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
“Dear Mr. Ellis,
I will not be in Bangkok on November 5th. I will be on vacation. Mr. Mark Patten Ellis”
This in reply to my last e-mail advising Mark I would be in the New Empire Hotel on November 5th. On one level I feel bad, this seems like the kind of heart wrenching end that leaves no room for a future.
On the other hand, it is déjà vu. Dad and I had this end to our relationship; Mark and Dad had this end; now, I will have it, at least for now, with Mark. Perhaps we are genetically or psychofamilially hardwired for this result. I don’t blame him more than myself. We share the load equally.
Perhaps the inevitable part of this was my decision to come to where he is, a place, 9,000 miles from home, where he chooses to be and has remained for 14 years. There is a none too subtle message in that, alone. Had I been more circumspect, more conciliatory to the strange flightsome inner being he presents, I may have met him, seen the elusive vanishing brother in the neon jungles of Bangkok or Singapore.
Now, he will be like the tiger, hidden in the underbrush, perfectly camouflaged, seen only if he wants to be seen.
Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye could frame thy frighful symmetry?
Well, perhaps in the next lifetime...
I think, in these instances, of the harm I’ve done to others, direct square on harm, either through acts of omission or commission. I’m not going to recount them here, not sure if I could, but the AA program has the 4th step, the making of amends. Contrition. And after that, penance.
These are simulacrums, of course, of the Catholic confessional and its more lukewarm equivalents in the Protestant churches. The telltale tingles of shame, or guilt raise, immediately, the reflexive urge for confession.
For the pardoner, who traveled with Chaucer. Oh, if only an indulgence or two were available at Walmart or Sam’s Club.
All aimed toward a big word, a huge idea, perhaps the point, even, of pilgrimage: reconciliation. ORIGIN Latin reconciliare, from conciliare ‘bring together’ In its Christian theological context, to reconcile meant to bring the sinner, the one who had missed the mark (hamartia), back into a right relationship with God.
On an international scale this need for reconciliation, the broken relations which precede a need for reconciling, can lead to war, or, to a deeper peace, a peace which takes into account the actual differences between or among the parties for whom relationship has ended, or been damaged. Reconciliation can, then, prevent war, or end it. No small idea. Not at all.
My guess is it doesn’t happen often. Many marriages need reconciliation, but once the bond lies broken, retrieving is often, perhaps most of the time, too much. I know, I know, this could be my personal bias. After all, two marriages down, a father and a brother estranged, the finger certainly points at me.
Yet, I think the same finger points at us, without in any way diminishing my hamartia. To be human is to live apart from the other, separated, literally, by the skin, and by inner, ego-centric forces necessary for survival. And, in the end, we do, in fact, die alone.
So, it may well be that the reconciled or harmonious relationship is the aberration. This would explain the numerous religious and legal and cultural mores which sanction inharmonius behavior. It could explain why Jesus felt it necessary to say, “Love one another as you love your self.” If we did that easily, why remind us?
In my life, until I met Kate, relationships were struggle. I had heard of that place far off in the east where they were not, but I had stayed home, eaten my dinner, and not dared get up and walk out the door toward it. Then, serendipitously, chamber music brought Kate and me together.
I live in an essentially harmonius relationship with Kate and with Joseph. Neither relationship is without its trials, its difficulties, of course, but on the whole we seem to exist in flow with each other.
My father, my brother, and I are psychic Teutons, wedded to the life of the mind, determined in our intellectual life, and less forgiving in matters of the heart. Also, paradoxically, we have dark romantic fantasies: Dad of sailing the Caribbean and writing his book, Mark of traveling the earth forever, a vagabond, and, me, to create dark romantic fantasy and to reopen the world of gods and goddesses.
It is, to be honest, these same characteristics that made the Nazi’s a force for evil and that also inspired Goethe and Nietzsche and Kant and Wagner and Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. We are not made for the congenial world of community, rather we are made to wander the earth alone, committed to our conclusions, no matter the price. It has its moments: brilliant and dark. Right now. Dark.
I have missed the mark with my brother, and he with me.
If we find the Kate’s and Joseph’s of this world, we Ellis men must count ourselves lucky. As I do.
