Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I keep drawing the four of swords, in the metaphorical sense. I need to rest, long and hard.

It's hard for me to rest, when there are so many inspiring words and songs and works of art that I want to share here. In my non-virtual life, too, I have trouble resting when there pictures and stories to create, and there are the practices of body/mind/heart to attend to. But rest is trumping everything for the moment. 

I will return refreshed and with new perspective, I think.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Postmodern Hymn: The Earth Forgives

"The World," from the Zombie Tarot

Today's hymn is literally postmodern; it was written by Margaret Atwood for her book The Year of the Flood. It is part of a collection of hymns that members of God's Gardeners sing. While Atwood's invented religion is far from perfect (she says so herself in an interview on To the Best of Our Knowledge), there are aspects of it that clearly are meant to resonate with contemporary culture. The website devoted to the book includes tips on how to become more saintly green, which I love. But there's also the lurking message that no religion is the whole story; no religion can make a perfect human adherent.  

The hymn itself is so simply sweet to my ears. After just a few listens, I feel that John Denver would be a better representative for the God's Gardeners' hymnal, but I do appreciate the critical tone of the hymn.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sacred Space: Basilica of Agony

The Basilica of the Agony, photograph by Hans Mast

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed long into the night. The Basilica of the Agony is built at the foot of the Mount of Olives, near this garden. I like it that there is a church to mark Jesus' dark night.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Amar-elo, by Nanda Correa

"I am Protennoia, the Thought that dwells in the Light. I am the movement that dwells in the All, she in whom the All takes its stand, the first-born among those who came to be, she who exists before the All....I am incomprehensible, dwelling in the incomprehensible. I move in every creature...

I am the real Voice. I cry out in everyone, and they recognize it (the voice), since a seed indwells them." 
    —excerpt from Trimorphic Protennoia, translated by John D. Turner

I'm fascinated by revelations. Somehow whenever revelatory in-spiration strikes, there is an element of creativity to it—playful, heretical, perhaps not the whole truth. How many revelations have been excluded from sacred scriptures because they don't quite match what religious leaders expect to hear? This creative aspect of transcendent experience is something I can't stop thinking about. To be willing to receive a revelation means to be willing to revise what is true. And if you keep revising "truth," what is true? 

Thursday, March 14, 2013


by Joan Miro

"The gods live in a blue place of metaphor... 

The mind from the beginning must be based in the blue firmament, like the lazuli stone and sapphire throne on mysticism, the azure heaven of Boehme, philos sophia. The blue firmament is an image of cosmological reason; it is a mythical place that gives metaphorical support to metaphysical thinking... 

Alchemy begins... in the blue vault, the seas, in the mind's thinking in images, imagining ideationally, speculatively, silveredly, in words that are both images and ideas, ... the blue power of the word itself, which locates this consciousness in the throat of the visuddha cakra whose dominant color is a smoky purple-blue.

...Your mind moves in the caelum, touches the constellations, the thick and hairy skull opens to let in more light, their light, making possible a new idea of order, a cosmological imagination whose thought accounts for the cosmos in the forms of images."

    —from "Blue," by James Hillman

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Creative Work of Hope

Mechanitis butterfly chrysalis
(no attribution that I can find on the internet...)

Hope is a word that has been floating around on the surface of my awareness lately. Here are some of my encounters with the word:

"Hope is not an emotion, but hope is a cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when people have faith in our ability to get out of a jam." (Brené Brown on the work of C. R. Snyder, in her interview with Krista Tippet)

"I do like that . . . idea of hope as a function of struggle. It's almost like, you know, it would be counterintuitive, counterculturally, to say we need to struggle with this honestly, vulnerability, to cultivate the hope that we need to figure out what's next." (Krista Tippet in her interview with Brené Brown)

"There was a theologian from the mid-1900s who kind of described hope as an attitude toward the future that we cannot see, but we trust that somehow it's held by God and that there are possibilities beyond what we can even imagine." (Father Mike Surufka in his interview on Losing Our Religion)

