Wednesday, August 28, 2013


A few days ago we were horrified at pictures of children dying in Syria. They had been exposed to poison gas, chemical weapons, and there was nothing that could be done for them. People watched in shock as they drew their last breaths. It was truly horrifying. Worse, their own government had poisoned them. When a country kills its own children, something has gone horribly wrong.  

There was some wobbling on whether or not they had actually used chemical weapons. Our President had said if Syria used them, he would act militarily to stop it. Nobody wants any more military actions going on, so he was waffling a little on this promise. Well, nobody knew for sure if it was chemical weapons or not... no smoking gun... hard to tell...

But then they did know. They had the chemical signature of it. They knew it was poison gas that killed those children. There was no denying it anymore, though the British Prime Minister is still saying it's not a sure thing, one can never know, etc...

The warships are standing off the coast of Syria. Armed to the teeth, if ships had teeth. You get the idea. Missiles at the ready, aimed at Syria. Ready to blow it to smithereens. Clean, no troops, just technology. It is the new war. 

Can someone please explain to me why blowing up the people of Syria is better than blowing them away with chemical weapons? It's the same poor souls who will get hit, the kids, the old grannies, the young mothers trying to shelter their babies, the old men hanging out and reminiscing with their friends, those people... the same ones who were being gassed. Not only will there be "collateral damage" in the form of the civilian population, but also the infrastructure, the houses, schools, hospitals, bridges, transportation systems, plumbing, water systems, all the trappings of a civilized existence.  If you need help imagining this, just take a look at the before and after pictures of Iraq. We blew Iraq back to the stone age. Who knows when, if ever, they will get back what they have lost? 

Explain to me how military intervention is going to convince Assad that chemical weapons are a bad idea. How is this going to win over the hearts and minds of a government that has produced over a million refugees and and 100,000 dead, so far? 

When are we going to realize that military intervention is not the solution, but only an escalation of the problem?  

Let's leave blowing things up to the special effects guys in Hollywood. 

Photo credit: Google images

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Intentional Living

This beautiful bowl was a gift from a friend about 20 years ago. All my dishes were mass produced, made in China reproductions of Fiestaware or odd plates and bowls collected for no particular reason over the years. My friend's husband is a noted ceramicist and all their dishes were made with love by this favorite potter or that.  Unthinkable that a carefully thought-out and prepared meal should be served on an ordinary dish, or that one should eat soup from an unbreakable melamine bowl left over from a time when children prevented the use of anything else! 

And so my friend took me to visit one of her friends, a potter. First we had a meal. The potter and his  wife served us scrambled eggs and freshly baked muffins and home-made jam. There was also butter, and I will never forget it. That butter was served on a slab of wood, and placed very carefully on a bright yellow leaf from a Bigleaf Maple (it was fall) which had been freshly chosen and picked exactly for that purpose. The entire meal was an artwork. Nothing had been neglected. It was elevated from the ordinariness of scrambled eggs to a banquet fit for royalty not only by the care with which it was cooked and served, but by the amazing style that went into serving it.

After the meal, we went into the potter's studio, which was attached to the house. Shelf upon shelf of beautiful plates and bowls and vessels were on display there. My friend told the potter that I was to choose whatever I liked and it would be her gift. 

The bowl in the picture is what I chose. It is small and beautiful, and decorated with  maple leaves. The glaze is rough, textured, unlike anything you can buy at Target or BuyMart, where I got the dishes I was using. Every time I see it, I remember that beautiful breakfast and the butter so beautifully plated on a leaf. And my friend Cynthia Kokis, with whom I have lost contact since moving. 

For a long time, this bowl sat on a shelf, unused, because it is too beautiful for ordinary use, or so I was thinking. I missed the lesson of the scrambled eggs and the butter on a leaf. Now I am using it as often as I can. I want all the beauty in my life that I can find. I want to feel the roughness of that glaze and see the thought that went into the placement of the colors. 

We can bring a lot of beauty into our lives by intentionality, by thinking about each act before we do it, by taking the time to serve the butter on a beautiful leaf, by taking the time to see the beauty of the leaf in the first place, and recognizing the value of ordinary time and ordinary acts. We can choose to make a beautiful life or to sleepwalk through it. 

What we choose to serve our butter on can make all the difference in the world. 

Photo credit: MaryAnn Jackman

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Hierophant

I am now taking two classes from T. Thorn Coyle, author, teacher, Pagan priestess, soup kitchen worker, human rights advocate, the list goes on. Her teaching helps us to explore our inner workings, bring things into balance and to become more effective at living and loving and being fully human. And better at what she calls the Great Work, which I equate with what Judaism calls Tikkun Olam, the work of healing and repairing the world. 