The merger, in our case, of the Teutonic temperament with the Celtic has created a volatile brew.
I did it! I got all my stuff in one bag, and under 20 pounds, closer to 15. This is important when you consider the trips from plane to plane, train to hotel and back, most accomplished on foot if I plan well.
The trip has, for today, a sad tinge, but I plan to experience that sadness today and then not dwell on it, either here or there. There will be plenty to draw my attention in Bangkok, Cambodia, and northeastern Thailand, perhaps, Lao, too. (I know, Laos, but apparently the Lao themselves prefer Lao, the name this country has always had as far as they’re concerned.)
The time, on trains and planes, traversing necessary distances, is often the most contemplative part of a trip, and one of the reasons bad air travel has such an impact on me. I look forward to the no expectations time, a time when the journey itself is the point.
When I consider this time I always recall the work of Konrad Lorenz, the ethologist. Lorenz believed that our brains work optimally while the body is in motion. This conforms, he says, to the brain’s evolutionary purpose, i.e. to keep us alive by guiding us away from predators (chasing us, or waiting in hiding for us when we went about our hunting and gathering.) and by helping us hone in on prey, then dispatch it.
I don’t know if this is the brains actual evolutionary purpose—though the question and his conclusion intrigues me—but it does provide excellent rationale for long trips. Lots of prime functioning time.
This whole piece long ago passed the point where I can accurately recall what I’ve written. I’m sure there are repetitions both in theme and in actual content. It will be interesting to me to find these when I go back to edit since they will be a map of my continuuing fascinations, and the stories that provide context for my life. Over and over.
This comes up right now because I can’t recall whether I’ve mentioned Lorenz before in this work. He’s one of my favorites, a real original thinker. He tells the story (which I imagine I’ve told often) of following a mother duck and her ducklings through tall grass. In order to keep them in sight without disturbing the mother, Lorenz got down and duckwalked behind them.
A passerby noticed him, couldn’t see the mother and her babes who were hidden completely by the grass, and thought Lorenz had gone off his rocker.
I love this story on several levels, but the best one is the need, always, to look deeper, especially into behavior that seems, to you, aberrant. This is a traveler’s, and therefore a pilgrims, cautionary tale. It is often the case that ethnocentrism, impossible to eliminate, will color our perceptions in cultures very different from our own, like Thai and Cambodian, for instance.
Like racism, which I believe we all carry just below the surface, the key move is to be aware of ethnocentric perceptions and bias and not act on their conclusions; better to wait, or better yet, get down on your knees and duckwalk, until the situation becomes clearer, or, you have to suspend judgement until you can find an informant who can help you get it.
Stories are lenses through which we can see reality from the perspective of another. A most valuable gift. It is, for heady guys like me, a way to get in the skin of the other, to walk their walk awhile and to enjoy the benefits of another’s point of view. Many more empathetic folk get this benefit simply from engagement with others, and I can, too, but it is hard work for me; it did not come with the orignal circuitry.
"To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage." - Lao-Tzu
Thirty spokes join together in the hub.
It is because of what is not there that the cart is useful.
Clay is formed into a vessel.
It is because of its emptiness that the vessel is useful.
Cut doors and windows to make a room.
It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.
Therefore, what is present is used for profit.
But it is in absence that there is usefulness.
This verse from the Tao Te Ching has an interesting message for the pilgrim, who, while on pilgrimage, is absent from home. Or, for any of us who travel, even if our travels are only to work, or to the store.
Kate and I worked outside for several hours today. The last of the garden work, almost, is done. I stayed till now so I could finish up this work, which must be done in its season, and, also, selfishly, so I would not miss an October in Minnesota.
This is one of the great months anywhere. The gradual decline in temperature, in part occasioned by the lengthening night, follows the yellowing, browning, and reddening of the foliage. Crisp days come complete. blue skies set off by autumn color.
The plant world is very active in October, sort of a film run backwards. Green disappears; leaves change color. Roots grow fat with stored carbohydrates. Seeds, the point, after all, of the whole growing season, ripen and take their chosen distribution method back to mother earth: the burr stuck in a dog’s hair, the gentle helicopter of the maple, the fat thud of the acorn, the rising parachute of the milkweed, or down a bird’s throat and, later, pre-fertilized, deposited in a new place.
