Monday, June 21, 2010

Graffiti and Roses

Today is the Summer Solstice, and what that immediately conjures in my mind is Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and a vague longing for romance and the ocean.

But I am single, and nowhere near the ocean.  I was hoping to visit the west coast this summer, but chose instead to put money into a writer's conference that will be happening here in Taos.  (Have I mentioned that I'm writing a book about my relationship with the San Francisco de Asis church?)  My heart right now is very much with the Gulf Coast, and so at this Solstice time of great light and life, I am permeated with the awareness of darkness and death.  I feel it in my own body.

Today is also Honoring Sacred Sites day, and so I send my light and life to the Gulf Coast, the sacred ocean.  And I turn, as I do every day, toward the San Francisco de Asis church, the sacred site right outside my door.

Taos is a tourist town, and each summer a theme is chosen to center activities and events around.  Last year it was "The Summer of Love," and the focus was on Taos' strong and enduring hippie culture.  Dennis Hopper came for the opening of his art show.  This year the theme is "Return to Sacred Places."  In fact, the newspaper held an essay contest for Taos residents around this theme, and I got an honorable mention for my essay about the church.

Because of this theme, there has been a lot of focus on the St. Francis church, with talks given and three art shows around town.  I missed the talk that was given at the public library on June 5, but was lucky enough to catch it on the radio the other night.  The thing that most struck me in this talk, given by David Maes, who is a lifelong resident of Ranchos de Taos and member of the church, was in his introduction.  He spoke of how the church belongs to anyone who experiences its sacredness, and how even the air around the church feels holy and refreshing.

I did not participate in enjarre, the annual remudding, which is now over.  There is a variety of reasons for that, but one of the most unexpected ones was the sense of loss I've been experiencing over the cutting down of trees in the grove by the church.  It left a bad taste in my mouth and made me want to stay away from the church altogether.  It was several days after seeing all the stumps before I could go back, and when I did, the stumps had all been overturned so that the whole space resembles a twisted wasteland.

The next time I went, a few days after that, I discovered that the entrance to the grove between the gift shop and rectory was now defined with edging and filled with gravel.

I have to admit I'm having trouble with these changes.  A little bit of wildness has been tamed.  I don't think the birds are happy about it either.  The doves have been completely silent and the crows have sounded so angry lately.  They've been congregating and having screechfests in my yard.  I know I've mentioned the birdlife at the church before but I want to give you a clearer picture of this.  It's really only been in the past month or two that I've realized how central the church is to the bird communities of Ranchos de Taos.  There are more birds in this part of Taos than any other, and what I finally realized is that the church is their crossroads, their center.  They fly back and forth, in and out from that hub.  Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like there's been less bird traffic since enjarre began.

And I can't help but wonder how St. Francis would feel about all this.  One of the things he was famous for was going around and restoring rundown churches, but I wonder how far he took that, balanced against his intense reverence for Mother Earth and her creatures.  Sigh.  Well, what's done is done, and there is nothing for me to do but accept and integrate these changes, and continue to simply observe them.  One thing I do like is the new sign that marks the entrance to the grove from the church side:

The grove is still in flux.  Orange fencing surrounds the area near the adobe ruins that borders the grove, and certain spaces are marked out in a way that suggest something is planned.  Perhaps I've never mentioned the ruins before.  It's hard to give you the scope of it with my simple camera, but here's a try:

It's not the Parthenon, but there is still something sacred in this to me, even or perhaps especially in the graffiti.  There is a sacredness in the way we leave our artful marks on things.  I love the way recent generations have come up with ways to do this even in urban landscapes.  Graffiti, skateboarding, and parkour are all ways to use and add to the mundane and manmade in elevated ways, turning the utilitarian into the artful, for the sheer joy of it.  (I must mention here that I love the concept of Tess' blog, Sacred Graffiti; I highly recommend you visit there.)

After some inquiry at the gift shop, I discovered that the activity around the ruins is because an archaeology group is doing excavation.  When the church was first built, it was surrounded by a fort, and the buildings later became private residences, many of which are still occupied.  Since those buildings hold a lot of history, it makes sense that an archaeology group would be interested in the ruins. 

On the other side of the ruins is the church lot, a deep contrast in its manicured beauty.  Now that things have calmed down a bit over there, I've been able to settle in and enjoy it again. Today, a man was revarnishing the benches in the courtyard.

I love to see the seasonal changes over there.  The flowers that the hawkmoths come to aren't blooming yet, but the rose bushes are in full bloom, something I missed last year because I didn't start walking to the church until after the blossoms had faded.

