Bird Droppings May 26, 2019
Occasionally we need to learn again about the Rock and the Smoke
High school students always ask questions about religion. As we get into evolution especially in biology. Occasionally I get someone who wants to prove a point. A young lady brought in her father’s sermon on creation and how the earth was only about eight thousand years old. In detail or rough detail the sermon explained the striations of geology in the Grand Canyon. Millions of years quickly developed an eight thousand year life span. It was sedimentation from the great flood of Noah. I did not pull out the recent law suit of the Noah Ark’s exhibit against their insurance company about flood damage. I explain my religion or lack thereof more simply. It is about the rock and the smoke.
“If people find no room in their lives to pray or to meditate, to reflect deeply on why they have been created and what they must do with their lives, and to listen with all of their being to the guidance of the universe, then these people are like birds who have not yet learned to fly. All the parts of the bird are present, but something is still missing. To be a whole person is to be alive in a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual way.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984
I started reading this short book several years ago and recently picked up again, only absorbing a page or two a day not trying to force my read as I do so often and get through it in a matter of minutes. There is an under lying theme with the tree of life so often depicted in primitive traditions. In Native American thought the tree intertwines spiritually and physically with all. Many times in ceremonies a specific tree would be selected after much thought by a medicine man or woman for the occasion. It would be carefully taken down and then “replanted” at the site of the ritual. Sundance ceremonies always would center round a tree as the main focal point of the entire ceremony. I could not help but think of the latest James Cameron movie Avatar and the depiction of the tree that is connected to all on the planet. Even the Game of Thrones had sacred trees connecting everything.
In my own life my early mornings are to sit read and write for me a mediation of sorts. When I can if time allows although that does not sound good I will wander out into the darkness to think and reflect. Listening and watching as around me life unfolds. For many being alone in the dark is not a comfortable event but as I have now for some time embraced the solitude and quiet.
“A sign that much work is needed in the area of personal spiritual growth is when a person dislikes being alone, and especially dislikes being alone in silence. Many people use television and or recorded music to fill the silence so do not have to experience themselves as they are.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984
Years ago I would walk out into the early morning’s darkness all about me wandering a blanket wrapped about me, thinking and reflecting on things at hand. I found as I was searching I found peace in the solitude and quiet of the early hours. As we moved over the years and my ability to walk around became hindered I started to write and read and reflect as I would sit and ponder. I started writing down my ideas and thoughts and sharing with others. I found in each of my mornings notes; an idea was there for someone. Today as we near a full moon and the night is bright with the moons reflection of the sun perhaps speaking of darkness at night is a bit odd but always I have found within darkness there is light when we seek it. So in effect in my solitude I have found community. It has been a few years since a dear friend shared with me and helped me remember a poet and philosopher of life that I had forgotten so many years ago.
“Walk easy on the earth each life has its own fragile rhythm, to be aware of it is to understand, to ignore is to abandon oneself to sadness. It is to search vainly for the wholeness that only comes in surrender to what is.” James Kavanaugh, Quiet Water, 1991
James Kavanaugh passed away a few years back and his works will continue to inspire and awaken emotions in people for many years ahead. There is a spiritual aspect to his writing as he reflects on his own former priesthood in many of his writings. But he also separates from religion that spiritual context that is within each of us. It is that individuality and uniqueness that gives us the essence of who we are and provides us with a desire to continue existence.
“Existing is one thing, but making a purpose for your existence is another.” Kendall Gomez, neighbor, former LHS student, California University Student, friend, and often philosophy genius
Kendall is one of the few who is up when I get up each morning although she was a country away in California when she wrote this. Many the day Kendall would come by my room at school and talk and even visited a few times after she graduated. She moved into our neighborhood several years ago and it was interesting neither of us knew we were neighbors for nearly a year. Granted she is a half mile away from our house if that would still be a neighbor. As I read her post this morning and one of her responses, that her purpose was to come up with riddles for others to solve, it sort of hit me. Perhaps it is “more better” stated that we find our purpose through our existence and may even find ourselves in that effort.
“Another sign that warns the traveler that his heart is empty of the gifts of the west is when a person does not feel respect for the elders or for the spiritual activities and struggles of other people.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984
We live in a world so interconnected to each other and yet so disjunctive as well. So many of our interactions that fail and go by the wayside are due to inadvertent differences of opinions, distrust and differences of beliefs than to any other rationales. I recall sitting down so many years ago with a man who was very much a man of faith. He was devout in his beliefs and staunch in his moral codes and ethics. We sat down in a small restaurant in town to discuss a program I had envisioned working with indigent families and people. As a prop knowing this fellow I had brought a bible along. Several verses were marked dealing with helping others and providing for those in need. I did not indicate to this man another religious connection of any sort and almost immediately as we talked he mentioned that Catholics were not Christian. My hand rested atop a Catholic bible. I found it interesting that within his desire to do good and help people was still this animosity for another person he had no idea of any connection to any church or religious affiliation for me other than a Methodist Church I was previously involved with working with high school students. He knew I attended a Methodist Seminary along the way. So already we in some ways were opposed semantically because he found one denomination was wrong and one was right yet both evolved from the same traditions and history. We started a program Shepherd Staff Ministries and up until I left that program over seventeen years ago we never disagreed on anything and he is still involved on the board of directors. People were served in our community with food lodging and counseling.