Instead of creating food, leaves and other foliage fall to the ground, their seasonal work done. Microbes and bacteria, small insects and rodents, begin the process of using the foods and minerals in the leaves for themselves. The process of decay begins in earnest and the sun’s energy, stored in the cells of the leaf, goes underground, transferred to Pluto’s realm, there to feed yet more microscopic plant and animal life until, next spring, or some year, it gets taken up again into the circulation system, the xylem and phloem, of another plant.
Kate cut; I hand picked the remaining hemerocallis stems if they appeared to carry virus; Kate cut; I raked and put the dead leaves in a wheelbarrow, took them a hill and pushed them out. We plan to use these deposits next year, or in future years, for pumpkins, zucchini, and other squash.
We worked and Hilo, my shadow whippet, ran through the yard, careening around like a formula one canine, leaning into her turns. Smiling.
We finished. A few things remain: ornamental grasses, persekovia, mums still in bloom, siberian iris stalks and leaves. At Kate’s urging we left in the kale and the ajuga. The rest, trimmed, rests.
Tonight, the clubhouse of Jefferson Commons off Quinwood Lane, across from the Conoco Station. Bill and Charlie put out sausage and cheese, chips and salsa, then served a Bill and Regina stew accompanied by baguettes and butter. Followed by coffee and cookies.
Paul spoke of Africa. A 21 hour plane ride, then a trip scheduled as only the church can schedule, from dawn to night, then repeat, then repeat. He stayed in a B&B in a township where a woman money changer, “Wouldn’t go during the day.” He saw Hope Africa in action; the island jail where Mandela was kept, now toured by former inmates and former guards; the city of Cape Town and the miles of shanty towns around it. His daughter had preceded him. He can’t/hasn’t absorbed it all yet. Probably the kind of thing one never absorbs completely.
Charlie H. visited South Africa, too, in 1997, as part of an international wine and food tasting tour. Only three years after the official end of apartheid, the folks he met had a general reaction that the end of apartheid was good, but how it would all work out...not clear. He spoke with white farmers forced off the land they worked in Zimbabwe who were very bitter.
How long does a person have to live in a place to call it home? An interesting question for the nomadic human race, and a difficult one when crossed with colonialism and treaty abrogation.
Charlie H. also visited Napa Valley and met Dick Grace shown here with a young monk from the Shechan Monastery.
The Estate Lodge A two-bedroom, two-bath suite with 2,400 square feet of indoor/outdoor space, featuring a fully equipped kitchen and dining area, original artwork, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, an outdoor living room with space for dining and relaxing, lake and mountain views, a private drive-up entry and butler service.
Calistoga Ranch http://www.calistogaranch.com/home.html
We have Woollys traveling the globe, South Africa, Napa Valley, the Emerald Isle, Syria, Old Englande, San Diego, South East Asia. This breadth and the diversity of the Woolly experience makes for a fascinating gathering.
Our meetings continue to reflect, in an uneasy way, the divergent and lopsided political perspectives. Jokes about the upcoming election cause looks around the room, some laughter, then...nothing. This is unfortunate , as Charlie H. pointed out in his remarks about this some time ago.
There are two strands of American public life at work here, at least, one older, the other more recent. The older one emerged in the Movement days of the 1960’s when polarization in the country split along age lines as well as over perspectives on the then raging Vietnam War.
The Old Left, as opposed to the New Left, had a tradition of debate and loyal opposition, honed in another era’s divisive battles, the era rent by the screed of local Wisconsin boy, Joseph McCarthy, and the so-called Red Scare. As I think back over the sweep of American history, especially since the abolitionist days of the 1850’s, there have been precious few years when the political debate wasn’t divisive, still, the most recent strands I can identify, having lived through and participated in them.
The New Left’s tendency to shout down the opposition came from a mixture of youthful self-righteousness and the outright arrogance of the war’s supporters. Each reinforced the other until reasoned debate fell by the wayside, a tear in the public fabric not yet mended.
