Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Long Ago

The photo was taken in Taft, California, at Easter in the mid to late 1950s.  My sister and I are wearing dark matching dresses.  My mother is wearing dark glasses.  With us is our nearby neighbor and her daughters.  Not sure where my baby sister was.  Although I remember being 2 years old and living in an apartment in San Mateo, California, and have many vivid memories from the time we lived in Taft, I have no memory to go with this photo.  A friend with a beautiful sense of humor referred to those lapses we have as "repressed happy memories."

Like A Rolling Stone Meditation / When There Is No Resurrection, We Are Allowed To Mourn And To Discover That Love Is Stronger Than Death

When I woke up this morning at 5 o'clock, my first thought was of Mary Magdalene and her grief.  Something moved me to read the four very different second-hand versions of her experience on the third day after Jesus died (Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-11, Matthew 28:1-10, John 20:1-8), which left me wondering what Mary Magdalene would have written about her experience on the third day after Jesus died.  

I remembered that Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn."

Below is a photo of an ancient rolling stone in Israel:

Then I found this, from which I copied and pasted the following:

When Jewish people heard that someone they loved had died, they tore the front part of their inner clothing. The tear was several inches long,  a symbol of grief: it represented the tearing pain in their hearts.

It was the women’s task to prepare a dead body for burial. The body was washed, and hair and nails were cut. Then it was gently wiped with a mixture of spices and wrapped in linen strips of various sizes and widths. While this was happening, prayers from the Scriptures were chanted.

The body was wrapped in a shroud, but was otherwise uncovered.

Tombs were visited and watched for three days by family members and friends. On the third day after death, the body was examined. This was to make sure that the person was really dead, for accidental burial of someone still alive could happen. 

At this stage the body would be treated by the women of the family with oils and perfumes. The women's visits to the tombs of Jesus and Lazarus are connected with this ritual.

Painting, 'The Dead Christ', by Andrea Mantegna
'The Dead Christ', by Andrea Mantegna

After visiting the tomb on the third day by which time it had decomposed. The bones were then collected and stored in an ossuary, a ‘bone box’, with the large bones at the bottom and the smaller bones and skull placed on top.

Some years ago in the fall, after visiting the grave of the man I loved for so many years, the man who had died the previous spring on Passover, I visited a beautiful Catholic monastery that is located on a mountain hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur.  I was exploring the possibility of joining the Catholic Church because it was the church of Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Bruce Springsteen, and St. Francis, among others, and of several dear friends of mine, all of whom had found what they were looking for when they made the Catholic Church their home.  The stumbling block for me was that I didn't believe in the resurrection.  I believed that people I respected and trusted believed, but that was as far as I could go.  

That fall day in Big Sur, there was a retreat taking place at the monastery and a kindly monk in his 50s or 60s was speaking to the group in the church when I entered it.  No one seemed to mind my presence or question it.  I sat down and listened. After the monk finished speaking, as people were milling around, I formulated the question that I wanted to ask of him.  

My question was, "Is it possible to be a Christian without believing in the resurrection?"  

As I recall, his face became very stern.  As I recall, he said, "There is no Christianity without the resurrection." That was that.  That was the end of the conversation.  I appreciated his honesty and saw a door closing for me.  Just now, reading about Warren Zevon's experience and his questions for a Catholic priest, I see another door opening.  Maybe it was the one Warren Zevon was knocking on and that Bob Dylan sang about knocking on, the door we can't see with our eyes:

"And there's no exit in any direction / 'Cept the one you can't see with your eyes"
(Bob Dylan, lyrics from "Series of Dreams")

Who knows?  I sure don't.  

And I have nothing but love and respect for those who do believe in the resurrection.  May we all live in peace, no matter what we believe or don't believe on Easter Day 2016.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Resting on the Wings of a Bird of Peace

Version sung on behalf of a man:

God, full of mercy, who dwells in the heights, provide a sure rest upon the Divine Presence's wings, within the range of the holy, pure and glorious, whose shining resemble the sky's, to the soul of (Hebrew name of deceased) son of (Hebrew name of his father) for a charity was given to the memory of his soul. Therefore, the Master of Mercy will protect him forever, from behind the hiding of his wings, and will tie his soul with the rope of life. The Everlasting is his heritage, and he shall rest peacefully upon his lying place, and let us say: Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Meditation

Good Friday

For earthworms, spring and robins bring death.
For cautious robins, death does not exist.
For young human children, death is astonishing news.