“Poverty is not merely a matter of not having ‘things’. It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. A man can possess nothing, but attach great importance to the personal satisfaction and enjoyment he wants to get out of things which are common to all.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1956
As I was selecting passages today I was drawn to both Kavanaugh and Merton were Catholic clergy at one time or another in their lives. Kavanaugh had a falling out as he wrote about an outdated church and left the priesthood. Thomas Merton wrote out against war in a time when such things were not often politically correct and died suspiciously in Southeast Asia electrocuted in a bath tub protesting the War in Viet Nam. Merton was a Trappist monk till his death. When you read these two authors there ideas do flow and interconnect with those of the Native American concept of a world interconnected I started with. Merton often wrote about and was well versed in Eastern thought seeing a connection between all that was. Kavanaugh in his poetry wrote of the world almost as if he were a piece in a vast puzzle a part of the whole.
“Thus I am certain that somehow life will never end, because the assemblage of my friends and all the beauty of the world I have known, assures me that in some state, I must have a life of love to say what I feared to say on earth. To give what I tried to give and couldn’t and to thank you with all of me, when gratitude never seemed sufficient. I long to release all hurts and manipulations, any selfish expectation when pain and suffering got in the way of love and forgiveness, when age and self-pity interfered, or when my ignorance and arrogance prevented what I longed to reveal and share. When I realized I’d done the best I could with what I had from the past, when it was apparent that for one as good and fine and loving as you are: A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you.” James Kavanaugh, A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you, 1996
We of this modern era somehow get lost in all that is. We want to categorize and sanitize and package seemingly undefinable ideas and thoughts. We want to be able to research and develop vaccines to cure and control all that is around us. We lose our connections. I was talking with a fellow teacher yesterday a very good friend who has served for nearly twenty five years active and in the reserves with our military. He has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in most areas of conflict in the past twenty years. He has seen death and destruction at the hands and minds of men. We often talk about life in general and while he knows my own believes and perhaps his might differ we often find common ground. I bumped into him on my way to check on a student and we talked. I had an article I had been meaning to bring to him as he teachers history. It is a National Geographic article about a tribe in Africa that is one of the last known hunter gatherer societies left on the earth. What is amazing to anthropologists is that there is no strive, stress, animosity within these people. There are not items of desire or to covet. If you need a bow and arrows you make one. If you need meat you hunt and fruit you gather. As we talked I recalled another friend’s virtual game in history of having students develop society from nothing and how it is not until as humans we begin to own things that strive and turmoil appears.
“We live in a whirl of images and noises, sounds, lights, desires, frustrations, pleasures, sufferings. Our lives are a cacophony; insulated from wind and rain and sun, from heat and cold, we are ensphered in our own catacombs of concrete and plastic. Living in such a world is it any wonder we turn to drugs, to more sensational means of stimulation, to entertainment that renders us catatonic? Insulated from nature, ungrounded, why should we be surprised at our own brutality? Where in such a world is there room for gratitude and for what should we be grateful?” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America
I am getting carried away this morning but so often an idea starts and perhaps today I need to draw to a close and continue another day. My dog is barking calling to go out and now back in the moon has set and gone behind the pines and only the stars remain to light the sky. To my right as I walked out our drive way and cars and to the left pines and darkness a seemingly distant world untouched and real. I will use another line from Versluis as he discusses primitive people’s ideas and views.
“There is, however a mysterious unity between people and their landscape, between people and the creatures around them. This unity is of a subtle kind not easily explained. But understanding it is essential if we are to enter into a different awareness of our world” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America
Another day is near dawning and another day of rest. It was nearly eight Sundays since my mother passed away. I sat down at my computer much later today than normal. Today is yard work and grand babies then next week finish up the school year. For all of my students and teacher friends may peace be with you and yours and may we as a nation find some point of reference to draw us together. For twenty plus years now I have ended my morning sojourns with this line, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)
PS: While sitting in my quiet place among the trees in our backyard a wisp of smoke came from my bowl of white sage, cedar, red willow bark, ursa leaves, and sweet grass and I thought. There is a time for the Rock and a time for the Smoke. Both are essential to the balance of life. He rock holds steady and firm while the smoke ethereal and flowing lifts upward. We need both in our lives.