Why? Richard Nixon’s Watergate disaster and subsequent resignation preceded a benign Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter who got his political ass whooped by the Iranian hostage situation, then Ronald Reagan came along, not exactly a uniter either. Clinton played center right Democratic politics and his dick caught in his zipper way too often, then Al Gore won the election, barely, but lost the presidency. If you consider these presidents and the world in which they have served, nation healing has never risen to the top as a priority.
Such healing requires a statesman, not a mere politician, and we have not seen a statesman president since FDR.
Thus, the politics of the loudest voice, stimulated by the New Left, the Civil Rights movement, the Feminist movement, then Stonewall (all political thrusts with which I agree and personally identify) created a climate of genuine ill-will among certain sectors of the body politic. Again, the perspectives of these movements, all of them, tended toward self-righteousness. They were moral crusades, attempting to overthrow systemic injustices of long-standing.
They hoped for an absolutist victory: integration, equal rights for women and gays and lesbians, an end to war-mongering. I was right there, and in my heart, still am. The dream of and the desperate need for a community of justice, a community which draws on the talents and gifts of all, rather than of those whose number came up in the great birth lottery, seems to pale before the need for civil discourse.
Yet. Life is long, political change slow, and its results uncertain. Besides, even in a just community those of us with the privilege of birth on our side still need and deserve a place as much as any other.
I will say here I regret the absolutism and dismissiveness that are my political instincts, sharpened as they were in the heady days of the 1960’s and 1970’s. They are not instincts designed to build community or enhance debate.
That’s one strand. The second strand is an equally strong, equally radical polarization from what I will call the New Right. It is not a stance G.W. Bush created, but it is one for which he serves and in whose name he rules. Yes, rules.
The New Right has an autocratic, non-benevolent dictatorial bent every bit as disturbing as the New Left’s absolutism and dismissiveness; in fact they spring from the same poison spring, certainty.
The New Right also gains its grip on certainty from the same source as the New Left, a moral crusade. In this sense, and it is not trivial, the radical Islamists are exactly right, George Bush and the neo-cons are crusaders. And, they are crusaders with about as much rationale and intelligent analysis as the original versions from the middle ages.
It is, ironically, the fusion of conservative/fundamentalist religion to political power which makes George Bush and his court so certain their course is true. It is, ironically, the fusion of conservative/fundamentalist religion to terrorist politics that has created the Islamist threat.
In other words, whether your moral certainty has its authority in scripture or political analysis, in the Koran or the American Way, the deadliest conclusion of all is: We must be right!
The current polarization gets its basic energy from the New Right. The New Right has a foreign and domestic agenda: the foreign agenda involves cleansing the world of evil and making the world safe for capitalism. The domestic agenda focuses on cleansing America of evil, i.e. gay marriage, shiftless folks, immigrants, and traitors, and making America safe for capitalism.
The problem is no different than the one created by my absolutist vision of a just America. Both divide the nation between the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous, the good and the bad, the good and the evil.
Even as I write this I can feel myself slipping into New Left warrior mode, belittling the enemy and giving short shrift to the dilemmas of my own position. This rift runs deep and will not heal without a new vision, and different leadership. Perhaps, I hope, it is generational.
At any rate the dis-ease in the Woolly meetings is part of our pilgrimage, an important part. A major step toward a solution is recognition of the journey, the pilgrimage, as the purpose, not the destination—which will always turn out to be a Mammoth site, or a Church, or a mountain. This truth applies to the country, too.
We are all on the bus and we are on the bus together.
Another perspective on the same issue, offered by Woolly host William Schmidt:
Story as Soul Journey Paul Zweig, American author, 1935-1984
When someone is "ravished" by a strong emotion, or is absorbed in a story, or daydreams "absentmindedly," it seems as if that person were no longer here. A hole has gaped open in the continuum of the visible reality. When he returns, our idiomatic speech asks the right question: Where you have been? The shaman answers this question when he wakes up from his ecstatic trance, by telling the story of his visit to the spirit world. To be "absent" is to be in some other place: dans la lune, perhaps, as the French say, or in some aimless nook of time, as when we say "the mind wanders." Apparently the two meanings of "transport" are not as contradictory as they seemed. Both refer to modes of traveling, both describe ways of getting elsewhere.