Clare, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and their roses.  Notice the ruins in the background.
I'm thinking about the pruning metaphor again in terms of manmade changes versus "natural" ones.  I once had a student who wrote an astonishing paper using Emerson's ideas about nature to back up the claim that everything humans do is natural.  Is the grove-clearing and throwing down of gravel as natural and beautiful as any seasonal change of the flora?  My instinctive resistance to this idea is based on the fear that if we believe that, it gives us license to do all kinds of real damage, just the way that verses from Genesis about mankind having "dominion" over Creation have been used to justify all sort of horrible nonsense.  And yet, partially thanks to that student's paper, and also Byron Katie's teachings, I can't help but wonder:  If we consciously saw things in this way would it not ultimately give us a greater, not a lesser, awareness and sense of responsibility in our interactions with the natural world?  In fact, we would no longer see ourselves as being separate enough to have "interactions with" the natural world, but would know ourselves to be part of the organic whole.

I don't know.  If I've learned anything in my four decades here on Earth, it's that it's a long road from ideology to integration.  But on this Solstice day of honoring sacred sites, it feels like an appropriate rumination.  Graffiti and roses, skateboarding and birdflight, excavation and pollination, pruning, enjarre, restoration, decomposition - my former student would say these things are equal to each other, equally natural.  What has always appealed most to me about the St. Francis church, which is the most sacred place in the world to me, is the dance among nature, culture, spirituality, religion, art, tradition.  And the paradoxes in all of it, the paradox in my relationship to it as an intimate outsider.

What better way to honor the seasonal changes of nature and sacred sites both "natural" and manmade than to perceive ourselves as fully integrated with and responsible for them the way we are responsible for our own selves?  This is also National Prayer Day, and the only prayer I have is for this, and then to rest in the holy paradoxes, the mysteries to be integrated within and beyond our ideologies.   

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

We Are All Spiritual Leaders

The following was forwarded to me from the pastor of the Presbyterian church I've attended here in Taos.  I pass it along to you for your consideration, and I would like to suggest, especially in response to Jennifer's comment on my last post, that we pray together, in whatever way is meaningful to each of us, in the spirit of what is written here.  Chief Arvol speaks of World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites Day on June 21.  I propose that any of you who feel called to do so, honor a site that is sacred to you on your blog that day.

A Great Urgency:  To All World Religious and Spiritual Leaders

My Relatives,

Time has come to speak to the hearts of our Nations and their Leaders.  I ask you this from the bottom of my heart, to come together from the Spirit of your Nations in prayer.

We, from the heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the World; we are guided to speak from all the White Animals showing their sacred color, which have been signs for us to pray for the sacred life of all things.  As I am sending this message to you, many Animal Nations are being threatened, those that swim, those that crawl, those that fly, and the plant Nations, eventually all will be affect from the oil disaster in the Gulf.

The dangers we are faced with at this time are not of spirit. The catastrophe that has happened with the oil spill which looks like the
bleeding of Grandmother Earth, is made by human mistakes, mistakes that we cannot afford to continue to make.

I asked, as Spiritual Leaders, that we join together, united in prayer with the whole of our Global Communities. My concern is these serious issues will continue to worsen, as a domino effect that our Ancestors have warned us of in their Prophecies.

I know in my heart there are millions of people that feel our united prayers for the sake of our Grandmother Earth are long overdue.  I believe we as Spiritual people must gather ourselves and focus our thoughts and prayers to allow the healing of the many wounds that have been inflicted on the Earth.

As we honor the Cycle of Life, let us call for Prayer circles globally to assist in healing Grandmother Earth (our Unc¹I Maka).

We ask for prayers that the oil spill, this bleeding, will stop. That the winds stay calm to assist in the work. Pray for the people to be guided in repairing this mistake, and that we may also seek to live in harmony, as we make the choice to change the destructive path we are on.

As we pray, we will fully understand that we are all connected.  And that what we create can have lasting effects on all life.

So let us unite spiritually, All Nations, All Faiths, One Prayer.  Along with this immediate effort, I also ask to please remember June 21st, World Peace and Prayer Day/Honoring Sacred Sites day. Whether it is a natural site, a temple, a church, a synagogue or just your own sacred space, let us make a prayer for all life, for good decision making by our Nations, for our children¹s future and well-being, and the generations to come.

Onipikte (that we shall live),

Chief Arvol Looking Horse
19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, by indeed_2006

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Ruthless Gardener

Bell near St. Clare's statue in the San Francisco de Asis courtyard

As I continue to practice dropping out of my mind and into my body, several interesting things have been occurring.  One is that my normal state of intense study and research is becoming less normal.  I simply don't have the same intensity of thinking, which also means less writing.  I've been finding myself at a loss to even comment on all of your blogs.  Even this post is more like an eruption than a coherent thought process.

