Autumn Afternoon

IMG_0761When I drive through the intersection where the Mexican lady sells watermelons and the corner house has with all the pigeon coops on the roof I see the reclusive old Sikh walking down the street towards the neighborhood park wearing his signature orange turban and white beard. Although I recognize him I refrain from waving as I pass by for we do not have that kind of relationship.

A few minutes later I am placing my lawn chair on the grass mid-way between sun and shade and hear rock music playing from the radio of one of a pickup trucks parked behind me that hold city workers, carpet cleaners and handymen who are eating their paper bag lunches.

Today is one of those near perfect autumn days when the temperature is in the 70’s, the sunlight golden and the breeze carries the scent of dry pine needles and leaves as it puffs by every now and then. I notice that several trees have, in the last two days, turned from dark green to shades of brown.

I am surprised because our nighttime temperatures have yet to dip below 60. But the trees know and are already preparing for Indian summer – at least that’s what we called it when I lived back east – those two weeks in October when the countryside is transformed into stained glass colors of red and orange and yellow – a last celebration before the Big Sleep.

Which brings to my mind a story I heard a few days ago that claimed mother bears gave birth to their young while in hibernation only to awaken in spring with a ready-made and hungry family. It seems too remarkable to be true but why would anyone make up something like that.

As I assess my gullibility I look across the field and see two unattended German shepherds sitting beneath a tree, heads tilted upward towards a squirrel that sits on a high branch and mockingly chatters to them. One dog whines in frustration and wiggles back and forth on its haunches while the other, whom I am sure is the female and more deadly, maintains an unwavering stare.

Meanwhile, from the other end of the path a cocker spaniel comes bouncing along. On turning the corner and seeing the shepherds the cocker freezes in mid-stride, fearful of attracting their attention or interest. Luckily, the spaniel’s owner scurries forward, snaps on the leash and makes a wide detour. While the restless shepherd deliberates between squirrel and spaniel, its steely-eyed mate is undeterred.

A rusting blue van driven by small man with a gray goatee pulls in and parks under a tall pine. The double back doors are covered with decals of national parks and conspiracy organizations, and the license plate reads Wyoming. The side windows are veiled with a combination of thin cotton curtains and cardboard, and the rooftop carrier holds a miscellany of plastic crates and black boxes that look like old batteries. A small American flag hangs limply from the antenna.

Over the next half hour I hear the pickup trucks start their engines and slowly the parking lot empties of all save the van from Wyoming whose owner now sleeps on a blanket in the sun. Then I see an old man with an orange turban tapping his cane along the path to the duck pond. I start to raise my hand to wave but remember in time that we do not have that kind of relationship.

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Eat Your Broccoli

cornucopiaI spent part of my down time this summer changing my eating habits. I cut dairy out of my diet – when you get older sometimes the stomach doesn’t like lactose anymore – and now I am mostly a vegetarian. As a result I feel better and have a lot more energy – not to mention I’ve dropped a few pounds.

I’ve found that eating meat or not eating meat can certainly be loaded with moral ambiguity. The die-hard vegans and vegetarians usually take a moral high ground over the killing of animals saying it is unspiritual while the meat-eaters huff and puff in a sort of self-righteous patriotism. This can tip over into religious positions where Indian gurus and saints are quoted while the meat-eaters mock anyone still wearing leather shoes.

It’s all very primordial and reminds me of a conversation Bill Moyers had with Joseph Campbell in which Campbell said that the man’s primary moral dilemma was that physical survival depended the killing and/or consumption of other life forms which in turn gave rise to a terrible guilt that could only be assuaged by religious intervention and ritual. (This is my memory of the conversation and may not be completely accurate.)

And I think this is still the moral dilemma of life on this earth. Even the vegans who will not eat meat or use any animal by-products, and that sect in India whose name I can’t remember (is it the Jains?) who will not kill insects or eat any fruit that hasn’t naturally fallen from the tree, cannot live with consuming other life forms. Perhaps they seek to evade that responsibility by claiming that they did not intervene or contribute to the demise of said life but that I think is splitting hairs.

To my mind what is at the bottom of the conundrum is the guilt one may feel – that my survival is at the expense of another’s life. That belief is only true if we see the ‘other,’ the cow, pig, egg, the apple, bread made of wheat, as something ‘other than’ and ‘separate from’ ourselves. We cast ourselves in the role of predator and others in the role of prey – typical human hubris.

Do lions consider the antelope in this light? Do they feel guilty when they bring down a buffalo? The predator and prey participate in a mortal dance together, each playing their part to the best of their ability. If a lion captures the deer, the deer does not hate the lion for its part of the dance. In a few seconds the deer is transported back into the group soul of all Deer and waits for another incarnation (my belief – I can’t prove it).

I think why our modern culture is so caught up in the meat/no meat controversy is because we have lost our gratitude for the animals and for the food that we eat. Not only do we no longer say prayers before our meals, we do not honor the animals that are our food. We believe that we are the supreme species on earth and the only one possessing consciousness of any kind- after all, aren’t we the thinkers?

We have turned our animals into food machines that are mass produced in animal factories and then raised and killed in the most inhumane ways. That is the real source of our guilt. We no longer honor them and in so doing have become dishonorable ourselves.

I do not believe it is wrong to eat meat, but it is wrong not to respect the animal that is sacrificed. When we eat, whatever we eat in transformed within our bodies and becomes part of us. We exchange energies and atoms; the cow becomes part of us and so does the experience of the life that cow led prior to being killed. It is a communion in the most sacred sense.

How does the flesh of an animal that died in terror affect our energy body, interact with our cells? By treating animals, and all food, as soulless and without any kind of consciousness, as part of that cosmic partnership we become soulless ourselves.