But where is elsewhere in the case of storytelling? Is it the same as the elsewhere of daydreams, or trance? Do transports of emotion take one to the same place? Is "tripping" with drugs a way of getting there, too? Another more difficult question suggests itself: Does the adventurer, by extravagantly different means, travel to the same elsewhere?
In short, the soul-journey resembles very much the sort of adventure one encounters in folklore and myth. According to the archaic view, all men apparently had the chance to become a sort of Odysseus, whether they liked it or not.
Two remarks are called for at this point. Soul-loss or the soul-journey unites in a remarkable way the experience of physical adventure and that of psychic adventure. It establishes between them a relationship in the adventure story is called upon to describe the experience of a “soul” unstuck from its attachments to conventional reality. For modern readers this is a familiar connection. Since the early nineteenth century, we have learned to respond to the ramifications of "inward" adventure. Romantic and modern literature have supplied a variety of idioms to describe the spirit plunging into its own depths: reviving the older conventions of dream narrative, as in Gerard de Nerval's Aurelia; ransacking the language of insanity for literary effect; adapting themes from mythology, as in Joyce's Ulysses. The Romantic view of the artist as hero reflects our sense of the encounters sustained by the artist in the secrecy of his mind, to bring "home" the forms of artistic truth.
Such inward traveling was perfectly understood by archaic cultures, with this difference: The reality of the trip, and the realism of the tale it gave rise to, were unquestioned. The soul-journey, and the central importance of the stories told about it, expressed a belief that the principal reality was to be found in the meanders of the invisible world. The mysterious ground of life itself could be known only by the traveler.
A resemblance exists between the adventurer exploring the countries of the marvelous and the "absent" one: each finds his way to the other world and returns to tell the story. For each, the story is what he brings back; it is all he brings back suggesting an essential connection between adventure and storytelling: a connection which becomes all the more complex, if we recognize the "transport" of the listener, the self-abandonment which it is the story's business to create, as a form of soul-journey. By entering the story, the listener not only allows himself to be transported into a particular narrative, he crosses the elusive barrier which divides the worlds. He makes a controlled excursion into the "elsewhere" of life itself. Excerpt from The Adventurer, pp. 85-89.
One week from now I take the first step toward a journey of 9,000 miles. As the day approaches, I have some pre-flight flutters. This is the longest time Kate and I will have been apart, ever. This is the longest time I will have been out of the country, ever. This is the longest time I will have traveled without a partner, save for one unhappy jaunt to NYC years ago. (a story for another time.) This is the longest time I will have spent in a place where even the written language is a mystery to me. Plus, I could get sick, get robbed, get lost, miss planes, trains, buses. Though my gray hair suggests against it, I could always get arrested. For what? Oh, I don’t know. Then, there’s the unknown of it all.
Here the anxiety turns. There’s the unknown of it all. I will see sites and wonders impossible to access here. New cultures (to me) will unfold constantly and I will travel among them as a stranger. The time to stop, think, write, sketch feels vast. The religious and artistic heritages alone of these countries, think of it.
The churning of the sea of milk at Angkor Wat:
And the Elephant round up in Surin Thailand.
OK, I’m ready to go. I’ve voted. (Who do you think?) I’ve put the garden to bed. The furnace filter and salt in the water-softener are up to date. The irrigation system’s blown out. The vehicles have had oil changes. I’ve got my shots. Kate and I have agreed on a few chores I can’t do and she’ll have to pick-up: water the downstairs plants, pick up the stakes and plant them [these tell the Andover snowplow drivers where our yard is. can’t be put up until after Halloween for obvious reasons.], and keep the birdfeeders filled during this time when the birds hunt for food sources for the winter. We will have celebrated Joseph’s birthday and his heartache, though not gone, seems to be ebbing in intensity. The Samhain e-mail has gone out. I will have preached on the Ancient Celtic Faith and given one more tour of the Japanese galleries.
In other words I have released the halyards of my life in Andover and am (or will be) ready to set fly. (or sail.)