At the same time, my level of physical activity has accelerated quite a bit.  As I'm spending more time in my body than my head, really listening to it, I hear that it wants to move and work, for the sheer joy of it.  I have taken up running with a zest I didn't know was possible.  For most of my life, physical activity was something I thought about doing, felt like I should be doing, but didn't actually want to do.  Now I look forward to it, and find myself having to temper my enthusiasm so I don't OVERdo it.  I've also been working in the yard, gardening.  I planted pumpkins, and they sprouted!  My arms are sore today from pulling up weeds.  There is an incredible level of satisfaction in all of this.

But nothing stays the same.  I simply don't know from day to day what my perspective will be.  It's as though things are shaking loose within me, swirling about, uprooted.  I worked hard on trying to let go of a thing I wanted.  That didn't work.  So I started praying earnestly for that thing, something I'd never tried before.  I prayed specifically and articulately every day with all my heart.  Until I discovered I didn't really want what I was praying for.  What a paradox - when I tried to not want it I wanted it more, and when I gave myself over to wanting it, I stopped wanting it. 

Now the loud voice of wanting in my head is shrieking with rage because I've abandoned it and it doesn't have an anchor anymore.  It's desperately trying to seek one, and I'm just watching and listening.  Not judging, not giving in to its ludicrous demands, just seeing.  Just hearing.  Go ahead and rant and rave, I can't stop you anyway.  I will just wait here in the quiet you can't touch until you diminish, which is already happening and is in fact the reason you're being so obnoxious, trying to cling to life.

Nothing stays the same.  Everything shifts and sometimes that looks "wrong" or dangerous.  "To enjarre or not to enjarre" got pushed way into the background this week because I got very sick.  I won't go into the details, but I was showing exact symptoms of a pretty serious condition.  However, by the time the doctor looked at me, the symptoms were gone and my tests came back fine.  I'm convinced that I made myself sick by listening to the shrieking voice.  I let it take me over for a couple of days, and became unguarded enough that the tumult of emotion that accompanied that rotten thinking caused something like an oil spill in my body.

When I finally felt better physically, and could listen to the shrieking without being taken over by it, I was eager to go for a run.  It had been days since my enjarre encounter.  I waited until evening so there would be no crowds at the church, since I was still not quite ready to deal with that challenge. 

Nothing stays the same.  Have I mentioned how very much I love the little grove by the church?  Well, they cut down most of the trees.  They only left the ones around the perimeter, but essentially, the grove is no longer.  It's just an empty lot full of tree stumps.  They took down the tire swing my son and his friend strung up with an old garden hose; in fact the tree it was hanging from is gone.  I'm welling up with tears as I write this, as I did when I first saw it. 

Nothing stays the same, but everything outward is reflected inwardly with an eternal tint.  I think of the metaphor of pruning in John 15.  Some prunings are bigger than others.  Sometimes life is pruned so radically it's alarming, and doesn't fit my idea of how things "should" be.  Do I really ultimately know what "health" means?  Do I really know what is for the ultimate good of myself or the world?  

Oil spills, sickness, destruction of trees.  All ranting and raving is a wall of nothing against such things.  These things happen, and I see them all together.  I see in them meaning and connection that suggest a story I cannot fully tell.  I hear in them only the call to awaken, the thunder of tremendous bells. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jarred by Enjarre

Notice the individual pieces of straw in the adobe.

The cloud formations just around sunset the other night were the most amazing and bizarre I've ever seen.  I was sitting at the computer when I looked out the window and noticed the unusual quality of light outside.  It had that otherworldly pink glow that sometimes happens when the sky is partly overcast and partly clear with a certain angle of the sun.

I put Eliana in the stroller and went out for a look-see.  A layered variety of clouds in the west hovered above the setting sun.  Some were sinewy and fetal, and these were superimposed with intense depth over what looked like calm waves on an ocean.  The whole configuration appeared to be a world upside down.

As I walked down the street toward the grove, the sky was intensely blue in certain places, but the overall quality of light was orangy-pink, and within this, the arch of trees over the road appeared electric green.  We walked slowly through the grove and I felt like I was dissolving into light and green, the scent of grass.  But when we got to the passage between the gift shop and rectory, it was blocked by a parked car, and I could see and hear a group of people in the courtyard.

I tried to wedge between the car and the gift shop wall, but the stroller wouldn't fit.  In frustration, I turned around and went back through grove, and we went around the neighborhood a different way instead.