But when we approach what we eat with respect and gratitude a grace enters into the relationship in which the eater and the eaten become one. At some level the cow participates in my life and I in his; the apple touches human consciousness and I absorb the sun through its gifts. We are all one, indivisible and dependent. In truth, nothing that has life ever dies but goes on and on and on …

MID-NIGHT

Where the Sun Sleeps  8 x 14
Where the Sun Sleeps
8 x 14

To rise at 6 a.m. is to set the day in motion before dawn’s rays lighten the sky. My body’s clock is already experimenting with autumn’s longer nights and shorter days, and of late I often find myself waking at 4 or even 3 in the morning, eyes wide open, mind alert, body restless and ready.

Rather than wait for the clock’s permission I have learned to follow these early urgings and retire to the patio carrying hot tea and a warm shawl.

There is such beauty in the night, those quiet hours before dawn. The silence is palpable and comforting, the darkness rich as chocolate and the air steeped in mystery. I light a candle and think of ancient monks in medieval abbeys who rise mid-night and shuffle down corridors to glowing chapels to pray.

This is indeed the holy time and this the land of waking dreams where the conscious and the unconscious touch. This is the time when the mind is most quiet and God is whispering behind stone walls, within deep wells and atop high towers from which pennants fly.

When a bird chirps I am pulled from my reverie and in the distance I hear the crow of a cock, city born and raised, calling from a dirt-hard backyard that is bordered by high wooden fences and dusty bushes. I watch the dark outlines of trees emerge as the curtains slowly rise and the sky fades from black to pearly gray.

One by one, night lights blink out and the last vampire, cape trailing through the dew-wet grass, shuffles home tired and hungry. Steam rises from my tea cup carrying my gratitude skyward for the blessings of another day. In the first breath of morning I drink in the sweet scent of yesterday’s new mown grass.

When I Call, Answer Me

stained glassThe coming of fall always makes me a little more reflective, a little quieter and more interior. I had been reading a book from the library on Gregorian chant that was a little above my musical head but I was enjoying, nonetheless, its insights into the role of music in the medieval world and how it influenced theology, architecture and the world view.

My interest had been caught by a discussion of a book called Mystical Theology written about 500 AD. French scholar Georges Duby said:

At the core of the treatise was one idea: God is light …. The universe, born of an irradiance, was a downward-spilling burst of luminosity, and the light emanating from the primal Being established every created being in its immutable place. But it united all beings, linking them with love, flooding the entire world, establishing order and coherence within it.

I loved that phrase – a downward-spilling burst of luminosity born of irradiance – an explanation of the Big Bang, perhaps and so apropos and in contrast to the period of the Dark Ages which the writing had preceded.

I listened to my cd of Gregorian chants and in my imagination drifted through rough-walled cloisters lit by candles. Then a few days later I was drawn to attend a service at St. Francis, a Roman Catholic church in the city known for its outreach among the poor and homeless.

St. Francis is like the churches I knew and loved when I was young – tall and color-filled stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, elaborately painted scrolls and flourishes on walls and pillars, high soaring arched ceilings with long chandeliers on chains, aging statues of saints with ethereal expressions and upward searching eyes, dark mysterious corners with flickering red votive candles and beneath it all the scent of incense. The seats of the wooden pews were narrow and hard, designed to encourage praying not sitting.

I had come that evening to attend a Taize service that centers around prayer through chanted music. The songs are often taken from the Psalms and comprised of just one or two phrases repeated over and over again. Taize is not the same as Gregorian chant but has its own simple beauty. For example, one of the most moving to me was “O Lord, hear my prayer.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ9ycGq1pW4)

I was in quite an elevated state of mind when I returned home, the sound of sacred music helping me to enter that downward spilling vibration sent from the beginning.

The Taize Community is an ecumenical monastic order in France composed of more than 100 brothers from Catholic and Protestant traditions from about 30 countries across the world. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, a Protestant. The community has become one of the world’s most important sites of pilgrimage for its spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation. http://www.taize.fr/en_article6526.html

Visit my other blogs at http://MarieTaylorArt.com for art; http://sacredgate.wordpress.com for spiritual topics and http://blueatomicfurnace.wordpress.com for poetry.

September: The Second New Year

birds on wireThis morning is very quiet and subdued after yesterday’s unexpected torrential rains. The storm front moved in from the Pacific in early morning and the clouds suddenly released their heavy burden, the rain falling in thick, impenetrable sheets. After the long summer silence roofs were once again rackety with the pelting water, the leaves of the trees again slick and shining, the streets now glistening in the odd gray light.

The storm continued off and on throughout the day, each time, for me, a welcome visitor. After several weeks of humid weather, unusual for this time of the year, the spell has been broken and this morning a cool, clear atmosphere abides. From the patio I watch five small birds silently perching on the telephone lines, black dots scattered like notes on a musical staff. What song are they playing in their birdy minds?

All children are now back in school and the park seems to breathe a great sigh. It seems somewhat tired after all of the summer exertions; the trees seem to be composing themselves, shaking their leafy skirts and settling into a new, quieter rhythm that will soon result in the splendor of autumn colors.

In two weeks we will touch again the equinox and be headed at an ever-quickening pace to the end of the year. That time will be spent in preparing for a series of holiday that traditionally celebrate a time of gathering in, of harvests and abundance.

The more measured pace of autumn brings with it a reflective state of mind in which we can look back and evaluate our progress, and make course corrections in our direction. Perhaps as a holdover from all those years of schools, September marks the start of the ‘second new year’ of the year, an opportunity for one final push before the pregnant silence of winter descends.

Glad to be back writing again. There is a new post on the art blog for those interested at http://marietaylorart.wordpress.com. Also, I have been developing a blog on spiritual topics at http://sacredgate.wordpress.com; and a poetry blog at http://blueatomicfunace.wordpress.com.