Hope used to mean something escapist and fantastical to me, but lately I've been seeing it more as hard work, as practice in walking the invisible path. Hope has become a constructive enterprise that calls for creativity—anticipating future possibilities with the attitude of an artist who has seen the final creation in her head—as well as vulnerability—accepting the possibility of hope unfulfilled. Hope, these days any way, is a truly brave act.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Admiring: Midwife of Art, Ideas, and Healing

photograph by Carl van Vechten
April 12, 1934
via Yale Library

Mabel Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan was an influential salon hostess throughout her life, in Italy (where she hosted Gertrude Stein and Carl van Vechten, among others), then in New York (where she again hosted salons and also helped organize a post impressionist art exhibit). But she is perhaps is best known for hosting many great thinkers of her day at her home in Taos, New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe, Carl Jung, Willa Cather, and D. H. Lawrence were among the visitors that Mabel invited to stay with her.

When her third husband moved to New Mexico, she soon followed, and when she arrived she was thoroughly moved by the landscape and the people who lived there. She saw the value in the pueblos' rituals and art, their connections to the earth and to each other. 

She was also interested in psychoanalysis and its ability to help people rediscover these connections, and she would invite guests that she believed could help her spread this "gospel" of reconnection to the rest of the world. Apparently her strong beliefs and goals also could make her manipulative and domineering. There are no perfect heros! But I admire her whole-hearted determination to bring healing to the world.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Philosophy of Sleep

from Caretakers of Wonder, by Cooper Edens
via phantasmaphile

Falling asleep at night can mean approaching the strangeness of pensée de la nuit, so says Hélène De Leersnyder. What a great opportunity each night to practice serenity, and accept our solitude with creativity and gentleness.

"If tomorrow morning the sky falls... have clouds for breakfast.
If night falls... use stars for streetlights.
If the moon gets stuck in a tree... cover the hole in the sky with a strawberry.
If you have butterflies in your stomach... ask them into your heart.
If your heart catches in your throat... ask a bird how she sings.
If the birds forget their songs... listen to a pebble instead.
If you lose a memory... embroider a new one to take its place.
If you lose the key... throw away the house.
If the clock stops... use your own hands to tell time.
If the light goes out... wear it around your neck and go dancing.
If the bus doesn't come... catch a fast cloud.
If it's the last dance... dance backwards.
If you find your socks don't match.... stand in a flowerbed.
If your shoes don't fit... give them to the fish in the pond.
If your horse needs shoes... let him use his wings.
If the sun never shines again... hold fireflies in your hands to keep warm.
If you're afraid of the dark... remember the night rainbow.
If there is no happy ending... make one out of cookie dough."
    —From If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, by Cooper Edens

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Poem

Spring, by Shalisa Photography

A different kind of love poem, recycled from Ox Herding many months ago:

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
  —Love, by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Robert Hass

I hope your Valentine's Day is filled with much love.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Practicing with Labyrinths

Labyrinth drawn on a church in Hesselager, Denmark
via Labrinthos

The beauty of labyrinths is that you can't get lost. As a spiritual practice, walking a labyrinth can help you develop security in following a path that you can't really understand.

Lately I've also been interested in the creative practice of drawing labyrinths (they're small enough you can "walk" with your finger). Did you know that the classical cross pattern (featured above) can be drawn by following a "seed" pattern? I wish I could go back to math class and learn more about labyrinth theory. I think there's something magical about arriving at a complex drawing from the beginning seeds of nodes and edges. It reverses the practice a little—you start with simplicity and arrive at a drawing you can't quite untangle without tracing the lines.

If you're interested in learning to draw labyrinths, check out Celestial Labyrinths, a website based on the book "Labyrinths and Their Secrets" (Labirinti i njihove tajne) by Adrian P. Kezele. I'm personally drawn to the Mercury and Venus labyrinths.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Postmodern Hymn: Time out of Mind

via SCA German Renaissance

This groovy tune promises some very exciting transformations, if we would only keep our eyes on the sky and recognize the light in our eyes. 