Years later, spring and robins arrive.
We are not surprised when the earthworms die,
not surprised when the robins run from us.

But death, now, is the absence of news,
abrupt and extraordinary in its silence.

In 1980, in a beginning painting class at the Fairhaven College of Western Washington University, I painted "Recurring Dream" in watercolor.  It was the first painting that I sold.  A neighbor close to me in age and born in Scotland, bought it, had it framed, and put it in a place of honor in his home. The poem was written in 2006 when I was 56 years old.

After coming across this article in the past few weeks, I've given much thought to the statistical breakdown of the Syrian refugees who have entered the United States as of November 2015:

Muslims -- 2098
Christians -- 53

and the remaining 33:

Yazidis -- 1
Jehovah's Witnesses -- 8
Baha'i -- 2
Zoroastrians -- 6
Other religions -- 6
No religion -- 7
Atheists -- 3

I wonder if Buddhism is considered an "other religion" or "no religion." I wonder if any of the refugees are Buddhist.  

Understanding that part of the process for Syrians being admitted to the United States is to identify themselves with a category that defines their belief system led me to wonder if, in order to leave everything behind and accept an uncertain future with a very real risk of death, a person would need to believe in something, and that it wouldn't necessarily fall into a category on the State Department Refugee Processing list.  Belief in a principle perhaps.  For example, "I never know what good will come from my focused efforts, but I do know what will come from not trying."

If I were a Syrian refugee, I would have to check "No religion." I would do that only because there would be no other option for me.  Still, it wouldn't sit well with me because it seems to imply no beliefs at all, not even the sustaining beliefs of an atheist.  How could I leave Syria without having some sort of belief system to sustain me?

At the Catholic hospital where I used to work, the patient intake forms had a category of "Undecided" under the heading of religion.  I like that someone suggested that as an option, but I couldn't check that one either.  I have decided not to affiliate myself with any religion or spiritual tradition, but to be open and willing to listen to the profound insights of those who do affiliate themselves, including atheists and agnostics.

A dear friend of mine who died peacefully as an atheist in early 80s said that there was "something" that she couldn't define that she had experienced and come to believe in.  She had lived in anguish for years after the death of her oldest son in a climbing accident in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State.  Her son had been climbing with his younger brother and had slipped and fallen to his death.  His body was never found.  Sometime around 1997, my friend had an experience that she didn't define as religious but which she came to believe was real and true.  She knew that she was not alone and was able to find the peace that had eluded her for so long.  She was sustained by what she called "something."

I had an experience like that, too, in 1987.  I believe in "something."  It is not an "other religion."  It is not "no religion."

What is it?  Good question.  I don't know for sure.

That "something" might be the principle of the power of love and forgiveness or the principle expressed in what Anne Frank wrote:

"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."

On the Good Friday in 2006, when I wrote my poem, I was struck for the first time by the conviction that Jesus had really lived and really died.  That he was dead.  Using a meditation technique I had learned, where one explores an idea visually and allows it to unfold, I pictured myself sitting in meditation in Jesus' tomb, contemplating his lifeless body, waiting to see if there was the resurrection that is promised by Christianity.  It seems to me that this technique is Jungian in nature, involving allowing a thought to lead one to unexpected places in the unconscious.  In the meditation, I sat there until Easter morning and witnessed the fact that Jesus did not rise from the dead.  There was a peaceful silence in which I was allowed to grieve, not as a Christian, but as a human being facing the death of someone who believed in the power of love and forgiveness and taught those principles during his short life.  He didn't have to rise from the dead to make a lasting impression on me.  In the meditation, the finality of his death gave me permission to enter a grief journey which eventually confirmed my belief in "something." 

Is that a religion? Or something else?  

So many of the words that are attributed to Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, sound to me like Zen koans.  One of Jesus' koans is:  

"Who do you think I am?"

