Category Archives: Spiritual stuff

Eulogy

The memorial mass for my dad was last Saturday, and I had an opportunity to speak briefly. I am not the sort to write out what I’m going to say ahead of time verbatim, so this isn’t a perfect reconstruction. It’s fairly close, though.

 

————————–

In my spiritual tradition, we often say this about our beloved dead: “What is remembered, lives.”

 

“What is remembered, lives.” It’s so simple, isn’t it? In the abstract, I’ve always thought of that as a very comforting thing. It feels like it should be easy to remember, because of course I want my dad to live on. I want him to be remembered and to live.

 

Well, after a little less than two weeks of this, I can report this: Remembering sucks. It’s hard. Not because there aren’t good memories and good stories. There are plenty of both. But sharing even the best stories reminds me that there won’t be any new stories about Dad…well, okay, we might make up some new ones, but they won’t be true. And remembering even the happiest times we spent together makes me realize all over again that those memories are a finite resource. We won’t have the opportunity to make new ones.

 

So. Remembering sucks, and it is hard. But I am also newly aware of how important that work of remembering is, precisely because it is hard. Dad’s was a life worth remembering. So, briefly, here are a couple of things I’ll remember about him.

 

The first took place right here. In high school, I served as a lector here at Sacred Heart. I remember one time, I was absolutely butchering a reading. In my defense, 21 years after the fact, I would like to point out that it was a very difficult reading, with lots of names and lots of “begats”. I still remember the expression on my Dad’s face as I stumbled through it. He had a look of complete exasperation that was really something to behold. Some of you have probably seen that expression before. I saw it…well, let’s say it was turned toward me pretty often. While he didn’t say anything directly, I eventually learned something from the experience. What he taught me with that look was that if I was going to do something to be of service, if I was going to do something that mattered, then I had to bring all of myself to it. I should have prepared more for that reading. I should have committed myself to it, if the work was that important to me.

 

The second memory is really a sense of generosity of spirit and welcoming that I always had from him. I’ve made a lot of choices that are different from the ones my dad made. I live a life that isn’t the one he chose for himself. But even so, I never felt anything but love and respect from him or from my mom. There’s a reason that Thanksgiving is, was, and always will be my favorite day of the year. It’s because no matter what, I was always free to bring whoever I wanted to join us for the holiday, and I always knew without a doubt that they would be welcomed and treated like family, without hesitation or question. That unquestioning generosity is amazing, and completely unique in my experience. If there is one thing from Dad’s life that I want to manifest in my own, that’s it.

 

There is one last thing that I’d like to share today, and I’ll admit that I’m a little uncertain about doing so. I mentioned before that my spiritual tradition and my dad’s were very different. As I’ve thought about it, though, I’m struck by certain points of intersection. There’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius that serves as a great example of that for me. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the 2nd century, and he was also a stoic philosopher. These words may not reflect Dad’s beliefs, per se, but they reflect how he lived, at least as I observed him.

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

 

 

Thank you, Dad. I love you.

Tarot Draw #12 – Oh, really now?

In a little less than three weeks, I will leave my job at the bank for a couple of days so I can head to Kansas City to present at an event called “The Seduction of Spring: Persephone Ascends.” I will stop teaching clients about an updated corporate credit card management system (and stop teaching my coworkers about how to behave like reasonable human beings) in favor of joining a team of amazing teachers to facilitate workshops on personal growth, cycles of the natural world, myth and magic, and, with a little luck, assist in offering a little bit of life-changing spiritual work. You know, like you do.

(I will also, for those couple of days, take about a 90% pay cut. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Not for nothing – if you think this sort of event would appeal to you, please consider joining us. Details can be found here or, if you prefer, just drop me an email.

In any case, we’re very much in the midst of planning the details of the event. Don’t get me wrong – the broad strokes and theme were settled months ago, but as we get closer to the big day and get a sense of how many people have registered (and who they are), it’s time to put some more form into place and shape the theme into something more concrete. This is the point in the process that is either a lot of fun or a little terrifying. Or both.

While doing some brainstorming today, I remembered that it’s been approximately forever since I wrote up a tarot draw here. I’ve been working with the cards a little more often recently, but none of those questions have been particularly fit for public consumption. I figured that this was a good time to

Question: What should I keep at the front of my mind while planning the Persephone event?

Well, that happened.
No shit.


Card:
The World (no shit, The World)

First impressions: Well, I suppose a more perfect card could have come up, but I’m not sure what it would be.

