Tag Archives: religion

What is Reality?: Pilgrim Visions

David Guterson’s 2003 novel, Our Lady of the Forest, calls vision, belief, reality and hallucination into question. It examines mendacity and power structures of the Catholic Church, which are mobilized by an itinerant mushroom-picking seer’s visions of Mother Mary.

Many of you have read Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. I shall not attempt to place Guterson in a genre, other than to say that he is an author of the contemporary American West (and possibly of other times and places, but I do not pretend to have read all of or summarize his work, only to give some anchor to those who entirely unfamiliar with it.) It is not fantasy or science fiction, but the Marian visions of the ill, impoverished teenage seer, Ann Holmes, do–as is typical of Marian visions–bring apocalyptic warnings. Guterson’s Mary warns, as did the Mary of Lourdes, of evil that will befall a humanity that has ceased to attend to her son’s teachings.

Mary’s dire warnings are accompanied by the nuanced and multi-vocal concerns about the environment. A checkered character, Ann’s spokesperson Carolyn Greer spars with representatives of a large lumber company. Greer is a complex and interesting character. She is knowledgeable about the devastation of heedless deforestation. She reduces the arguments of the lumber company reps to an empty chorus, when she vividly describes their unethical logging practices. The lumber company’s concern is only with the bottom line, and Carolyn’s caustic critique is spot on. Carolyn’s desire to use the forest as a pilgrimage path and site are, however, seemingly motivated by the same concern. The novel is set in the forests of the Northwest, in Oregon, where loggers joke of spotted owl pie and resent environmentalists who threaten their livelihoods.

The most richly drawn and conflicted character of the novel is the young and kind, but neither youthful nor particularly vital, priest, Father Collins. Father Collins is able to entertain the possibility of the miraculous transcendent and skepticism simultaneously. He is aware that he has fled to the priesthood out of fear of sexual rejection, and suffers from sexual longings, which inspire a mild, resigned guilt. He has an intellectually rigorous knowledge of the teachings and arguments of the Catholic Church through the centuries. Father Butler, the “inquisitor,” is sent by and representing the official Catholic Church, and even antiquated, anti-feminist doctrine. The debate between Father Butler and Father Collins will not only interest Roman Catholics, but anyone interested in the institutional religious doctrine versus religion as practiced on the ground. Father Butler’s name is, I suspect, a well-chosen play on words: he is a lackey of official, unquestioning, religion. His character, though drawn with some amusing quirks, never becomes multi-dimensional.

Pilgrimage is a practice of religion “on the ground” that has grown in popularity worldwide since the 1980s. Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists are today’s pilgrims. The atheist pilgrim with a personal mission to fulfill, is represented by Donald Sutherland, in a recent movie, The Way.

Despite normal human flaws, Father Collins is a likable character, concerned with the well-being of his parishioners, if shirking, now and then, interactions with the most difficult of them. Father Collins never shirks his duty for long, and despite self-doubts, is cast as a man eminently suitable for the priesthood.

Guterson addresses the questions of bodily practice–the physical aspects–of religion well. The “Inquisitor” focuses intently on Ann’s bodily habits, especially use of alcohol or drugs, from antihistamines to mushrooms, to determine whether she is a fit vehicle for visions of Mary. Her recent conversion and unbaptized state are less important concerns to Butler. Those pleading with Ann for help, plead for cures to physical ailments. The one complex exception to those pleading for a cure is that of a troubled logger who pleads for his son’s paralysis to be reversed. Tom is one of the novel’s central characters, so I will not reveal the outcome of his dire family and financial situation here.

Wrestling with one of the ultimate existential questions, “What is reality?” is difficult. Guterson acquits himself well in his very readable novel, which I recommend. Because of the philosophical nature of the debate at the heart of the novel, it is somewhat unsatisfying. But it was doubtless Guterson’s intent to leave his readers with more questions than answers.

My Dry Bones will Rise

My dry bones will rise one day.
They will rise crying and complaing.
Not about all the wrong I done
When I was young.
They will cry out against the crushing pains,
Self-inflicted daily,
in adult life.

Go, children! Disregard all convention. Throw off repression.
They have: No encouragement required. Camp Bisco, soggy or not, here they come.

Never consider finance & education & self-worth simultaneously.
May you never pour over a 529 or a 401.

Pour yourself instead into ceramics, gardens, drawing, and music.
Delight in such delicate things as the native grass
with fine stalks & tiny
yellow-eyed blue flowers.
It grew up only because the hose bib leaks.

Learn to live from, and to respect, the earth again. Eat dandelion greens.

Love justice, but one another most of all. Walk neither humbly, nor with a puffed up sense of your own importance: there is no one more or less important than you.

Keep music in the center of your lives and souls. Keep embodied action–being in nature, recognizing the inimitable beauty of the perfect pass, stroke, dive, or block, executed in milliseconds, making love, & hugging friends–in the center, too.
Keep grades, diplomas, and all manner of achievement, in the periphery.

Should you become a parent, may your children be born in Canada or Europe. It will be safe to return when we stop making war, lay down the guns in our cities and towns, cease to uphold marriage as a divisive tax-benefit, and provide health care for all.

If it please you, communing with a loving, nonjudgmental God is fine, too. “In [God] there is no darkness at all.” Bless you, always, in the name, dirt, rivers, rocks, lakes, oceans & trees of Mother Earth and Jesus, our common names for all love, all-enveloping.

Disregard all advice. There is no authority higher than your own conscience.

–Circe, on the anniversary of her older son’s birth (apparently channeling Dr. Bronner.)