To my ears, Jesus is saying, "It's up to you to decide." 

John Lennon decided this:

"Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary.  It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

John Lennon also said:

"I'm not anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-religion."

On that Good Friday in 2006, because of an heartfelt experience in meditation -- not a theory, not a borrowed belief -- I decided that, for me, Jesus was someone who lived and taught about the power of love and forgiveness and then died an agonizing death in the company of two other equally suffering men.  As is the case with so many human beings throughout history, Jesus did not die without suffering.  I knew then that if my death involved suffering, I would not be suffering alone. I decided that Jesus, as I understood him through experience, left me with a peaceful silence in which I could grieve and know that I was not alone in my grief and also know that my grief would eventually heal me.  

In 2000, I wrote this poem which seems now to be a harbinger of the poem I wrote on Good Friday in 2006:

Evolution of Forgiveness

In this silence
I am looking for relief,
trusting grief,
loving the child never conceived,
loving all the shattered children
who dared not trust, love or grieve,
loving the silent holy night,
the wild blue sky of day,
the courage of redwood trees,
the beloved ocean, 
still mirroring our wild hearts,
calling to us:
Trust your grief.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brussels Meditation

1.  "Woman Trying To Remember What She is Trying To Forget." Gouache and watercolor on paper by am, from 1986.

2.  "Mandala #18:  Hallelujah." Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils on Bristol board by am, finished on March 24, 2016, at 6:20 a.m.

Watch. Listen

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

dxʷshudičup honored by Coast Salish Tribal Leaders

From the Facebook page of  Miranda Belarde-Lewis:

Bernie Sanders receiving his Lushootseed name from Coast Salish Tribal Leaders. 

dxʷshudičup (pronounced dooh-s-who-dee-choop) is the Coast Salish name given to Bernie Sanders. The Lushootseed meaning is "the one lighting the fires for change and unity." 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

We breathe as the ocean breathes

(Pencil on paper, by am, Life Drawing in the Fine Arts Department in the evenings at Western Washington University in the late 1980s)

"In Celtic thought the body is an echo of the soul.  It is born and dies, and in that sense is passing like an echo, but it carries within it the sounds of the eternal."

"While we may cherish our various rich religious inheritances, the essence of our being cannot be contained by the boundaries of religion.  The soul is neither Jewish nor Christian, neither Muslim nor Hindu.  It defies the limitations of any one tradition.  As the 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart says, 'the soul is naked of all things that bear names.'"
(J. Philip Newell)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Not Knowing

"A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket." Charles Péguy

"Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door" Emily Dickinson

Thanks to Sabine for the inspiration this morning.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Inside Looking Out / Outside Looking In / Early Morning Reflection

It was still fairly dark outside. I was in my kitchen and noticed something moving to my right. It was my reflection in the window.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Face to face with a certain kind of fear some of us have and face to face with a certain kind of fearlessness

Every so often when I feel frightened, and that 10-letter word repeats itself in my mind, I suddenly remember this song by Bob Dylan, particularly the lyrics below, and I know that I'm not alone and not all that far from the light that is always there, always has been, and always will be, no matter what happens.

... It frightens me
the awful truth
of how sweet life can be ...

Not everything is up to me, but some of it is.  It's a daily practice, discerning what is and what isn't.

I know that not everyone has this fear.  If Bob Dylan hadn't mentioned it in this song, it might have taken me a lot longer to figure out just what it is that frightens me sometimes.   It's not a fear that makes much sense but it is real.  Being able to name it takes away much of its power.

It's one of the Four Noble Truths.  How sweet life can be.

When I look out the window in the late afternoon and know by the light that there is a rainbow somewhere:

And then I turn and see a rainbow:

Or when I look out before dawn and see:

Followed by:

And then this:

How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
(Bob Dylan lyrics from "When He Returns"-- 1979)

YouTube comment on the above video:

Max Autonomy3 months ago I'm an atheist, but I still love the emotional genuineness of this powerful song.

Well a childish dream is a deathless need
And a noble truth is a sacred dream
(Bob Dylan lyrics from "Tweddle-Dee &Tweedle-Dum -- 2001)