But then I decided to get proactive about my life. I visited with a couple of alternative health practitioners and got some recommendations about how to change my diet and my attitude. I began to embrace my physical being in a way I never had before. I read voraciously anything related to eating, from the health-oriented to the political. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Harvest For Hope by Jane Goodall. The Art of the Inner Meal: Eating As A Spiritual Path by Don Altman. Eat Right 4 Your Type by Peter D'Adamo. Information about pH balance in the body, about veganism, about Ayurveda, about fasting and cleansing, about the global food crisis, the importance of eating locally produced food.
As I researched and experimented with different ways of eating, I finally found the way that's right for me, and it changed my life profoundly. I learned to listen to my body more deeply and to trust its knowing. I began to see life as a body adventure, and was amazed to realize how much simply changing my diet changed the way I felt emotionally and spiritually. It was humbling to realize that all my so-called spiritual methods of dealing with my mood/anger problem paled in its effects compared to just eating differently.
At the same time, I became acquainted with the Shekinah, and true to my peculiar path, she started popping up simply everywhere. The Shekinah, representative of the immanence of the divine in the physical world, was an absolutely fitting guide as I went about learning to live in harmony with my body. My big epiphany was that mind and body are one - not in the sense of two things united, but of ONE thing manifested as different aspects. Just as the Shekhinah is an aspect of the divine and not a separate thing or person.
This exploration led me deeper into mystical Judaism, something I had already been dabbling in for years. In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the Shekhinah is associated with the tenth sephirah, Malkuth, or Kingdom. "She" is the manifestation of Spirit in the physical world. Suddenly, in the middle of a bleak January, I found myself deeply inspired and energized.
The Kabbalistic Tree of Life
One of the first things that led me into this exploration was a showing of the art of Father William Hart McNichols, an iconographer. The first or second week I lived in Taos, there was an article about him in the Taos News because his show was about to open. He's a Catholic priest who is known worldwide for the icons he paints. The odd thing about this is that the iconography tradition is Orthodox, not Catholic. The other odd thing is that many of his icons are not of traditionally recognized saints. One is of a Buddhist woman, one is of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, another is of an Islamic mystic. There's even one of Princess Diana. If you click on the above links, you can also read his commentary about each icon.
My magic mirror.
The two icons on the left side are by Father Bill
Father Bill, as he is called, is a wonderful, wise, poetic man. And openly gay. In fact, there is an article in Time magazine in which he discusses this. He's celibate, as a priest vows to be, but admits that his orientation is homosexual.
I rarely visit art shows, but I was determined to see his, and I'm glad I did.
The poster announcing Father Bill's show.
I snagged it from a coffee shop (with the owner's permission.)
Standing before the original icons was so much more powerful than looking at reproductions of them, particularly because of the real gold mixed in with the paint used for the halos. There was a sheet provided with background information on each of them. One of the icons was called, "The Name of God, Shekhinah" and was simply the Hebrew letters that spell that name. But his commentary on it was what I was really taken with and what set me off on the Shekhinah pilgrimage. He talked about seeing the Shekhinah in the mist that often rests on Taos Mountain, and in the glow of a candle. He talked about the Shekhinah being the feminine Spirit of God. In Jewish theology, she is the Bride of God, the Sabbath Bride, and women light candles on the Sabbath eve to welcome her in.
I was and am utterly smitten with Father Bill. (Leave it to me to develop a crush on a gay priest.) I felt a connection to him right from that first article I read, but then kind of forgot about him. Then, one morning during Advent, I just happened to turn on the radio, which I rarely do when I'm home, and he was talking to Nancy Stapp, a wonderful local radio personality. He was discussing the meaning of Advent, and while I no longer remember exactly what he said, I remember being absolutely calmed and inspired by it, and consistently nodding and saying Yes, exactly, to the radio. And I remember he ended with an ancient Persian prayer to the sun.
A few months later during Lent, I had the same uncanny experience of turning on the radio, and lo, there he was talking to Nancy again, this time about the meaning of Lent. And he talked about the Shekinah.
Then, in June, I moved into the neighborhood of the St. Francis church and discovered that he is the assistant Priest for that parish.
Other than Christmas Midnight Mass, I've only been to mass there once, and he just happened to be preaching that day. And what he preached about was Sophia, the feminine personification of wisdom, often associated with the Shekhinah. He also talked about the tendency of religious people to be judgmental and stingy with their acceptance and forgiveness of others, to segregate and create an us versus them mentality. He told the congregation to go home and look up the word "catholic." Which, of course, I eagerly did. Here's what I found:
1. broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded, liberalFather Bill is a shining example of this kind of catholicity. And while we've never met, he was a profound influence on my growth over the past year, a journey which continues to bloom in unexpected and strangely harmonic ways, as you'll see in my next post.
2. universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all.
3. pertaining to the whole Christian body or church.
But in the meantime, I'm curious - where were you a year ago? How has your life changed over the past year?