Eggs, Oranges & Avocados: Self-Contained

Today I packed lunch, dinner, or first dinner, to take with me to work in the afternoon and evening. Not sure which meal I truly packed, but since I am fortunate enough to have food, I attempt not to leave home without it. For the record, I am not overweight, except perhaps by a chart that believes I am still in high school.

As I packed, I ate the less conveniently portable items. Caprese salad made with our own basil. Right. Anyone can grow basil anywhere, but humor me. And since I use no pesticides, growing cherry tomatoes works best for this novice gardener. My self-esteem appreciates your indulgence. No, I did not raise or milk the buffalo that provided the fresh mozzarella. I am not a farmer, just a suburbanite wishing to be more self-sustaining, feeling trapped by forces growing her town into a city. By the way, I think Bill Clinton first used the word “growing” as a verb about expanding the economy. Will I start eating the garden bunnies? I do think that is the right thing for a carnivore to do. The consumption of factory-farmed animals should be avoided.

The items I packed in my lunch bag are self-contained foods: an egg, an orange, an avocado. My goal is to become an avocado. Well, the skin is a bit bumpy: cellulite problem, I guess, but such a gorgeous green color and irresistible. Most of all, elegantly self-contained, while I am all over the place.

Guacamole is also delicious, so maybe I just need to accept the fact that I will blather on, discuss religion, politics, legalization of marijuana, gun control, and the human control of youth called high school as well as incarceration.

No, I am clearly not running for Ms. Mom NJ! I do not want to be a preschool teacher. I wish I did! They must be the most universally beloved of people and especially teachers. Preschool is not yet about containment.

Avocados and eggs don’t have much to do with big news–the military coup foremost in the news–but they are important. The less packaging, whether Styrofoam, plastic, or plastic wrap, and the less cancer-causing, landfill-destined packaging used, the better.

To return to the avocado: it doesn’t know it has cellulite. I neither complain nor reveal, but believe me: I am a hypocrite. If my skin goes all orange-and-avocado peel on me, I won’t do anything drastic: no thanks to knife or suction! But I will probably spend some money on anti-cellulite lotion: Money better spent on something worthy, and social-justice oriented than my epidermis. Socialization is insidious and powerful.

From what I read, I surmise that the SES of most bloggers, aside from you who are in high school or college, is high. Does WordPress provide SES stats?

May Circe please charm you into thinking about these issues and commenting? Do you need to be or feel cellulite-free to be loved?

My best guess, not interviewing on the ground, is that people in Syria and Egypt are currently unconcerned about cellulite. Nor am I. I have many other trivial concerns. And some serious ones as well.


Pilgrimage: Journey and Destination

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

–William Blake

The little flower carries a promise. It is not dangerous to see ones smallness. Small is not worthless….That which is small can bear the grand in the wonder that holds the infinite…

–K.G. Hammar

Pilgrimage in Sweden today is more focused on the journey than the destination, as was traditional in medieval times, and as is traditional in many Catholic pilgrimage sites, such as Lourdes, even today.

Pilgrimage is a common metaphor for the journey of every life, from beginning to end. Surely many of us are also more focused on the journey than the destination. Even those who have a very clear vision of what the ultimate destination following life on earth is, often agree that the right sort of journey will lead to the desired destination, even if the path is not clearly mapped.

It is at this point that opinions, religious and spiritual convictions, diverge. The journey that is sacred for one, is secular for another. In Swedish pilgrimage today, the distinction between the sacred and secular is not sharply drawn. Many of these pilgrims reject the language and authoritarianism of organized religion in favor of spirituality. Whether a Swedish pilgrim joins a pilgrimage through a tourist organization, an educational or cultural association, or a church, or because it is conveniently passing through the person’s hometown, the sacred and secular are brought together with every step of the journey. Though atheist pilgrims, and some agnostic “seekers” would not use the language of sacred and secular, pilgrimage is both for all. Pilgrimage takes place in the physical lived world, and is sacred, as in set apart from daily life and activity. Each footstep may be a lived prayer or a step towards improved psychological or physical health.

Ideally, we would all live each moment as mindfully as those on organized pilgrimage, but for those not devoted to the contemplative life this is not an easily achieved goal. Nor do all desire such a life. Leaping first and looking second may yield surprising benefits along with the possibility of risk.

Walking and running are not my usual forms of exercise, but the misty morning called to me. Once outside and in motion, I was greeted a woman holding a booklet in her hand. She was only momentarily distracted from meditating on booklet which appeared to contain Christian prayers or Bible verses. When I arrived at the track, I noticed a woman walking slowly yet speaking rapidly without pausing. Her words had the cadence of a prayer, perhaps from the Qur’an or other sacred text, perhaps a repetition of her own petition, or the recitation of multiplication tables. She spoke a foreign language, so I can’t be certain, but the latter seems most unlikely. She spoke with focus while walking, and stopped praying or reciting when she stopped walking. Though we may not think of short walks as pilgrimage, local pilgrimage has also always existed, especially for women, who could not leave the home for any length of time. Lunch-hour pilgrimages go forth from the Pilgrimage Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, and from many Swedish parish churches. We are each on our individual and communal pilgrimage. A common Swedish pilgrim prayer, the prayer of St. Birgitta follows. Rather than beginning by invoking “Lord,” which has an authoritarian, masculine, Christian connotation, simply substitute “Spirit Within,” “Earth,” “Gaia,” “Higgs Bosun Particle” or the name of an inspirational figure or religious leader of your faith.

“Lord, Show me Your Way, and make me willing to walk it.”

–The Prayer of St. Birgitta