About the card: We have an almost-naked woman floating in a bright blue sky, in the center of a green ring. Surrounding her are four clouds, each with a different head in it. From the top left and working around, there’s a man, an eagle, a lion and a bull. The woman is holding a wand (?) in each hand and has a long piece of fabric sort-of draped arond her. Her hair and the cloth are both blowing back over her shoulder, as if caught in the wind.

The story without words: It’s difficult for me to put a narrative on this particular card. With only one person there, and that one pretty obviously not, you know, a run of the mill human being, I find myself jumping pretty quickly from “What’s the story?” to “What does it mean, man?” One thing I will say, though. The lady isn’t standing still. She looks like she’s running, or dancing. She seems to be pretty pleased with herself. I imagine that if I was able to fly, I’d feel much the same.

Okay, and one other interesting note. The imagery here is actually very similar to that of the Wheel of Fortune, where we have similar images in the corners of the card, and of course a circular pattern in the center. But while that card draws attention to the edge of the circle, The World seems to be all about being right there in the center, where one isn’t in danger of being thrown off the wheel entirely.

But what does it mean?: Well, if we consider the cards in the Major Arcana as a single trip through life, The World is at the end of that journey. I like to imagine that way back at the beginning, the Fool (or Jason) took a tumble off the edge of the cliff and entered life, learning lessons from each of the cards along the way. And now, at the end, what do we find? Dancing, and flight, and magic, and joy.

And also mystery, I think. Persephone’s story is one of cycles. She returns to to the Underworld for half of the year, and then to the world Above for the other half. The pattern repeats itself every year, and the world is changed by it. Her movement from Above to Below is, in that myth, the explanation for why the Earth has seasons. So this looks like a card of fulfillment, and journey’s end…but isn’t that also the beginning of another journey? What will Persephone learn in the next cycle? What will the Fool learn in his next life? What draws each of us over that cliff?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty geeked about this event now.

A reminder of why the Catholic Church and I don’t really get along

 

Elizabeth, Melissa and I traveled down to my hometown of Springfield, Missouri last weekend to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with about 80 of their closest friends. Overall, it was a rather rushed but great weekend. The party on Saturday, in particular was a great deal of fun, particularly chatting with a number of people I hadn’t seen for a long while (in some cases it had been 20 years, which is just baffling to imagine.)

 

On Sunday, my parents were renewing their vows, so I did something I haven’t done in at least eighteen years – I went to Mass with them. I haven’t identified as a Catholic for more than half of my life at this point, but I still carry a certain affinity for the church that I grew up in. I expected the experience to be a strange combination of the familiar and the strange, and that expectation at least was certainly met. Some of the highlights of the day included:

  • My parents’ church was remodeled about 15 years ago, and this was the first time I had spent more than 3 minutes inside the building since that happened (Mom and Dad had pretty significant roles in the fundraising for that project, so I got a nickel tour once it was finished, but I certainly hadn’t attended a service there). One neat thing is that the altar is now in the center of the church, with the rows of pews on opposite ends so the congregation is facing one another. I really liked that setup.
  • Apparently, the Catholic church occasionally changes up the wording of the liturgy. Who knew? I was surprised at how much this threw me off, actually. Even some of the little changes took me by surprise, which…good grief. I didn’t realize just how ingrained the language was, but even after almost 20 years I remembered how it used to be.
  • When I was younger, passing the collection plate (well, collection basket) was an essentially invisible part of the service to me. It happened at a particular point, and people were singing while it happened. It didn’t really make much of an impression on me then. On Sunday, though, it felt almost unseemly. Not because of the idea of soliciting donations, mind you – I am absolutely in favor of supporting one’s spiritual community in whatever form it takes. If I’m fed in some important way by a community, I should support it in whatever ways I am able. What I hadn’t really pieced together before, though, is what else is happening during this time. In a Catholic Mass, the collection is taken just before the consecration of the host, which immediately precedes the opportunity to take communion. During the collection, the priest is preparing for the consecration, preparing to offer communion to the parishioners. This is, for many (perhaps most) people, the whole point of going to Mass in the first place. It’s the part that, if you believe in this church’s teachings, that helps you get into freaking heaven. And just before that we’re going to ask for money? I just…wow. I do not like that message, at all.

 

Now, my discomfort with the way Mass is structured is basically immaterial. I’m not a Catholic, and by no means do I mean to suggest that this is inherently wrong, it just doesn’t work for me. To put it bluntly, my comfort is of essentially no importance whatsoever, because it’s not my church.

 

Having said that, when we were getting ready to leave I had a different experience that’s been weighing on me quite a bit this week.

 

Out in the vestibule of the church, there’s a large rack of pamphlets, most (or all) of which are distributed by the Knights of Columbus. While waiting to leave, Elizabeth and I flipped through a couple of them, wondering which we would find the most hilarious to read during the drive home. We picked out, “How to Be a Real Man of God” and started flipping through it once we hit the highway.

