Saturday, March 28, 2015

It Could be Worse, He Could be Your Priest

Recently, a colleague asked if he could take a picture with me. I said sure, but had no clue as to why. The request seemed a bit out of place. As the picture was snapped, my colleague said one of his parishioners had a traditional image of a priest. Obviously he wasn’t fulfilling that parishioner’s expectations. He told me he’s going to show them my picture and tell them, “Well it could be worse, Gil could be your priest.”

I’m not sure how to feel about that? But, I’m going to take it as a compliment, I guess. Of course we all know that outward appearances are not the measure of the inner being. It feels so cliché to even write that sentence. Then, I have to ask, so what is my outward appearance? Is it what you see with your eyes? Or could it be how I appear to your soul, consciously or most likely unconsciously? I think I would rather trust my soul to communicate with your soul. Then there’s nothing lost in translation. Whatever happens at that level probably falls into the realm of something like God looking “on the heart.”

I’ve learned a bit about this seeing what’s in the heart stuff by spending the last sixty years trying to figure out how to listen to my sister. She has Prader-Willi Syndrome, the deformity of Chromosome-15, which leaves her mentally and physically handicapped. She also has great difficultly speaking. Even under the best circumstances, understanding what she is trying to say is a challenge. If we relied on her outward appearance and ability to tell us what she was thinking and feeling—we would be at a total loss and cut off from her life and reality. To know my sister is to learning how to see her heart, her inner being. To listen to her silence. To let her outward appearance speak the powerful words of her heart.

Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft: Crossing into the Myteries of Nature and Psyche is a good resource for how to do the difficult work of soul making, which includes deep soul listening. Plotkin challenges us to dive into the dark depths of soulcraft. The dark place, he says, is the inner world where the light rarely shines, the place where we encounter our ego, self, and soul. Here, Plotkin says, is where we can begin to see who we really are. In getting a true portrait of our self, we can then begin to integrate our disparate fractured outward appearances into our inner self, the soul. I think Plotkin struggles in his attempt to write about the soul. But in all honesty, if you don’t struggle publicly about how to articulate the subtleties of the unseen soul, then you’re probably not being honest with the reader. I also don’t like a few of his metaphors. I think he tried to slide around Carl Jung’s work with Sol and Luna and by doing so, confused the alchemist work of ascending and descending. But, aside from those few issues, Plotkin provided me with some very practical methods of doing soulcraft; something I am constantly striving to do in order to listen to the silent soul of my companions, especially my sister. For that I recommend his book.

Sorry, I can’t get that moment I had my picture taken out of my head; me being the worse image of a priest. I wonder if my soul images have long hair? Maybe they wear jewelry? Must be the bare feet. Of course, that’s it—no shoes, no collar, no Eucharist.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Listening to the Talking Tree

We’ve recently moved into another house. Picking up forty-three years of living together and moving eight miles can be exhausting. The process has all gone fairly well. The house we’ve moved into was my parent’s home. With some work, we’ve incorporated their life together here with our future in this home. We already feel like we’ve lived here for years.

Part of moving into a new house is putting everything in its new place. Cathy has plenty of houseplants. She loves them dearly. She waters them. She’s been moving them around the house, assuring that they have the perfect light. She talks to them; asking each plant if they feel comfortable where she has set them. Cathy’s is a dialogue with the ancient.

Stephen Herrod Buhner in The Lost Language of Plants and David Abram in his book The Spell of the Sensuous present a strong case that before language, humans, animals, plants, and everything we consider inanimate shared knowledge. Humans have long had a communication connection with animals—it seems rather easy to image. With plants, however, we seem to have lost our innate ability to listen and learn from those of creation who provide us with sustenance and healing. Both Buhner and Abram point out what seems to be the obvious that in our loss of connection we are destroying the world around us and risking our existence.

My guess is, if you are reading this, you most likely agree with Buhner and Abram. Many of us are frustrated by the voices of denial and fear who have become strange bedfellows. Right-wing fundamentalists Christians have oddly enough joined forces with liberal atheists. Many politicians are in denial because global warming conflicts with capitalism. Many in the general public are in fear of scientific research, resulting in potential reoccurrences of diseases like measles. Those of us who are looking for some ground between common sense and twenty-first scientific research seem to be lost in the shouting from either side. The question is, "what can I do?"

For me, I’m going to start with admitting what neuroscientist David Eagleman suggests are the three most important words that science has given us, “I don’t know.” Honestly, I don’t know what is the best action to take. But not knowing what to do shouldn’t paralyze me. I can get involved. On the global, national, and local scene there are many worthwhile organizations with which I can share my resources and time. But beyond that, I have to take seriously my willingness to communicate with the world around me and ask them, the animals, plants, mountains, rivers, and stones, what they need from me.

While Cathy is talking to our houseplants, I’ve decided to make a connection with the trees, plants, flora, and stones surrounding our house. I’ve started the conversation with the largest, and what I surmise is the oldest, pine tree in the backyard. She seems to have been here before the house was built. My hope is she will tell me stories about the life before and clue me in how to best care for her and the rest of her friends. Sitting for a bit most every evening. Quite, expectant, hopeful—I’m listening. I’m ready to take action for the sake of my new friends and the world in which all live together.