Some consider the Joseph narrative in the last chapters of Genesis the first novel. It is a story you know and one I chose to underlay my adopted son’s life, naming him after this foreign born son, taken without his consent to a powerful land, where he made a good life, not only for himself, but for those of his people, his brothers, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel.
There is even a sequel: the eventual subjugation and enslavement of the Israelites, then the pitting of their God against the pantheon of Egypt’s powerful ruling class, and, the wonderful, still liberating story of the Exodus.
These stories are always fraught with danger and tension, the outcome uncertain—as is the raising of any child—and a bit more precarious than the usual since the foreign child must always encounter fears of abandonment and some degree of living on the margins of the majority society.
These last weeks Joseph has run hard up against all of these things. Thank God for John Desteian though. Joseph trusts him and John has helped him get clear. When a woman dumps him, the fear courses through him: what about my mom in India, what about my mom here, who started dating after she got divorced? What if no woman ever wants me?
Yes, these are powerful fears, not even unwarranted, yet ones which must get wrestled with, like Jacob at the Jabbok Ford. It feels to me, at least today, as if Joseph has stayed in the wrestling match with the angel, and dawn is now breaking. If he continues to hold on, Joseph may find himself with a new name, heir then to the very brothers who will eventually sell him to caravan traders.
I pray to the spirits of the ford at which he wrestles for a new name, a struggle name, a name for his future.
Couldn’t sleep last night, at least for a bit. Like a kid the night before Christmas. Traveling does this to me, I get excited, roll around, imagine. Of course, anxiety does this to me, too, but this is different.
As the days tick off, one by one, before I leave, I’m mulling, again, and in some ways, for the first time...the purpose of the trip. The obvious initial purpose, visiting family using our dead father’s inheritance, suggested by Kate and immediately recognized by me as a great idea, has shifted a bit since Mark has chosen to put himself off the itinerary.
The lure, for me, of the strange and faraway, the chance to move as a stranger in a strange land, remains and increases as I get ready. This is the anthropologist, the writer, a certain part of the seeker.
Another, and for this trip, perhaps primary purpose is to place Southeast Asian art in its cultural and geographic context. Hindu and Buddhist and animist influenced art excite me aesthetically and spiritually. I look forward to seeing this work in its place of creation, not in the niche of a museum or the illustrated pages of an art history book.
A chance to practice drawing, sketching, to meditate, to think on the page...over time I know this and the memories will be the real fruits of the trip.
Cover illustration for Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy
I passed analysis! Well, not really, but it feels like it. In Jungian analysis there is no end to “...seeing the different facets of light reflected off the Self.” to quote John Desteian. And a good thing, too, if you’re in the analyzing biz.
But...this is a good spot to stop for pots and tops (hmmm...a bit of a stutter there.) this is a good spot to stop, he agreed, for now. He expects, as do I, that the trip(s)—I have one upcoming to Guatemala (Kate’s mission) and Tikal after the first of the year—will turn the diamond of my Self just a bit and I will see new glints, learn something else about who I am.
Fascinating (to me). John hypothesizes my polio, the paralysis period, is the physical equivalent of my descent in melancholy. He believes, and I agree, that I have a threshold for melancholy, or, said another way, I have a high tolerance for melancholy; or, said in the most interesting way, Melancholy is my muse.
This makes sense to me: I love ruins, Gothic literature, dark fantasy, horror movies. I even believe decay and putrefaction get too little notice for their vital role in the life cycle. In fact, I once spent a whole semester studying lichen because they are a small engine for decomposing even the most intransigent materials, like rock.
And, as I thought about my trip, I most look forward to Angkor Wat and its kin in Thailand, to the remains of a lost day; I love the classics, the old ones, and religion—it is, I think, ancient, buried spirituality I have always found intriguing.
Archaeology and spelunking interest me.
I made the comment above about feminism and darkness.
I do not look forward to Singapore as a modern thriving city, but to art carved in stone by long dead religious craftspeople; I do not look forward, in Guatemala, to the here and now of fixing hernias and broken smiles; rather I seek the moss and vine covered remnants of these same folks ancestors, the Mayans of the classical age, not the current one.