 

It was exactly the sort of drivel that one might expect. Today’s “politically correct” culture erodes masculinity. The greatest gift that a real man of god can give is to “share his love” with a woman. A real woman’s greatest gift is to “accept that love” (and yes, they make the connection that your inner 12 year old is already giggling at). Men and women have inherently different ways of communicating, loving and being loved, and deviating from that “norm” is bad.

 

Oh, and one of the greatest problems preventing males from being “real men of god” is the growing acceptance of homosexuality. Of course.

 

Now, look. None of crap this is unexpected. If I was hoping for an open-minded view of the world, the free literature rack at a Catholic church was not the right place to go looking. Even so, though, I spent the rest of the drive and much of the last few days just feeling…not angry, really, but sad. I had a conversation with a friend last night that helped me clarify why this has been bothering me so much.

 

The changes to the Mass (many of which seem pretty clearly intended to make the Church more conservative, which isn’t a huge surprise given the Pope’s philosophy) or even the newly-discovered awareness that the timing of the collection feels really squicky to me didn’t really bother me because they’re global changes. They’re decisions that come from Rome, and they’re fundamentally about the liturgy of a religion that I don’t identify with. So it’s easy for me to laugh those off or to at least to say, “Hey, it’s not my religion, and that’s part of why.” The “literature” at the front of the church, though, that’s not dictated. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the parish’s choice to have that kind of stuff at all, much less what’s actually presented there. So we have this community that I used to belong to, and their “Hey, this is who we are and what we’re all about” message includes that sort of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

 

Ugh. Really?

 

I’m glad to have at least figured out why this has been bothering me, I guess.  And it’s not as though I’m going to be setting foot inside that building again for another 18 years, give or take, which is probably a good thing for everyone involved.

 

Some music makes me cry

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about two pieces of music that each have a history of making me cry.

The first is a chant written by River Roberts for an event in 2007. That was my first year of being an ‘official’ member of Diana’s Grove Mystery School after having attended a handful of events the year before. I distinctly remember this one as the first chant that felt like it was speaking directly to me. It’s really quite beautiful:

Cradled In The Arms of Life

Let my breath be a gift to you
Take me home again
Let my bones be a gift to you
Take me home again
Let my blood be a gift to you
Take me home again
Let my life be a gift to you
Take me home again

——
Cradled in the arms of life
Take me home again

I don’t remember very much about that ritual from 2007, but I clearly recall the group scattered about the ritual area, each person singing this chant – this offering, really – on their own before coming back together around the fire, all of our voices joining together in that stunningly beautiful way that makes me forget, for a while, that I can’t sing for crap.

The other song that’s been running through my head lately is, of all things, a church hymn that I remember singing in my youth. Even at my most cynical points as a teenager (and they were rather epic, I must admit) there was this one hymn that I kind of dreaded because it always, always brought tears to my eyes. It’s called “Here I am, Lord” and while I don’t remember the verses reliably, the chorus is pretty clear:

Here I am, Lord, is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead* me
I will hold your people in my heart

I never really *believed* most of what was taught by the priests and CCD teachers at Sacred Heart (my mom was the parish’s religious education director for at least 15 years, so let’s not tell her that part), though I invested a lot of time there – first as an altar boy and later a lector. I didn’t feel called to do those things because I was moved to do so by some great religious belief, but rather because they were things that needed doing and I knew that I could do them well. It was never service to god, but perhaps I saw it as service to that community. I wouldn’t have put it those terms back then, but looking at it now I realize that my pattern of, “I care about this group, and here’s a way that I can serve,” was on its way to being established even then.

It’s interesting to me that these two songs strike such a similar chord for me. My introduction to each couldn’t have been more different – the hymn in the staid, hierarchical Roman Catholic church, the chant in the context of ecstatic ritual in the woods. But of course, the message I take from each is similar. To me they’re both about service, about offering one’s gifts to whatever greater power one chooses to believe in. While the elemental flavor of the chant hits much closer to home for me on a, “This is more literally what I believe” level these days, the sentiments in each touch me in very similar, emotional ways.

(* When I went to doublecheck my memory of the hymn, it turns out that I had this line wrong. Somewhere in the last 20 years, the version in my head shifted this from “…if you lead me” to “if you need me.” I find that change very telling. I don’t much like being led by the universe, but being needed? Well, let’s just say that if a pair of robots showed up at my door with a recorded message from a friend saying, “Help me, Jason-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” I’d find it difficult to say no.)