Written on 10-06-2020.
I am sitting at my desk. Trying to write a column. It is 10:30 in the morning. I have had breakfast. I am listening to a loop of relaxing sounds: wood crackling in a fire place, howling wind, and occasional thunder.
The stress of the times and the continuing threat of fascism can shred our souls. Mine feels like a ghostly, moth and worm-eaten shroud at the moment. Halloween is a bit scarier than usual this year.
And so, I turn to the sort of free-wheeling word play that I rely upon for soul-making and soul-healing. Join me, as I wander off into the labyrinth of spiritual reflection, following the thread where it may lead, away from the chaos towards the quiet center. We won’t be able to stay there, of course. But it is a nice place to visit, and perhaps can help us build strength for the fight.
I am listening. I am always listening. To listen is to be alive. Listening to the thoughts in our heads. Listening to the sounds of nature. Listening to the “still small voice of God.” To listen is to try to be fully present. Listen to the breath, listen to the pains and aches and joys of the body. Listening with the entire being. When my husband was dying in hospice care, the caregivers told me that I should talk with him right up to the moment of death. Hearing, they thought, was the last sense to go. (I note that “listening and hearing” are functions not of the vibratory mechanism of the ear, but of the heart and soul. It’s a mystery.)
So that is a good thought. To just sit and listen to the universe. It is simple and may be one way to fight the oppression of the times. To find the power to resist. The universe is not hate, but love. It is not restriction, but flow. It does not discriminate and oppress but loves all and uplifts all.
Do I really believe this? I don’t know. But I try to and the effort serves me well. I assume this would be true for anybody.
Before I can punk the muse I must listen for them. Them is the appropriate pronoun, by the way. Our muse is a multitudinous creature. They are animal, mineral, vegetable, manufactured, elves, trolls, demons, stars, and grains of sand. They are Christ, Mary, patriarch, matriarch, Catholic, Buddhist, Shamanic, Jewish, African, orisha and angel, father/mother God, Holy Spirit, Adonai, and Allah, too. They abide in a universe of universals. They are here and there, past and future, alpha and omega, in all of us and beyond all of us.
Few memories, if any, are more vivid in my mind than my first arrival to the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, a life changing event.
I was about an hour late. The retreat I was there to attend had already begun. I had been driving for five hours. The final leg of the drive was a mile and a half long, twisting and rising driveway, from Highway 1 in Lucia, up the mountain to the Hermitage. I pulled up to the squat building that is the bookstore at New Camaldoli. I turned the keys to shut off the engine. I sat perfectly still in the car. The bookstore was to my right, and in front of me was the circle shaped church. To my left, I could look out the open window of my car at the last rays of the sun as it set on the Pacific ocean, a mile away and thousands of feet below. Its surface was a series of ripples that seemed not to move at all. The stars were just coming out. It was a new moon, so I could see them clearly. I saw several buildings with dimly lit windows. I listened and heard nothing. The silence, for which monasteries are famous, was complete. But, in another mysterious way, it felt as though I were listening to the song of the stars. The air was like none I had ever breathed. The new-to-me scents of Big Sur were a revelation. Out loud, I murmered, “Beautiful.” The sound of my voice startled me. I realized it was cold. The warmth of my down lined jacket was a great comfort. My keys were still dangling in the ignition. I reached over a stack of used gum wrappers to take take them out and accidentally triggered the car alarm. A siren went off, the headlights flashed, the horn began to blare over and over again. My face flushed as embarrassment took me from the sublime to the absurd.
There I was, punking the muse like a champion, when all of a sudden the muse punked me! The muse was in charge all along. Who knew?
That, my friends, was a moment of grace if I’ve ever known one. In most prayer traditions, the retelling of moments of grace (what Jews and Christians alike refer to as “salvation history”) is central. It is a way of reassuring ourselves that we are somehow connected to something great and mysterious and loving. Even the most ardent atheist, I suspect, experiences moments of grace and gratitude.
I invite all my readers to take a few minutes, and reflect on what you find wonderful in the world, and what moments of grace or numinosity or connection or happiness (whatever you want to call it!) you have experienced. Pick one or two and follow the thread of your imagination to relive them if you can.
This is what I mean by soul building and soul mending. It can’t hurt even if you’re making it all up.
And when you awaken from your stroll through this labyrinth, and perhaps look at the newspaper or listen to the radio, or just think about the situation in which we find ourselves, things might look a bit less ghastly. Hope might be a bit more accessible. And the strength and will to fight a bit easier to come by. I hope so.
On earth, as it is in Heaven—blessed be—merry meet and merry part—so mote it be—amen—shalom—Ashe—and all that happy crappy.
Hang in there, kiddos.