My journey into Celtic spirituality began with a revolt against transcendence, which I felt carried me up and away from myself, and tended to reinforce patriarchy and oppression; I wanted a spirituality focused on the journey down, the lower road journey of Frank’s shamanism; and, I found the holy wells of Wales and Ireland, liquid refreshment for the spirit bubbling up from mother earth, and, in the Celtic Faery Faith, an entrance to the Sidhe, the world of Faery. And so for now, enow. No more visits to the house on St. Clair Avenue. No more watching the bust of Zeus and the statues of Hermes and waiting as John works, and in working, helps my clarity. 19 years of this inner work.
Long ago on NPR I heard a program about divorce, “You aren’t divorced from someone,” the commentator said, “you are divorced to them.” Though this truth has echoed down my own hallways many times over the last thirty years, it has never fed itself back so forcefully as today.
“Charlie, my mom died.” Raeone on the phone in tears. “Could you, Would, tell me when you leave again?”
And so, on the Monday before I leave for Southeast Asia I will help Raeone and Joseph, and his aunts, bury Ione. This seems appropriate to me; I knew Ione, long ago, and, admittedly, in a life faraway, but I always liked her and respected her.
Her domestic courage, doing what she could to keep her four girl family together, was on display even as she died. She told Raeone she wouldn’t die on Joseph’s birthday, and she didn’t. Joseph’s birthday is Sunday. She was a tough Norwegian from the plains of South Dakota, a town with the cheerful, but unlikely name of Gayville.
She worked hard, smoked hard, and loved her kids in the rough way I knew from home, the tough abiding love typical of Alexandria’s hillbilly community.
She was not one for psychological subtlety or political analysis, at least not as I knew her, but she was always there. Yes, she worked second shift as a bookkeeper, a shift that left the girls on their own a lot, but they never wondered if their Mom cared for them. And that counts, a lot, in the world I come from.
Raeone is, as far as I know, alone tonight. She has Ione’s toughness, with some patina gained from a college education. Joseph offered to go to her house, to be with her, as she had just been with him in his grief over losing Bridgit, but she said no.
“I want to make this whole funeral as easy as possible for Mom,” he told me on the phone tonight. “Just tell me what I need to do.”
I don’t have many funerals and weddings left in me; I have grown too far away from the ritual forms, the priestly acts of ministry. There is still though, here, a sense of congruence, of fitness that makes me glad Ione’s is among them.
I will close this long entry with the last paragraphs of my most sermon: The Journey Home. It is, I think, self-explanatory.
In the struggle to define both my own faith and the theological stance of my ministry I have taken what I have called here, the journey home.
My faith home, multi-layered and woven, is more like a tapestry than a dogma, or a book, or an ecclesial institution.
It has a foundation layer, its warp threads, firmly connected to mother earth on the one end and to the outer most reaches of the galaxy on the other. These threads (might we call them strings?) vibrate, resonate with the constantly changing processes of the universe.
With this foundation layer, my faith links me, most literally, to the All That Becomes and I try to vibrate in tune with it. The eight pagan holidays, because they stretch across the solar year and mark celestial moments with influence on my earth home, help me recall these warp threads. To feel them as they flex and bend, yet hold true to their anchors.
The woof threads are you and me, laid on the fabric of the universe as the tapestry continues to be woven. If you can think of time as a visible piece of the tapestry spread out on a vast loom, our lives come and go, wink on and off, giving color and texture and vibrancy, life, to this magical cloth.
The woof threads are plants and animals, suns and planets, gases and metals in particular configurations for the cosmic moment, layered each on each and supported by strong warp threads as the Goddess weaves us into the tapestry’s design.
Once we have touched the fabric of the universe with our existence, given the tint and hue of our life, we are not lost, ever, for the tapestry does not vanish, it keeps on being woven though unlike Penelope’s tapestry it is not unraveled each night; no, it is never unraveled, only woven and recalled throughout the vast expanse of time or eternity or whatever we all are, together, part of the whole cloth we call reality.
However you find experience of this tapestry, or this garden, or this forest, this paradise, this heaven is, I believe, the true faith for you. It will nourish you, connect you, challenge you, and protect you.
May you have a safe journey home, and may you find a true home for your heart, for your Self.