example.  Being a couch potato.  Ignoring symptom less blood pressure and just waiting around for a stroke.

Still.  There is this other side to it.  A dark side in which I wield these western technologies, not as medical care, but as magic; a magic in which I place unreasoning  confidence, sort of the definition of magic, after all.  Just below the surface my thinking is not about personal responsibility and my loved ones, no, itís about immortality.  If I watch my blood pressure, stay away from a high BMI, keep my strength and cardio-vascular conditioning optimalówell, you know, I might...  Live forever?  Skip illness altogether?  Give pain and suffering a miss?

There is a devilís bargain here.  In return for my immortal soul I takeónot riches or power, but long, long, long life. 

It is a devilís bargain because this is a bargain which I cannot win.  Somewhere after 90, 95 life comes to an end, earlier for many, most, in fact. 

So, I have pondered, these last few days, the value of health.  Is it worth all the hoo-hah to stay healthy?  Iíve often quoted the doctor I heard on NPR who said, ďNo matter what the next breakthrough, we have to remember that the death toll for this generation will be 100%.Ē  Given the inescapable, hard truth, does health matter?

Why not dissipateóbut enjoyably.  Fatty foods, hours on the couch watching movies or reading good books, or, bad ones, for that matter.  No wasted time on the treadmill or sweating under heavy weights.   To hell with it.  Let yourself go.

Or.  Letís see. Aristotle.  The golden mean.  Everything in moderation.  Could Aristotle have been right?

Hereís my tentative conclusion.  For today anyhow.  I want to stay healthy because when Iím healthy I feel good.  Sound tautological, I know, but itís not.  Lay off the exercise and donít watch what you eat for, say a month.  Then investigate how you feel.   

But, I am not going to take my health as seriously as I have.  Will this change any of the behaviors I mentioned above?  Probably not, though I might be a little more relaxed in regard to my weight.

So, what will change?  I hope fear will transform to acceptance, that I will motivate myself from a desire to feel good, to maintain optimal functioning as long as I can, but that I will not harbor magical fantasiesóthe never, never land of no pain, no suffering, no illness, no death does not exist.  Whatever is on the other side of this pilgrimage we call life, Iíll discover when the time comes.  Until then, Iím a mortal, but, I hope, a healthy mortal.  Up to my dying day, if possible.

 

How, I wonder, is your pilgrimage going?  Have you gone deep into the journey, have you gone on a journey?  Or, has it proved a good idea unable to bear fruit?

Iím aware Iíve set aside my journey partner, Omar Khayyam, and that awareness makes me eager to pick up, his poetry, his life, and, especially, his times.  I still want to write my piece for our next retreat in quatrains, and I guess Iíd best get started.

He came to my mind for a number of reasons, but the strongest remains two older students at Ball State, men from Iran.  Over the course of many hours of bridge, my favorite past-time in college, after academics and radical politics, I learned about Persia.  They both spoke Persian (Farsi) and had a keen love for the long history of their people, a history that extends back past Islam.

They told me of Tehran, of course the Shah ruled Iran then, and they were college students, so they didnít like the Shah, not out of Muslim antipathy, but out of an educated distaste for an autocrat, and an autocrat propped up by the US at that, but Tehran, and its street life, its public intellectual life reminded them of the old Persia.

Theater in street cafes was common.  It was participatory and the audience could both act and help determine the endings of the plays. 

They also  told me of the existentialist overlay in Iranian intellectual life.  An overlay, again old, congruent with the poetry of Khayyam, a man of the Islamic era, but not a Muslim himself.  His poetry has a sense of the bleakness of the human condition joined, improbably, with a real embrace of life, here and now.

Since my time with these two guys, whose names have slipped away into the past, I have always had a fondness for the Near East, especially the Ancient Near East, and, in particular, Persia.  

Iím sure thatís one reason I found studying Islam so interesting a couple of years ago. 

The Magi came from ancient Persia, so at least one branch of magic has its roots in the cultures of that region, as does, of course, Zoroastrianism, a religion which impacted Christian thought almost as much as Judaism.

I no longer play bridge, or sit around in student unions, but I still meet the occasional stranger who introduces me to another culture:  Shing Long-Lin, my Taiwanese room-mate at Seminary, an Old Calendar Eastern Orthodox priest who helped me find The Cloisters, Kwo and Mingjen among others at the Art Institute, and, of course, Gyatsho most recently.

These encounters are, for me, gifts straight from the holy.  Yes, you can say that of any human encounter, but for this never quite done anthropologist the opportunity to see the world through truly different eyes remains a treasure.

Iíve thought about the Canterbury Tales a lot since our retreat;  I have a copy sitting near my reading chair, and I will pick it up before the year is done.  It occurs to me that strangers, perhaps more than those close to us, are the most likely companions for a pilgrimageóother souls, for some reason, traveling, for a while, in a similar direction, perhaps even to a similar destination.

Well, off to bed.  Another day of planting and transplanting tomorrow.  Perhaps Iíll see Harry Potter, too.  Gotta keep my finger in popular culture.

 

Canterbury Tales is off my pile and in my hand.  Iím going to start reading it and will let you know how it effects my sense of pilgrimage. 

I took the air conditioner apart and cleaned it today.  Boy.  Do I not like that kind of thing, but...I got it apart, cleaned, reassembled, and turned back on.  In my history of mechanical engagement this ranks up there, since I  took it all the way apart and put it back together.  A good feeling, but one I wonít try to replicate any time soon.

The motivation for this activity is Kate.  She needs the air con; Iíve adapted to it now, after 14 years, and imagine Iíd be unhappy without it, too.

Just realized I have a very good book on pilgrimage Tom Crane loaned me a while back.  He wanted it shared around and itís well worth reading.  Iíll bring it Monday and either return it to him, or pass it on.

Saw Harry Potter today.  Itís ok.  Better than the last two in some ways, worse in others.  It is not, for sure, one of the best movies ever made, as I saw an advertisement claim...not even close.  I have this hankering to do a grown-up version, not a clone, not even in the Potter ďuniverseĒ, but in a parallel world, a US based and inflected adult magical story, yet, with a more intelligent underlayment. 

Iím not knocking Rowlings.  She designed and wrote a kidís story  that had accessibility for adults.  Thatís an impressive feat, and my hatís off to her.  Iíve enjoyed them, too.  As popular culture, not as Moby Dick or Danteówhich, unless Iím terribly mistaken, is exactly what she intended.

Still, the world of magic has never disappeared, in fact, one of the intriguing things I learned while studying the mystery cults last fall was the continuing presence of magic and the books which support it.  It has fallen into a third space these days; the volumes of, say, Hermes Trimegistus, are available now on Amazon.  So are many of the famous alchemical texts.

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