The next day, which was yesterday, I discovered that the cause for the group at the church that night was that the annual remudding, called enjarre, was beginning.  I went for a morning walk with Eliana and was startled to see that the entire church parking lot, front and back, was packed with cars.  Even the side streets were full.  I could barely navigate the stroller in certain places.  The courtyard was packed with people, and there were two large trucks bearing cranes parked right next to the church.  Groups of two or three were hoisted against the walls of the church in little boxes, beginning the process of giving the church its annual facial.

As I walked back through the grove, another large group was busy pruning and cleaning up.  This was sort of a shock to see, as in all the time I've been walking through that grove, I've only run into a couple of other people doing the same, and there's usually a startled mutual acknowledgment along the lines of "Gee, I never see anyone else here."  It even has a slight undertone of propriety, like, "This is my place - what are YOU doing here?" 

Once I went specifically to the grove to pick up trash, and this was actually the first time I saw another person there.  An older man was doing exactly the same thing I had come to do, so we naturally started talking.  His name was Ray and he's a lifelong member of the church who periodically tends the grove.  He told me about the family who owns the lot, how they live in another part of town and won't take care of it, how the church keeps trying to buy it from them but they won't sell.

In that conversation, I felt a kinship with Ray.  Yes, I'm an outsider, but we were just two people taking care of a place we love, and I learned something about that place from him.  But encountering the enjarre masses, I felt a mixture of negative emotions that surprised me with their force.  I felt alienated, irritated, jealous, displaced.

Usually it is only members of the church that participate in enjarre, but this year they announced in the newspaper that it would be open to other committed volunteers.  I felt a pang when I read this because I knew I would not sign up, partly because I don't know how much time I'd be able to commit because of having Eliana, but that's not the only reason.  And I didn't really want to think about what that other reason is, but now I've been forced to:  I don't want to share the church with others.  I don't want to be part of a team, naked in the crowd.  I want to have my little private love affair with that place.  And this made me realize I'm like the other woman, refusing to recognize the wife.

And yet I do fiercely want to be involved.  I want to go be a part of that whole huge thing.  I want to contribute.  I want to touch the church, smear mud in her cracks, share in this sacred communal act.  I can't even believe such petty emotions are holding me back from it.  I'm realizing that I might actually be attached to being an outsider because that makes the church uniquely mine, and if I let go of that, I'll lose it.  It won't be special anymore.

Writing all this now makes it so very clear how ridiculous the ego really is.  

Somehow, I foolishly thought I could just bypass this whole event, just sort of walk around it without touching it.  But I see now I'm being called into something that isn't going to let me go.  This event will continue daily for at least a week and maybe two.  I have no idea how it's going to unfold, what I will do.  At this point, I feel like I would be insulting the church and myself if I just avoided the place until enjarre is over. Will I let life distract me away from getting involved, or will I stop being such a chicken and just jump in?  I honestly don't know.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Easy Runner

I went for what has become my usual morning run a little late this morning, and when I came out of the grove into the church lot, there were quite a lot of cars and people, and it looked like a funeral.  Turns out it was Dennis Hopper's, which I began to suspect by the eclectic nature of the crowd.

I tried to stay to the perimeter of the parking lot to be respectful, but as I ran past a parked car with an open door, I couldn't help but notice that a man was sitting there in his underwear putting on dress pants.  Anyhoo.

I definitely felt a pang when I heard that Hopper had died, since True Romance, one of my very favorite movies, features him.  In fact, there is a truly brilliant scene between him and Christopher Walken which I feel is one of the best scenes in any movie, ever.  I'm glad for the grace that allowed me to brush up against his funeral and, however briefly and incompletely, honor his life with the expression of my own through running, something I'm completely stoked to finally be doing.  I've realized that I'm a person of passion and intensity and if I don't give that energy a release in vigorous physical activity, it's going to assert itself in less healthy ways. 

So I like that this new passion of mine connected me in some tiny way to Dennis Hopper's life and death.  He was known for being "difficult," an "enfant terrible" - things I have been seen as often myself.  He walked a self-destructive path for many years, but eventually emerged out of that, and overall his life can be perceived as a wild adventure, a kind of trail-blazing, and an amazingly diverse expression of creative genius.  That inspires me.

And in many ways, Hopper embodied the spirit of Taos, which is itself a sort of enfant terrible.  I love that his funeral was at the San Francisco de Asis church, which strikes me as a wonderful meshing of the frontier-like wildness, noble tradition, profuse creativity, and eclectic spirituality that is Taos.

As I write this now, I hear the bells at the church announcing the end of services.  I also just re-watched on YouTube the scene that I mentioned, and I'll leave you with that. Some of you may not want to watch it as it's pretty intense in terms of violence and profanity.  But if you can get past those things, it's definitely worth seeing, as Hopper's character stands up against the mafia in a brilliant way to defend his son, and becomes sort of a Christ figure in the process.


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