I liked the first class so much that I signed up for her ongoing classes, called Fiat LVX. Right now we are working on the Pearl Pentacle, an energy exercise developed by Victor Anderson, one of Thorn's teachers and one of the founders of Feri, a non-wiccan pagan path. The Pearl Pentacle explores five points: Love, Law, Knowledge, Liberty and Wisdom. Each aspect flows into the next one. We think about how these relate to us, what they mean to us, and look at them in depth. Each month we study another point. This month it's Love we're looking at. Very interesting discussion. Her videos on the topic, one a talk and one a meditation on it, offer wonderful insights and ask us to explore our own take on it. 

As an added exercise, she has us (if we are so inclined to) use Tarot cards or Rune stones, or whatever divination device we might choose, casting one for each of the points. I am no expert at Tarot cards -- though my oldest daughter is a Tarot maven. I am not a Rune person, either. So I decided to try the Tarot cards and do the exercise. I had a Motherpeace deck -- feminist, native american-y and round. I also have a Rider-Waite deck somewhere but can't find it. The image above is from that deck. I also have a newer deck loosely based on Rider-Waite, and decided to use that. Lots of decks for someone who doesn't use them! But I always mean to learn them! Well-intentioned... I lay them out, look the meanings up, then meditate on the card image and the meanings. I use more than one source for the meanings so I can get a multi-dimensional grip on it. Cards are just tools and have no real significance except to open you to what you already know. 

I did fine with the first four points, relating fairly easily to the readings I got, and then I came to Wisdom.  What card came up? The Hierophant. You can tell from the picture that this guy is a hard-nosed institutional figure. He's wearing the triple crown! He's the Pope. He represents tradition, ritual, "but we've always done it this way!" -- the institutional, conventional, unchanging traditions, upheld in spades, to use a different kind of card term. 

Is that what I conjure up when I think of Wisdom? Could it be that there is a hide-bound traditionalist in there that thinks the culmination of love, law, knowledge and liberty is dogmatic institutional religion?  Am I, always the bohemian, the hip girl, always the unconventional, artistic one, always in the avant garde, always the one who's poking the hornet's nest, secretly a Square? Is becoming a Square inevitable as we age? Say it isn't so! 

My grandmother always said, "The cards don't lie." She meant it. The cards she read were an ordinary deck, stripped of everything below the 7s, and she could tell you anything. I wonder what she would have to say about this guy? Who would he be in her deck? Probably the King of Spades. A dark man. Maybe the King of Hearts. 

Maybe he's like the new Pope, who is a breath of fresh air in the Vatican these days. Maybe this Hierophant is transforming into the unconventional one. I can only hope. But I did come across one other meaning for this card that makes me a little more comfortable with it. It also represents Torah. 

That, I'll take as wisdom. 

Photo credit: Google Images

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sitting like a Mountain

I have been taking an online class at T. Thorn Coyle's Morningstar Mystery School, re-learning the discipline of daily meditation and spiritual practice. I used to be a whiz at this, but have neglected it for a time, or become hap-hazard with it. It really helps to sit every morning with a prescribed routine and do it every day, as unfailingly as possible. Good things happen, both mentally and physically, when you do that. 

 T. Thorn Coyle is a really fine teacher who pays close attention to physical as well as spiritual and psychological exercise. I have been reading her books for years and the chance to study with her is something I never expected to be able to do. We have worked up from candle-gazing and written conversation with our internal Seekers (what are we seeking in doing this exercise) and Resistors (what within us is trying to resist our doing so, and why) to sitting meditation and some dancing/yoga/exercise added into the quiet stuff. We always begin by centering and aligning, balancing our souls or psyches or whatever you would call it, through breath work. This is something I have been doing for a long time, even when I have neglected the rest of it. Back in the days when I was a Franciscan, we prayed the daily office, which did not suit me and always rankled. We also did daily self-examen of our consciences and attitudes and inner workings, which I found a really important tool for spiritual growth. This class is very much about learning about yourself and involves a lot of that.

And then there is the sitting meditation. From long habit, I used to be able to fall in and out of a deep meditative state at the blink of an eye, but have lost that skill through disuse.  Thorn gave us three suggestions about how to get into it and of these, I found the Sitting Like a Mountain meditation really worked for me. In it, using a guided meditation narrative, we become a mountain which nurtures and supports a variety of life on the surface and has a cavern inside with a deep pool at the bottom of it.  I enter the deep, still pool and stay there in silence with myself for 10 minutes. It is very peaceful in there. I am gradually learning to go deeper and deeper, as I used to do. 

The Jewish image of God has neither form nor gender. According to Torah, God's name is "I am what I will be" which is basically translated from a Hebrew word meaning existence. The word itself is so holy that no one ever speaks it, and it has been unspoken for so long that no one really knows how anymore. With this as background, here is the fruit of my mediation from a few days ago when I was Sitting Like a Mountain.

I am life itself.
I am the beating heart of the rain
I am a stone at the bottom of a pool
I am the moon, the wind and the sighing of the sea, the crash and bang of thunder
I am mountains, rivers, all
I am dancing
I am love
Where I am is all the earth the stars the universe and space beyond it all
I am life itself
I am.

Photo credit:, with thanks to Lady Moonraven for sharing it.