Friday, December 11, 2015

December Sunrise / Starcross Wreath / Reflections / The Lady of Guadalupe

Many years ago, I learned about Starcross Monastic Community because it is not far from where my parents lived from 1974 to 1994 on the Northern California coast, and my mother was a volunteer there as part of her search for a sense of community during the last years of her life.  She was born in 1916 in Hastings, Minnesota, and died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Gualala, California, on December 3, 1994.  She used to send to each of my sisters and me a wreath made at Starcross Monastic Community.  The wreath would arrive during the first days of December.  After she died, I continued to order a wreath to hang outside my front door.  Because the wreath continues to look fresh, my tradition is to enjoy it there until Valentine's Day.

Because I am not affiliated with any particular religion or spiritual tradition, I appreciate this statement by the members of Starcross Monastic Community, quoted in part:

"At present we feel more authentic standing outside the institutional structure of any particular denomination ... Increasingly we reach out in response to others walking a spiritual path in the challenging circumstances of life and society. We feel there is a divine spark and creativity in every individual which requires respect and support."

From today's email newsletter from Starcross Monastic Community in Sonoma County, Northern California, here is a reflection by Brother Toby:

And the bird's song, and the people's song, and the song of life, will all become one.  (Hopi chant)


And then the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to all white Anglo-Saxon males” …. We have a problem.

A new word has appeared in our vocabulary “microaggressions” — it means something like low-grade insensitivity against minorities. University presidents are resigning, football teams are refusing to play, because of microaggression. And most important, students and others are hurt.

When Katiana sat down in class next to a white student he got up and moved to the other side of the room. Katiana simply sees herself as American. The other student saw her as non-white.
What in heaven's name is this all about! Didn’t we go through all this decades ago? 1954 — Brown v. Board of Education. 1957 — Little Rock Central High School, Rosa Park on the bus, Lunch Counters. Freedom Riders. 1963 — Medgar Evers murdered, 4 little girls murdered in a Birmingham church, 200,000 people marching on Washington. 1968 — Martin Luther King murdered. Did we not live through that and as a nation come out better?
Well, the trouble is that neither Katiana or the white student were born back then in those times of what some might call “macroaggressions” (I hate made-up terms!)
We are talking about racism in 2015. Where does it come from? The older I get the more I believe that these fundamental attitudes about how we see the world around us come from early childhood.  Bear with me for something personal.
1931. I was born in southern Mississippi. One Saturday morning,  when I was about 9-years old, I had a dental appointment. The dentist had his office off the balcony of the local movie house. My instructions were to wait for my uncle to pick me up when I was finished. He assumed I would go downstairs and wait. But when I came out from the dentist the movie had started. It was, as I recall, a Hopalong Cassidy film. I sat down to watch. I was not aware that I was the only white kid in the crowded balcony until several ushers came running up in a panic to get me out of there. I wanted to see the movie and I became quite immovable. There was some support from the kids sitting around me. Finally my uncle arrived. He was a well-known town leader and quieted down the ushers and convinced me to leave. When we got in the car he said, “There are some things you ought to know about.”  I imagine when most adults in our town said that they meant the child ought to know more about the differences among people. My uncle had something else in mind. The next Monday he took me across the rail-road tracks to a school for black children. We went inside. It was dark. There were no electric lights. There was no floor, just pounded down dirt. There were no books. It was not a happy place. After awhile we left.  My uncle was a practical man —  what we used to call a Southern moderate. He didn't think he could change the world he lived in, but he might change how one kid looked at that world. When we got to the car he simply said to me, “Don't forget what you saw in there.”  I haven’t.
I know an American journalist working abroad who says that the most embarrassingly predictable response Americans have to any world catastrophe is that we immediately turn it into “it's all about us.”  Brutal massacres in Paris by the same people forcing millions to flee Syria for their lives? Our response is to stop taking in Syrian refugees. Not that we were doing much of that to begin with. My friend says she feels like our nation basically wants to be a well cared for gated community with just enough “other” people to take care of the lawns.
On July 4, 1776 we adopted a declaration  saying among other things that we were all “created equal.”  Apparently we weren’t meant to take “All”  too seriously.
I live in a state whose population is 39% Latino and 38% white. This coming Sunday a good portion of those 39% will be celebrating the feast of The Lady of Guadalupe. The lady appeared to a young indigenous man in 1531. There were a number of miracles and the whole story had to be fitted within the Spanish colonial religious structure. But recently there are suggestions that the apparition contained coded messages for the oppressed people of Mexico. Her blue-green mantle was described as the color Aztecs once reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl; her belt is interpreted as a sign of pregnancy; and a cross-shaped image symbolizing the cosmos and called nahui-ollin is said to be inscribed beneath the image's sash. Is this just academic daydreaming? I don't know.

But I do know that the day remembering The Lady of Guadalupe is an important spiritual moment to many of my neighbors. And in some small way I want to show my respect. We put out a picture of The Lady. I suppose the sociologists would label that “microrespect.”  But what the heck — it's a beginning.

Brother Toby


Tara said...

Brother Toby's story is beautiful. I actually have had a love affair of sorts with Our Lady of Guadalupe for a quarter century now. It's a long story, but the short version is a friend recovering from surgery and chemo went to Santa Fe, NM. Found a small church outside of town, made contact with Our Lady, and knew that he (yes, he) would be cured. He brought home all kinds of curios and icons, many of which I still have.

And yes, we would all be so much better off if we respected the traditions of others, and even joined in on those traditions. This is how we commune in love, and community.

I love the wreath, btw. So lush.

am said...

Tara -- Thank you for your comment. As I was writing that post I thought of you because I was remembering your affinity with Our Lady of Guadalupe and remembering a photograph you posted of your many images of her. Have I mentioned that a good friend of mine, who is not religious in a traditional sense, had an life-sized image of her painted in the midst of her garden on the wall of a detached garage? My friend asked one woman friend to sketch Our Lady and then asked her other friends to paint the colors in. Later, the woman who had done the sketch completed the mural My friend looks out at her frequently as she continues to recover from various health problems. My friend had a Jewish father and an Irish mother and grew up with her siblings in Mexico City. She felt an affinity for Our Lady of Guadalupe from childhood.

You might like Brother Toby's book, A Winter Walk, where he honors the various traditions who celebrate or simply remember something sacred during the winter. It seems that all traditions do.

Anonymous said...

A very beautiful story.

Vagabonde said...

This is a very pretty wreath – it must have a nice scent. I like the quotation you wrote and I wish many people believed it. I heard on TV yesterday that 72% of Republicans in Georgia (which must mean most of the people here) agree with Trump that Muslims should not be allowed into the USA. I don’t have a word strong enough to say what I think of these people but it makes me very sad. I have lived here for many years but still don’t understand the main culture. When I lived in San Francisco I thought all the towns in the US where like it, but I was quite wrong and realized it when we moved to Georgia. There are still many confederate flags around where we live but everyone goes to church – I wonder what they teach them there…