When living in the spiritual realm, I really don't think of myself as a creature at all. In fact, I don't think of myself at all. I borrow from Democritus on such matters. I am just a bunch of atoms bouncing around with other atoms.
Let me begin by saying I am a sixty two year old male with two sons and a wife of 34 years. I suffered a cardiac arrest on Oct. 25, 2009 and ten days later returned home with a stint in my LAD and buckets of pills. Prior to my incident I had written poetry. I have never taken a class on poetry nor have I read a book on poetry. Poetry, for me, has always served as a way to put my dreams on paper so I might better understand what is going on in my unconscious self. You might say I have used it as a form of therapy.The only people who have ever read my poetry are my wife, my sons, and a few very close friends. After my incident the muses didn't visit until this week. It really didn't bother me; however, on occasion I would long for a visit.
What does this have to do with Ellen Davis, Krista Tippett, or Karen Armstrong,Wendell Barry, or nature. Ellen Davis and Wendell Berry I had never heard of until today(that's how cool I am)...thanks Krista. Krista, I have listened to for years. Long enough ago that I would email Krista and she had time to respond. Ah! those halcyon days. Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" was read by a book club I participate in back several years ago. Everyone in the group admires KA but several fall into the "groupie" category. So when her new book came out it was a must read. I went along thinking "whatever could that lady have left to say." She said enough in her other books to exhaust a hundred brains! Long story short her "A Case for God" won my all time "dog eared page" award and I suggested to the group that we spend a year on the book one chapter per meeting.
And now on to nature and Karen's gift to me. I have found a major argument Karen makes in this new book concerns ritual...the acting out of myth. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and always was moved by the liturgy. It is something I have missed since leaving the church some twenty years ago. Karen's thing about ritual bugged me. I personally feel we all live out our own myths in our unconscious everyday. Thai's what makes us who we are. But a conscious instigation of a ritual was something I was missing. I suppose taking a walk, or reading poetry, or listening to music or Krista could be considered rituals but I wanted another. Something that would make Karen leave me alone. I have long been an admirer of William James and his essay "The Psychology of Belief." He said, to paraphrase, "If you hear or do something repeatedly without it being disputed, you come to see it as true be it true or not." Hence, the Muslims pray five times a day, the Catholics pray the rosary and on and on. People get up and run every morning believing it is good for them when it could be ruining their knees. So committing yourself to repeated ritual can be "salvation" or it can be a very dangerous thing to do. It is scary, kinda like jumping off a cliff...metaphorically speaking.
Several years ago one of the members of our book group suggested that each of us write down our personal "ten commandments", or aphorisms, and bring them to the next meeting. We did so, spent five or ten minutes reading them, and POOF on to something else. I kept mine and would pull them out periodically, read them, and think what a great job I did on them. Then one day about a month or so ago I thought EUREKA!, I can read these aloud to myself each morning in the garden and create my own ritual. But I thought that if William James and Karen are right then that's what I will become without even being aware of it. That's scary! This thing was full of Meister Eckhart, The Gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Luke, TS Elliot, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Schopenhauer, Robert Frost, Dante Alighieri, and Walt Whitman. If you read the biographies of those folks, they all were a little nuts. Did I want to read them aloud to myself everyday and become a part of what they were? I reread the whole thing several times and decided that they all touched me at a deep level so why not!You gotta be somebody.
So I began my ritual about a month ago, sitting under the Crepe Myrtles in my garden and reading aloud to myself. I don't know why I decided to read aloud. It just seemed to work. Sometimes I would be joined by a Carolina Wren skittering about unusually close, I thought. But the "ritual' did clear my mind of clutter and allow the day to start clean. Sometimes I would stop reciting all together and just watch the leaves of the Crepe Myrtles sway in the wind. It's different watching the leaves with a mind clear of clutter...very different. And then one day, apart from the garden, I thought of looking up at those leaves and experienced the beginning of a poem. I pulled over in a Starbucks parking lot and wrote the words down so I would not forget them - "Looking up beneath a tree, all that's there we do not see." I went inside, bought a cup of coffee, returned to the car and finished the poem. The muse had returned!!! I twitched it a little that evening in my hotel room, very little.
Beneath a Tree
Looking up beneath a treeAll that's there we cannot see
A lifeless bough still casting shadeBelow onto a lifeless graveAs death serves deathWe go our way
And higher up among the limbsNew life springs forth without a sinTo greet the Sun and kiss the rainUnaware of life's great pain
There's wisdom here up in this treeYet seldom is it seen by theeWe rush and tumble downs life's pathWe miss the beauty and the wrath
A tree, lives more of life than we
The tree sees death among its shootsYet still does feed up from its rootsFor this tree knows that birth and deathSpring from the mind at mans request
This Cosmic tree that knows no timeIs free to let the seasons rhyme
So look straight up beneath the treeAnd see that now's Eternity
So I give Karen's ritual bug, that would not leave me alone, credit for the return of the muse...THANK YOU! And I give Krista and Ellen and Wendell credit for inspiring me to write this missive. And I give the Karen "groupies" in my book club credit for my reading of her latest book. And I thank that contrary and terribly independent muse for coming back around and taking over for a few moments. It only takes a few.
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