"Tonight when I chase the dragon
The water will change to cherry wine
And the silver will turn to gold
Time out of mind"

The phrase "chasing the dragon" can refer to using heroine, but  I choose to see a much lovelier meaning, which has nothing to do with chemically-enhanced states of being. For this song, I'm happy to do some creative misreading.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Putting an End to Anger

by H. J. Ford for the story "The Comb and the Collar"

I want to share a sutra with you. It is the Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger, and I'm sharing it because it describes a process I have watched in myself. Maybe you will also find that you are practicing this already, or maybe you will be encouraged by what you hear. 

The full sutra is here, and it is relatively short. I think you will enjoy the story-like quality of the sutra. But if you want the short version, here is the fourth method:

"This is the fourth method, my friends. If there is someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind, and in whose heart there is nothing that can be called kindness, if you are angry with that person and you are wise, you need to find a way to meditate in order to put an end to your anger.

"My friends, suppose there is someone on a long journey who falls sick. He is alone and completely exhausted, and not near any village. He falls into despair, knowing that he will die before completing his journey. If at that point, someone comes along and sees this man’s situation, he immediately takes the man’s hand and leads him onward to the next village, where he takes care of him, treats his illness, and makes sure he has everything he needs by way of clothes, medicine, and food. Because of this compassion and loving kindness, the man’s life is saved. Just so, my friends, when you see someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind, and in whose heart there is nothing that can be called kindness, give rise to this thought: Someone whose words and bodily actions are not kind and in whose heart is nothing that can be called kindness, is someone who is undergoing great suffering. Unless they meet a good spiritual friend, there will be no chance for them to transform and go to realms of happiness. Thinking like this, you will be able to open your heart with love and compassion toward that person. You will be able to put an end to your anger and help that person. Someone who is wise should practice like this."
    —Discourse on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Admiring: French Chef

Laura Calder
(picture from Chez LaFleur in Manhattan)

In case my last post sounded a little too Calvinist, let's get to know another hero of mine, Laura Calder. She is known for her cooking show French Food at Home, where she teaches viewers about the joys of eating good food.

What makes me admire her is her wild career arc: linguistics, public relations, cooking... And her rather interdisciplinary explanation of food:

"I'm interested in stories, what food does for you, it’s almost a language in its own right."
   —Laura Calder, interview for York University

"I really love studying languages even just to keep my brain going, but I think it’s an obsession with my mouth, I love everything that goes in and I love what comes out and I love listening to different ways people speak. I love poetry, I love literature, I love accents, but writing was my first love and I wanted to write about food."
   —Laura Calder, interview in FrenchRevolution

Also, I love her playful, relaxed approach to food. She has her opinions on how to serve water (see French Taste), but she also knows that very few people want to master a cuisine to be able make a good chocolate mousse.

So, cook a good, happy, lovely meal and enjoy it, if you feel like it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Resolution, Part 2: Don't Seek Happiness

Summer volume of the Breviary of Renaud/Marguerite de Bar, Metz ca. 1302-1305.
Verdun, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 107, fol. 105r
via medieval

I'm not saying we should not enjoy and value happiness. But I find the hype of constant happiness exhausting. Perhaps I should distinguish between bubbly, consumptive happiness between deep and abiding peace, or even joy. The former can't seem to survive in the face of reality, while the latter is more stable. 

I remember reading Aquinas's Summa Theologica in college, and our professor telling us that Aquinas believed that God's plan for humans was happiness. I still like that idea, but the key is understanding what Aquinas meant by happiness, and taking from it what you will. I think it's so easy to fall into a search for enjoyment (which of course has its place) in our current times, rather to search for something greater:

"Man’s ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of truth, for this operation is specific to man and is shared with no other animals. Also it is not directed to any other end since the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake. In addition, in this operation man is united to higher beings (substances) since this is the only human operation that is carried out both by God and by the separate substances (angels)."
    —Summa Contra Gentiles, book 3, chapter 37

If you're not a fan of this version of psychology, you might take a look at Slavoj Zizek's critique of the superego's mandate of enjoyment


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